Crowdsourcing Cultural Data Across Time

American Experience: The Engineering Map of America

While browsing my local PBS website, I recently stumbled across this very cool, history-themed mobile app called American Experience: Mapping History. The app allows users to explore local buildings and landmarks throughout the centuries, utilizing original drawings, photos and videos. Standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial? With a pseudo-augmented reality feature, you can pull up historic construction photos and fade them in and out, over your contemporary view. 

While, as a self-proclaimed history geek, I find this feature alone to be really intriguing, it's the crowdsourcing potential of this platform that gets me really excited. Users can upload their own photos, whether vintage (say, from a family vacation in the 1980s) or contemporary, to the PBS website, and contribute to the growing database of browsable content. Admittedly, the current set of photos and video isn't large and definitely leaves something to be desired, but a platform like the Mapping History could change the way we teach history to future generations of Americans. The passage and consequences of time no longer have to be imagined if you can just flip through photos of it on a device in your hand. 

I'm reminded of a recent post by my colleague, Alissa Millenson, where she described the merits "thick data" over "big data." The more layers of digital data we can source and collect about a particular place or landmark, the more context we will add to the historical record of our time. As my colleague said, we can imagine that the archaeologists of the future will no longer have to dig in the dirt to understand our culture, instead they'll just look at our digital databases (however primitive the technology) and know who we were as a society, down to the intimate details of a life. 

In what other ways do you think the digital artifacts of our society might impact future generations? Send me a message: @jess_dugan.