Mobile and Time-based Innovations

The usage of apps is becoming more common in historical spheres. Many historical institutions and museums have their own app that is complementing the exhibits or projects. Besides apps, the digital age offers a lot of new oppotunities for historians to engage with the quickly changing historical audience. These new ways of making history public is the subject of the first lecture on the second day of the international conference ‘Public History in a Digital Age’.

Thomas Irmer explained about the Berlin based ‘Forced Labor. The Testimony App‘. The free-to-download application for mobile devices turns the whole city in to a museum. Included is a map on which users can see where forced labour had taken place. A selection of several pre-fixed tours accompanied by a rich database of audio logs, pictures and other media leads tourists through a different Berlin. At the end of the thematic tours there is the possibility to visit a related museum, this is optional as the app is a free to get walking tour.

As the touristic market in berlin is constantly growing, the opportunities for new ideas to enrichen it are legion. One of those ideas is the ‘Videobus’, another Berlin based historical tour. Tourists can have a seat in a touring bus equipped with video screens which will be showing complementary information on historical sites the busroute passes by. The choice of the shown content is to be decided by the live personal guide that encompanies the group. It combines visits to the most important historical parts of the city with in depth audiovisual material. A big advantage of the bustour is that you can bridge large distances in relatively small amount of time. This gives the opportunity to cover more historical sites than on normal walking or cycling tours. As Hanno Hochmut told in his presentation, this concept is a little outdated but it shows us another possibility of how to use new media to transfer historical information to the public.

The third and last presentation by Judith Keilbach was mainly about the app ‘Anne’s Amsterdam’, which directs the users to various places in Amsterdam that are in one way or another connected to Anne Frank’s life. This app has the same characteristics as the Testimony App presented by Thomas Irmer, although it differs in a certain way. Anne’s Amsterdam doesn’t follow a pre-fixed walking tour, it locates points of interest on the Amsterdam city map that will reveal stories once tourist actually go to these locations. This gives users the freedom to explore and experience the city of Anne in the way they themselves construct. Keilbach pointed out that this is not completly different from what the old-fashioned way of historical tourism, explanatory signs and written guides offer the same experience. However, these informatory “devices” are not capable of playing videos, audio and are harder to keep up-to-date.

The three examples of integrating new media in historical tours give us insight in just a few of the endless possibilities to target a specific audience. There is, however, a lot of ground to be discovered. Feedback on the personal experience of the audience is one thing that has to be done more. Another important notion that was made is that there is an overwhelmingly amount of apps available these days, every institution or museums has their own app. The amount of users of the different apps isn’t always as satisfying as we would like to see. Producing an app is a costly procedure and public funds are, as we know, far from endless. On the other hand, Hochmut noted, there is still a public desire to engage in tours the old-fashioned way. As I see it, we should always try to broaden our interest in keeping historical tourism modern and interactive, but we need to acknowledge that a significant part of our public still prefers to participate in a way that we call, too often, “old-fashioned”.

– by: Koen Embregts