A Real Guide to Virtual Museums

January 1st, 2020

Virtual reality presents an immersive way to learn about the natural world. There are apps for astronomy, historical sites, and lived experiences. One extremely powerful educational app is Wander, which turns Google Street View into a VR experience. I toured famous locations, found every place I’ve ever lived, and played a game with myself where I hit the random button and try to figure out where I am. I used the app the most for viewing museums around the world. Here is a list of my favorite tourable (not terrible) museums on Google Street View. 

 

Houston Museum of Natural Science (official site)

This modern looking museum is a treat in virtual reality. The prehistory section is expansive, with a lot of specimens set on inobstrusive white blocks. The paths through the section show a great use of winding corridors to make a space seem much more extensive than it really is. In real life, crowds could be a problem, but that’s no concern in VR. The poses of the fossils and models are extremely creative, along with colorful lighting. Watch a skeletal Homo sapiens get yeeted by a mammoth as another person takes aim with an atlatl. There are also mapped wings on local ecology, Egypt, and Precolumbian Americas. The VR experience makes this museum somewhere I have to go in real life.

 

 

 

Naturhistorisches Museum Wien (Vienna)

This museum is in an opulent and historical building, but it is also a Tardis as it is far larger on the inside. The density of locations is so high that it can be confusing to navigate using the arrows and the map gives up and shows a blank building. However, if you click around you’ll be randomly teleported to any number of rooms of painstakingly organized specimens. There are rows and rows of present day biology, numerous dinosaur skeletons, and rooms representing human evolution. Paintings and interesting architecture frame every view. Tantalizingly, the room for the Venus of Willendorf is not mapped.

 

 

The Field Museum (Chicago)

This museum was a must-stop for me whenever I went to Chicago, and it is still impressive in virtual reality. From the old location of Sue, you can tour the also-famous habitat dioramas that wind through different regions and lineages of animals. On the other side, halls of Native American history and culture can be seen. 

 

American Museum of Natural History (New York City)

In real life, this is the best museum I’ve been to. The classic dioramas of taxidermied and modeled animals are viewable, though the two-story rooms can be hard to navigate. Random clicking may take you to either floor. It’s worth it to see each scene that encapsulates the ecology of a little slice of our planet, though. The halls of extinct dinosaurs and mammals, human evolution and cultural anthropology are also present.

 

Museo Nacional de Antropología (Mexico City)

The grandeur of this museum, which must be the largest anthropology museum in the Americas if not the world, shows through even in Street View. See the amazing displays of prehistoric Native American life, especially Aztec artifacts. There are many lifesize structures, from small living spaces to massive temple facades to take in. The northern wing also has human evolution exhibit, with a lot for paleoanthropologists and bioarchaeologists to view.

 

Those are big explorable museums on Google Street View or VR. In my scouring of the world for viewable museums, I also ran into a lot of smaller natural history spaces from Australia to Korea. Once you’re done with these, maybe we can go through some of the deeper cuts in virtual museums.


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