It seems that almost every month now a new application appears that makes it easier and easier to mash up historical and geographic information. Two that I’ve taken notice of this week are Weaving History and HistoryPin, both still in their beta versions, and so still a little quirky.
WeavingHistory lets the user build “factlets” which can then be incorporated into “threads.” These factlets are either user created or scraped from Wikipedia and can include one photograph and relevant date information. The latter bit of data is important, because once a thread is created and factlets are attached to it, the user can then see either a timeline of the thread generated by MIT’s Simile timeline maker, or a “geochrono” view that provides both a Google map with pins for each factlet and a Simile timeline.
I like the ease of use of this particular tool. I created a five factlet thread on the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe using text from our 1989 website project in about 10-15 minutes. The largest amount of time was devoted to searching out a few image URLs for the pictures I wanted. I can see a number of applications for this tool, especially for K-12 teachers who need to spend a fair amount of time on chronological and geographical thinking skills.
The most obvious downside at present is that in its very early beta form, WeavingHistory is completely open source, so someone may have already gone to the site and changed my thread. I’m a strong advocate of open source scholarship, and so from the standpoint of scholarship and crowd sourcing historical content, I think that would be a good result. However, for teaching purposes, one could not ask a student to create a presentation in WeavingHistory because he or she might then show up for class and find the work completely changed.
HistoryPin is a project that allows users to pin historical photographs onto Google maps so that users can then compare “what it looked like then” with “what it looks like now.” Because one can look first at the historical photograph and then switch to the Street View feature in Google Maps, it is quite easy to see the changes in local geography and the local built environment. Users can also attach “stories” to each picture, a feature that allows for more crowd sourcing of information about the historical images.
This project has all sorts of potential for teaching and learning. Students can easily group a collection of historical images into a collection on the site. Right now there are a number of collections there–perhaps the most popular at present is pictures of royal weddings in the UK. Because the students can add text to the images they place in a collection, very simple and engaging presentations could result. And, because others out there in the wilds of the Internet can also add information to the images, students would have to grapple with what it means to create historical knowledge in public space.