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With the worldwide outbreak of COVID-19, we are adjusting to a very different way of living. Of course, one of the sectors most affected by us all staying at home is museums and galleries, as most face temporary closure and the cancellation or postponement of exhibitions.

Many museums are adjusting by providing online, virtual tours of their exhibitions in Google maps style format. This is of course not the same as a real physical experience, but is better than nothing. The British Museum, however, has created a virtual exhibition quite unlike others, and one that does not attempt to replicate the embodied experience, but create a unique online one.

The British Museum offers an alternative, exclusively virtual museum, ‘The Museum of the World’, using the British Museum’s collections. At first arrival, you are faced with a movable Guitar Hero-like coloured timeline, organised by continent. The various dots can be clicked on, and take you to a range of objects, which can also be filtered by the various themes on the right side bar.

Perhaps just like a real museum experience, there are way too many dots to possibly click on or read. The viewer is forced to simply explore and see what you can find! Once clicking on a dot, you can see what the object is, and be linked to other, similar objects.

On clicking ‘find out more’, you are taken to an information screen about that object, which is more informative than a regular museum caption, and has additional features of an audio of interviews with experts discussing the object, viewing related objects, and seeing the original location. This is a very fun way to explore a museum, with very detailed and well curated information on each object, set out in an exciting way.

Only problem with the virtual system is that if you want to go back and look at an object, it is almost impossible to find it again, especially since there is no search feature! It also often only presents one view of an object and you cannot get the same 360 degree view you could in real life. It is, however, a great way of presenting and demonstrating the sheer scale of the British Museum’s collection, which in the physical museum; there is no way all could be on display.

It is interesting to think about the accessibility of these virtual museums. In theory, they make museum collections available to a wide range of audiences across the world, much more so than physical museums do. It is interesting, however, that the British Museum has renamed its virtual counterpart ‘The Museum of the World’. This is perhaps an attempt to demonstrate that the collections span across the world, or, maybe a haphazard attempt to suggest that actually, these objects should not belong to a ‘British’ Museum. The British Museum has had decades of controversy surrounding many objects in its collection, from the legality of their acquisition, to the ethics of their continued location and refusal of repatriation. 

Despite these issues, however, their virtual museum is a wonderful demonstration of the geographical diversity of their museum collections, and perhaps an indication of a way museums could reach a more worldwide audience, even after coronavirus. You can check out the ‘Museum of the World’ here.

Girl Museum is also a virtual-only museum! Combat quarantine boredom by looking at our online exhibitions!

-Emma Pearce
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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