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October 9, 2011 / carlispina

Bring History To Life With Historypin

Historypin LogoI love history, so when I first heard about Historypin, I was immediately intrigued. Historypin highlights the history of locations through pictures that individuals or organizations “pin” on a map of the world. In addition to being associated with a point on the map, each photo is dated, allowing users to see a single place on the map through the years, and each photo has a caption with a brief description of the image and location. A timeline feature makes it even easier to pinpoint specific dates in history.

Historypin can be used in several different ways. The Historypin website includes a map of the world (courtesy of Historypin’s partnership with Google) where users can check out photos throughout the world and throughout history from their browser. Certain photos and videos have also been gathered into collections on a specific theme or virtual tours that can be viewed either through Historypin’s website or through the Historypin mobile app, which is available for free for both iPhones and Androids. The Historypin app also has several great features that the browser version does not have. The most exciting of these uses the phone’s camera to allow users to see photos of their current location overlayed over the view from their camera in an excellent use of augmented reality technology. With a swipe of a hand the image becomes more or less transparent making it easy to make a detailed comparison between the old and the new. App users can also view randomly selected photos by shaking their phone and can upload photos to Historypin directly through the app.

While other applications, such as Tagwhat, also include some historical images that can be overlayed with the user’s location, Historypin excels in this area because of its singular focus on collecting and organizing historical images. The timeline, tours and collections are just a few of the features that make Historypin more user-friendly and compelling for those who are specifically interested in history. In addition to great features, Historypin also comes with some great content. Any user can “pin” their own images, which has allowed Historypin to amass some really interesting images and, in addition, they have organized some large-scale projects to add photos as well.  Several of these projects have taken place in the UK, but several projects are also underway in the US.  For example, just last week, the Smithsonian discussed the collection of photos they provided to Historypin on their blog.

In addition to being a generally interesting application, Historypin has some great potential for libraries, archives and museums (and I am not the first to note this). Since anyone can add photos to the map, libraries could host projects encouraging patrons to come together to contribute their personal photos to Historypin or libraries, archives and museums could add historical photos from their collections as the Smithsonian has. Either way, this seems like an opportunity for these institutions to engage with patrons in a new way and to make use of a technology that will let them expand their audience far beyond the borders of their own city or state.

I look forward to using Historypin to see how history has progressed in my city and others. And, I hope that it will get others excited about history and about adding more photos to the map as well.  If this has piqued your interest, Historypin has a good FAQ and a video tutorial to get started.


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