In conjunction with this year’s International Museum Day, the National Heritage Board of Singapore have launched SGCool, an online repository of the collections stored in the National Museum of Singapore, the Asian Civilisations Museum and the Singapore Art Museum.
Digitising museums’ collections is a great step forward in making the material cultures featured in the museums more accessible to the public. For now, the collections in SGCool are divided into categories like “bronze, “photographs” and “gold”. Clicking on any artefact gives you a close-up picture, along with their provenance.
However, I was disappointed that I didn’t actually learn anything from the artefacts I was looking at. I was quite horrified to see bronze Dong Son drums labelled as “Drums. 180-100 BCE. North Vietnam.”. Besides the name of the item, the approximate age and its provenance, there was nothing else to tell me about the exhibits, such as their context and their uses, or even the cultures that made. If there’s one thing that SGCool has to improve on, it’s to provide more details about the exhibits in their collections. One good example of an online museum collection with great accompanying information is the Compass collection at the British Museum.
Like my archaeology lecturers used to tell me: objects without contexts are useless!