Although Jan. 8, 2014 was bitterly cold, Steve Tinney still drew a crowd of several hundred people to the Penn Museum to hear his talk on Gilgamesh: Journeys to the End of the World, a popular subject in the museum's lecture series, "Great Voyages."
Since then, more than 21,000 viewers have turned to the museum website to view the video of the museum curator and Penn professor's lecture.
Since Clark Erickson delivered his talk on Thor Heyerdahl and Kon-Tiki in March of 2014, more than 18,000 have viewed it on the website. And nearly 15,000 have watched the website's video of Brian Rose lecturing on Jason and the Golden Fleece in May of 2014.
The museum has now launched the Digital Penn Museum, an online site that organizes and presents these lectures and nearly 200 more, along with a large selection of objects from the museum's huge collection, and a host of other videos, films, essays, blog posts, and arcana of anthropological and archaeological interest.
"The Museum's mission – to transform understanding of the human experience – carries with it the obligation to provide access to our rich international collections, high-quality programs, and ongoing research, both in the laboratories and around the world," said Julian Siggers, the museum director. "The Digital Penn Museum provides us with the platform to do just that."
Perhaps the most interesting and unusual aspect of the vast project is a section of the website featuring archival footage documenting museum expeditions and projects. There are about 40 films up so far.
Film taken during multiple field trips in the 1950s and 1960s to Tikal in Guatemala, for instance, shows a landing strip being carved out of the tangled jungle of the Petén, archaeologists arriving via plane, luncheon under a tent, vine-enwrapped temples glowing in the bright sunlight, stele being excavated, and much more.
Film from New Guinea in the 1950s, shows the daily life of villagers and explores their elaborate body decorations. Film from the 1940s in Tahiti is filled with beautiful dancing. Guangzhou (Canton) in 1930 is shown to be a city of powerful tradition and extremes in wealth and poverty.
The website is designed for both scholars and the interested public. Scholars can find specific information, but the visitors can just dive in and browse.
"Our curated highlights pages are designed with the new or casual visitor in mind," said Jim Mathieu, head of museum collections, publications and digital media. "The highlights pages pull together a wide range of digital resources about some of our key objects, like the colossal Sphinx from Memphis, the Ram-in-the-Thicket from Ur, or the Hasanlu 'Lovers.' "