It's now possible to visit the Smithsonian's African American history museum virtually The NMAAHC launched a "Searchable Museum" this week, translating its archives and stories into an interactive digital experience.
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It's now possible to visit the Smithsonian's African American history museum virtually

The NMAAHC launched a "Searchable Museum" this week, translating its archives and stories into an interactive digital experience. Alan Karchmer/Courtesy of the Smithsonian hide caption

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Alan Karchmer/Courtesy of the Smithsonian

Anyone who's been to the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture will speak of its elevator ride through time, which takes visitors from the present day to the 15th century and kicks off the first exhibit, Slavery & Freedom. With the launch of a new virtual platform, visitors can now travel on the elevator down to that exhibit without ever leaving their homes.

The Searchable Museum, launched Thursday, transforms the artifacts, stories, and interactive experiences of the physical exhibit into a digital platform where museumgoers can take it in at their own pace.

Eventually, the museum plans to bring all of its exhibits online. The next exhibit, Making a Way Out of No Way, will go online this spring.

"History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived — but if faced with courage, need not be lived again, " echoes Angelou's voice as a video plays, showing images from the past 600 years of Black history.

While nothing quite matches seeing or touching certain artifacts in person, the digital museum will provide an inside look into some previously off-limits areas. Visitors can, for the first time, go inside the Point of Pines Slave Cabin, one of two remaining slave cabins on Edisto Island, South Carolina, with a 3-D virtual tour.

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Unlike other Smithsonian museums, the NMAAHC has required timed-entry passes to enter the site almost exclusively since it opened in 2016. Though these timed tickets are still free of charge, they can be snapped up pretty quickly: Many tickets for December have already been claimed. (During the pandemic, plenty of Smithsonians have followed suit, requiring timed entry passes to avoid overcrowding.)

The virtual project has new elements, like videos, podcasts, and behind-the-scenes looks at the research behind the exhibits. One section, called "Lesser-Known Stories," captures stories that have been largely ignored throughout history — like the story of Nathan "Nearest" Green, the first known Black master distiller, who taught Jack Daniel how to make Tennessee whiskey; or the story of the largest known mass suicide of enslaved people, an act of resistance at Igbo Landing.

"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," Kevin Young, the museum's director said in a press release. "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."

The site will also include links to related content elsewhere online, like a time-lapsed video of more than 31,000 slave ships during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, between 1514 and 1860.

"This is just the start," Young told The Washington Post. "We're looking right now at phase two and stories we can tell next."

This story is from DCist.com, the local news site of WAMU.

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