Museum of the City of New York currently, a series of photographs that chronicle some of the history of food carts in the Big Apple. It's an interesting retrospective, a way to think about the "then and now" - the immigrant experience, our changing (and unchanging) dietary habits, the history of New York.There's an exhibit on display at the
The exhibit made for a great backdrop this evening for the official launch party for HistoryPin, a website that aims to link our personal family histories and photographic records with a larger story and to pin those photos and stories to Google Maps.
Who was here, what was here before us? Where were our families? What did their world look like? What artifacts remain, and how can we connect these cultural remnants to people and places today? These questions can uncover a wealth of information of both personal and cultural value.
HistoryPin has been in beta for a year, a creation of the U.K. non-profit We Are What We Do. HistoryPin officially launches today with the release of its Android app. (An iPhone app is on its way.) The site and the app let you view the history of a particular location, by taking historical photos and pinning them, as the name suggests, to Google Maps. You can also contribute their own photos - both present-day and family heritage photos - to the site.
The app takes full advantages of many of the features of Google Maps, including not just pins but Street View and timelines. Using HistoryPin, you can search for photos, as well as for video and audio content, by place or by time. Historic images can be overlaid onto contemporary views of a particular location so you can see what happened there and what has changed.
But "it isn't just about the tech," says Jesse Friedman, product manage for Google Earth and Google Maps, speaking at tonight's launch event. "It's about the stories."
Pinning Family History, Community History, National History
his Gran going through old family photos and listening to her stories. "How can we use history to start these sorts of conversations," wondered Stanhope, to build relationships and to encourage "little bits of understanding."Stories were what motivated HistoryPin co-founder Nick Stanhope to undertake the project, as he described the time spent with
That understanding is important both on a personal level, on a neighborhood level, and on a national level, as another speaker at this evening's launch event pointed out. Community activist Martin Luther King III, son of the civil rights leader, spoke about the importance of sharing family history "as a universal experience."
Sharing Photos, Sharing Places: The Importance of Open Data
Linking culture, memory, and justice was reiterated by the final speaker at tonight's event, Harvard professor Laurence Lessig who spoke about the importance of sharing openly licensed photos rather than locking down content under regulations and licenses that deny the sorts of insights about the past that HistoryPin can uncover.
For his part, Stanhope stresses the importance of open and linked data as part of HistoryPin's project, making it possible for people and archives to share their photographs and for others in turn to reuse and remix that content for non-commercial purposes. (I've written about linked open data, location, and archival photographs before in my coverage of LookBackMaps, whose founder Jon Voss has joined HistoryPin.) Stanhope contends that this openness will enable the project to expand beyond just the "history buffs" to include the stories and the photos that we all have tucked away in our personal and family archives.
Indeed, the open licensing might just do that. But to echo what Google's Friedman said tonight: it's not just the tech or the licensing that's most powerful about HistoryPin. It's the stories.