What was there – historical photos and Google Maps

What was there uses historical images and Google Maps to look at how places have changed overtime. You can add photos to specific locations and then using Google Street View, overlay images from the past and present.

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A particularly nice feature of the interface is the option to fade between photographs and the street view image. Anyone over 13 can register with the service and add images, tag by location and year, save locations, and position images to overlay with street view.

There are some great examples of cities that have thousands of photographs pinned to different locations, including New York which has around 2000 images. Closer to home, the Victorian regional town of Bairnsdale has around 60 historical images pinned to shops and community buildings.

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With so many cultural institutions digitising collections and making images freely available online, tools like What Was There give students and teachers the opportunity to connect to local history in new ways. The State Library of Victoria has thousands of out of copyright images of regional towns around Victoria that can be used freely for educational purposes.

Imagine students finding images of their town or suburb’s main street a hundred years ago and comparing it to today? Or even their own house or school? Try searching for your town or suburb name in the SLV catalogue and see what you can find.

Capturing a living library

The Living Library is a new school program at the State Library of Victoria that makes use of Springpad, one of my favourite online tools. I’ve written about Springpad before as a fabulous personal library manager. It combines the searchability of Evernote with the visual interface of Pinterest, meaning it is perfect for a school program that challenges students to create a shared photographic record of their visit.

Armed with iPad minis, students first of all set off around all areas of the library and take photographs of people, places, text, pictures, and details. Students are encouraged to think about how their photographs can tell the story of how the library is being used, and already we’ve seen fantastic originality from the students who’ve taken part.  No editing or refining of pictures is done at this point- the brief is merely to capture as much of the experience as possible.

Then students return to a central point where they begin to think about the pictures that they’ve taken that best sum up their experience of the library. The pictures they select are all uploaded into the same notebook in a shared Springpad account (Springpad provides users with unlimited storage, but items must be smaller than 5mb). The photographs can also be given a title that hopefully adds to the story of the picture. We’ve been so impressed by the creativity of the students and some of the very clever titles they’ve made up.

The notebook is shared back with teachers after their visit, providing their class with a photographic record of their day. Hopefully it’s a useful resource for when students return to school. It could be used for recount writing, a digital storytelling presentation or a piece of creative writing inspired by the library.

So far Springpad has worked perfectly, despite the fact that often 30 students will be uploading photographs to the same account at the same time. If you’re thinking about making use of mobile technology to document a school excursion then Springpad is well worth considering, particularly as you can also add audio recordings to an item.  Best of all, Springpad notebooks are easy to share or embed on your blog, just as we’ve done below. So scroll down to have a look at some of our favourite pictures from the program so far.

Google Cultural Institute

With History Week kicking off in Victoria today seems like the perfect time to take a look at the new Google Cultural Institute. The project brings together a number of historical and cultural resources from cultural institutions around the world. The site features a range of digitised items, curated timelines and a number of interesting digital projects.

The Cultural Institute features resources from institutions such as the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and Anne Frank House, along with photographic archives from organisations like Life and Getty Images. You can select the institution or decade you are interested in by clicking on the Explore button. Context is provided to many of the digitised items in the form of curated timelines produced by the relevant institutions.  A great example of this is the Imperial War Museum’s D-Day timeline.

Curated timelines provide context to the items displayed

The site also brings together a number of digital projects that you may already seen, such as the Google Art Project or  World Wonders (with streetview images of the Great Barrier Reef and Scott’s Hut). A particular favourite with library staff has been the Versailles 3D project, where you can help Louis XIV build his palace.

While the curated timelines and digital projects offer a great deal of value, you can also browse archives using a general search term. Items can be narrowed down with a date slider and modified by topics such as place, event or object type. It’s a similar process to a standard Google search and may suggest that soon the Cultural Institute will be a standard Google search option in the same way News, Images and Video are now.

It’s clear that Google aims for the Cultural Institute to become a repository for a range of artefacts from across the world, moving items from individual websites to a single archive. It is an interesting move to try and create a place where all cultural material can be stored and seems to continue Google’s attempts to position themselves as the holders of culture and knowledge (as they are also doing with their book scanning project). Whether their lofty ambitions are successful remains to be seen, while some may again call into question the true motivations of the company. But for the moment there is no doubt that the Cultural Institute is a useful site and well worth exploring.