100 years in the making, the Smithsonians National Museum of African American History and Culture is finally complete and ready for visitors to explore the expansive journey of African Americans in the United States.
Unique in its design, a 400,000 square-foot building designed by architect David Adjaye, and its numerous collection of 40,000 objects, (3,500 of which are on display), the Museum will be a treasure among African Americans for sure. And thanks to Google, it is also technologically advanced.
A few years ago, Dr. Lonnie Bunch, the NMAAHCs director, came to Google’s headquarters and shared his vision to make the museum the most technologically advanced in the world. I immediately knew I wanted to be involved, and pulled together people from across the company: designers who focus on user interaction, members of the Cultural Institute, engineers who work on everything from Google Maps to YouTube, and members of the Black Googler Network. For the past year, we’ve been working to deliver on Dr. Bunch’s vision, says Travis McPhail, Software Engineer, Google Maps, and Team Lead, Project Griot.
That vision has translated into a first-of-its-kind 3D interactive exhibit. The Museums grand opening is next week, but in spring 2017, McPhail says visitors can look forward to a new way to explore artifacts, Our team quickly learned that museums are often only able to showcase a fraction of their content and archives to visitors. So we asked ourselves: what technology do we have at Google that could help enrich the museum experience? We worked closely with the museum to build an interactive exhibit to house artifacts from decades of African American history and let visitors explore and learn about them. With 3D scanning, 360video, multiple screens and other technologies, visitors can see artifacts like a powder horn or handmade dish from all angles by rotating them with a mobile device. The interactive exhibit will open in spring 2017.
For students, Google launched two new Google Expeditions. Google Expeditions are field trips via virtual reality. In this case, students can take a digital journey through African American history. Notes McPhail, Earlier this year, we formed the African American Expeditions Council – a group of top minds in Black culture, academia and curation – to help develop Expeditions that tell the story of Africans in America. With participation from the National Park Service, the Expeditions team captured images of the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, which commemorates the events, people and route of the 1965 Voting Rights March.
A second Expedition, McPhail says, from the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, takes you around Dr. King’s childhood home and the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he preached.
Day to day, I work on Google Maps, where we help people around the world find and discover new places,” shares McPhail. “Working on this exhibit has given me a chance to help people discover something else – the ways African American history is vitally intertwined with our history as a nation. I’m proud of the role Google has played in taking people on that journey.
The tech giant also contributed $1 million as part of its ongoing work on racial and social justice issues.