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Reading through Jørgen Brøndlund’s diary entries was a moving experience. As a Greenlandic dog sleigh driver, he took part in Danmark Ekspeditionen to North East Greenland in 1907, but died trying to make his way back to the expedition base camp. His final entry is a laconic record of the death of his two fellow patrolmembers, written as he himself had settled down to die. Although his writing was not fueled by literary ambition, his straight forward style conjures up the beauty and harshness of the landscape as well as Brøndlund’s joys and trials, and makes for a gripping tale. Knowing the tragic ending does not diminish the reading experience.
Let me give you a sample (although you won’t really get the significance of this fortunate episode without the build-up of increasing threat of starvation):

25th [August]. In the morning, Mylius and I walked inwards and reached the shore without problems. We continued inland for hours without seeing anything. We didn’t know what to do if this day’s journey too would turn out to be of no avail. When Mylius turned back, I made no objections, as the soles of his boots were so poor that it was as if he was walking in just his socks. Also this day we decided to slaughter a dog. I decided to go a bit further, as I deeply craved to land just a single grouse. I wandered for a long time, but had to return, as once again I didn’t find anything. On my way back I caught sight of a hare by the beach; it was like seeing a giant reindeer. And when I had shot it, I flung myself at it with a wolfish appetite, cut it open and quickly ate the heart, liver and kidneys. And, imagine that, a little later I caught another three! As I walked back with four hares over my shoulder it was as if my exhaustion was lessened by the joy of having something to eat. On my return my friends were very pleased by the prospect of having something other than lean dogmeat to eat. Still, as they had already killed a dog, we stuck to dogmeat that evening. These days the weather is very beautiful, no clouds in the sky and no wind. All day long it is frosty, and in the night it gets even colder, although the sun still doesn’t sink below the horizon.

(own translation after Karen Nørregaards Danish translation from Greenladic in Vagn Lundby: ‘Omkom 79’Fjorden’, Borgen, Kbh 2006)

Although this story is famous in Denmark, it is not quite common knowledge. I for one had not really heard about it before starting this research. Knowing that my view may be tainted by the fact that I was hoping to find such a rare quality in the story, I also know that I am not alone in believing this is a story that is worth telling, and I would love to somehow include it in the online exhibition. The original diary, a national treasure, even belongs to the Royal Library and has been digitalised for online availability.

Now I read it in one go, couldn’t put it down. And letting oneself get absorbed in a story in this way can be great – immersion does not necesitate virtual world stereorama.
But I also think that as the diary is precisely that; a story told in so many individual entries over a period of time, by nature it classifies as a ‘time and space distributed narrative’ of real events. Therefore it would be interesting to reflect this in the online distribution. I have yet to look into the theory on this up-and-coming literaty convention, so bear with my unscholarly musings here.

But even though the diary format and the inherent cliffhanger qualities of this particular adventure fits with the some of the ‘T&S’ concepts, the story was of course not tailored for modern media. Only some of the entries are short enough to fit into an SMS message. My original idea therefore was to publish the diary as a blog on the webexhibition homepage. But offering an RSS feed would only really work for those who happened upon the blog in the very beginning, for latecomers the inverted chronology would be just plain wrong. Offering the full diary as a plain pdf download would count as an online ressource, but the museum would lose out on the chance of engaging its visitors in a novel and prolongued way. Instead, the website could let users register for a subscription via e-mail. A server could be set up to distribute a series of e-mails at intervals for each registered user at individual times. The email – also readable by smartphone – could either contain the whole entry or contain a link to the unique webpage of this entry. The former approach would perhaps feel more like a personal mail, but the graphic presentatiton would be limited by the mail software; the latter would generate traffic to the museum website and could be tailored visually etc., but with perhaps risk being trashed as a simple link wouldn’t have much appeal unless you were already waiting for the next installment of the tale. Perhaps a combination of the two, offering readers a choice of access preferences, would be the go. Still, distributing across platforms, as in including updates for not-so-smart-phones would be interesting. Hopefully I can find inspiration in other experiments with this format.

Another question is the timing. Retaining the distribution of the original – 80-odd entries over a period of 8 months – might be asking too much of the patience of the readers. So finding some way of condensing the time distribution, whilst retaining all the unique entries and some of the narrative tension derived from long timespans with no updates, would be necessary.

Finally, the version I read included notes by the author of the book in which the diary was included. These notes were very useful, especially as Jørgen Brøndlund was relying on the journals of his fellow adventurers to document their journey (as their bodies and diaries have never been found, the author Vagn Lundby has pieced together the story from other sources). Similarly, it might be useful to combine Jørgen Brøndlunds narrative with the scientific reports from his fellows, whilst taking care not to smother the original story in information overload (hyperlinks could be a solution here) and jazzy technology.

So although I think the story suits being published in an innovative way, the question remains exactly how to do it.

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Despite my worries in an earlier post about adopting an all-inclusive approach, at this point in the process at least it seems to make sense. Because the aim of the concept development part of my thesis is not to end up with a final product, i.e. a ready-for-production web exhibition on a given topic, but rather to develop some more generally applicable guidelines or ideas, narrowing the field too much would seem like loosing out of an opportunity to explore the possibilities.

So, the plan now is to work with a modular structure, in which the various themes of the exhibition – both the content that mirrors the onsite exhibition, and some of the related topics that could add to the insight and experience – are explored and communicated through a variety of appropriate media formats. If the online exhibition was to be actually produced, this would allow for a pick’n’mix selection of modules, or perhaps an incremental process where modules were added gradually to the core exhibition. For a small institution like Diamanten, with only temporary exhibits on a wide variety of cultural topics, this continuous development may seem to be overdoing it slightly. On the other hand, since the online iteration of the exhibitions are permanent, it might be worth the effort (and money, I know) developing them as more than just a hyperlinked catalogue.

Although the themes and content of each exhibition will determine how it should be presented and what media formats would best suit the story you wish to tell, I hope to find a format for the core exhibition that would be transferable from one exhibition to the next. A template or CMS system would not only easy the workload when producing a new exhibition, but also provide some user-friendly consistency in the museum website. Also, if this core needed only tweaking, not reinventing every time, it would free up more energy for innovative and experimental approaches to future add-ons to the exhibition.

For the upcoming cartography exhibition (and perhaps as a rule of thumb?) I suggest this core be based on the content of the physical exhibition, i.e. Danmark Ekspeditionen, HJ Rink & Jakobshavn, Lauge Koch, Pearyland & the geological maps. The research done, the images selected and the text produced could be transfered into or altered to fit the online format, and extra layers of information could be added. The result would be something in between a digital catalogue and an online ressource. Seeing these maps on the screen would ofcourse not compare to seeing them in full size and splendour onsite, but putting the stories behind the maps online would allow for visitors a different opportunity to explore them in their own time.

Still, this would be not much different from the information one could find in a book, and what a waste of media potential it would be to stop there – not for media’s sake, but for the sake of allowing visitors alternative ways of engaging with the stories and problems posed by the exhibition theme.

First step could be to include multimedia from DR (Danish public service broadcasting). Already, both DR and KB are part of a trans-institutional network focused on sharing and distributing national cultural heritage, so it would seem obvious to make use of DRs archives and expertise in media production. For this exhibition, an online resource based on a TV series retracing the steps of Danmark Ekspeditionen already exists.

Another way of engaging the audience in the drama of the expeditions that produced the maps we now take for granted could be trough publishing the journals from the participants as part of the online exhibtion. I am currently looking into the potential for publishing the most famous of these diarys, that of Jørgen Brøndlund as a time&space distributed narrative, as I have an idea that the drama and cliffhanger qualities of this real life narrative would work well presented in this format across various media platforms.

Using gameplay quests and conventions to simulate the challenge of mapping a ‘terra incognita’ like North East Greenland could be interesting. However, I am not a digital gameplayer, so that whole field of design and discourse is terra incognita to me, and I fear that there be dragons.

The cartographic problem of map projections could perhaps be explained in text and images online (slong with other cartographic issues), but an interesting addition could be to let visitors get some ‘hands on’ experience with 3D/2D ‘elastic maps’ on an interactive platform, perhaps trying to manipulate a Mercator projection into a Peters projection to get a feel of the implications of the various projections. Some mashup with Google Earth might also be an option. Haven’t quite worked out exactly what or how yet, hence the wooliness of the description (still I managed to namedrop stuff I am trying to get my head around in a superficial way, thanks to great inspiration from Denis Wood’s excellent book The Power of Maps).

Finally, the question of what a map is and what it shows, and why, could be explored through a social media application online inviting visitors to participate in the making of a user generated map of Copenhagen. A handdrawn map made from the wikiprinciple could be good fun, but probably technically tricky to develop, and perhaps a bit daunting for the participants to get into. Instead, a neutral (let’s pretend such a thing exists) map, showing only the the city’s road grid, could be provided, and visitors would be encouraged to start filling in the blanks. Copenhagen already has a usergenerated cityguide, but what of all the other things one could wish to map? Users could start new categories like ‘recycling bins’, ‘beware of dog-poo’ or ‘great places for snogging’, and start tagging away.

Now, all of the above ideas are only at a first sketch stage, and will need screening and developing. I hope to be able to draw together a focusgroup/workshop team to help me with this when I’m ready.
Comments are welcome!