November 01, 2006
By Elisabeth Grant
You want to visit the National Museum of American History, but you’d like to avoid the crowds, the metro, and leaving your house. Or perhaps you want your students to examine a historical artifact that is hundreds of miles away. No problem, just visit HistoryWired, an interactive map that allows users to tour 450 items from the collections of the National Museum of American History. The Smithsonian wants visitors to look at this map like a “private tour through the Museum storage areas,” since it’s a way to share objects that may not currently be on display to the public.
The HistoryWired map is made up of dozens of rectangles that represent items in the Smithsonian’s collection. Placing your cursor over a rectangle reveals, in the left column of the page, the name of the item, it’s picture and period, and a list of subjects it falls under. Double clicking an item opens a new page (make sure your browser’s pop-up blocker is turned off) that contains a larger picture, a more detailed description, and links to information on related items. As you go click on map items, check marks appear to show you where you’ve already been.
There are numerous ways to narrow down the map into specific categories or timeframes. Clicking subjects at the top of the page highlights certain items, while using the dropdown menu on the left produces more specialized button options above. For instance, if you select “Models” from the dropdown menu on the left, the subject buttons on the top change to “Patent Models” and “Prototype.” Above the subject buttons is a timeline, which you can click and drag to a certain time period. Any item on the map that comes before the time period you select is grayed out.
To find precisely what you’re looking for, type in a subject in the search box and all applicable items on the map will turn orange. I searched for “George Washington” and five orange boxes appeared on the map in the areas of clothing, home, transportation, and military. Within these sections I found George Washington’s uniform, camp chest, tent, and sword, as well as a sample of bridge cable that came from the suspension of the George Washington Bridge.
While this site might not be as much fun as a trip to the actual museum, it is a place to peruse historical objects, find more information, and spend some time browsing the Smithsonian’s collections.