What's on: virtual museum exhibits

What's on: virtual museum exhibits

Can’t get to a museum this weekend, no matter. Here’s how you can get your cultural fix from the comfort of your sofa.

A History of the North in 100 Objects

Overview: focusing on the local significance of 100 objects from museums across the North, this exhibit spans the age of dinosaurs, to the industrial revolution and the 20th century. The objects come from categories as diverse as medicine, sporting paraphernalia, clothing and medieval jewellery.

Each object has a description in text and audio, and a map pin for those who want to see the real thing later. In an interactive twist, objects which have a special meaning to viewers can be added to a personally curated ‘My History of the North’ gallery and then shared across social media.

Why we love it: with a beautifully intuitive and customisable website, the collection is a modern extension of the cabinet of curiosities, with the concept allowing for a great variety of objects. After all, where else would you find a bar of soap listed next to the FA Cup?

Run by: The National Lottery and Tyne and Wear Archives & Museums


The Museum of Endangered Sounds

Overview: run by a technology enthusiast, this online exhibit aims to record and preserve old mechanical and digital sounds which are dying out. From typewriters, to dot matrix printers and rotary phones, it’s a great trip down memory-lane (or retro-city depending on your age).

Why we love it: quirky? Definitely. Needed? Absolutely. With technology moving so fast, it would be all too easy to forget old technologies in favour for the next shiny thing, so a catalogue of their sounds helps record the journey… even if we’d maybe all rather forget the Nokia ringtone.

Run by: individual collector


 Chippendale Revealed: An Online Exhibition

Overview: the National Trust owns a collection of around 500 pieces by one of the world’s most famous furniture makers, Thomas Chippendale. This online exhibit brings them together in an introductory overview of the man, the designs and the construction. 

Presented as a series of interconnected illustrated articles, the exhibit is informative while still being digestible. There’s even a glossary of terminology, so it’s super accessible even if you haven’t got a clue what an escutcheon is.

Two Book Cases From Chippendale's Directory (1754)

Two Book Cases From Chippendale's Directory (1754)

The online format also gives an up close-and-personal view, with a look behind, below and inside some of the pieces; showing that, despite the pomp and prestige of the facades, they are in fact real pieces of furniture made by real people.

Why we love it: spread across the country, seeing all these pieces in real life would be a challenge… and you definitely wouldn’t be able to move them to see their backs or their inner construction. In a nutshell, this exhibit does exactly what it says on the tin, it’s Chippendale revealed.  

Run by: National Trust


The V&A: Rapid Response Collection

Overview: the V&A has a number of online exhibits, but the Rapid Response Collection is one of the most intriguing. First established as a credible collecting activity by the museum in 2014, it curates contemporary, newsworthy objects on display at the museum and previewed in this online exhibit. 

Objects featured include Lego, the Flappy Bird app, Christian Louboutin shoes and the world’s first 3D printed handgun, with a video and articles delving into the meaning behind some of the most interesting pieces. There’s also a chance to contribute to what makes it into the collection via the #RapidResponseCollecting hashtag.

It’s a new take on collecting; essentially a gallery of the ‘history of the future’. You saw it here first.

Why we love it: as is the case with knowing the word to the songs before going to a concert, understanding even a little about the objects in a museum before visiting can make the experience much more exciting. With an entirely new concept like Rapid Response, this prelude is even more valuable, and this online version of the gallery does a great job of explaining it.

Run by: the V&A


Samuel Simms Collection of Medical Texts

Overview: this exhibit is a sample of the early medical works collected by Dr Simms in the early 20th century. From anatomical drawings, to library tickets for medical research books, to maps and graphs showing the spread of diseases, this collection chronicles medical sciences across the ages.

Why we love it: sometimes gruesome, sometimes bizarre, the items in this gallery are always interesting. Our personal favourite item, the front cover of ‘Surgeons and Their Wonderful Discoveries’ from 1900.

Run by: Queen’s University Belfast


Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Overview: why limit yourself to the UK? Take a virtual mini-break to Washington D.C. and have a 3D tour of the natural history galleries at the Smithsonian…. it’s even got a beta trial for a VR experience for those with Google Cardboard glasses. Another special feature are the tours of the support centres and storage areas; from shelves of bottled snakes, to catalogues of whale bones, to laboratories, you can really get a feel for the work that goes into curating the museum.

Google Cardboard Glasses

Google Cardboard Glasses

Why we love it: with the Google Arts and Culture 360° technology, many museums now offer 3D tours, but this is the best example we’ve seen, and the VR makes it fully immersive. For those just on a computer or phone, it’s nonetheless easy to navigate, the behind-the-scenes access is unique, while the map overlay in the public galleries helpfully ticks the areas you’ve been to – got to collect them all…

Run by: the Smithsonian


Did we miss your favourite online gallery? Let us know and we might add it!

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