In Dublin, A Celebration of Old and New
It was a celebration of old and new at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin last evening, where hundreds of dignitaries filled the 123-year-old museum housing many of Ireland's prized antiquities to formally launch a newfangled idea called A History of Ireland in 100 Objects, a newspaper-series-turned-coffee-table-book-turned-app that we developed in cooperation with the Royal Irish Academy and Adobe.
Past, present and future converged for a night. Artifacts as old as 5,000 B.C., displayed not only in museum cases but on tablet devices introduced only three years ago. A series of newspaper articles from The Irish Times resurrected first as a book, and then as multimedia-packed apps for iPhone, iPad, Kindle Fire and Android tablets. Irish poet Seamus Heaney, recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature and the guest speaker for the event, singling out Joe Zeff Design by name and then acknowledging that "an app is a word I know, but I don't know what the thing is!"
We'll try to explain, for the esteemed 73-year-old Nobel laureate and for those who follow this blog, as the events of last night provided several explanations.
An app is a way to make museum exhibitions more satisfying, both inside and outside of the museum itself. One could stand before a 4,000-year-old necklace and, using an iPhone, quickly summon its history, locate similar objects nearby and share a photograph with friends and family. The tablet versions add video, audio and animation that provide more context. And both versions have the potential to free these objects from their display cases and stir awareness worldwide.
An app is a way to make content relevant to children, whose cognitive experiences are largely shaped by what they see on screens. They can spin the 1887 GAA Medal that was given to the first all-Ireland Gaelic football champion. They can learn what makes each section of the Stokes tapestry unique, by tapping on parts and hearing an explanation. They can zoom into the Book of Kells and study a 1,200-year-old illuminated manuscript in their living room. The Academy and Museum intend to carry this project into the schools of Ireland, and the app will likely be part of that effort.
An app is a way to amplify content, and broaden its potential impact. By creating a version for the iTunes App Store, Google Play and Kindle Store, the project now can reach millions of people beyond those shopping in Ireland's bookstores and museums. The European Union Presidency has made the app available for free until the end of the month "as a a gift from the people of Ireland to the people of the world," resulting in more than 20,000 downloads — more than the initial press run of the hardcover book.
An app is a way to tell stories that are richer than words and pictures alone. But the overarching story behind A History of Ireland in 100 Objects is one of collaboration —how several organizations worked together to create a project that neatly puts 7,000 years of Irish history into wonderful perspective:
• Author Fintan O'Toole authored the original series for The Irish Times, and recorded mini-documentary videos for the apps. With support from Editor Kevin O'Sullivan and Managing Director Liam Kavanagh, his newspaper has been incredibly supportive of the objects, publishing a trail map of all 100 objects in today's editions. Thanks as well to Michael Ruane.
• Ruth Hegarty and her team at the Royal Irish Academy breathed life into the newspaper articles, forging connections with The National Museum of Ireland and others as distant as Oslo, Norway, to showcase each object beyond what was done in print. Many thanks to Geoffrey Keating, Pauline McNamara and Fidelma Slattery for being incredible partners, and to Professor Attracta Ingram for her generous compliments in her speech last night.
• Kevin Lynch in San Francisco, Eileen Foley in Toronto, John Joliffe in Brussels, Ivan Mironchuk in New York City and others at Adobe who contributed support — financial, technical and otherwise; Dawn Porter and her team at Trilogy Films in Montclair, NJ, who produced the mini-documentaries; and once again, the team at JZD for its contributions to a project that has become a source of national pride.