These 15 Fascinating History Sites Make the Past Come Alive
It is difficult to make sense of time isn’t it?
Then let’s pause and reflect how utterly impossible it is to do the same with 5000 years of recorded human history. The mind boggles at the thought. Right now, even the birth of the Internet seems ages ago. The Sumerians captured history in their own way, and we in the digital age are doing it with bits and bytes.
A single genome is spilling the beans on what our ancestors were up to thanks to The Human Genome Project . But some fascinating history websites also manage to combine interactivity with storytelling to bring our past alive. If you didn’t like history in school, you can make up for those poor grades by enjoying the fifteen sites below.
As they prove – history was never dull. We just thought it to be so.
Sounds, animations, and visuals. What else do you need to “relive” history? Histography gives you all three on an interactive timeline that spans across 14 billion years of history, from the Big Bang to 2015. The historical information comes from Wikipedia, and the timeline self-updates as new events are recorded. Move the mouse across the timeline to speed through history. Focus on one historical event to know more about it. Or, use the categories on the left bar to dive into related events.
The timeline helps you understand the cascading impact of related events on the world.
This vast storehouse of historical digital artifacts records the major (and minor) events is for public access. The Digital Vaults is a project of United States’ National Archives and Records Administration. This is the more interactive part of the experience. Use filters and tags to connect the dots and make the journey into the past easier.
Browse the digital records for educational fun or browse seriously for research. Try The Pathway Challenge if you fancy yourself as a historical detective. Create a History Poster or create a Movie with any assets you collect here.
The BBC takes a different approach to exploring history. A History of the World in 100 Objects is their tagline, and it works. The objects are spread across the ages from 2 billion years ago to 2010. Many more museums across the UK have added more objects from their own collections. Go from a Woolly Mammoth’s tooth to a Honda Civic from 1979.
Don’t forget to listen to the excellent series of podcasts that retells humanity’s history through the objects we have made.
Museo Gallileo [No Longer Available]
Enter the virtual portals of The Museo Galileo in Florence, Italy. The virtual museum has more than 1,000 objects on permanent exhibition. In-depth descriptions of all objects, a detailed glossary index, and biographies of inventors and artists forms the backbone of the exhibits. But the best part is the multimedia renditions of more complex objects like Galileo’s telescope and his compass. The videos are organized by themes and reconstruct the historical contexts behind the inventions.
The recommended route is to go through the virtual museum room by room as you would do in the real world.
Show me “everything.” This simple concept explains the function of this educational site from the UK. The creators know that browsing through all museum galleries and archives can take a few lifetimes. The site is a shortcut through the historical bylanes and the dusty corners with games, videos, stories, and homework help. Sort through the collections by topic or tag and find out where they are being displayed.
Show Me is an educational tool for teachers and students, but there’s a lot to discover for any adult interested in history. The short descriptions can spark more searches, or you can directly visit the exhibitions if they are nearby for a family day out.
The Smithsonian is the largest museum complex in the world. It may be the cradle of American history but many of the exhibits can be connected to the rest of the world. The History Explorer is an interactive exhibit curated from the 3 million items in the Museum’s collections. It is meant for use by K-12 teachers and students, afterschool program providers, families, and anyone interested in lifelong learning. Use the filtering tools on the right side of the screen to narrow your results by grade, resource type, or historical era.
Learn about American history by investigating the artifacts and the stories behind them. You can take a virtual look at the Gunboat Philadelphia, a warship sunk in Lake Champlain in 1776. Or direct an interactive movie of your own with images from an online image database.
Mission US is an interactive exploration of US history for middle and high school classrooms. The four interactive games are designed to immerse the players in rich, historical settings. You have to make everyday choices to understand how ordinary people experienced the past. One of the objectives of the site is to help relive the past and develop historical empathy.
For example: In the “City of Immigrants,” you learn how to survive in New York’s Lower East Side as Lena, a young Jewish immigrant from Russia. Lena works long hours in a factory for little money in order to bring her parents to America. She gets caught up in the growing labor movement in the early part of the 20th Century.
The Civil War would have cost $146 Billion today. I am sure on the momentous event of its 150th anniversary this year, no one would want that. But it remains a defining time for not only the U.S. but also the rest of the world. Think about the human cost when massive armies go against each other. Think about freedom versus slave labor. Think about liberty and equality.
History.com’s interactive infographic is a quick way to understand what the Civil War was about and what it meant for both the Confederacy and the Union.
Just like the Show.Me, this Dutch site presents the best collections from 25 war and resistance museums across the Netherlands. It is a short behind the scenes look at objects of historical value that also became symbols of The Second World War . Click on the thumbnails or use the dropdown index.
One of the more interesting items on display is a foldable motorcycle that was airdropped during the Battle of Arnhem.
Walk through the events as they happened on December 7, 1941 with this National Geographic timeline. This was perhaps the single most important event that changed the tide of war for the Axis powers. The interactive timeline uses a map of Hawaii to show the events visually. The harbor geography helps site visitors see where ships were in relationship to each other.
A short textual overview of the events is displayed with looping archival images and video slideshows. A sense of the disaster is provided by audio quotes from both sides of the attack.
No one does interactive storytelling better than the New York Times. Watch this interactive “storybook” that explores the 2500-year global history of vertical living. It is not only a historical take on the way modern society has evolved with its buildings but also a study into the human experience of living in one. As a description on the site says,
“Trapped in our highrise units, how do we find love, hate, peace, god or community online?”
The documentary has been produced by The New York Times and National Film Board of Canada (NFB). The acclaimed documentary has been awarded a Peabody Award and an Emmy among other recognitions.
At a time when a new refugee crisis is emerging, The Refugee Project shows us that the world has been shaped in new ways by similar crises in the past. The Refugee Project is an interactive map of refugee migrations around the world in each year since 1975. The map uses UN data but complements it with the original histories of the major refugee crises so that we can understand each in their own context.
As you will see for yourself, most events of statelessness are directly connected to wars and violence. Very few (as from China) are related to political suppression.
Interactive History on the Origins of HIV
AIDS isn’t a modern disease. The discovery of HIV was one of the most defining moments of the last century. Without doubt, it is the modern disease that changed the world, the beginnings of which can be traced back to the European conquest of Africa. The first transmission of AIDS – from chimpanzees to humans — was around the year 1908, nearly a century before it hit the headlines in our own times.
The timeline shows how colonialism changed Africa and created the conditions for the HIV virus to leave its original host, the chimpanzee, and attack humans.
The American map collector is among the well-known map collectors and cartographers in the world. His 63,000-strong historical map collection is perhaps the largest resource available on the web for the public. Here you can find rare maps from the 16th through the 21st Century of America, North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Pacific and the world. Many more are being added every day as the total collection is 150,000 strong.
Maps are convenient places to merge the ancient with the modern. Use the LUNA Browser to view multiple maps from different time periods. Create your own collections for studying history, art, genealogy, explorations, and your own family history .
Tracy and Holly forgive you for hating history in school. Thanks to their podcasts, you can redeem yourself easily. These history podcasts are easy to listen to and explore in-depth the stories that make up some of the most interesting parts of history.
For instance, you can listen to the story of Violet Jessop who survived a few shipwrecks in her time, including the Titanic.
The site is part of the How Stuff Works network.
Is History Fascinating for You?
Time is a rollercoaster. History gives us a firmer footing. We not only learn about what has shaped our present, but also get to understand how certain actions can impact our future. This in turn shapes our world view. Thanks to the Internet and the many interactive history tools available, we can not only enjoy history with a degree of realism but also use it to become better decision makers in the real world.
Do you find history more entertaining than educational? Are there any fantastic interactive history sites we have missed here? Tell us in the comments!
Image Credit: Cartoon Resource via Shutterstock