National Museum of African American History and Culture Launches New “Searchable Museum” Digital Initiative
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) today, Nov. 18, launched its newest digital initiative, the Searchable Museum(link is external). As part of the museum’s fifth anniversary, NMAAHC continues to engage audiences worldwide with online exhibitions, virtual symposia and digital programs. The Searchable Museum reaches beyond the walls of the museum to provide a rich digital experience that includes a multimedia presentation of NMAAHC’s historical narratives, collections and educational resources. Over a year in the making, the Searchable Museum initiative is one of the museum’s largest digital undertakings, bringing the museum’s evocative content and immersive in-person visitor experience into homes around the world. The Searchable Museum is made possible through the generous support of Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The Searchable Museum’s use of emerging technologies and scholarly expertise allows NMAAHC to draw from the transformative narrative structure and tone of its gallery experience while offering virtual visitors the flexibility to explore the exhibition content at their own pace. Whether someone has not been able to visit yet or wants to relive their time in the museum, Searchable Museum provides the opportunity for people to engage with the museum’s exhibitions through a deeper dive into African American history and culture.
The project’s first digital exhibition to be shared on the site is the “Slavery and Freedom” exhibition, a foundational feature from the museum’s David M. Rubenstein History Galleries, entirely reimagined for the digital space.
“By marshalling the latest technology and harnessing the scholarly and educational experience of the museum’s teams, the Searchable Museum tells the complex story of our nation’s history in ways only the National Museum of African American History and Culture can,” said Kevin Young, the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the museum. “This ongoing project provides a chance for Americans to realize our shared past, bringing the unique museum experience to their homes and on their phones. Allowing the public to virtually revisit the originating struggle for American freedom in the ‘Slavery and Freedom’ exhibition reminds us of the centrality of the African American journey to the American experience—a story of triumph, resilience and joy over the centuries. With this launch, we look forward to continuing the museum’s digital outreach and efforts.”
The exhibition has been transformed into an online experience combining existing and newly created digital collection assets, digitized exhibition content, multimedia components, such as 3D models, videos and audio podcasts, and state-of-the-art technologies to deliver an innovative, virtual exhibition. The site will also be responsive to user interests, offering opportunities for inquiry into specific topics via links to related online content and educational resources, making it possible to share new artifacts from the museum’s collections for the first time.
Similar to the in-person exhibition, the virtual exhibition explores the story of slavery and freedom—the core of America’s founding—beginning in the 14th century and concluding with the Civil War and Reconstruction. Through first-person accounts and artifacts, the exhibition examines the economic and political legacies of the making of modern slavery and the concept of freedom, both of which were foundational in the development of the United States. Most importantly, it considers the resistance, resilience and survival of enslaved African Americans as they fought to hold on to their humanity through inhumane conditions and free and enslaved African Americans’ contributions to the making of America. Throughout the exhibition, users will virtually experience recreations of striking moments and objects from the “Slavery and Freedom” exhibition in the David M. Rubenstein History Galleries.