Virtual Visit: The British Museum

The covid pandemic has presented museums and cultural institutions with many challenges, as well as new opportunities. While there is nothing quite like a day at the museum, institutions worldwide have responded to the pandemic by creating ways for visitors to enjoy their collections virtually from the comfort of home. The British Museum, in particular, has created a dynamic online experience, along with their virtual museum, The Museum of the World. Organized by continent, virtual visitors are able to travel across time by way of an interactive, Guitar Hero-esque timeline that features a variety of objects, presented in collections which include Art and Design, Living and Dying, Power and Identity, Religion and Belief, and Trade and Conflict. The simple yet visually interesting interface allows users to decide how they would like to experience the collections, with colorful dots along the timeline representing objects available for viewing.

Screen shot of the British Museum’s ‘The Museum of the World’ online exhibition.

The Museum of the World’s Art and Design collection features a wide range of artifacts, such as rock art from the Early Acacus Period, Mesopotamian jewelry pieces dating back to as early as 7000 BC, ancient Greek Helenistic sculpture, Japanese artwork from the 19th century, and even a spring-driven table clock commissioned by King William III in 1689. Also included are more contemporary pieces, such as a ceramic vessel created by Magdalene Odundo, British artist originally from Kenya, whose work is inspired by sub-Saharan African potting traditions. By clicking on each object’s corresponding dot on the timeline, visitors are offered several ways in which to examine it further. Each includes an enlarged photograph of the object, as well as a detailed written description. References to the object’s cultural significance, a map to its region of origin, and a selection of other related objects one may want to view are also included.

Objects on exhibit in The Museum of the World’s collections are also accompanied by an audio recording, featuring museum curators and art historians, who delve further into the object’s history and cultural relevance, a stand out feature of its virtual platform. While each and every piece housed in the British Museum is not included in the virtual exhibition, the beauty is reflected in the diversity of the objects that have been selected. The collections are curated using an anthropological approach, and the unique opportunity to hear more about each piece from the museum’s curators and art historians is an enjoyable way to learn more about their cultural context. The British Museum makes a point to state that they acknowledge contemporary cultural perspectives associated with objects in its collection, and notes that cultural rights may apply to certain artifacts. One detail that seems to be overlooked is that the audio for each object does not correspond with the written information that is provided. Closed captioning of the recorded information would have offered more inclusivity for those who are hearing impaired, as well as those who have challenges with inattentiveness.

Google Cultural Institute & Google Street Views partner with the British Museum.

Another drawback to The Museum of the World’s virtual format is that objects are only viewed from one perspective. However, the British Museum offers other ways to enjoy more of its collection online as well, which seems a fair trade off considering that a trip to London, even in the best of times, is not feasible for everyone. The global pandemic revealed the necessity for more accessible ways of viewing art and artifacts, inspiring Google Cultural Institute to partner with museums and cultural institutions in order to offer Street Views of their interior spaces, and in fact, the British Museum offers the world’s largest, covering nine floors, including 85 permanent galleries of nearly 80,000 artifacts. While that is only a fraction of their collection in its entirety, it is still quite amazing to virtually explore the museum privately from the living room, and because the Google Street View images were taken off-hours, it feels especially adventuresome, as if you’ve snuck in all alone after closing time.

If online visitors of the British Museum haven’t gotten enough still, there are yet a variety of other ways in which to enjoy their immense collection. The searchable database on the museum’s website can be narrowed down to include artifacts from a certain time or place, as well as by even more curated collections besides those offered on The Museum of the World platform, such as Desire, Love, and Identity. Along with a blog, podcasts, YouTube channel, and audio tours, the museum also hosts online events and provides a broad range of free learning resources suitable for all ages on its website. Whether a visit to the British Museum is impossible due to the pandemic, or impractical due to distance, their diverse and interactive virtual offerings, that can be enjoyed at leisure, are an impressive alternative.

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Sources Cited

The British Museum. The British Museum: Explore the Collection,

The British Museum. The British Museum Blog,

The British Museum. The British Museum Podcast,

The British Museum. Galleries of The British Museum,

The British Museum. The British Museum — YouTube,

The British Museum. The British Museum: Schools — Resources,

The British Museum, and Google Arts and Culture. Explore The British Museum: Google Street View,

The British Museum, and Google Cultural Institute. The Museum of the World,

art historian. writer.

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