Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

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Woman of Letters - Irene Nemirovsky and Suite Francaise


Conference: 
MW2009
Institution: 
Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust
Designer: 
Orange You Glad
Why: 

Irène Némirovsky’s novel “Suite Française” has taken theworld by storm since it was first published in 2004. The English translationwas published in 2006 and has sold more than 1 million copies. The interest in Irène’sstory (both the story she wrote of France occupied by the Nazis, as well as thestory of her own life) makes her a unique subject for an exhibition, and givenher background as a Jewish woman who converted to Catholicism, an especiallyinteresting subject for a Jewish museum to examine.  The Woman of Letters site uses as its focus the samepowerful objects and testimony found in the actual exhibition, but the siteallows the viewer to examine the artifacts more closely and hear from thecurator herself what kind of mother and writer Irène was.

Further, because Irène Némirovsky is such a popular literaryfigure, there is a level of fascination with her that encourages engagement,especially among readers who would not otherwise find themselves coming to aHolocaust memorial museum. Featuring the objects most important to Irène, aswell as testimony from her daughter, makes Irène come alive for the millions ofreaders who are devoted to her who are unable to come to New York to see thephysical exhibition.

This site enhances the in-person experience significantlyand yet it creates an intimate view of the author’s life for those viewers whodo not visit the exhibition in person. In addition to the curator’s artifactdescriptions posted as MP3 files, the viewer can examine objects morecompletely utilizing flash (the valise in which the manuscript for “SuiteFrançaise” was kept, a cherished family photo, a travel pass allowing Irène tovisit her children after they had been evacuated to the countryside, and afinal letter to her children written from a transit camp before she wasdeported to Auschwitz); view Irène’s daughter Denise talking about her mother(flash video), examine digitized pages of the original manuscript, follow anillustrated chronology, and finally contribute comments about the exhibitionvia a blog.

The companion website is not an online exhibition. Rather,it is an experience designed to convey the power of the physical exhibition andallows visitors (both actual and virtual) to interact with elements of theexhibition more closely using web-based technology. The site itself is viewableon two terminals in the salon created adjacent to the exhibition, and allowsvisitors to continue their experience in real time, or, when they return home,they can share this moving story with family and friends.

Nominated By: 
Year: 
2009