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Website of the Week — Smithsonian African American Museum


Time again for our Website of the Week, when we showcase interesting and innovative online destinations. Our web guide is VOA's Art Chimes.

Most of the world's great museums have websites, but today we feature a museum website that doesn't have a museum, not yet anyway. The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture won't open for another eight years, but it has just launched its website at nmaahc.si.edu. Museum director Lonnie Bunch explains why.

BUNCH: "It allows us to demonstrate that we exist. It allows us to demonstrate that African American history and culture is too important to wait 10 more years until the building [opens]. It allows us to build new audiences. But more than anything else, it allows us to engage a community of people who not only can reap the benefit of the work we do but can shape the work we do."

The site starts out with online exhibits, including portraits of prominent African Americans and their stories. It also includes oral histories that you can listen to and a section called Memory Book, where visitors to the site can actually add their own experiences to the museum's collection. Lonnie Bunch says that's important so ordinary African Americans realize that their stories are important.

BUNCH: "That history isn't just the great man or great woman but it's the stories of how we lived our lives, how our families got from one place to another. People then take the story — they may hear a story about segregation — and that suddenly stimulates them to think about their own family, and it really sort of allows us to help people think about what are important historical moments in their lives."

To help you find your way around the site, there are the traditional navigation devices - plus some newer tools. For example, many elements of the site have descriptive labels called tags.

BUNCH: "What we found is that many younger audiences really like that. And it allows people to also define themselves. So they, when they tell their stories, they create their own tags. And then, by going on the website, they're able to see — oh! — stories about swimming or athletics. I want to know more about that."

There's a lot to learn about the African American experience at our Website of the Week, the National Museum of African American History and Culture at nmaahc.si.edu, or get the link from our site, voanews.com.

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