Exploring Virtual Interactivity in History

2 May

by Becky Johnston-

In the recent weeks, I have been discussing with fellow students and professors the concept of interactive virtual technology as a form of as public history. The discussions have included websites and mobile technology. This summer, Tom and I will be working on a mobile app that is based on a map we will create for the Labor & Industry Museum in Belleville that incorporates the multitude of map data for businesses and coal mines. This will create a very portable walking tour.

The Cleveland Historical mobile application is one of our influences, which was developed by the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University. A visual walking tour on a portable device, it uses the GPS from the phone to display data about the user’s current location. Images, audio, and video are activated depending on the particular historic location’s data and what is available for display.

The history that could be conveyed in this fashion is endless. Classrooms and museums could become mobile. Learning history would be not only a mental but also physical activity. Users could once again walk in the footsteps of historical figures by following a path directed by a mobile application’s use of GPS. A person could hop in their car and “ride along with the Pony Express,” or walk the grounds of Cahokia Mounds and see how many mounds there used to be and where they were located. The more adventurous could take the routes of the Underground Railroad, follow the Santa Fe Trail, take the path of Lewis and Clark, or the fated Donner Party and Trail of Tears.

Cross-country trips or short walks in your neighborhood could be quickly planned based on these apps. What can be displayed and taught would be ever-changing. Updates to the software would allow for additions and revisions. New concepts and knowledge are learned every day and the most up-to-date information could be told to a wider audience. This exciting innovation of technology is where digital and history truly meet.

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