Exhibiting Kindertransport Online: The Educational Role of Online Museums

Earlier this month, I spoke at a conference with the Kindertransport Exhibition about my role with Girl Museum and my thoughts on the educational role of online museums under constructivist education theory.

I discussed the benefits of the online museum – one being the accessibility it offers being democratic (to anyone with internet access). While of course this shouldn’t be the case, it is undoubtedly the case that there is a significant proportion of society that aren’t typically comfortable visiting physical museums. For a number of people for a multitude of reasons, many believe that the traditional museums isn’t ‘for them’. They are often considered as inaccessible and unwelcoming. However, the opposite is true for the internet. With few exceptions, majority of society has access to the internet and is confident in exploring interactive webpages. Likewise, the online museum allows the time and space to reflect and consider the complex and difficult history of Kindertransport in the comfort of their own home. For this reason the online museum has even been called the ‘flexible museum’. I also discussed the considerable benefit of the online museum of the interactive and multimedia elements that the internet cheaply and simply allows.

The accessibility and interactive nature of the online museum are significant under constructivist educational theory. I would argue that the online museum is an impactful way for museum ‘visitors’ to create meaning, as under constructivist educational theory, it allows ‘visitors’ to explore the material in the pace and order they choose, if compared to a museum gallery that usually has an instructed path around the artefacts and text. In this, the interactivity of the online museum advocates for learners to actively make meaning as opposed to receiving information, encouraging learners to ask questions and put together information for themselves

The example i discussed throughout the paper was the Mädchen des Kindertransport online exhibition from Girl Museum, which I researched and helped to curate, is an online exhibition which has expanded the social memory and articulation of Kindertransport history through its focus on the female experience. The Mädchen der Kindertransport exhibition has had 5000 unique page views since its creation in 2014 – primarily aimed at either young people, or teachers as a educational resource. Mädchen der Kindertransport is artifactual, it uses artefacts and testimony to represent Kindertransport. It is also curated as a chronological narrative. It is split into themes of: leaving home, on the journey, belongings, arrival, adaptation, settling in, case studies, ‘meet the girls’, after the war, ‘girls own stories’ (video testimony), art & poetry, legacy. 

Mädchen der Kindertransport was collaborative in its creation, created through research from its global volunteer team. For example, I had access to the Manchester Jewish Museum (where I worked at the time) and thus digitised and interpreted the Harris House diary – a home for girls from the Kindertransport in Southport, which was opened in 1939 by the Livingstone Family. I argued that this gender-focussed new perspective on the more familiar Kindertransport themes creates a focussed relevance for museum ‘visitors’ – usually Kindertransport representations focus on the broader experience of Kindertransport as a young person and I believe that Mädchen der Kindertransport has represented an underdeveloped narrative of Kindertransport.

Under a study by the University of Leicester titled ‘The Generic Learning Outcomes Measuring Learning Impact in Museums’, Jocelyn Dodd for the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) found that a museum learning experience can have different levels of attention: ‘The Spotlight’ which is tightly focused attention with a specific target or goal and ‘The Floodlight’ which is a type of learning which is ‘open-ended, open-minded, cruising and browsing’. The experience of online museums clearly falls under this ‘Floodlight’ learning experience.

I argued that there is therefore a there is a significant importance of digital culture for the transmission of Holocaust, specifically Kindertransport, memory. I conclude that despite considerable criticisms, there is value in online museums in expanded the social memory and articulation of Kindertransport history through interactive and accessible online exhibitions.

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