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Books take us to places we’ve never been, to meet people and creatures we’ve never known. When we read books, we visit these places and characters in our imaginations, our minds in constant interplay with the words and images created on the page.
Seeing with the mind’s eye and seeing with our actual eyes themselves are not two wholly separate experiences. With the advent of 360-degree photography and video, humanity can utilize technology to transcend place and space- not to replace our imaginings, but to supplement them with the images and worldly renderings that inspired the world’s greatest writers, poets and philosophers.
Here are my top 10 picks for 360-degree virtual tours you can use to enhance teaching, learning and creativity today, right away in English Language Arts & Humanities classrooms…no virtual reality viewers required!
1. Canterbury Cathedral
“And gladly wolde he learn, and gladly teche.”
-Chaucer, Canterbury Tales
This comprehensive virtual tour of the interior of Canterbury Cathedral features stunning 360-degree photography. I had the privilege of visiting the Cathedral when I studied abroad in England in 2008. As you weave on foot through an almost forest-like path of narrow medieval roadways of Canterbury, the cathedral seems to peek out amidst the rooftops, the massive scale and structure emerging as a behemoth mountain when stepping out into the clearing. As impressive as the structure is on the outside, it is doubly impressive inside. It is no wonder Chaucer’s band of pilgrims journeyed to the cathedral all of those years ago. The nave’s ceiling gives the illusion that it is as endless as the sky itself. Aside from the impressive nave, students can also visit the belltower, crypt, choir, Trinity Chapel, and, (perhaps most relevant to the teaching of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) the martyrdom shrine of St. Thomas à Becket.
2. Mark Twain House
This site offers 3D, VR and guided online tours of Mark Twain’s Home in Hartford, Connecticut. What’s unique about this virtual tour is that it the virtual tourist can amble along circular shaped “footpaths” along the floor to gain closer views of the intricate details of the Gilded Age home such as the built-in bookshelves and fireplaces. These incremental steps give the experience of walking through the home with the ability to casually browse the details of the antiques and artifacts on display. Mark Twain claimed his writing was most productive while he lived in this home; what better way for students to connect to the idea of authorship than to experience the very space that inspired his work?
3. Anne Frank’s Secret Annex
On this tour, reader’s of Anne Frank’s prolific diary get to experience The Secret Annex where Anne Frank, her family and friends hid from the horrors of WWII for over two years. This is the place where she dreamed and imagined better tomorrows as she recorded her experience in her diary named “Kitty.” The tour uses guided text to explain not only the historical significance behind the various areas of the annex, but provides additional multimedia and images for further explanation.
4. Frederick Douglass’s Home
This tour of Frederick Douglass’s home was created in partnership between the National Park Service and Google Arts & Culture. The digital photography is crystal clear and sharp, showcasing the fine details of the artifacts and nuances of the space itself. The Father of the Civil Rights Movement, Douglass shaped the nation through his ideas and was a compelling force in promoting freedom, equality, and diversity in American history.
5. Willa Cather’s Home & Red Cloud
Willa Cather’s home is filled with media and historic artifacts depicting the author’s work. Her writing was set at Red Cloud, and this virtual tour features 4 of the sites featured in Cather’s fiction. The navigation instructions at the beginning of the tour are extremely helpful. The tags found throughout the house makes this a standout tour; each item has a story to tell. With this tour, it is easy for students to imagine themselves in Red Cloud, Cather’s world.
6. Ernest Hemingway’s Havana Home
Ernest Hemingway’s Havana Home speaks to the style and tone of Hemingway’s authorship. The tour, offered through CNN’s website, is an interactive 360-degree video of Hemingways Havana home & grounds. Tourists can toggle the direction of the screen as the video progresses for 360-degree views. Visiting this home transports students into the lifestyle of Hemingway as evidenced in his writing.
7. Jane Austen Sites
Google Arts & Culture features sites significant in the literary works of Jane Austen such as Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion & Emma. Inviting students on a tour of this magnitude offers the opportunity for full immersion in Jane Austen’s world, both visually in terms of the scope and grandness of the abbeys and estates, as well as insights into the way society functioned during the early 1800s.
8. Shakespeare Sites
Google Arts & Culture offers tours of iconic sites from Shakespeare’s life, including his various homes and properties in Stratford, theatres, and places that inspired settings in his works. Shakespeare’s infamous balcony scene in Act II Scene ii of Romeo & Juliet springs to life while touring “Juliet’s balcony” in Verona, Italy. Tourists are also transported to Kronborg castle in Denmark, which is believed to be the setting for Hamlet. The Globe Theater tour allows students to understand the logistics of the performance space, and the tour also features the original Globe Theater site.
9. Westminster Abbey
The treasures of British History & Literature are featured in Westminster Abbey. Poet’s Corner, one of the best-known parts of the abbey, is featured on the virtual tour. Buried or commemorated here are literary luminaries including William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, Jane Austen, Rudyard Kipling, and Charles Dickens. Scientists such as Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Michael Faraday are buried or commemorated in the Nave. Navigation is seamless with descriptions offered for each section of the abbey tourists wish to peruse with 360-degree camera technology.
10. Harry Potter’s World
Sign up as a member of this website to access a comprehensive virtual tour of Harry Potter’s world. This tour is truly virtual; it’s a fantastic rendering of 100 various illuminated “hotspot” locations from Hogwarts Castle and grounds. Each luminary features explanatory information from the plot of the novels. Using the arrow keys or by scrolling, tourists can “fly” around the exterior of Hogwarts and visit the Quidditch field and the Forbidden Forest. This is a superb resource if you’re teaching YA literature with the Harry Potter series!
Great tours, simple implementation!
For teachers of writing, reading, speaking, and humanities, these are some great places to introduce to your students so they can visit various significant literary places and spaces around the world!