Useful tools for public historians – mapping history

The four speakers on ‘useful tools for public history’ showed us different opportunities the digital world has to offer. All shared stories of successful projects based on mapping and reliving the past at specific geographical locations. First up were Christine Bartlitz and Nadine Kurschat who talked about two projects based in Berlin; audiowalk ‘kudamm’31’ and geocaching at ‘tempelhofer feld’ ( Their projects showed that audiences, not limited to young people, are eager to try out new things and they concluded by positively stating that we should go along with where digital tools are taking us.

Tiago Gil from the University of Brasilía presented on the Digital Atlas, or ‘Historical Google Maps’ of Portuguese America. This project started out as a university project, but has now evolved into an extensive collaboration between other research institutions and the public, making crowdsourcing one of the focal points of the continuously growing online GIS.

The last speaker Dienke Hondius talked about two interdisciplinary projects; mapping slavery history in Europe and mapping hiding places in Amsterdam. She also mentioned an upcoming ‘map-up’ event, where visitors and academic experts create a digital map and database of a place on the spot. Mapping can ‘bring history closer to home’ and sometimes works as an eye-opener. Did you know that the place where we have been drinking coffee during the breaks (Binnengasthuis) used to be an auction house where slaves were sold?

All these projects aim at creating awareness and a greater historical consciousness. Linking history to a specific location can increase the personal connection to the past, an experience that can be enhanced by using digital tools. The rapidly developing nature of such tools and the endless possibilities they bring do mean that projects can get bigger and bigger. As Dienke Hondius said: ‘You start, but where will it end? Completeness in not an option!’

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