Show & Tell – Google Cultural Institute

This semester we’ve talked a lot about how putting history online and using different tools can help make sources and information more accessible for a larger audience. We’ve also talked a lot about Google in regards to tools – Google Books, Google Docs, Google N-Gram. Well, here’s something else to add to the list of Google: the Google Cultural Institute.

The Google Cultural Institute is probably best known for the Art Project. You can now peruse some of the world’s finest art galleries with a click of your mouse. (Now including the White House!) Two of its lesser known projects are with the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.

The Google Culture Institute digitized the Dead Sea Scrolls for the Israel Museum. This still just blows my mind. The site went live in September and had a million visitors in three and a half days, according to the New York Times. The actual site is pretty amazing. The most complete scroll, the Great Isaiah Scroll, is transcribed so even if you don’t know Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek, you can still read it. Visitors are able to zoom in on the images so closely, they can see the individual cracks in the parchment and papyrus.

For the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, the Cultural Institute digitized the archives and helped create an online exhibition, including text, audio and photos. Again, the site is worth checking out.

Not everyone is exactly thrilled about Google’s involvement, and Google itself has even down-played its own involvement. It can only be found in the bottom corners of pages, or in the “About” page of the site. People are wary because they’re thinking, “Why is this for-profit company helping non-profit organizations at no cost?” There has to be a catch, right?

Steve Crossan, director of the Cultural Institute, told the New York Times that the company benefits from there being good content on the web. What do you think? Should historians and museum directors be wary of companies like Google? Or should they take a stance similar to crowd sourcing transcription – the more digitization happening, the more online archives and exhibits built, the better?

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