Art in the Round

history museums, science museums, industry museums, national archives
Gerald Herbert/AP
National Archives, Washington, D.C.

History, Science and Industry Museums on the Web

November 11, 2009
by findingDulcinea Staff
Once, museums and libraries appeared to hold rare books or pieces of fine art captive in the name of preservation. But now, libraries and museums make viewing these objects a simple matter for anyone with a computer.

History Museums

The closest you might come to time travel could be the window into the past provided by historic exhibits online. At the risk of creating some sort of wrinkle in time, many museums combine the distant past with the most cutting edge technology to allow you a chance to glimpse documents, artifacts, and other fragments from the dawn of society as we know it.

Not what might typically come to mind when thinking of museums, the National Archives in Washington, DC is more than just a storage facility for papers of yore, it houses some of the most influential writings, legislation, and records in United States History. Although you wont find many of the actual records (like census or military) on its Web site you will find very helpful tools to aid your search for such things along with links to other useful sites.

The online exhibits are also quite noteworthy. "A New Deal for the Arts" presents art that was federally funded during the depression era, "American Originals" houses some of the most influential documents in American History, you can also browse the love letters of Bess and Harry Truman, or check out "The Watergate Files" to learn more about the infamous political scandal of the same name.

Media Museums

The only way that history survives is through the records that our ancestors leave behind. With the growth of technology comes the ability of the everyman to create his own account of history via the Web. How we report world affairs affects not only public opinion now, but also how these events are passed on to future generations.

The Newseum is dedicated to the past, present, and future of the media. So, if the thought of having instant access to the front page of nearly every newspaper in the world is of any interest to you, then the Newseum Web site might be worth a look. Explore the ever-changing online exhibits (which, in the past, have included an exhibit about Pulitzer Prize winning photography and the influence of the media on the space race). Along with its other features the Newseum, of course, provides news: you'll find a summary of today's top stories along with the latest trends in media.

Nature and Science Museums

If you've never been to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, you can visit most of the halls virtually with its Web site's "Dioramas."

Or you can navigate your way through the exhibits using the 3-D map on the site.

Even if you are a regular patron, the museum's site provides great overviews, photos, and videos of the current exhibits.

Across the pond, in London, England you'll find the Science Museum. This museum's Web site is so clean and simple that navigating it is delightful - minimal text, lots of pictures, and the sections are color coded so that you always know where you are. Some of the museum's collection can be viewed in the "online stuff" section (also indicated by the green borders), you'll find objects such as old weather predicting equipment, early flying machines, and some of the first radios.

Aviation and Space Museums

Whether or not there is other intelligent life out there, outer space is no doubt a vast and mysterious place. During the last century, humans have developed the technology to travel through the clouds, sent voyages into our own solar system, and are now beginning to explore the infinite beyond.

The Web site for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is not the most user friendly, but if you are wiling to dig, you'll find a wealth of information and photographs of the collection. The only way to really browse the collection easily online is through the selection of online exhibits (which are really just featured image collections).

If you are looking for an image of a particular spacecraft, try searching the collections database.

And if you're determined to try to wander through the entire collection online, keep in mind that you'll have to do a lot of clicking through lists under the "collections" header to get to the really good stuff, but your patience will pay off eventually.

If space imagery is what you desire, the Web site of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the place to go.

Although technically not considered a museum, NASA has a pretty spectacular archive of images and video, as well as some captivating interactive features.

Explore the beauty of outer space through the images of the Hubble Space Telescope at the site.
Or have NASA's "image of the day" delivered to you via RSS feed.

Collections of Patents and Inventions

The things that we'll find in the museums of the future most likely reside in the minds of people today. Unfortunately, there has yet to be created a Web tool that can read minds. What the Internet does provide is access to the inventions of late.

MIT's Invention Dimension is an online museum of sorts. Each week, this site provides a biography of a featured inventor (you can search the Inventor Archive if you are looking for someone in particular). If you're looking to one day earn a spot as "Inventor of the Week," the Inventor's Handbook might help you get there. You can also test your knowledge of invention history with games like "Which Came First?"

The United States Patent and Trademark Office offers a search tool for the full-text of patents issued after 1976 and to some information about those patents issued from 1790 on.

If you are willing to wait for the somewhat slow pages to load, you can also view pictures of some of the designs and inventions. See if someone has already come up with your million-dollar idea; if it truly is unique, you can find out how to register your patent or trademark on the site as well.

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