This is part 3 of 3. Link to part 1 and part 2.

Re-telling stories — Methods for dissemination of local heritage sites

Västernorrland’s museum is in 2022 taking on the task of re-telling the story of the witch trials of the late 17th c in Torsåker, Ångermanland, Sweden. This is blog post 3 of 3. The previous blog post discussed how cultural heritage can contribute to a more sustainable society. This blog post will explore methods that will help achieving the goals of the project. It will not be a deep dive into the methods but rather suggest a starting point for a dissemination project.

Cultural heritage as experience

Discussing the dissemination of cultural heritage from a theoretical perspective (briefly done in previous posts) also needs to involve the format of communication, and in particular explore the concept of experiences in the context of museums and cultural heritage. Experiences encompass a range of formats and channels and have the audience in focus. In the marketing sector there has for decades been a development towards experience-oriented formats.

Lena Mossberg for example talks about experience rooms, places where people meet for fun and entertainment. It is a thematic enclave with specific boundaries that is designed to contribute to the experience. The place can be filled with engaging stories and interactive experiences where the visitor is active. Central is thus also to analyze the users’ own methods for understanding and reacting to an experience (Mossberg 2021, 21, 33, 104).

Experience design is something that has also been adopted by the museum sector which adapts the concept and format to cultural heritage. The museum is seen as part of a larger ecosystem of actors, channels, formats and touchpoints, many of which are digital. This greatly affects the choice of communication format and design of the experience, the experience room, interaction and the story itself. The experience can thus manifest across many different places and through different digital channels (Vermeeren et.al. 2018, 302, Black 2021, 30).

As an experience in defined experience rooms and across several channels and touchpoints, some of which are digital and others physical, the story of the witch trials in Torsåker should however not only be temporary entertainment but contribute in various ways to a sustainable society, more specifically a society that is equal (as is discussed in a previous post).

Participatory methods for sustainable results

An experience that is to contribute to positive societal local development needs to become sustainable over an infinite period of time (Murzyn-Kupisz 2012, 120). In practice, as described in the previous blog post, it is a matter of finding methods that balance commercial interests with the management and value of heritage sites.

To achieve long-term sustainable experiences it is also necessary to start with the assupmtion that the use of history today is strongly colored by the dominant society’s historiography, that new perspectives need to be added and that objects and places are of great importance for the depiction and personal experience of historical events.

To identify and implement new perspectives a dissemination project needs to be anchored early on among all potential stakeholders. This will help identifying current values of the stories, and what perspectives are missing, as well as on a larger scale, how the social, economic and ecological conditions of the site potentially can contribute to a positive development of the local society as well as the heritage sites.

A challenge is that different stakeholders have different interests in a project. To be able to meet demands and to weigh interests against each other local actors have to develop ownership of the story and the experience. The museum needs to invite to an ongoing dialogue and participation at an early stage. Participatory methods is a key to success. There has been plenty written about this for example in Participatory Archives by Benoit & Eveleigh (2019) or Participatory Heritage by Roued-Cunliffe & Copeland (2017). The methods will only be briefly mentioned here but do of course deserve strategic planning and dedicated resources.

In a dialogue with stakeholders, it is important that the museum can convey its mission, and discuss what it means to manage cultural heritage in the long term. Commercialization can strengthen a local community financially. du Cros writes precisely about the importance of commercializing the cultural heritage experience in order to strengthen and improve it (2001, 166). At the same time, commercial experiences, as previously mentioned, need to go hand in hand with nurturing and preserving heritage sites. It naturally raises interesting questions about the cultural heritage as something publicly available, often with the public sector as owner and sender, but also mediated by private stakeholders with commercialization as a result. Du Cros presents the possibility of placing cultural heritage tourist destinations on a scale that indicates the place’s opportunities for large-scale tourism versus market value, i.e.. how robust a site is versus its commercial potential (ibid, 167). In practice, this means for example weighing access to amenities, car parks, restaurants and accommodation against the importance of not exploiting cultural-historical environments to the extent that they lose their cultural-historical value. Finding the balance and adding value to as many stakeholders as possible through the cultural heritage experience can be a challenge but can also strengthen the museum’s role in society.

Participation is a topic that requires extensive space to discuss, but in short, successful participation requires strategic actions. Human centered design methods that support the involvement of both stakeholders and the audience are a prerequisite for creating a cultural heritage experience with impact through participation.

Through an early local anchoring and by involving actors in the local community, the opportunity for a long-term sustainable experience increases, which strengthens the actors which are affected in different ways. The museum’s mission must be clarified and made understandable to stakeholders and target groups. Through joint dialogue, new values ​​can be identified and strengthened. The project needs to adopt design methods with people in focus to support sustainable development and add value to the local community.

The personal experience

New perspectives need not only to be told but also embraced by the future consumers and users of a new experience. Therefore, the experience also needs to be personal, spark engagement and affection. In order for the experience to be transformed into a thinking tool with personal relevance, which touches and engages, and which opens up for dialogue and participation, it needs to become personal. One reason why witch trials often remain anonymous and do not become a deeper concern for today’s audience is, in addition to the lack of personal voices, that it has been almost 350 years since the events took place. Creating relevance and personal connection then becomes a challenge.

One way is to, unsuprisingly, include the physical location in a mediation project. Personal experiences arise in encounters with places, cultural-historical environments, and they can be enhanced by stories. Birgitta Svensson talks about affection, feelings that arise and about memories as a result of personal experiences in a place (Jönsson & Svensson 2005, 147–148). Here we touch on Lena Mossberg’s concept of the experience room, a place that is actively used and consumed by the visitor and where the effect sought is an in-depth immersive experience (Mossberg 2021, 32). A personal experience is also by default multisensory (Velasco & Obrist 2021, 1). In the transmission of cultural heritage, this can be used for the purpose of influencing and achievening positive social effects of the experience. Birgitta Svensson believes that multisensory experiences of cultural heritage enable the formation of an emotional structure, which in turn opens up for interpreting and reinterpreting traditions instead of unilaterally preserving them (Jönsson & Svensson 2005, 148). When the experience becomes personal and thus multisensory, it automatically becomes inclusive, as the audience’s own interpretations are activated. The multisensory experience can create a connection between, and bridge the individual, personal, and the social. (Jönsson & Svensson 2005, 147–148)

However, it is important to remember that a multisensory experience does not per se enable the audience to interpret and reinterpret. The personal connection, which Svensson highlights, is therefore central to achieving a positive impact on individuals and on society.

A personal experience enables more perspectives, emotional connection and thus personal commitment, and the opportunity to build bridges between the publicly managed cultural heritage and the individual. Physical experiences are by their nature also multisensory, which enhances the experience. A challenge will therefore be to create experiences that by some will only be experienced online, where other methods are needed to enable and enhance the personal experience.

Telling a story with missing pieces

It is in the interplay between personal experiences and stories that the emotional bonds emerge, which opens for critical thinking, memory creation and learning. An important step in enhancing the personal experience is to use storytelling as a method. Lena Mossberg highlights storytelling to involve the visitor emotionally with the story and the place. Storytelling can also make the visitor feel immersed in the experience (Mossberg 2021, 103–104). Immersion means to be surrounded by a story and a room, and here one is engaged to the extent that one forgets the outside world for a moment.

Immersive experiences are linked, among other things, to museum exhibitions, where it is often defined as a multisensory experience that ‘transports’ visitors to another time, place or situation and makes them active participants in what they encounter. A three-dimensional world is created by distorting the feeling of time and place, while the visitors are integrated into the experience (Popoli & Dera 2021, 386). It can be done entirely through digital technology such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality , or in a physical experience room. Immersiveness can also arise in the encounter with film, podcasts, computer games and theater. But as a start, a story can be very much immersive in itself.

Since the core story of the witch trials in Torsåker is based on very few sources, mainly legal protocols, many pieces of the puzzle are missing. How can we tell a story that makes sense out of this? The challenge is that only certain voices are heard and have been preserved to our time. The protocols describe the crimes committed by the women, often portrayed by the children who were called to testify, even being paid for their testimonials. The women’s own voices and thoughts are completely missing as a first-hand source. Missing parts of the story must be filled in and new perspectives added to create an overall picture.

Palombini believes that it is basically not possible to retell something without always linking pieces of facts with something that is not facts. These pieces of fiction filling the gaps are hypothetical, and are needed to make sense of the whole, the course of events, and to link information that would otherwise not be comprehensible on a larger scale. The rule that Palombini recommends for cultural-historical narratives is not to fill in with fiction that contradicts existing facts (Palombini 2017, 137).

As this is a story with potential for social and societal impact, the work of stitching the story together into a whole, also needs to be closely linked from the start to the UN’s global goal no. 10, ie. to strive for a more equal distribution of resources and reduced poverty, and to have the opportunity to participate in the development of society through economic and political influence.

Storytelling is an effective and central method for communicating cultural heritage. Stories can make the events understandable and they can create a stronger personal experience. Stories can also evoke emotional connections to a cultural heritage and they open up for social impact, which in turn can create greater commitment to an equal and sustainable society. In order to be able to shape a story that will contribute to fulfilling the goals of the experience, achieve social impact, etc., design processes are an important tool.

Digital technology

Digital channels and products are central to cultural heritage dissemination today, which is also the case for visitor experiences in general. An important starting point for disseminating the witch trials is the increased use of digital technology in tourism. Smart tourism is emerging where visitors in different ways consume experiences and seek information. The concept of smart (cultural heritage) tourism has emerged, which aims to exploit the potential of information technologies throughout the visit, before, during and after a visit to a place, to enhance the experience (Buoningcontri, P & Marasco 2017, 97). Of course, this is also completely in line with how the museum sector views visitors, where the need to communicate through the means of digital is also constantly growing (Black 2021, 15).

Dissemination of the stories and places where the witch trials took place thus needs to take into account that the visitor will use, for example, a computer and mobile phone to search for information to find the place but also to immerse themselves in the experience in different ways. Here, websites and social media need to be adapted and included. Digital technology can thus be used to shape the experience itself, for example through AR / VR, media guides and more. Or function as part of the experience on site, for example via a media guide.

Coupled with the needs described above regarding sustainable communication, digital technology can also be used to convey places that cannot withstand large amounts of physical visits.

Digital technology is central to the transmission of both places to visit and cultural heritage. The audience’s expectation is to be able to take part in both information and experiences in digital channels. Challenges are about customer competence, development and investment costs and, to a very high degree, about the ability to manage digital technology and digital experiences. Another challenge is that even if it is desirable to create experiences for both physical and digital environments, a certain part of the audience will always only take part of the experience online. It raises special demands on a digital experience that can be personal and engaging.

Ecosystems, transmedial storytelling and hybrid experiences

So far, we have talked about experience rooms, stories and digital technology as important elements in a cultural heritage experience. The events in Torsåker took place across several places that today are marked with signs and are considered places to visit. A part of the story is already told today at Västernorrland’s museum, and another at the Witch Museum in Prästmon. Because an experience needs to be delivered across a variety of both physical and digital arenas, it is imperative to identify the entire ecosystem of relevant existing and new environments and interfaces before a new story takes shape. A story in many channels also increases the possibility of reaching a new and a wider audience.

Storytelling in an ecosystem is called transmedia storytelling . The experience also becomes hybrid because the ecosystem consists of both physical and digital channels, places and formats. The concept of transmedia storytelling was coined by Henry Jenkins in 2003 and developed in his book Convergence culture 2006 (Jenkins 2006, 20). In the ideal case, each platform, channel and format contribute something unique to the story. At the same time, each part of the story, as it is experienced in the unique format, needs to be rich enough so that the visitor can appreciate the experience and understand the story in each unique part (Jenkins 2006, 97).

A transmedia experience consists of a system, in fact a kind of supersystem that contains several subsystems (Rampazzo Gambarato 2012, 79). The units that together make up the system are, for example, story, experience, platforms and channels, the audience, business models, etc. (ibid 2012, 73). Transmedia storytelling is also dependent on the audience for the system to be activated. The experience opens for social interaction, and activating elements, which create interactivity and active participation. Studies also show that transmedia experiences that invite participation have a greater impact on participants over time and lead to greater engagement (ibid, 201.2 74–75, 79).

As with participatory medthods, the implementation of transmedia storytelling to achieve impactful museum experiences, requires strategic thinking and plenty of time and space to explore and develop content and formats.

A dissemination project always needs to be based on the museum’s public ecosystem and which channels, places and formats are relevant for this particular story. Not all parts of the ecosystem are owned by the museum but can still be part of the experience. Then the story needs to be packaged to be delivered in a variety of channels and formats. The transmedia story becomes another step in enabling personal and engaging experiences. In addition to a spatial aspect, the ecosystem and the narrative also have time as a dimension. Some parts of the story can be delivered for a limited time and in a separate part of the ecosystem. The possibilities are endless, and it requires a clear strategy for what is required to achieve the goal of the experience balanced against stake holder interests and production resources.

Summary

These blog posts have discussed various basic perspectives that must be the starting point for a cultural heritage experience, in this case the witch trials in Torsåker 1675. In reality, there are as of today no templates or blueprints for how cultural heritage experiences become impactful transmedia stories delivered in an ecosystem of channels and formats. Or how to define where the exhibition sits within the ecosystem and the distributed museum experience.

There are shelf meters with literature on how exhibitions are best produced, how websites and apps can be built, and there have in the past years been an surge in literature on transmedia storytelling and developing experiences from other sectors such as marketing and journalism. Building on the different forms of communiaction and dissemination it is surely possible to find steps forward. This means however that when planning begins for a new type of experience, we do not know what the end result will be. This requires that the museum can adopt human centered design methods and be open to experimentation.

The end result can be exciting and open to more effective and rewarding experiences, with the power to influence and contribute to a more equal and sustainable society.

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The three blog posts are a revised version of a paper delivered at the course Disseminating Cultural Heritage, Umeå University, in December. The list of literature is referring to all three blog posts.

Literature

Aronsson, Peter (2004). Historiebruk: att använda det förflutna. Lund: Studentlitteratur.

Benoit, Edward & Eveleigh, Alexandra (red.) (2019). Participatory archives: theory and practice. London: Facet.

Blumenthal, Veronica (2020) Consumer immersion in managed visitor attractions: The role of individual responses and antecedent factors, Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, 20:1, 4–27, DOI: 10.1080/15022250.2020.1725624

Buoningcontri, P & Marasco, A. (2017) Enhancing Cultural Heritage Experiences with Smart Technologies: An integrated experiential framework. European Journal of Tourism Research 17:83–101.

du Cros, Hilary. (2001). du Cros, H. 2001 A New Model to Assist in Planning for Sustainable Cultural Heritage Tourism. International Journal of Tourism Research 3(2): 165–70.. International Journal of Tourism Research. 3. 10.1002/jtr.297.

Cuomoa, M.T., Tortorab, D, Foroudic. P, Giordanod, A, Festae, G. & Metallo, G. (2021) Digital transformation and tourist experience co-design: Big social data for planning cultural tourism. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Volume 162, 2021, 120345, ISSN 0040–1625, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techfore.2020.120345.

Gretzel, U, Sigala, M, Zheng, X & Koo, C. (2015), Smart tourism: foundations and developments. Electron Markets (2015) 25:179–188.

Jenkins, Henry (2006). Convergence culture: where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press.

Jönsson, Lars-Eric & Svensson, Birgitta (red.) (2005). I industrisamhällets slagskugga: om problematiska kulturarv. Stockholm: Carlsson.

Laskar, Pia (2019) Den outställda sexualiteten. FoU rapport, Statens historiska museer; 18. Stockholm: Statens historiska museer, 2019, s. 125. http://su.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1357922/FULLTEXT01.pdf

Murzyn-Kupisz, Monika (2012): Cultural, economic and social sustainability

of heritage tourism: Issues and challenges, Economic and Environmental Studies (E&ES), ISSN 2081–8319, Opole University, Faculty of Economics, Opole, Vol. 12, Iss. 2, pp. 113–133

Palombini, Augusto (2017), Storytelling and telling history. Towards a grammar of narratives for Cultural Heritage dissemination in the Digital Era, Journal of Cultural Heritage,

Volume 24, 2017, Pages 134–139, ISSN 1296–2074, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.culher.2016.10.017.

Petti, L, Trillo, C & Ncube Makore, B (2020), Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Developlment Targets: A Possible Harmonisation? Insights from the European Perspective. Sustainability 2020, 12, 926.

Popoli, Z & Derda, I (2021) Developing experiences: creative process behind the design and production of immersive exhibitions, Museum Management and Curatorship, 36:4, 384–402, DOI: 10.1080/09647775.2021.1909491

Rampazzo Gambarato, Renira (2012), Signs, Systems and Complexity of Transmedia Storytelling. Estudos em Comunicação, Volume 12, Number unknown, 2012, pp. 69–83(15). Directory of Open Access Journals.

Roued-Cunliffe, Henriette & Copeland, Andrea (red.) (2017). Participatory heritage. London: Facet

Vermeeren, Arnold, Calvi, Licia & Sabiescu, Amalia (red.) (2018). Museum experience design: crowds, ecosystems and novel technologies. Cham: Springer.

[1] https://sverigesradio.se/haxmorden (2021–12–19)

[2] https://www.mynewsdesk.com/se/hogakusten/blog_posts/2020-ett-nytt-decennium-vaentar-89636

[3] The three areas most often mentioned in connection with sustainability. https://www.hallbarhet.lu.se/forskning/vad-ar-hallbarhet

[4] https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-forfattssamling/museilag-2017563_sfs-2017-563

[5] https://medium.com/new-faces-new-spaces/what-is-our-museums-social-impact-62525fe88d16

[6] https://www.museumsarenotneutral.com/

[7] https://futurice.com/lean-service-creation

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_thinking

[9] Immersivity often refers to immersive techniques such as VR, AR, etc. but actually has a broader meaning, where old techniques such as dioramas are also relevant. Examples specifically of immersive technologies and museums: https://www.museumnext.com/article/how-are-museums-harnessing-immersive-technology-to-provide-experiences/

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Kajsa Hartig

Head of Museum Experience and Collections at Västernorrlands museum.