Several years ago, the Naval Historical Foundation asked itself a question: how do you make public access to the National Museum of the United States Navy, alongside other museums around the country, “virtual.” Initially, the NHF considered simply replicating what the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation accomplished with its www.usmcmuseum.com website. However, it dawned on the NHF staff that a better visitor experience can be had by integrating resources offered by other museums within the naval history enterprise – both those operated by the Naval History and Heritage Command and the many others, such as historic ships, that are maintained by sister non-profit organizations.
Help From Tawani
“We approached the Tawani Foundation,” noted former Executive Director Capt. Todd Creekman, “And they provided us a grant over a four-year period to create a one-stop shop location for those interested in learning and appreciating naval history as offered in museums and on ships throughout the country.” Creekman further explained: “We also have been working with the various museums and historic ships in recent years to utilize their exhibits as components for lesson plan development that can be used in schools across the country. Partnering with the U.S. Naval Academy and the USS Hornet, we succeeded obtaining a three-year grant last year to further a program that sets up the various museums and ships as STEM resources for regional communities.” With a growing number of naval museum educators being trained by the USNA STEM Center and STEM plus history lesson plans being developed by educators across the country, NHF’s staff educator, Capt. John Paulson recognized that besides offering an online “tourist site” for potential naval museum visitors, www.usnavymuseums.org could perform an additional service of providing a home for educational resources for our secondary school system STEM-H teachers.
“The period of the Tawani grant enabled us to do a lot of neat things and test several concepts,” added Matt Eng, Digital Content Developer for the NHF. For example, the NHF teamed with Empire Media Group, Inc. to create a virtual walking tour of the display ship Barry. Although the former Forest Sherman-class destroyer left the Washington Navy Yard last Spring for eventual dismantling, visitors to www.usnavymuseums.org will still be able to look off from the bow down upon the Navy Yard’s Willard Park to see such artifacts as the 14 inch World War I naval rail battery or go below decks to view dozens of compartments and spaces, embellished with a wide-variety of virtually-linked enhancements.
This initial website provides visitors the offerings of naval heritage resources in the fifty states and historical content in the form of the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships entries of ships named for each state. In five states, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Alabama, Texas, the ship histories will include battleships berthed in and named for those states that will be highlighted as naval heritage resources. Visitors will be able to spend hours touring the various ships and museums through the new web portal. Funding for two additional years provided through the grant will enable additional tours and lesson plans to be added to the state webpages to enhance the education materials and virtual tours of Navy and historic naval ship museums. Uploaded STEM lesson plan relate to naval history and reference the most current state, common core, and next generation science standards for a large number of states.