How Technology is Bringing History to Life in Museums
Museum-going is typically viewed as a passive experience. You go in and appreciate and admire great works of art or artifacts from history or wax replications of celebrities, without much interaction.
While this view of the museum experience may have been true once upon a time, today, more and more museums are experimenting with bold, inventive ways of involving visitors in interactive experiences.
For history museums, this kind of innovation often involves using new technology to fundamentally change the way we interact with ancient things, new discoveries, or scientific theories.
The National World War I Museum in Kansas City uses digital tables to engage visitors and open up new avenues of interactivity. The tables allow users to explore World War I artifacts in a way that’s impossible by simply observing them. Participatory media units help to lend to context to the historical era and imbue visitors with a sense of place.
The History Colorado Center in Denver invites guests to explore history in a number of unique ways. Their “Destination Colorado” exhibit demonstrates how life would be in the state in 1918. Visitors can take a virtual ride in a Model T, or get their picture taken for the town yearbook. In the “Colorado Stories” exhibit, visitors can take a virtual jump off of a 1915 Steamboat Springs ski jump.
In San Antonio, the Witte Museum partnered with Geomedia to create the “Dinosaurs Unearthed: Bigger. Better. Feathered…” exhibit. The exhibit features lifelike animatronic dinosaurs paired with state-of-the-art augmented reality technology. Visitors use tablets to view interactive 3D models and animations of the dinos, as well as information about how the creatures lived. The environments and animations change over time, creating incentive for visitors to come by again. When it debuted, Dinosaurs Unearthed broke a 78 year attendance record.
In some cases, museums are using technology to bring exhibits directly to the curious. The Smithsonian Museum boasts a robust selection of detailed virtual exhibits accessible on the web. From animals to anthropology, the museum has uploaded photographs and detailed explanations of over 30 exhibits, with varying degrees of interactivity. Advances in web and 3D modeling technology could allow for forward thinking museums to create fully immersive three-dimensional recreations of their exhibits that visitors could view from home.
The potential application for new technology in museums is only just now being explored. These new forms of interaction allow for an unprecedented level of engagement and education, with visitors of all ages. Perhaps one day the development of this technology will earn its own exhibit.