If you like museums — but find you don’t have the time or money to travel around to them — check out the Google Cultural Institute. It’s an online repository that helps explain and illustrate history right in the web browser. The project launched in 2011, and now includes more than six million digitized items, including high-resolution photos, archival video clips, maps, documents and artwork. Google’s partners in this effort include the British Museum in London, Museo Gallileo in Florence, the Museum of Polish History in Warsaw, Museum Nasional Indonesia and institutions in more than 40 countries.
The site is roughly divided into three main topic areas: Art Project , paintings, sculpture and other creative works from around the world; Historic Moments, exhibits that focus on pivotal events in the human timeline; and World Wonders, detail tours of heritage sites around the globe. You may learn more just by wandering the site and randomly stumbling into things you didn’t know were there in the first place, like The Palace of Versailles in 3D or the site’s LIFE magazine photo collection.
For geeks, there’s a trove of material from Bletchley Park, Britain’s codebreaking center during World War II, as well as an exhibit from the country’s National Museum of Computing on Colossus & The Breaking of Lorenz, a Nazi cipher thought to be uncrackable. War is well represented on the site — for example, more than 40 items are on display from the National World War I Museum in Kansas City. That exhibit is part of a larger World War I project with material from other institutions like the Imperial War Museum in Britain. Cornell University has a collection on Lincoln at Gettysburg and there are plenty of other military topics explore.
Music and comics are covered, too. There’s an exhibit called Unveiling the Mysteries of the King Cello, which looks at the world’s oldest surviving cello, as studied in CT scans and icongraphic studies. Tezuka Osamu: Revival of the God of Manga, another exhibit, focuses on the works of the Japanese master of the form.
Too many cool, informative things are waiting online at the Google Cultural Institute to mention here, so go look if you’re interested. The site also has its own YouTube channel (which has a video that explains how to use the Google Cultural Institute), an online tour and a Google+ page. It may not be quite the same as being there, but hey — no airfares, long lines or hefty museum admissions fees.