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Historypin: Connecting communities through the power of digital maps

Historypin sits at the intersection of data visualization and crowdsourcing. Take your standard Google map. Add in a dash of grandma’s old photo album. Stir in some memories from the library archives. Season with a pinch of museum curation, and you’ve got a digital history book.

A brief introduction to Historypin. Video and cover image courtesy Historypin.

Based in London, Historypin is the brainchild of the not-for-profit company Shift. (Google has supplied many of the necessary tools, including Google Maps, Picasa, and Google App engine.)

Historypin is many things. It is a mélange of photographs, video and audio snippets, narrative and descriptive text – all pinned to digital maps. Anyone can contribute photos and memories, and access others people's distinctive memories using a smartphone or laptop. Historypin adds accessibility to cultural heritage sites, and gives voice to local communities.

Historypin is also like the world’s biggest book club. With the project “Mapping emotions in Victorian London,” the Stanford Literary Lab has looked to anonymous readers to map the emotional geography of London as represented in about 500 novels from the 18th and 19th centuries. Readers pinned annotated passages to locales on a Google map.

Historypin also captures memories of important yet fading historical events – in their full glory. Want to take part in commemorating and recording the importance of the First World War? Head over to the World War One Centenary project, where your family photos can join in with insights from historians at the Imperial War Museums, Robert Gould’s 100 years of Poppies project in New York City, and the Cullompton Poetry Group’s responses to Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” to tell a story richer than any history book could ever hold.

Humanities scholars are finding exciting avenues of research using Historypin’s crowdsourcing model. For instance, see Historypin co-founder Jon Voss’s recent article about how digital collaboration makes for meaningful scholarship.

More than all of that, Historypin is a way to collect the memories of the masses, placing them in a powerful and accessible visualization. Academics, memorial institutions, historical societies, and the rest of us can tour, commemorate, learn, and contribute to our shared history.

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