When the David M. Rubenstein Gallery opened to the public on December 11, visitors found that the focal point of the Records of Rights exhibit isn’t a static document, but a 17-foot-long interactive table containing hundreds of digital documents.
Work on the table began about two years ago. The engineering and software aspect was handled by D&P Inc. and Second Story Interactive Studios. “I think it’s really cool!” Kamps said enthusiastically. “The design is beautiful. The table reacts to the visitor’s presence through motion-sensing cameras. And it allows visitors to express their emotional reactions to the documents with other visitors.”
Visitors can pick positive, negative, and neutral emotion terms to represent how they felt about the document they are viewing. Then, they “push” the document towards the center of the table, where it will appear on a series of monitors on the walls flanking the table. A pop-up will be displayed in the other screens, inviting other viewers to explore the documents, too.
Not only did the team need to get the technology to work, but they also had to populate it with content. One obvious challenge the curators faced was that their subject matter was very broad. “It basically spans our entire history, as well as all the different types of civil rights,” Kamps said. “We wanted the table to be a place where people could learn about the struggles and rights beyond what is displayed in the exhibit.”
More than 300 documents are represented on the table. Curators whittled the list down from the thousands they encountered in their research. The documents were then digitized and organized in a coherent manner. “We look for the most compelling stories, especially ones where ordinary Americans attempted to secure their rights, as well as looking for a good span representing different peoples and different rights.”
Kamps said the table enhances the exhibit by providing a place where visitors can come together and explore the issue of civil rights based on their own personal interests. “I hope they see that these struggles have affected all of us,” she said. Visitors can also experience the exhibit online at recordsofrights.org.
As for the exhibit as a whole, Kamps would like visitors to see that our history of rights hasn’t been a steady march to greater freedom. “There are times where rights were constricted, and times when it expanded,” she said. “Wasn’t it Thomas Jefferson who has been attributed as saying ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’? And it is. It really is.”