Column: Talking Tech

Google Cultural Institute

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 1.13.26 PM.pngGoogle Cultural Institute includes art and artifacts from all over the world

Google Cultural Institute sprang from the Google Art Project – a proposal to digitize the world’s art collections by allowing online visitors to stroll through a virtual museum the same way you use Street View to visualize a journey. Since then, the project has expanded to include Historic Moments and World Wonders projects, using maps, photographs and more to explain and instruct.

Art Project
You can still take a virtual stroll through the Louvre, but Google has worked with museums to sort and categorize their collections, creating a searchable database where students and teachers can view artworks in high-resolution. Works are accompanied details and descriptions to explain their meaning and history (as I tell my students, just like those little plaques that hang next to the paintings in the museum) as well as give information for citations. Links take students back to the original source where they can find more details and download images if they want to make copies.

The technology allows students to zoom in for a closer look, examining the brushstrokes on a Van Gogh, or to find each dot on Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.” If you got this close in real life, the alarms would go off.

Historic Moments
In this section Google and its partners have created online exhibits about “significant moments in human history…using documents, photos videos and in some cases personal accounts of events.” The project includes digital versions of existing exhibits as well as ones created and developed especially for the site, with partners ranging from the George C. Marshall Organization, to the Anne Frank House to the Computer History Museum.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 1.15.42 PM.pngThe Historic Moments section includes exhibits curated by museums

World Wonders
This project teams Google with UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. bringing Google’s Street View technology to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. Visit a world heritage site, and you can take a virtual tour of the site, read an article describing it’s importance, and view related artworks and artifacts, collected from museums around the world. For example, the exhibit devoted to the Giza Necropolis will let you take a tour around the Sphinx, and then look at photographs of archeological digs in the LIFE Photo Collection.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 1.18.17 PM.pngThe Versailles entry lets you read about the palace and look at some of its art before taking a virtual walk through the gardens

How would you use it in class?

The original Google Art Project was clearly a boon to art educators. But by expanding beyond traditional art works, the Google Cultural Institute can be a valuable resource for a variety of teachers and subjects.

History teachers should find the site especially useful. Students can locate images and primary sources for research on the fall of the Berlin Wall or learn about the codebreakers at Bletchley Park.

The search functions can get even more specific: a student studying scientific innovations in Ancient China can comb the entire database, narrowing the search to  items from China in 1600 BCE to find an example of Bronze metalwork from the Sanzingdui Museum.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 1.20.36 PM.pngUse the search tools to help students find artifacts from a particular time and place they are studying.

And it’s not just for upper level research. Younger students researching volcanoes might browse through UNESCO’s Pompeii exhibit and look at relics from the ancient city while American History researchers take a virtual tour of the Liberty Bell.

Sixth grade students at H.C. Crittenden Middle School in Byram Hills have used the site for their year-long nation research, said librarian Barbara Bathelemes. While not all her students used the tool, those who did “loved it.”

Margaret Kane Schoen is a librarian at Newton South High School

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