Digital Narratives in Physical Museums. Narrative Construction with Contextual Technologies
: The Di Casa in Casa Chatbot and the Museum of Augmented Urban Art in Milan.

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The museum visit is a constructed relationship that occurs each time a visitor enters a museum, and it is situated in a dynamic, ever-shifting physical, socio-cultural context. Using mobile contextual technologies, museums have developed various approaches towards digital narratives for museum visits, from action-based spatial storytelling to single-node/sequential narratives. All these approaches stem from the spatial qualities of the museums, of their being integrated narrative environments where stories are told into space.

However, the adoption of contextual technologies to favour the narrative construction of visitors poses a set of new questions, which my thesis aims to answer: What narrative(s) are museums creating? What are their relationships with the physical nature of museums? What is their role in the overall museum ecosystem? How do visitors use them to construct their own narrative? To answer these questions, my thesis has analysed two examples of museum digital narratives in Milan: Di Casa in Casa Chatbot and the Museum of Augmented Urban Art (MAUA).

The first case study is a chatbot-based treasure hunt that connects three house museums and one park, narrating the original role of the museums as houses but also connecting them with the city. However, the three museums have entirely different approaches and displays: from the Bagatti Valsecchi, where object itineraries are secondary to the personal narrative of the family who collected them, to the Poldi Pezzoli, where the house was almost completely lost due to the bombing in 1943, to Boschi Di Stefano, where the museum flyers and the volunteers’ introduction to the museum convey the idea of the museum as house and clash with the chronological display.

The second one is a selection of 50 street art examples by schools and developers, which has been reinterpreted through Augmented Reality (AR), creating paths and guided tours within five neighbourhoods and narrating their stories. In this case, the concepts of physical and digital are taken to the extreme: the MAUA is at the same time a digital museum, with a collection of AR artworks, which can be triggered by physical artworks/their pictures, and anecomuseum/art gallery, deeply embedded in the neighbourhoods. It also presents contrasting narratives between the AR artworks, the street art artworks, the birth of the museum, and the story of the neighbourhoods, which require different approaches and media.

To research these case studies, I have adopted both the traditional research methods used in museum studies (e.g. staff interviews, visitor interviews, ethnographic observations, exhibition analysis), but also, due to their narrative structure, which goes beyond the single museum, I used deep mapping as a frame to study the multiple narratives that are woven within the museum environment and social networks. This gave me the possibility to consider the various contexts that come into play during the museum visit and their relationships with each other.

To understand what narratives the museums construct and use what type of media, I have analysed catalogues, panels, and labels. This first phase gave me an idea of how the museums’ physical space is structured and what kind of narrative it proposed. In the second phase, I interviewed the staff to understand what narratives they propose, how these narratives relate to the socio-cultural context and specifically how and if the digital place the museums create is shaped by them. A third phase has considered observations inside the museums to understand how the visitors constructed their narratives within the physical nature of the museum and how the narrative conveyed by the museum influenced the visits. To clarify this point, I have analysed social media platform posts and TripAdvisor reviews. Interviewing the visitors also helped to clarify their narratives, and specifically how they construct them using contextual technologies, both during guided and nonguided experiences.
Date of Award1 Jun 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorStuart Dunn (Supervisor) & Mark Hedges (Supervisor)

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