Breaking the Silence Study Table

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights’ Breaking the Silence gallery is a quiet respectful space where visitors can learn about many mass atrocities — some well–known, others previously hidden. The gallery helps visitors to understand that whenever human rights violations occur, we have a role to play by breaking the silence about them, and the very act of learning about and discussing these violations helps to break the silence.

The Study Table presents a timeline and world map with an animated interface leading to graphics, text and photos that relate to 16 large–scale human atrocity events committed around the world. This massive 27’ (8.2m) long multi–touch table offers the opportunity to examine the historical context and to learn about concerted efforts undertaken to cover–up and deny the facts as well as the survivors’ and community’s efforts to break the silence and expose the events. Visitors will see parallels between the atrocities, as the images and historical documents for each event are organized into the same four narrative sections: Build–Up, Violation, Denial and Distortion, Breaking the Silence. When an event is selected, visitors see these four sections and can open any one up to see the photos and documents arrayed out in the workspace for exploration. Multi–touch image manipulation enables a free exploration of documents approximating a desk containing actual historical archives.

The table has 24 stations, so large groups of people can work together and easily discuss the material in a social context. An instructor’s “facilitated mode” is enabled through optical recognition of a specific patterned card placed on any of the stations. In that mode, the instructor’s station is mirrored on all the stations (touch is ignored on all but the instructor’s station).

All the exhibit content is served from the museum’s ECMS, so new events can easily be added, and eventually will be. Custom map rendering software was created for the exhibit, so new events just need to specify what region of the world the new events occurred in, and maps will be automatically rendered as needed.

Special attention was given to universal accessibility. There are two Universal Access Keypads that enable vision–impaired individuals to explore all the content with a bilingual text–to–speech (TTS) interface with simultaneous visual highlighting of the workspace, similar to a screen reader for a web browser.

Installation Photos

Click on any image for a larger version

Screen Shots

Attract Loop

This screen shot shows what is visible on two of the twelve displays. To create a larger world map for the attract loop to view as people approach, we chose a Dymaxian projection that does not favor approaching from either side of the table. The timeline loops showing events, the year they occured, and their location on the map.


Initial Exploration

Visitors start discovering different events by touching a timeline or map locations. At the start, it is apparent that these events are not limited to any particular part of the world.

Intro Screen

When someone touches an event title, the view transitions to an introduction to the event including an interactive regional map and explanation.

Documents and Photos

People can dive deeper by exploring different phases of an atrocity showing photos and historical documents. Each item tells a story about the event, but viewers can form their own narrative by what they choose to view.

Screen Capture Video

This highlights the various interactions and features of the Study Table. Notice the fluid transitions throughout the application. The frame rate of the screen capture video is only 12 frames per second, but the actual application normally runs much more smoothly at 60 fps.

Photos by CMHR and Henry Kaufman