Historypin allows users to place (or “pin”) old photographs onto a map. Users can then explore the map, viewing others’ photos in nearby cities, states, or countries. In most cases, the photos are placed on top of the current Google Maps streetview image, merging the past and present in one view.
Historypin also provides “tours” and “collections.” During tours, users see a series of related (or at least related in the sense that someone organized them into a tour) photos overlaid onto sections of the current streetview (if possible). Collections are similar, presenting photos in a slideshow format organized by another user, though they do not juxtapose the past with the present as tours do.
Historypin’s superiority over other similar websites such as WhatWasThere, lies in its search functions. The user can filter images by date range and search by geographic location as well as “topic” (i.e. “car”). WhatWasThere limits users to searching geographically, though it allows users to fade the photographs into the the streetview, which is, well, awesome.
Both Historypin and WhatWasThere provide apps (I haven’t downloaded either) that feature the same type of past on top of present augmented reality on your mobile device. I came across another app, Rama, that is free to download and offers historic guided tours of cities, though each tour costs money (so I didn’t check it out).
As a scholar interested in spatial history, I find these type of projects very interesting. Aside from their obvious visual appeal (and perhaps ability to stir up nostalgia), they remind me of one of my favorite digital history projects, Timothy R. Mahoney’s Gilded Age Plains City (disclaimer: He’s my advisor). The project’s interactive map provides users the ability to explore Gilded Age Lincoln along side Mahoney’s analysis and his spatial narratives.
Compiling and geolocating old photographs through these crowdsourced projects make for interesting and fun websites (and I imagine cool apps). However, scholars should not be afraid to add their analysis. If nothing else, Historypin and its competitors once again remind us (academics) that people actually LIKE history, something that seems easy to forget when cooped up in the ivory tower.
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