Google engineer Travis McPhail demonstrates an exhibit which allows visitors to interact with objects that have been scanned and made available in 3D representations at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)
Google engineer Travis McPhail demonstrates an exhibit which allows visitors to interact with objects that have been scanned and made available in 3D representations at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)

Google kicked off their 2018 Black History Month celebration with an unveiling of a new 3-D installation at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), curated and crafted by Black engineers.

Commissioned by Dr. Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s founding director, the exhibit, led by software engineer Travis McPhail, was built by engineers in the Black Googler Network specifically for Black History Month over the course of a year and a half.

“Most of us have probably wondered once or twice how our lives fit into the scope of human history,” McPhail said. “Museums have taken on this question for centuries, using artifacts to offer windows into other people’s experience of the world. But there’s always been a limit to what galleries can display, because of the sheer volume of objects, and because some of those items are too fragile to sit in the open or be handled by streams of patrons.”

McPhail said that when the National Museum of African-American History and Culture opened in 2016, their mission was to redefine how people experience art and artifacts in the modern age.

“And starting today, visitors to the museum can interact with rare items from Black history in a new 3-D installation,” he said.

Named Project Griot, the wall of touch screens will allow visitors to interact with objects that have been scanned and made available in 3-D. They’ll be able to rotate the scanned images and view the 3-D objects from multiple angles.

In some cases other media, such as video, text and images, will be superimposed on the scanned objects to provide greater historical context.

“The items in this installation have historical and personal significance,” McPhail said. “For example, I’ve always loved 70s fashion and style. Seeing scans of actual boots from ‘The Wiz’ takes me back to my childhood delight in seeing the movie and play.

“I’m also a jazz musician, like my father before me, and seeing a cast of composer and pianist Eubie Blake’s hand reminds me why I still can’t, and probably will never, do his solos justice,” he said. “My hope is visitors will experience these artifacts and establish deeper connections with their personal stories as well.”

Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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