Featured image courtesy of HistoryPin
Of all the tools and platforms we have explored this semester, HistoryPin has perhaps been my favorite. The site allows users to connect history to place, pinning historic photographs to related sites around the globe. Adding content to the site and creating a tour was a straightforward and painless process. I decided to create a tour called Gettysburg College, 1863, which explores the connection between the school – my alma mater – and the Battle of Gettysburg that transformed the formerly peaceful campus into a battlefield, a hospital, and ultimately a site with great meaning in American history. Admittedly the tour could use a little work – the description that I wrote for each image does not necessarily flow seamlessly from one “tour stop” to the next – but all in all it was a positive and I think very valuable experience.
As public historians, we talk a lot about of the intersection of place and history, and for me, geolocation has vast potential to tap into the connections that people make with the past through the natural and built environment. As Mark Tebeau points out in his insightful article “Listening to the City: Oral History and Place in the Digital Era,” mobile apps have the potential to transform our surroundings into a living museum. What I think I found most exciting about this potential as expressed in HistoryPin is that it values all experiences, memories, places, and moments in time. Where other projects focus on a particular topic, HistoryPin allows its users to make the connections they find most meaningful. While I think Gettysburg College’s connection to the Civil War is fascinating, another alumni might have something else to say about one of the college’s historic buildings – perhaps they want to discuss an important alum, or share one of the many ghost stories associated with the campus. Unlike Wikipedia, which filters its posts based on notability, HistoryPin sends a more democratic message. There are very few limits to what could qualify for a pin because, as John Russick (or rather, John Russick’s son) rightly points out, “everything came from someplace.”
Also, as with many of the tools we have used throughout the semester, I think HistoryPin has tremendous potential to give us insight into popular understandings of history. Russick also picks up on this in his blog post:
… if we reframe the museum’s collection in geo-spatial terms, what else might be revealed? What might we discover about our collecting priorities over time? I suspect that the vast shortcomings of our collection will be laid bare. We would clearly see the underrepresented neighborhoods, unheralded stories, and undocumented events in the lives of people and communities that didn’t matter to us at the time.
So, what can HistoryPin teach us about history – about the types of places and photographs that users have pinned, as opposed to pins created by institutions? I keep coming back to Rebecca Onion’s article about @HistoryinPics, and the profession’s inability to connect with the public at the same level as the popular Instagram/Twitter account. Maybe HistoryPin could be a tool that we could use to help close this gap, to get a better understanding of the kind of content that resonates with the public.