Re-Imagining the Keats Shelley House experience in a digital age
Updated: Oct 6
What do you do if you are running a small museum, with no public funding, you have major events crucial for your supporter network and a pandemic happens. Museums are shut and the flow of tourists stops overnight.
How do you preserve the legacy of the building and its collections which have been carefully stewarded over generations? How do you keep in touch with your supporter network? How do you preserve the jobs of those managing the collections, maintaining the archives and also the visitor guides?
These were the questions that Dr Giuseppe Albano was faced by as Rome was locked down during the initial wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. And during those dark days what could be done creatively to maintain the morale of the staff as well as kindle the flame that the museum could build back better after the crisis, and be a beacon for what is possible through digital heritage which can be so transformative for both access, but also in opening up a treasure box of tools to enhance heritage experience, making it more informative, more engaging; and cementing an ever stronger relationship with people visiting the museum.
Small though the museum was and with no financial assets to speak of, it was rich in terms of its enthusiastic supporters and patrons. A video appeal had been made, years previously, with Prince Charles who had led an appeal to fund the restoration of the house and its collection.
The Keats Shelley house at 26 Piazza di Spagna is situated at the right foot of the Spanish Steps, just a few steps away from Spagna metro station in the centre of Rome.
It is a museum dedicated to the British Romantic poets, who were spellbound by the Eternal City. 26 Piazza di Spagna is most famous for being the final dwelling place of John Keats, who died here in 1821, aged just 25, and to this day Keats’s bedroom is preserved as a shrine to his tragic story and extraordinary talent.
Displayed through a chain of beautiful rooms, the collection contains a great many treasures and curiosities associated with the lives and works of the Romantic poets, as well as one of the finest libraries of Romantic literature in the world; now numbering more than 8,000 volumes.
Its small size and staff was to be turned into an asset by the curator, Dr Giuseppe Albano, who was able to make an introductory video to the house. As he takes the viewer around the house, he gives an account of its very intimate history, and the viewer is left in no doubt as to the warmth of the welcome they would receive if they were able to make the pilgrimage to Rome, to visit the house in person.
The very personal nature of the house and its history is brought alive by this video tour with its curator, Dr. Giuseppe Albano. Click on the historic image below and allow Giuseppe to show you round the house.
How they could Giuseppe and his team build on the traditional video format. Immersive tours might be one option, but a traditional approach was impossible during lockdown and beyond the budget of a small museum.
However in the midst of Europe’s first lock down in the initial wave of the Coronavirus pandemic, the team at Keats Shelley House began to capture the story of the house with a 360 camera.Over the next few weeks, the Keats Shelley House team created their first immersive story of John Keats and Rome, telling the story of his journey to Rome across Europe in the midst of its own epidemic and beset by quarantine rules, until his death in the house by the Spanish Steps.As they experimented, they began to discover new ways of sharing different aspects of the house, its collections as well as the places around Rome associated with Keats.
Now in the company of a ‘live’ guides, anyone, anywhere is able to explore the rooms of the museum including the apartment where Keats died of tuberculosis in 1821 as well as other rooms dedicated to Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Lord Byron. The tours are interactive with visitors able to ask questions during the tour see https://t.co/oPf8oEO21e?amp=1. The tour is currently available in English, Italian and Russian, but this approach opens up possibilities of finding guides around the world to share the story in their own language. Access to the tour has been promoted through the House's social media channels.
But the adventures in mixed reality experiences to create a special ingredient for events are just beginning. One such event involved a partnership with Roger Michel at the Institute of Digital Archaeology in Oxford who with his team, using CGI, were able to have a virtual Keats reading Brightstar.
The story of how the Keats Shelley House team have sought to re-imagine the Keats Shelley House experience in a digital age is one of resourcefulness, creativity and passion. It demonstrates the scope for sharing heritage experiences more widely and in a more engaging way than ever possible. To learn more about Giuseppe Albano and his team's activities during the period of lockdown in Italy, please click on this link to
The Keats Shelley experience provides a model for stewards of museums and heritage sites across the world struggling in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis, to find a simple first step for exploring the opportunities of virtual reality. Their further experiments show that it is possible to keep innovating and tapping in to new tools and ideas in an era when the possibilities for capturing, sharing and enjoying heritage have never been so great.