Things to do during a Pandemic”

Tour world-class museums, read historic cookbooks, browse interactive maps and more. As efforts to contain, the effects of the COVID-19 crisis ramp up, millions of people around the globe are social distancing and self-quarantining themselves in their own homes. Smithsonian magazine has compiled a collection of online culture, history, and science collections you can browse from the comfort of your living room. Click on the underlined links to go the websites.

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Step back in time viaAncient Athens 3-D or Rome Reborn, then cross the Mediterranean into Egypt for a look at the famed Nefertiti bust. Other immersive historical offerings include a virtual reality museum featuring five shipwrecked vessels and a multimedia project that traces Amsterdam’s historythrough excavated artifacts.

Interactive maps are another option for individuals seeking higher-tech experiences. Google Earth’s Celebrating Indigenous Languages platform spotlights dialects at risk of disappearing, while Parisian Matrimony tracks women’s cultural contributions to the French capital.

Those with more macabre tastes may want to peruse the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, a tool that visualizes thousands of sites linked with Scotland’s 16th- and 17th-century witch hunts, or the London Medieval Murder Map, which catalogs 142 brutal 14th-century homicides.  Lower-tech maps, including the Library of Congress’ collection of 38,234 digitized travelogues and English king George III’s recently digitized private library of more than 55,000 maps, charts, prints and manuals, are also available.

Troves of digitized documents, meanwhile, run the gamut from historic Mexican cookbooks to a 15th-century British manners book that warns children against picking “thyne errys” and “thy nostrellys,” and the famed Dead Sea Scrolls.

Those hoping to read more personal narratives can check out photographs, prints and papers related to Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert and papers penned by such prominent politicians as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton. Other public figures whose private lives endure in the digital sphere include civil rights activist Rosa Parks, baseball star Babe Ruth, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, and explorer David Livingstone (as recorded in the diary of his chief attendant, Jacob Wainwright).

Arts and Culture

Among the major cultural institutions with digitized—and often open access—offerings are the Smithsonian, which released 2.8 million images into the public domain earlier this year; Paris Musées, which oversees 14 major museums in France’s capital; nonprofit organization Art U.K.; the Art Institute of Chicago; Taiwan’s National Palace Museum; the Metropolitan Museum of the Art; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Getty; the Wellcome Library; the Museum of New Zealand; and the Uffizi Galleries.

In addition to digitizing broader collections, many museums have curated archives dedicated to specific topics: Illinois State University’s Milner Library offers a digital collection dedicated to the history of circus and Chicago’s Newberry Library provides online access to more than 200,000 images documenting the history of early America and westward expansion, including watercolors and colored pencil drawings by 19th- and 20th-century Lakota children.

Two giants of the digital cultural sphere—Google Arts & Culture and the Library of Congress—are each home to a dizzying number of virtual resources. The former offers experiences covering 3,000 years of fashion, Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s unseen masterpieces, Latino culture in the U.S., Banksy’s most famous murals, Vermeer’s surviving paintings, armor through the ages, Easter Island and many more topics. The latter has, among others, collections of rare children’s books, Taiwanese watercolors and Chinese texts, braille sheet music, travel posters, presidential portraits, baseball cards, and images of cats and dogs. See the library’s database of digital collections for a more exhaustive overview.

Other out-of-the-box ideas include downloading free coloring pages compiled during the annual #ColorOurCollections campaign—offerings range from a zany 1920s advertisement for butter to medical drawings, book illustrations and a wartime nurse recruitment poster.


Flowers, fungi, and fauna abound in digitized renderings of the natural world. The open-access Biodiversity Heritage Library, for instance, highlights more than 150,000 illustrations ranging from animal sketches to historical diagrams and botanical studies; the Watercolor World, a portal created to serve as a “visual record of a pre-photography planet,” showcases more than 80,000 paintings of landscapes, seascapes, buildings, animals, plants, ordinary people and historical events.

Other digital science resources include Cambridge University’s Isaac Newton papers, Charles Darwin’s manuscripts, hundreds of case files written by a pair of 17th-century astrologers and physicians, a map that visualizes all 21 successful moon landings, and a medical pop-up book dating to the 17th century.

Among the institutions advertising their contributions are representatives from the academic world, including Harvard University’s Countway Library and the University of Waterloo, as well as museums like Les Champs Libres and the Huntington Library. The pages otherwise span just about every taste and illustrative predilection a connoisseur could conjure.