BreMM17 | Siefkes

Martin Siefkes
TU Chemnitz | Germany

Facing Up to the Complexity: Lessons from Online Exhibitions

An increasing number of exhibitions takes place partly or wholly in the internet (McTavish 2006). This development is spurred on by the rapid digitization of archives and museum collections, whereby high numbers of items become available in digital form. Online exhibitions are a multimodal text genre that combines not only images, text, graphics, layout, and navigation elements, but also video, interactive simulations, and virtual tours (cf. Rijksmuseum).

The talk will present a research project at the TU Chemnitz in Germany wherein a corpus of online exhibitions is analysed. It will be shown that online exhibitions are a genre torn between the centuries-old museum tradition and the new trends of digitalisation and internet presentation.

From a methodological perspective, it will be asked how the process of approaching a new genre or area of multimodal artefacts can be systematized. Faced with the high complexity of multimodality, all empirical studies have to massively reduce complexity in the construction of annotation schemata. This becomes even more obvious when interactions between modes (e.g. Siefkes 2015) are taken into account.

Currently, multimodal research in a specific disciplinary tradition is often implicitly informed by the specific perspective in that discipline. Therefore, it is not always clear if certain aspects are foregrounded on theoretical grounds, or due to the specific hypotheses of the study. The talk will argue that if these decisions are carefully reflected, multimodality research in different areas will begin to ‘merge’ and may result in a standalone discipline, without giving up on theoretical and methodological pluralism.

Taking online exhibitions as an example for a highly complex area of multimodal artefacts, where a ‘complete’ annotation suitable for answering all possible research questions is out of the question, the talk will discuss the delineation between (1) theory-based and (2) hypotheses-driven decisions. It will be argued that making this distinction explicit will help to form ‘growing areas of commensurable results’ in multimodality research.


McTavish, L. (2006). Visiting the Virtual Museum: Art and Experience Online. In Janet Marstine (Hrsg.), New Museum Theory and Practice (S. 226–246). Boston MA: Blackwell.
Siefkes, M. (2015). „How semiotic modes work together in multimodal texts “. 10plus1 – Living Linguistics 1, 2015: 113–131.

Rijksmuseum Virtual Tour:

Biographical Notes

Martin Siefkes is Research Associate at the University of Technology Chemnitz. His research focuses on multimodal linguistics, discourse analysis, and digital humanities. In 2010, he received his PhD in linguistics from the University of Technology Berlin. From 2011 to 2014, he was Humboldt Research Fellow at the University IUAV in Venice and the University of Bremen. He co-edits the Zeitschrift für Semiotik and co-founded the Digital Humanities section of the DGS. Since Aug. 2015, he participates in the BMBF-funded research project MANUACT. Further information on his personal website.

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