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Travel the Early-20th-Century World in Over 700 Films from the Penn Museum Archives

The Digital Penn Museum is a new portal to thousands of objects, videos, lectures, and other archives of the institution for archaeology and anthropology.

Sphinx of Ramesses II at Penn Museum in Philadelphia (photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta/Wikimedia)

The Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia has launched the Digital Penn Museum, a platform for their collections, recorded lectures, and hundreds of films from expeditions across the world. As an institution focused on archaeology and anthropology, the portal offers improved accessibility to its resources on global history and culture.

Like many museums that are increasing their online engagement, the Digital Penn Museum is aimed at expanding the audience for its programming and collections beyond the physical space of the institution. For instance, it features over 200 lectures recorded since 2010 on such subjects as the early-20th-century Piltdown fossil hoax, and flood, myth, and magic in early Mesopotamia, as well as the “Great Riddles in Archaeology” series.

Digital Penn Museum (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

Thousands of objects from the museum’s collection are available to search, such as the “Ram in a Thicket,” one of a pair found in Ur in present-day Iraq (the other is in the British Museum); the colossal granite Sphinx of Ramesses II; and Queen Puabi’s gold leaf and jewel headdress. Online visitors can also delve into back issues of the museum’s Expedition magazine, exhibition and research specific websites from the past 20 years, and interactive websites (in one you can write your name in Cuneiform).

Especially interesting are the video archives. Many of these around 700 films were already online with the support of the Internet Archive, yet the Digital Penn Museum makes them easier to navigate and search. They include field recordings from the Tikal Project on precolonial archaeology in Guatemala, some of the earliest color footage of Machu Picchu in Peru from the summer of 1950, a 1930 journey on the Darjeeling railroad through the foothills of the Himalayas, a demonstration of Sioux sign language in 1940, and a wander in a pre-Chinese Communist Revolution Canton (now Guangdong) in 1930. Below are a few samples from this moving atlas:

Machu Picchu, Peru (1950)

India (1930)

Darjeeling Railroad (1930)

Canton, China (1930)

Afghanistan (1965)

Mexico (1939)

Iran (1963)

Ethiopia (1969)

Athens (1939)

Access more videos, lectures, and other archives at the Digital Penn Museum.

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