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‘Secret Annex’

By Adam Braun

The virtual musuem of Anne Frank’s “Secret Online Annex” was explored by Alison Landsberg, associate professor of history and art history at George Mason University, in the Business Lounge on Thursday, March 27.

“Virtual museums create the conditions for historical thinking,” said Erika Schultes, a senior English major who assisted Lisa Ortiz-Vilarelle of the English Department in bringing Landsberg to campus.

Landsberg opened her presentation with some comments about the nature of history and physical museums. She suggested that “any representation of the past that hopes to promote historical thinking must continually assert its own constructedness.”

Physical museums and heritage sites, she said, can lure the viewer into believing he or she has a complete understanding of the historical situation they represent, which cannot be attained.

In any historical representations, “even with ample sources, what’s left is partial,” Landsberg said.

Hence, Landsberg put forward that virtual museums are an excellent way for historical learning to take place. Use of virtual museums “produces its own distinct kind of knowledge,” she said.

Virtual museums undercut the pervasive sense of the viewer’s presence in the past, and that is a positive, according to Landsberg. They also bring their own unique positives to historical learning.

“The problem with (physical museum objects) is they are dumb,” Landsberg said. “They don’t speak.”

Such problems are avoided in virtual museums.

To prove this point, Landsberg provided examples from Anne Frank’s Secret Annex Online, found at

As soon as the webpage opens, the viewer is greeted by a video explaining how the Frank family ended up in hiding in the secret annex in the Netherlands. This immediate rush of informative content could not be found in a physical museum, Landsberg said.

The site’s main attraction is a 3-dimensional re-creation of the secret annex that the Frank family hid in alongside the van Pels. The content and style of this feature represent the positives of the virtual museum, according to Landsberg.

When the viewer enters a room in the virtual annex, they first see it empty, as the rooms remain in the present, at the wishes of Otto Frank. Then furnishings are added into the picture, giving a representation of how they looked while the Frank family was in hiding there.

Landsberg says this is a perfect way to remind viewers that they are detached from what they are seeing, while still providing excellent historical information.

She complimented the resource, saying it is “more like an encounter than a simple pointing and clicking on objects.”

Landsberg concluded her remarks on the Secret Annex Online and virtual museums as a whole by saying that they are not totally immersive, “but that is a good thing.”


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