Digital and audiovisual solutions in Fat Margaret permanent exhibition "Towering Tales of the Sea"
To create digital solutions that are innovative and comprehensive was a priority in developing the new permanent exhibition in 2016-2019. The location of the museum is the historic cannon tower Fat Margaret in the complex of the Great Coastal Gate. This is a location loaded with significance, most of the movement of the goods in medieval Tallinn, then part of the Hanseatic League moved through the Great Coastal Gate. Nowadays the Great Coastal Gate continues to be one of the main routes for tourists to enter the Old Town, part of Tallinn, a UNESCO world heritage protected area. The impressive historic Fat Margaret building with its rich collection of ship models and other items from the Estonian Maritime Museums’ collection was a challenge to enrich with digital solutions. The main task for the curators was to work out ways in which digital content could contribute to the visitor experience, and also avoid the digitalization of information, that could be easily displayed on the walls of the exhibition. Showing historic information in ways that engages the audience using interactive elements was the result, which is today enjoyable for both professionals and regular visitors. The exhibition begins with one of the highlights from the museum’s collection – a 700 hundred years old cog wreck, discovered in 2015 in Tallinn. The find is extremely rare – the medieval trading vessel is well preserved and the findings from aboard the vessel are rich and diverse. Digital solutions accompanying the findings help tell the whole story, starting from the finding, excavation, and transportation of the vessel, preparing it for the exhibition and research and preservation works. The solutions are complemented with original footage of different stages of work with the wreck. Modeling the cog in 3D enables us to show the wreck in its whole, and all the details are accessible through touch screens, including an immersive animation of the vessel sailing the sea on huge LED screens. The idea was to create a feeling for the visitors of what it would be like if a full-scale cog would pass you by right now. In addition, the 3D model was used to 3D print both the cog wreck and the reconstruction in a smaller scale. The result is a hands-on solution that enriches the exhibition and also supports visitors with special needs. The databases used to develop solutions on touch screens give an overview of sea traffic and the networks throughout different ages. The history of maritime trade dates back to the middle ages, when the cities in Estonia were part of the Hanseatic League. The solution, mixing a graphic map and a projection, shows the movement of goods between the biggest Hanseatic cities, and also the nature of the goods that today can be surprising. It is actually said that Tallinn was built on salt, suggesting that Reval (the name of Tallinn at the time) was an important transit city for salt. The digital solutions help to compare the change of goods imported and exported – for example, in 16th-17th century Tallinn, the commercial network consisted of around 30 harbours, the introduction of steamships at the end of the 19th century increased the volume up to 300 international harbours. One of the most ambitious projects is a visualisation of the Sound Toll Registers kept by Danish National Archives. This includes accounts from the 15th-19th century of the toll which the king of Denmark levied on shipping through the Sound, the strait between Sweden and Denmark. Millions of data points were analysed to find out which ships, captains and goods could be associated with Estonian ports. Truly, some historical bigdata! Results were visualised on a map where thousands of points represented the goods moving between ports. Digital solutions in the exhibition also explain the changes in ship engines. The touch screens enable the visitor to see how the wind direction is used for sailing, and two interactive 3D animations explain the principles of how steam and diesel engines work. In addition to the themes of trade and technical data, the focus is also on the lives of seamen and the possibilities ships provide for people to travel the world. The solutions chosen to explain these themes are audio and video stories using real-life experiences, now restored using actors, and staging the situations for visitors to really feel like they are part of it. Visitors can see what it was like to travel on a steamship in the 19th century, and how the experience could be totally different depending on the class you could afford. Also retired seamen share their stories from the Soviet Occupation, and the exhibition enables the comparison with present conditions, showing both men and women in their everyday work environment on modern ships. Vast research on the Baltic Germans, closely related to Estonia and the discoveries they made early in the 19th century, is explained on a touchscreen with a 3D globe, that lets visitors dig into the details of those explorers’ circumnavigations. A rich collection of commercial posters from the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th century, is presented on a large display, and another touch screen focuses on the traveling possibilities between 55 cities on a steamship, and calculates the duration, looking a bit like a historic google map. A special focus is on navigation. On a large touch screen all lighthouses, dating back to the 16th century are marked. There are many well preserved lighthouses that you can visit in Estonia. A surprising burst of creativity comes from an interactive DJ set where visitors can create their own music using live recordings of steam engine sounds. The results sound like a drum and bass mixtape from the 19th century. To give a feel for what it is like to navigate a modern ship, a recording was made on a captain’s bridge showing the entire journey from Finland to Estonia. There is also a look at the entertainment provided onboard of cruise ships, and the karaoke room has popular sea songs in their original language to give visitors a nice surprise. All the digital solutions are in at least three languages (Estonian, English and Russian), many of the touch screen solutions are also in Finnish, Latvian and German. In addition, the videos are subtitled with Estonian sign language, so as to be accessible to a wider audience. The whole exhibition is designed considering the recommendations target groups with special needs gave, for that, the Estonian Maritime Museum was part of the TANDEM project for the past three years. All exhibition furniture and digital solutions were designed to be wheelchair friendly. For blind visitors there is an extra feature available in audio, an especially tailored descriptive tour in Estonian. The importance of the exhibition is to present the vast history of Estonia as a maritime nation with a rich sea-going history. The information is important both to locals and tourists, as this knowledge was interrupted by the Soviet Occupation for more than 50 years, and needs to be rebuilt.