While nothing can replace the experience of standing inches from an original Picasso, online museums allow individuals around the globe to interact with historical artifacts and works of art that have been kept behind lock and key for centuries. Museums won't digitize their collections overnight, but many have already opened the door to outstanding online exhibits.
A great place to start is MuseumSpot.com, which will lead you to the best museum sites on the Web. Find cool online exhibits or search for museums by city, state or country.
Fine Art, To Go Please
With the aid of a modem, a one-room schoolhouse in South Dakota can take a field trip to the Louvre. In a matter of minutes, we viewed the works of Georgia O'Keefe at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, explored American folk art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and toured the Venus de Milo room of the Louvre in Paris.
Other sites can also help you locate exhibits of interest in the off-line world. The Art Museum Network has dubbed itself the "official Web site of the world's leading art museums." The site allows visitors to search for exhibits by artist's name, exhibition title, city, keyword or museum name. We were able to quickly discover that Monet's works are on display in Cambridge, Mass. and San Francisco. The site also hosts a not-for-profit association that is uniting various museums' collections to form a digital library that will be available to university, public library and K-12 communities.
A Trip Back in Time
Museums preserve some of our most precious historical artifacts, and have the ability to transport visitors back in time. The Denver Museum of Natural History offers monthly online adventures that tie with the museum's physical offerings. Recent exhibits include the Ice Age, a journey back in time to the frozen North America of 18,000 years ago.
The National Park Service Web site serves as a gateway to a number of museums and historical monuments. More than 300 park sites host 28 million artifacts and more than 14,000 linear feet of archives. Sites range from Abraham Lincoln's birthplace to Zion National Park, a canyon in Utah that hosts the world's largest arch.
We can also peek into the histories of other cultures through museums. The German Historical Museum offers online exhibits featuring objects of German history and photos of post-war Germany.
Look, And Please Touch!
Many museums tell visitors to "look, but don't touch." Not this one. San Francisco's Exploratorium is all about interactivity. The Exploratorium offers a variety of outstanding online exhibits for folks who can't make the trek to their physical facility. Current exhibits include the Science of Baseball. The museum teamed up with Louisville Slugger, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Oakland Athletics, the San Francisco Giants and Total Baseball to break baseball down to a science. The exhibit offers interactive demonstrations and activities that explore the science of sweet spots, curveballs, bouncing and more.
A New Breed of Museums
The Web has also given life to a new breed of digital museums. The Intel Corporation recently partnered with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, The Van Gogh Foundation and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. to pay tribute to Van Gogh at ArtMuseum.net. Van Gogh's Van Goghs is the online museum's first project, and a new exhibit entitled "The American Century" is on the way. Some areas of the site require membership, which is free.
The National Library of Congress has developed an impressive digital museum entitled "American Memory." Robust collections of images from the National Digital Library are grouped into broad categories like agriculture, history and performing arts. Individual collections include civil war photographs, baseball cards from 1887-1914 and American sheet music from 1870-1885. Visitors can easily search all collections simultaneously.
If you look hard enough, you can probably find a museum for anything. Our tour would not be complete without a visit to the Toaster Museum, where visitors can view the first electric toaster and learn about modern toaster production. Our favorite crumb of knowledge? Proctor-Silex tests all of their toasters (with bread) before sending them to stores. The resulting piles of toast are given to local ranchers to feed livestock.
For More Information
To locate additional museums, try MuseumLink's compendium of museum links.