Project Glass gets all the attention. Tomorrow, Google could set out to mine the moon. Did you know that there’s a secret lab called Google X where the future is being reimagined? Google has a wide umbrella of services and projects, so it’s very difficult to predict what they will think up next. There are as many successful online Google initiatives as there are dead ones.
Skynet is still fiction, Google is definitely not. But we can say that Google is the Skynet of our generation, but so far with a slightly benign face. But this article is not about the future…it is about the past.
It’s about a little known Google project that is helping to preserve the past through unique online tools.
Enter The Google Cultural Institute
With a team of dedicated engineers, Google is building tools that make it simple to tell the stories of our diverse cultural heritage and make them accessible worldwide. We have worked with organizations from across the globe on a variety of projects.
That is the mission statement from the team that’s behind this history archiving and preserving initiative using all the tools that Google has at its disposal. Culture as it exists is increasingly being subsumed by today’s ‘digital culture’ and The Google Cultural Institute is a program that seeks to lend it a hand by safeguarding it and making it all the more accessible for all internet users around the world. The implications for education and knowing more about our history are immense as you will appreciate after looking at the various different projects that are underway.
The Projects That Capture History
The Art Project
This was one of the first cultural initiatives from Google and we have written about it before briefly. It gives you a couch-view of art – paintings, sculpture, street art and photographs from 151 museums in 40 countries. The ever-growing collection has 30,000 high-resolution artworks, with Street View images for 46 museums, many of them in 360 degrees. You can use tools like Explore and Discover to build your own personalized online collection of artwork with My Gallery.
If you are a history student or a buff, you can use Google+ and Hangouts on the site to enrich your discussions and experience.
A 140,000 strong virtual treasure trove of archived documents commemorates the Holocaust. The Yad Vashem is also an actual museum in Jerusalem, Israel which partnered The Google Cultural Institute to digitize their collection and make it accessible to a larger worldwide audience. Google used OCR to extract the text from the age-old images and make them searchable from Google Search. If you are searching or researching someone, this gives it a better chance of being discovered by the search tool. It is probably the largest archive and most definitive of its kind so far.
I had mentioned this institution when we talked about Catch Moments That Shaped The World With These 10 YouTube History Channels.
Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory
Just like the previous project, The Google Cultural Institute also worked with the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory to digitize their archival material on Nelson Mandela. From Mandela’s letters from prison to his notes on his political negotiations with the South African government, every detail is captured and kept for posterity. The multimedia archive is a virtual timeline on Nelson Mandela from his early years to even some of his personal interactions with his daughters and friends. My Moments with a Legend gives you a glimpse into what other newsmakers thought of him.
Dead Sea Scrolls
If Google is digitizing the life of a man from our times, then it is working on a time-period that came much before us with the project on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The joint project between The Israel Museum, Jerusalem and the Google Cultural Institute has scanned and made searchable, fast-loading, high-resolution images of five of the scrolls, backed up by background videos and commentary on the texts and their history.
La France En Relief
A celebration of France’s unique heritage, the project brings to life seven fortified French towns using the 3D imagery of Google Earth. The Google project used highly-detailed relief maps from the period and built up the models to scale. It is a completely immersive experience and will feel like you are in a three dimensional Age of Empires world. Don’t forget to change over to the English version of the website.
Then, if you are in Paris and anywhere near the Le Pavillon de l’Arsenal, check out the 37m² digital model of Paris in 3D made possible by Liquid Galaxy software and Google Earth.
World Wonders Project
This is a virtual journey for the one who does not hope to catch the world’s ancient and modern architectural wonders in one lifetime. Street View tech brings you panoramic tours of 132 historic sites from 18 countries. These are them supplemented with 3D models, YouTube videos, images from Getty, official information from partners like UNESCO, the World Monuments Fund, and Ourplace. You can go searching for a place to visit by location or theme. The World Wonders Project is a valuable educational resource for history and geography students and also gives teachers and students downloadable study guides.
You can spend quite a bit of educational time on these six project sites even if you are not a student of history. Read this New York Times article from last year which has a behind-the-scenes perspective on the whole initiative. The Google Cultural Institute gives us a glimpse – thanks to digitization – of cultures that could get buried under technology and the march towards future. Would you agree that this is indeed a very nice effort from the search behemoth?