National Maritime Museum
Fair wind for the National Maritime Museum
Things are anything but becalmed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. With the same adventurousness and joy of discovery that once defined the proud British “ruling of the waves,” the museum is taking on new challenges to captivate, entertain, and tell stories.
A few years ago, they set a cardinal direction towards the future, which has virtually doubled visitor numbers. One of the main objectives has been to make the diversity of the collections more visible and accessible in the museum and online. Meanwhile, they have also made their biggest investment ever with the addition of the Sammy Ofer Wing, including a new entrance facing the park, two galleries, an ultra-modern library, and a restaurant with a wonderful view. The magnificent buildings in Royal Greenwich Park are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. They provide a historical setting for one of the largest maritime museums in the world which embraces modern digital technology to tell the stories of exploration and endeavour at sea.
The Great Map spreads out on the floor across an entire level of the museum. Visitors walk across the world map with a tablet computer. At each position, the tablet tells stories about pirates, expeditions, and fierce naval battles – and even about the winds and currents that set the terms for challenging the oceans and seas of the world.
Light, sound, touch screens, and interactive projections intensify the experiences around the entire museum. The exhibitions relate the chapters in the conquering of the seas that changed human history forever, such as Britain’s maritime trade with Asia, the Arctic Convoys, and the Atlantic Slave Trade. Naturally, the dramatic naval battles among sailing ships are given their rightful place. Lord Nelson’s blood-stained uniform, pierced by bullet holes, is on display, telling the story of the last great battle at Trafalgar. The Ships, Clocks & Stars is a special exhibition in which the museum has dramatized the ingenious methods and instruments of Galileo, Newton, Cook, Harrison and others whose scientific ideas still impact our technology – just to mention a few highlights found in the spacious premises of the National Maritime Museum.
“We are constantly on the move and are always looking for new angles. In parallel with the exhibitions, we are developing our Axiell Mimsy XG system so that we can work laterally between departments and achieve central management of all our collections information and everything that is ongoing. We are devoting a great deal of energy to data conversion projects and digitising the collections, which we have made available in various places, including outside the museum. There are approximately 270,000 records searchable on the Museums’ website via Collections Online, and coming soon will be approximately 130,000 new records of old negatives which have been made available as part of a data conversion project – displaying a mixture of vessels, events, and wrecks. To the certain delight of researchers, we will be adding another 10,000 images,” explains Collections Information Manager Jonathan Williamson.
We are devoting a great deal of energy to data conversion projects and digitizing the collections, which we have made available in various places, including outside the museum.
A few years ago, NMM won an award given by the Museum Computer Group. The jury was impressed by how easy it was to navigate online. The museum is a world-class educator and a wellspring of knowledge for maritime research.
The library in the new Sammy Ofer Wing is always thronged with visitors and the entire museum works as an inspiring classroom to engage and educate schoolchildren. The museum cooperates with schools at all levels, offering a wide variety of onsite sessions as well as a Youth Advisory Group who organise special events and workshops.
“We are still collecting, acquiring new and fascinating objects. Although there are exciting opportunities to create new and different experiences with our objects via the web, the emotional impact and engagement of the real three-dimensional live experience is always strong. And the smart technology is going to benefit us here as well, to create context and drama. Education and entertainment are not mutually exclusive,” says Jonathan Williamson.
Royal Museums Greenwich includes the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory Greenwich, the Queen’s House and its art gallery, and the last surviving tea clipper, the Cutty Sark. As a group, they are a magnet that draws people to Greenwich for an amazing time. A visit to Royal Museums Greenwich is more than just a museum visit – with all of the sites and the spectacular setting there is far more to see and do here than a single day will allow.
Images courtesy of National Maritime Museum, London