USA TODAY US Edition
3-D Google exhibit to tell history of black America
On display next year at the Smithsonian: an interactive 3-D exhibit that uses Google technology to tell the story of black America.
Technology is changing the way people engage with museum exhibits. Apps allow visitors to seek more information on their mobile devices about the artwork they are viewing. Augmented reality transports museum visitors back in time by adding skin and flesh to dinosaur bones.
And starting next spring, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture will entice visitors with digital-age techniques that allow people to view individual pieces from the museum’s collection from different angles and learn more about their origins, say an advertisement for a Memphis slave market, even the coffin of Emmett Till that will be housed at the museum.
The exhibit at the newest Smithsonian museum, which opens on the National Mall this month, grew out of museum director Lonnie Bunch’s visit to Google’s Silicon Valley campus a few years ago. Bunch asked to meet with leaders of the Black Googler Network, a group of African-American employees at the Internet giant. Bunch shared his vision for a technologically advanced museum that captured the history of the United States through the prism of the black experience.
“From the jump, Dr. Bunch made it a point to engage the Black Googler Network to see how we could use innovation to make something new and different that the world hasn’t seen,” Travis McPhail, one of the lead engineers on Google Maps, told USA TODAY. “I think it’s crucial for the Black Googler Network to be involved because the stories being told are their stories.”
McPhail led the effort, called Project Griot after the West Afri- can word for storytellers and historians, pulling together a team of eight from across the company. Engineers and designers took time away from their day jobs to build technology that solved a key challenge faced by museum curators: Conservation and space concerns often lead them to display a fraction of their collections.
Starting in the spring, a wall of touchscreens will allow museum visitors to interact with historical artifacts shown in 3-D. Museum visitors can rotate the objects and view them from different angles. The objects frequently will feature media: video content, images and text that offer historical insights and context. Curators will be able to show collections not on display in galleries and tailor exhibits to include new collections.
The dedication of company resources is part of a broader effort afoot at Google to support racial and social justice issues.
In addition to the interactive exhibit, Google’s philanthropic arm Google.org made a $1 million grant to the museum. And Google Expeditions will add two new destinations that navigate key moments in African-American history: the historic 54-mile route between Montgomery and Selma and a digital tour of Martin Luther King Jr.’s childhood home and the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he preached.
“We wanted to immerse individuals in a story.” Travis McPhail, one of the lead engineers on Google Maps, on the new exhibit