Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ciao Iraq!

The Debut of the Iraqi Virtual Museum

Back in July, Wired magazine reported on a trip by an array of US technology executives to Iraq as part of an effort to determine how US internet companies could contribute to the rebirth and growth of that busted country. During a visit to the Iraq National Museum, they noted that the museum had no functioning website. So one might assume that the tech giants had been responsible for the birth of the Virtual Museum of Iraq. But no – it was instead the government of Italy that stepped up and funded the development of what turns out to be a pretty cool view into the artifacts on display in the very cradle of human civilization.

The Virtual Museum features galleries from eight eras in Iraq’s history, from prehistoric and Sumerian times through the modern Ottoman empire and the rise of Islam. Inside each gallery are displays of various artifacts and informational banners, many of which allow you to further drill down through timelines, maps, and various levels of detail. For example, in the “prehistoric” gallery, one can select a map on the wall, then choose whether to view a timeline of Iraq or to view the full, interactive map. On the interactive map, you can click the ancient settlement of Tell es-Sawwan to see a multi-level map of how the city looked at various times throughout ancient history, with text explaining the configuration of the buildings and the major features, such as walls and ditches, that were added over time. The map is available at each of the eras, and features new and different cities to explore as you move through the galleries.

The site also features various videos both narrated and accompanied by instrumental music. The video-game-quality CGI is nothing spectacular, but more than adequate, for instance, to give the viewer a sense of the grandeur of ancient Babylon’s temple of Marduk.

It’s good to see Iraq’s national treasures made available in a safe and accessible fashion. I wonder, of course, whether the country’s infrastructure allows many of Iraq’s own people to take the virtual tour, but, as I said above, it’s a start. I think it’s also great that Italy stepped up, took on this project, and did a really fine job with it. Yes, the US needs to help put Iraq back on its feet after we lead the charge to knock it down. But we didn’t fight that fight alone, nor did the rest of the world think highly of the former government, its leader, or its conduct. It’s probably not realistic that the US, facing a wide array of domestic and international challenges of its own, could set Iraq fully back to rights on its own. But if other countries step in and capably take on projects that help put the country back on track, success, growth, prosperity and stability may not be too far off. Bene, Italia. Molto Bene!

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