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Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

A Sailor's Life for Me!

People's Choice:
3 votes

Institution: 

USS Constitution Museum

Designer: 

Eduweb

Small Museum: 

Small Museum

Category: 

Education

Why

A Sailor's Life for Me! HomepageAmid creaking wood, flapping sails and thundering cannon, “A Sailor’s Life for Me!” takes users on a voyage of discovery.  This site, developed by the USS Constitution Museum in Boston, brings the turbulent world of the 1812 American sailor to life.  Taking top-notch, cutting edge research into the lives of the crew and the ship’s material culture, the designers have infused the site with humor and excitement, without losing sight of the realities of life at sea in the age of sail.  As users explore the ship or a sailor’s life story, everything they see and hear is as historically accurate as current knowledge could make it.

This is not a dry presentation of boring facts. Educational websites aren't successful unless they are fun. Designed with a fifth-grade audience in mind, “A Sailor’s Life For Me!” is a successful marriage of entertainment and learning.  Eduweb, an award-winning developer of digital learning games and multimedia interactives, has taken the complexities of an early-nineteenth century sailing ship and made them accessible and engaging. 

Writer Richard Platt and artist Stephen Biesty deserve encomiums for making the visual and written content so appealing. Both bring vast experience and expertise in interpreting complex historical realities for younger audiences.  Biesty’s drawings are stunning. The images are clear and bursting with detail, but they are also suffused with character and humor. They draw you into the scene. Still, a sailing ship is a complex machine, and the people in the images are doing unfamiliar things. Platt’s text fills the interpretive gap between seeing and understanding. He pairs fluency and detail with humor to create memorable vignettes of daily life.

The website is divided into three parts that allow users to access period naval life in different ways.  In the game “Sail to Victory,” players step into the shoes of a young sailor and take on typical tasks and challenges. Players begin as potential recruits facing the questions of a recruiter, and then pack their bags for sea.

A Sailor's Life for Me! Holystoning GameIn the first level, players scrub the decks, work as an officer’s servant, and carry gunpowder to cannons in battle. With mastery of these skills (and only after they have amassed enough promotion, heath and happiness, and popularity points), players advance from the rank of Boy to Ordinary Seaman.  In the second level, players adjust the sails, load cannons, and eliminate rats in the hold.  Soon players become an Able Seaman, when they help steer the ship through treacherous waters and serve as a gun captain in battle. Throughout the levels, players socialize with shipmates by telling “tale tales” (MadLibs-style), playing dice games, answering meal quizzes, and “painting” ditty bags.

A Sailor's Life for Me! Wardroom ExplorationIn “Explore Old Ironsides” users travel through the ship and enter into its spaces via historically accurate illustrations. Individuals associated with those areas are engaged in their typical daily routines.  All the material culture needed to keep the “city at sea” operational fills the spaces. Visitors learn about the scenes through first person text and descriptive roll-overs that interpret what’s happening and provide different perspectives.  The text is kept to a minimum throughout, a strategy that has worked well in the museum’s physical galleries.

A Sailor's Life for Me! Meet Your ShipmatesIn “Meet Your Shipmates,” users learn about the hundreds of people who kept Constitution afloat.  A “crew pyramid” serves as a vehicle for explaining the roles of the different ranks. This pyramid also offers access to first person “crew journals” where the user can hear and read the life stories of twelve crewmembers. 

A Sailor's Life for Me! Crew JournalThe website also seeks to extend the learning into the home and classroom.  Seven printable “family activities” allow users to continue the educational experience even after the computer shuts down.  Families can bake batches of sailor food using the “ship’s biscuit” recipe, create messages in signal flags, learn about displacement, and have fun with other do-it-yourself projects facilitated by easy to understand directions and templates.   

Images:

A Sailor's Life for Me! Homepage

 A Sailor's Life for Me! Holystoning Game

 A Sailor's Life for Me! Wardroom Exploration

A Sailor's Life for Me! Meet Your Shipmates
A Sailor's Life for Me! Crew Journal

The website is made possible, in part, by a Museums for America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.  Additional funding was provided by the United States Navy Office of Commemorations, Naval History & Heritage Command, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.