TravelTraveler Magazine

Pin Your Place in History

At National Geographic Traveler we celebrate the power of photography. A great photo tells a story– capturing moments both momentous and ordinary, documenting experiences in ways that words simply can’t. Imagine, then, if the world had a platform to share these visual memories across generations. Sure, there’s Facebook which is carefully documenting our modern history, but what if we could spin the globe and see travel photos of a place we’re about to visit, from someone who visited that very place 75 years before us?

Enter Historypin, a website created by the non-profit company We Are What We Do in partnership with Google, that takes an interactive map of the modern world (Google Street View) and virtually “pins” historic photos onto the map by date and location. What you get in the end is a global scrapbook of personal and collective history. National archives, universities, local historical sites, and individual users can share photographs and the stories behind them, essentially tagging their place in space and time. See a family photo from 1886 in Chicago, the crowd gathered for the 1947 wedding of then-Princess Elizabeth to Prince Phillip, and Sydney’s Victoria Markets in 1885.

“We soon saw that when you bring history to life like this, you could play a positive role in lots of areas of local and national life, from engaging children in schools to opening up global archive resources,” says Historypin CEO Nick Stanhope.

Historypin’s creators hope the website will encourage sharing and learning, inspire inter-generational dialogue, and provide impetus to talk about changes that have occurred and that continue around us. The site also helps citizens to recognize that they are the curators of their own personal histories, “similar to what blogs did for journalism, Historypin– and like-minded sites– start to challenge who ‘owns’ history, and who is ‘allowed’ to write it,” says Stanhope.

Although still in the beta phase, the next iteration of Historypin will boast an improved user interface, new content (including the addition of audio and video) and will encourage more of a community experience. They also hope to include different ways to visualize data: tours through time, photo collections, and improved street view experiences. The site also plans to launch a location-based app in July, allowing users to see historical layers in their world as they walk down the street.

In the meantime, tag your own photos and take a walk on Google Street View through our collective history!

Photos and screen grabs courtesy of Historypin