Museums in the New Mediascape: Transmedia, Participation, Ethics

By Jenny Kidd, (Routledge, NY), 2014. 176 pp. $104 (hardcover). ISBN: 978-1-4094-4299-8.

The monograph under review started with few important aspects of museum in recent years, such as what do visitors want from museums today? How do visitors expect to experience, engage with, or even produce the materials on display, in both physical and online environments? Who constitutes a museum’s audience and where are they located? Observers such as Nina Simonhave promoted the idea that visitors should be participants in the museum rather than simply consumers of its activities. Other critics, most notably Claire Bishop, have questioned the values attributed to participatory practices while calling for a more politically engaged approach from institutions. By quoting Ross Parry, a prominent UK museum scholar, author Jenny Kidd says:

“Museums, after all, are a medium in their most common state a unique, three dimensional, multi-sensory, social medium in which knowledge is given spatial form. However, they are also themselves full of media. We might even go as far as to say that media define the museum. Through their histories museums have taken their varied shapes and functions from the communications technologies that they have chosen to deploy.” (p. 3)


Kidd, a lecturer at the Cardiff University School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, in Museums in the New Mediascape, intervenes in these debates with a detailed focus on museums’ engagements with forms of digital media. In assessing how institutions across the UK and internationally are making use of new technologies, Kidd explores broader social and political questions concerning the purpose and value of museums today, and the notions of participation, memory, democracy, and empathy that their activities engender. She also seeks to explain the nature of the museum experience in the twenty-first century. (p. 7) 

The starting proposition of Kidd’s work is to see the museum as a form of media, and to call for museum professionals to critique their own role as media producers. Indeed, the first chapter, which draws heavily on the work of Henry Jenkins, argues that we should think of the contemporary museum as a trans-media text involving forms of interlinked storytelling extending across multiple platforms. By surveying twenty museums of the UK, Kidd suggests that a more fragmentary approach to narrative at museums might result in “serendipity, losing one’s way, encountering conflicting versions of events and not expecting them to be reconciled, even unexpected surprise (p.36).” 

The following six chapters examine different aspects of digital media and museums, drawing on a remarkable range of theorists and thought leaders in culture and society. Kidd’s work pulls from many disciplines such as Museum Studies, Media Studies, and the burgeoning field of Digital Humanities, and is supplemented by Kidd’s own empirical research. She traces how museums have undergone radical change since the advent of the new museology (p. 16), and discusses how museums now use social media to create conversations with their audiences, emphasizing the value of institutions speaking with multiple voices. She discusses the growth of user-created content within museums, the struggles concerning authorship that user engagement entails, and whether it signals a “more active and vibrant democratic participation (p.69).”


Perhaps the most compelling examples in Kidd’s book concern the status of personal narratives in the contemporary museum. Kidd outlines the method of digital storytelling project that began in 2008 in the northeast of England collecting memories from people in the region. This was a fascinating and, often, moving case study, though Kidd suggests, “We are rarely, if ever, encouraged to think crucially and critically about the nature of our self,” and that “a concern for the personal” is often “dismissed in favour of dialogue about community and inclusion (p.80).”

This attitude seems out of place within a digital and economic context in which individualism and constant self-fashioning are prioritized above social goals or collective reflection. Her account of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image’s project, 15 Second Place, is also enlightening, especially as the short videos that people produced about meaningful spaces and places in their lives “were stiller, more reflective and more cryptic” than anticipated (p.81). The assumptions of speed, movement, and superficiality that commonly accompany digital practices are contested here.
Later chapters propose that mediascape reinvents the museum as a mashup, a site of active consumption, micro-creation, co-creativity, and remix. This has been done by using literature from media and communications studies to explore the ethical, cultural, technological, and legal implications in this respect. (pp. 21, 117)


Kidd’s monograph unpacks and explores several dichotomies that help to frame and articulate digital media work in the museum: professional knowledge vs. local knowledge; normally good grassroots participation vs. normally bad top-down programming; the powerful vs. the powerless; the institution vs. the community; and activity vs. passivity (p. 2). The author describes fascinating ways in which museum spaces have been reconfigured by digital technology. In addition, the monograph references theorists across various disciplines while defining the overview of contemporary museum practices. These incongruities sometimes make Kidd’s own authorial attitudes appear in dilemma. When she does make explicit interventions into the field – especially in her opening statement on the trans-media museum and in the final discussion of remix and mashup culture – the insights are particularly valuable to museum studies, media literacy, and digital literacy. Still, Kidd’s book is an important contribution to debates around museums today, and a book that consistently asks intelligent and challenging questions of museum critics, practitioners, and audiences. Museums in the New Mediascape: Transmedia, Participation, Ethics is a critically important and empirically grounded overview of current practice in the new museumscape.

Reviewed by Dr. Manas Dutta, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Kazi Nazrul University, India. Mail ID: