How Virtual Exhibits Can Be Accessible

February 20, 2020

This past week in the United States, we celebrated Presidents’ Day and in honor of the holiday Bunk designed a virtual exhibit called Presidents Precedents that explores the shifting ways Americans have viewed the U.S. presidency. Bunk, a non-profit and non-partisan launched in September 2017, captures the passion for history and reveals the ways that people of different backgrounds and purposes are connecting with the nation’s history by searching the internet for the most interesting articles, maps, videos, conversations, visualizations, and podcasts about history that they can find. Funded by supporters of the University of Richmond, they hope to create a fuller and more honest portrayal of our shared past, and reveal the extent to which every representation is part of a longer conversation. Presidents Precedents is an exhibit filled with a collection of articles from varying sources divided into three categories: The Mandate, The Pulpit, and The Legacy. After examining this exhibit, I thought about other virtual exhibits and the significance of virtual exhibits, and I decided to explore museum virtual exhibits.

In my previous blog post “Virtual Museum Experiences: Impressions of Museum Education Roundtable’s Journal of Museum Education”, I shared experiences I have had with virtual reality and how museums have taken advantage of virtual experiences. Towards the end of that post, I pointed out that

Museum professionals have always investigated ways we can draw more visitors to our museums and sites, and as technology continues to develop we continue to figure out different ways we can reach out to people to share resources and collections.

This is especially true when museums are making their exhibits available online for individuals interested in visiting them. In the blog post, I pointed out the benefits of providing virtual experiences of museum exhibits online: Individuals can take advantage of virtually visiting museums and participating in museum programs that are far from home, or places that are not entirely handicapped accessible. Not many individuals are able to financially travel to museums in other countries and when museums provide virtual exhibits, they will at least be able to get a closer look at objects, exhibit labels, and additional information they can learn in each space. Also, there are individuals who are not able to physically access spaces in museums and by providing virtual exhibits to them they will be able to have an engaging experience within the space once inaccessible.

These are examples of virtual exhibits and tours I have come across from around the world:

The British Museum has a virtual exhibit called The Museum of the World which is navigated using the arrow keys or scrolling to explore back and forth through time. Also, it is set up as a timeline divided into five color-coded sections: Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. When one clicks on a color circle, an object appears with a short description and the option to learn more about it; for instance, I clicked on Ceramic Bowl from the Path of Roses in Tunisia, Africa, and it includes an audio of a speaker providing more information, a Google map showing the location, a description of the object and its history, and pictures of related objects. Also, there are themes that visitors can explore the exhibit by in addition to the timeline: Art and design, Living and dying, Power and identity, Religion and belief, and Trade and conflict.

The Louvre offers virtual tours that allow individuals to visit the museum’s exhibition rooms and galleries. Inside the virtual space, visitors can tour three different sections of the museum, read an introduction to and descriptions of where they are located within the Louvre: Egyptian Antiquities, Remains of the Louvre’s Moat, and Galerie d’Apollon. The Egyptian Antiquities has collections from the Pharaonic period that are displayed on the east side of the Sully wing, on the ground floor and 1st floor. In the Remains of the Louvre’s Moat tour, it describes that originally the Louvre was a fortress built by the French king, Philippe Auguste; it was intended to reinforce the defenses that the king had ordered to be built in 1190 to protect Paris from attack via the Seine, and today visitors can walk around the original perimeter moat and view the piers that supported the drawbridge. The Galerie d’Apollon, which is a decorative art situated above the Petite Galerie, was destroyed by fire in 1661 and rebuilt. Also, the Louvre’s website includes descriptions of 55 rooms inside the museum and what is located in these rooms.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History offers varying museum virtual tours that allow individuals to take self-guided room-by-room tours of select rooms or areas within the museum on the computer and/or on cellphones. Also, there is an opportunity to access select research and collections areas with satellite support, research stations, and past exhibits that no longer on display. The museum’s website also includes other tours of the Smithsonian including the Smithsonian Castle and the Hirshhorn (a sculpture museum). Their virtual tours provide arrow links on the floor and the ability to use the navigation map to travel through rooms in the tours, and a camera icon give a close-up view of a particular object or exhibit panel.

Each example I explored has a different way of presenting virtual experiences. If museums have the capability, they should take advantage of making their exhibits and tours more accessible for all visitors. To learn more about virtual tours that are available, I included a list of links I found to virtual tours and exhibits that explore museums around the world.

Have you experienced virtual exhibits or tours? What are your impressions? Do you feel like you are as just engaged with the virtual experience as you would be in person? Why or why not?

Links:

https://www.bunkhistory.org/exhibits/30

https://www.bunkhistory.org/

https://britishmuseum.withgoogle.com/

https://naturalhistory.si.edu/visit/virtual-tour

https://www.si.edu/exhibitions/online

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/75809/12-world-class-museums-you-can-visit-online

https://www.top10.com/virtual-museum-tours

http://www.virtualfreesites.com/museums.museums.html

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/08/01/virtual-museum-experiences-impressions-of-museum-education-roundtables-journal-of-museum-education/

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