Time Machines: the technology of time travel at the city museum


This paper looks at the ways that museums of urban history, with particular reference to the Museum of London, have employed technology as ways on conveying narratives of cities. Using ‘Streetmuseum’, a Museum of London iPhone app, as a case study, this chapter reflects on the technology of museum time travel.

If the city is associated with technology as progress and the future, the museum can seem concerned with technology only as material evidence of the past. Though crude, this dichotomy is present in popular concerns about the relationship between digital reproductions and physical objects in museum exhibitions. Whilst writers like David Fleming have predicted a time when digital exhibits will ‘de-throne’ museum objects, the Galleries of Modern London will be used to illustrate the nuances of this evolving relationship.

As one early director of a museum of urban history put it; there is “a natural step from a Museum of Photography to a Museum of New York“ (in Page, 1999: 57). This paper uses display technologies of city museums as a basis to consider how the passage of time is treated in public urban space. It explores the convergences of three overlapping ideas: cities, museums and display technology.

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