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National Research University Higher School of EconomicsNewsHSE Students Turn Books and Museums into Transmedia Stories

HSE Students Turn Books and Museums into Transmedia Stories

For two years in a row, students in the Master’s programme in Transmedia Production in Digital Industries have worked closely with publishing and museum experts, as well as lecturers from the HSE School of Media to reinvent the role of printed books and the traditional tasks of Russian museums. Some of their book projects were presented at the Non-fiction exhibition this year, and the museum projects will be implemented for the public.

Why this is important

‘Modern technology allows us to start businesses where the main resource is creative ideas’, said Anna Novikova, academic supervisor of the Master’s programme. ‘Today, the digital media field is huge, varied, and comparatively easy to access. Many projects require a small investment at the start; there are a lot of free services that help to “pack” the idea and promote it. A lot depends on the creative potential of the idea, the producer’s energy, and good teamwork. This is a very important lift, half social and half technological. We want our students to bet not on executive positions in large stable corporations, but on implementing their own ideas and taking advantage of the new digital opportunities’.

During the first year of studies, students learn to publish books, and in the second year, they work with Moscow museums. These are not separate courses, but two projects for one seminar in the Master’s programme in Transmedia Production in Digital Industries (previously known as Media Production in Creative Industries). These activities help students not only to complete the assignments, but to be directly involved in cultural industries such as book publishing and museums. They use multimedia technology to tell book and museum stories about culture and the arts in a way that is interesting to their peers and school students who are ‘indigenously digital’ and for whom modern technology is not an intermediate, but the main way of communicating the world.  For book authors and museum staff, communication with students is not only an opportunity to publish a book or get material for a museum website quickly, but an essential experience of communication with young readers and museum visitors. It is an opportunity to understand how they think, what they pay attention to, and what they believe is important and interesting.

‘Such projects make people participate in what is happening. They restore the lost connections and give them a feeling not of a rarity or a curiosity shop, but involvement’, believes Anna Kachkayeva, Professor at the HSE School of Media, journalist and media critic, and curator of the focus area dedicated to ‘Transmedia projects for museums’.

A new life for books

Established in 2015, the digital publishing seminar at the HSE School of Media was conceived by Alexander Arkhangelsky, writer and HSE Tenured Professor, along with his peers Alexander Gavrilov, co-founder of Ridero publishing platform, and Vladimir Kharitonov, executive director of the Internet Publisher Association. As part of this seminar, students design, produce and publish digital books and textbooks. ‘On the one hand’, says Anna Novikova, ‘students are given the task of learning the trends in the digital book business in theory, and on the other hand, to acquire practical skills in editing, layout and design, and securing legal support for digital books’.

‘Everything is changing – even the books. Now you can read them on your phone. But the books stay the same as a tool of deep understanding and discussion about human beings and the world. A good way to master this art is to learn to publish books. At the same time, you can learn to properly communicate with other people, such as authors, editors, and designers’, says Vladimir Kharitonov.

As of today, more than 20 books have been published by the course students and lecturers. Thanks to the Ridero publishing platform, they can be called real books. They have an ISBN and are sold in the largest online stores (LitRes, Ozon.ru, and Amazon.com). At the customer’s request, they can be produced in print. Some of the published books are collections of articles by popular writers, journalists, as well as media and arts critics, such as Grigory Revzin, Ekaterina Shulman, Vasily Gatov, Boris Grozovsky, Dmitry Butrin, and Andery Kovalev.

Another important task for publishers is to release textbooks and learning materials. For example, they published a book (in Russian) by Gasan Gusejnov, a renowned expert in Classical literature, entitled ‘History of Everything: Lectures about the Myth’; two academic paper collections by the State Arts History Institute entitled ‘Cinema in the Changing World’ and ‘Literature Reflected by Media’; a textbook entitled ‘Producing in Creative Industries’ (ed. by Anna Kachkaeva), and a textbook entitled ‘Digital Book Publishing’ edited by Anna Novikova.

‘The textbook “Transmedia: Take-a-part Model” has literally been my life over the last two months. The book turned out to be a decent one. This is probably the first textbook in transmedia storytelling published in Russian and in Russia’, said Georgy Ustinov, first-year student in the Master’s programme in Transmedia Production in Digital Industries.

‘I feel incredibly proud of the result we achieved. Over just two months, the manuscript edited by Anna Kachkaeva turned into a real book, which is now being sold on the largest online bookstores’, said Viktoria Koval, a first-year student in the Master’s programme inTransmedia Production in Digital Industries.

Transmedia projects for museums

According to Kachkaeva, multimedia technology has added transmedia extension to the traditional museum spaces. Narration is now produced as a performance. For example, excursions involve virtual characters, audio and visual effects, cinema, animation, interactive screens, as well as augmented and virtual reality. Alternatively, narration is completely transferred to the mobile digital environment, providing additional opportunities for immersion in the story and presenting the details of the exposition. The HSE School of Media has been long talking with ‘digital museum enthusiasts’ from the museum community about how to attract Master’s students to digital museum projects and museum communication design by means of combining technology and storytelling. The words were put to action when the technologies and multimedia tools became available and easy to use not only for IT professionals and web designers. This is how the focus area of ‘Transmedia projects for museums’ appeared in 2016 as part of the project seminar of the Master’s programme in Transmedia Production in Digital Industries.

In 2016, the Master’s students joined museum staff and HSE lecturers to develop projects for small Tretyakov Gallery museums (A. Vasnetsov Apartment Museum, V. Vasnetsov House Museum, A. Golubkina Workshop Museum, and P. Korin House Museum), as well as multimedia projects in various formats related to Leo Tolstoy’s life and works. This year, students worked with ten Moscow literature museums, one Tretyakov Gallery, and one Kolomensky Posad museum. ‘We thought it was important that the museum community was “open” to students. To facilitate that, we read lectures to the museum staff and explained what the students learn at the programme and how they can be useful for the museums. Alexander Arkhangelsky, HSE Tenured Professor and philologist, and Natalia Loseva, deputy CEO of Mosgortur, took the responsibility of communicating to the museum staff’, said Anna Novikova. Descriptions of this year’s student projects are available here.

‘At the project defence processes, we once again discussed why museums are necessary nowadays, and what their function is – to store the information and artefacts, or to educate visitors. Even professionals haven’t agreed on this yet. But the students who developed the transmedia projects carefully treated the historical sources and didn’t ignore the interest of the visitors, who, at the end of the day, come to museums for impressions’, believes Natalia Loseva.

Several of the students’ projects developed for museums will be presented to the public. In the future, the HSE School of Media and Mosgortur are planning to attract other cultural spaces and students ready for creative experiments as a way of promoting the education of media and museum professionals.