The Mobile Revolution: How Technology Is Changing The Way We “Do’ History

I am someone who, for the last decade, has been content using a cell phone for the archaic purpose of making a phone call. I am now becoming aware that I can do a lot more than make a call to my sister or take a picture of the sleeping dog. A whole lot more! There is a new world of developed technologies out there that can help us do some pretty amazing things with our mobile devices. Many of which have changed the way that history is presented and curated. As well, they are changing the way we study, understand, and consume history. There are also apps to help researchers and historians be more efficient in the gathering of information. These “history changing” platforms, apps, programs and devices, are not “in the process” of being developed. I can assure you they are already here and are being used extensively right now by an increasing number of people every day. There are some exciting new ways that technology is changing the study of history. Let’s take a look at them.   

What is referred to as “place-based” learning has experienced drastic changes with these new technologies. Wikipedia gives a good explanation as to what placed-based learning is:

“Place-based education promotes learning that is rooted in what is local—the unique history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place.”

Curatescape, a web and mobile app framework for publishing location-based content, has allowed organizations to take place-based learning to the next level. The Curatescape webpage explains who is using their new technology:

“Presently, over thirty universities, heritage preservation organizations, historical societies, and museums have adopted Curatescape.”

A man named Mark Tebeau, using the Curatescape platform, started what is called Cleveland Historical. He was the very first to use this new technology to improve place-based learning for understanding the history of the city of Cleveland. Since then, many others have done the same, creating placed-based internet sites to help us understand the history of certain locations. I live in Spokane Washington, and Spokane has its very own Spokane Historical. So what is it about these sites that help us to better understand the history of these places? In an article titled Listening to the City: Oral History and Place in the Digital Era Mark Tebeau, the founder of Cleveland Historical, had this to say:  

“Of particular note, this collaborative oral history project provides a transformative way of understanding “place” and of moving beyond an emphasis on visual interpretive practice, in order to provide a deeper way of building interpretive stories for public humanities exhibitions on mobile computing devices.”

These sites use differing layers of information that utilize images, sound (usually oral history), video, and a few hundred words of text to help us understand the place which we are learning about. What is amazing, is you can access this information right from your cell phone. Geolocation is also utilized to help you locate different historical sites as you study the history of the place you are traveling through. This geolocation allows you to stand on the very spot where a historical building once stood, or an event took place, and then read on your phone the history behind the place where you are. Tebeau explains it much better: 

“Geolocation allows the present physical context of the region to become part of the interpretive frame.”

This technology offers a much more in-depth study of the location you are interested in. It goes way beyond anything superficial. Describing Cleveland Historical, Tebeau gives us an understanding of just how in-depth the histories of these places can be, and the amount of information that is included:

“Presently, there are approximately five hundred stories, with three hundred thousand words, four thousand images, one thousand audio files, and one hundred videos available on Cleveland Historical.”

Another amazing new technology that helps us do history differently are sites that use what are called panospheres to show interactive 3D images of the place that you are studying. If you have ever used google street view, it is similar to that. Virtual reality is an important technology to use for certain locations that are in remote areas and are hard to get to. The article “Extraordinary Traveller: Using Virtual Tours to Access Remote Heritage Sites” explains that individuals who may not be able to get to these locations can use virtual tours. Virtual reality helps individuals gain access to heritage sites and historical locations that they would otherwise not be able to “visit” without this technology:

“We argue that virtual tours are potentially powerful tools for connecting people to heritage sites that might otherwise be inaccessible.”

One amazing website you should check out, that uses this technology, is Google’s Wonders Project. This site allows you to access historically important locations all around the world, using 3D interactive technology.

Another cool bit of technology that can allow us to “experience” a place virtually is to purchase a device called a Google Carboard Viewer. It works in conjunction with an app on your smartphone, which you slide into the back, and allows you to view places in 3D. It’s kind of the new high tech version of a Viewmaster. 

            There are also new technologies to help you be more efficient in your historical research. What is great about many of these apps is that they are free! One app, called Tropy, allows you to organize your photographs in a coherent way so that when you go to write your research paper, you can find them easily. Anyone who has taken multiple photographs for a project can attest to the importance of having a tool like this. You can waste hours trying to find and utilize materials that you have accumulated. You need to be able to easily access your materials quickly, and Tropy certainly allows you to do that .

            Another fantastic app that I have already fallen in love with is called Google Photo Scan. Oh, how I wish I would have had this in Washington D.C. while trying to take photographs of so many different historical documents and artifacts. What Google Photo Scan allows you to do is take pictures of items that are under glass without the fear of a reflection ruining your photos. The results of taking a regular photo compared to one using this app is very impressive. Check out the following two photographs, one taken normally, and one taken using Google Photo Scan. Both are taken from the same location and same angle. The proof is in the pudding!  

These new technologies that I mentioned are only the tip of the iceberg for what is out there. It is clear that these programs, and our cell phones, can help us to be better historians and learn yet even more about the places in which we live, as well as places around the world. It is also clear that the ways in which we go about studying history and doing research is changing, and I think that is exciting news.

Thanks for reading!

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