By: Madeleine Chan, Staff Writer
I’ll admit it. I’m not really a museum fanatic. Sure, I’ve been to plenty of them and enjoyed basking in the aura of dusty relics, but I’ve never been totally excited to go to one. However, the National Women’s History Museum did manage to pique my interest.
Exclusively online, this unique museum documents American women’s history through a “growing state-of-the-art online presence.” The website features exhibits, oral histories, educational materials, resources, and virtual programming, among other information. There’s even a section where you can submit the history of a woman in your life to honour their legacy.
Many of the exhibits were very refreshing to go through because they showed many facets of the past that aren’t typically covered in our standard education. One of my favourite exhibits that exemplified this was called Fun in the Sun, and documented girls’ summer camps through photos. Seeing girls diving off of piers, doing archery, going for hikes, and simply having carefree fun as early as 1920 was very heartening to witness. When I think of women’s history, I typically think of the suffragettes and the numerous waves of feminism, so it was nice to see that the past wasn’t all about patriarchal suffering.
However, learning about the lesser-known heroes of the civil rights movement was also enjoyable as it highlighted just how expansive women’s rights movements were back then. My favourite part of the museum was seeing how, in exhibits like The Women of NASA, leaders of movements were portrayed through colourized pictures. It was particularly striking to see historical figures of colour depicted in colourized photos as the old photographs I often see of them are in black and white. The life that the various shades bring to their history was something I found to be very refreshing.
The digital format of this museum lent itself well to a more flexible and creative presentation of information. Most of the exhibits were laid out like your typical museum with boxes of text to accompany each piece, but in numerous galleries there were also 360 degree photos that you could move around as if you were standing there taking the picture. The Harriet Tubman exhibit was particularly interesting because there were Google Maps street views of the exact sites of her struggles. The locationless museum is also very beneficial for people like me who wouldn’t necessarily spend the time or the money to physically go to a museum, but still wanted to take in its contents.
Despite this, I did find myself missing the vibes I would get from physically being in a museum. After scrolling through many of the exhibits, I almost felt like I was back in a 100-level class, hurriedly trying to catch up on Powerpoint slides before an exam. This feeling grew stronger when I saw that some of the exhibits were just straight up Prezi presentations. Of course, the online setting cannot truly replicate the feelings of a physical museum, but nevertheless I still found it to be a great attempt.
Overall, I commend the effort that went into designing this interactive and accessible gallery that gave me a taste of what life was like for women in the past. If you’re looking for a slice of historical life from the comfort of your own home, this is a solid way to delve into that world. You can find the museum at womenshistory.org.