institution: National Library of New Zealand and Archives NZ
category: Exhibition Media or Experience
He Tohu is a new permanent exhibition of three iconic constitutional documents that shape Aotearoa New Zealand.
The exhibition houses three large touchscreens that let users explore the documents as never before. The documents are:
- 1835 He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni — Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand
- 1840 Te Tiriti o Waitangi — Treaty of Waitangi
- 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition — Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine
The exhibition is primarily aimed at 10 – 15 year olds although it also has to cater to a wide range of New Zealanders, certainly it needed to reach all cultures.
We began our journey with a series of on-on-one interviews with a range of New Zealanders. This focused on exhibitions and experiences, as well as on the topics of being a New Zealander, before we explored their thoughts on the three documents themselves.
We created an experience that allows visitors to explore the documents in incredible detail, by zooming in – an action nobody has been able to do before. As they explore, they trip over incidental stories which draw them into the content.
The actual documents are very hard to read (as they are faded, and have pieces missing). On these tables, you can experience incredible detail and resolution with enhanced versions of the documents. Every signature is clickable, and names can be searched- including the 25,000 women who signed the petition that saw NZ women be the first in the world to get the vote. Finding your ancestor on that petition is a marvel!
The user’s journey through the documents is typically:
- Touch the screen, revealing missing pieces of the original Treaty of Waitangi (signed between Māori and Queen Victoria’s representatives). There’s a “wow” moment here when visitors see just how much was eaten by rats
- Zoom in and see the original document in crisp 4k detail
- Click on signatures to find out more about that person
- Discover the “insights” button, tap to hear an archivist tell you a captivating story
- Follow a hikoi (journey) of linking stories across many pages within a document and become enthralled by the animals involved in the Treaty of Waitangi, or the devious men who signed the Women’s Suffrage petition.
- Search the document and be shown the tohu (signature) of the person being searched for.
Our aim is for people to walk away with something new to talk about.
When shown (copies of) the original documents during our research stage, our young audience actually looked out the window – they were not interested. After user testing, they were literally bursting with stories they found, and couldn’t wait to share them with family.
Many visitors have emotional reactions at finding an ancestor on the documents, it’s these personal connections that make our interactives compelling.