Software for local history?
February 14, 2011 5:38 AM   Subscribe

How are people using software and the net to gather and write local history?

A lot of people know a little local history: who lived where, what happened where, what stores were along this street and what they sold, what was in this building, what it was like to work on some long-gone dairy farm, how to find the foundations of an old house or school or bridge or railway, what it was like to be a student in that old school or work on that old railway, etc. People might not know exact dates and addresses, but they will know what came before this and after that, what was next to what, what books or songs or movies were popular at the time, what kind of car they were driving clothes they were wearing, and so on.
But collating it all must be hard work. People know where the cemeteries are, for instance, but documenting an entire old cemetery and linking every worn stone to a real person who lived in the community must be murder.
It seems to me that some good software could be used to fit these pieces together geographically and chronologically, link text and media, and make a framework that you could use to understand and write local history, archeology, and genealogy. Genealogy data could be used to fill things out and to help determine locations and dates. Cemetery readings could be semi-automated by linking to existing local history sources to find likely names and dates. Relative dates (happened before, happened after, happened during, etc.) could make it a lot easier to incorporate fuzzy memories into the story.
So someone must already be doing things like this. What are they doing and what tools are they using? How do they coordinate work as a team and a community?
posted by pracowity to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
There's this site in Leeds, England. Searchable in great detail, lots of scope for users to add information and stories. I can get lost here for hours.
posted by cilantro at 6:09 AM on February 14, 2011


Public Participatory GIS is one possible route to this. There are some links to current/past projects that have attempted to tackle this here.
posted by hydatius at 6:11 AM on February 14, 2011


A list of projects using the Islandora sofware including the local history site Island Lives
posted by Gor-ella at 8:20 AM on February 14, 2011


For stories, there's Community Almanac (disclaimer: the company I work for built it).
posted by novalis_dt at 8:33 AM on February 14, 2011


Find A Grave does part of this as a catalog for cemeteries. People can add personal stories, links, etc. to each entry.

Also, Ancestry has tools for members that do most of this and offer connections to others doing the same work (some free, some not).
posted by hazel bites at 10:04 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been working on a project that seeks to do some of what you're asking - specifically with respect to the "what stores were along this street and what they sold" question.

The site is WhatWasThere, and it allows anyone to place historic photography in context in Google Maps and Streetview, along with associated copy, etc.

Message me directly if you'd like to hear more and I'd be happy to fill you in!
posted by adamkempa at 10:09 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've been working on a project documenting the history of a local gold rush town using MediaWiki, but I haven't run into anyone else who is interested and/or savvy enough to contribute. Hyperlinks and the ability for anyone to edit seem like a natural fit for this sort of thing.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:49 AM on February 14, 2011


HistoryPin is another site which allows users to place old photos on a map.

I can see in the future an AR app for smartphones which you point at a building and see how it looked 100 years ago!
posted by razzman at 1:02 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been working on a project

Do you have a link we could try?
posted by pracowity at 1:08 PM on February 14, 2011


It seems to me that some good software could be used to fit these pieces together geographically and chronologically, link text and media, and make a framework that you could use to understand and write local history, archeology, and genealogy. Genealogy data could be used to fill things out and to help determine locations and dates. Cemetery readings could be semi-automated by linking to existing local history sources to find likely names and dates. Relative dates (happened before, happened after, happened during, etc.) could make it a lot easier to incorporate fuzzy memories into the story.

I teach local history and digital history and so far as I know, no one is doing anything half as ambitious as you outline.

I have attended a couple of THATCamps with sessions about mobile history and such. The trick, program developers tell me, is to find existing datasets that can be scraped and imported into your application. So you could take something like Internement.net and link it to something like a Google Maps API and then what? It would be great to link every name to digitized death records but those are (despite being public damn records!) mostly behind a pay wall at Ancestry.com. Maybe you make a feature where users could upload that data, but those users are already plugged into Ancestry and are not that tech savvy anyway. (A pretty large percentage of local history experts are older.) Maybe you allow users to take photos of individual headstones and add those to the database, but at this point you end up with a lot of crappy camera phone pictures where you can't make out the inscriptions on the mossy headstones. Maybe you have the software run names through local newspapers archives if Google News Archive or Chronicling America have digitized the newspapers for that town, but then you are up against multiple similar names, poor OCR, and the fact that those newspaper databases have clunky controls and don't play nice with mobile at all.

I am dying to get involved in a project to do some of the things you are talking about, and if anyone has an idea for a grant and needs a historical content expert, PM me! But it is a pretty hard problem.
posted by LarryC at 9:02 AM on February 17, 2011


« Older Oh, dear. It seems my WordPres...   |  Through my work I've become aw... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.