Time Travel and Word Clouds: A Short Guide to Three Fun and Informative Digital History Websites

Practicums Review Post for January 21:

a) PhilaPlace is an interactive website about space, time, and Philly. It was created by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 2005; it connects stories to places across time in Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. It has different formats: text, pictures, audio and video clips, and podcasts. It also includes community programs and publications, from workshops for teachers, to trolley tours, and exhibits.

PhilaPlace focuses on two areas: Old Southwark and the Greater Northern Liberties, they were always home to immigrants and working class. Philadelphia was known as a multi-ethnic “workshop of the world.” By using the landscape as a lens, PhilaPlace reveals how each population that arrives in a neighborhood creates new histories, traditions, and memories tied to place. Residents of Philly are encouraged to interact with and contribute to this project. Studies showed that younger users of this website wanted to experience the neighborhoods on their own while older audiences wanted to continue to have a guided experience.

Perhaps the most fun aspect of this website is its map. By clicking on any pin, you are given a well-written and easily-digestible information about the place. You would feel like you are walking through the city with a very-knowledgeable friend who tells you about Philadelphia’s past and present. While using it, you become ever-more aware of the concept of space in an exciting way.

b) Historypin is a website that collects, curates, and structures stories to bring people together, one story at a time. It hosts 365,951 stories pinned across 27,844 projects and tours – across 2,600 cities. It is built by a community of 80,000+ storytellers, archivists and citizen historians. Historypin is a not-for-profit organization. It no longer has a community forum due to technical issues, and also probably online harassment. To sign up, go to the top right corner; the easiest way is do so through Facebook. Everyone with a profile can create a collection, and upload images and story to the website. To add a pin: go to the profile page, “add a pin” or “create a tour” would be on the right side. One of the most popular collections is San Francisco MTA archival collection. By navigating the arrow on the map, you can view pins, which then appear as old archival photos. It feels like you are traveling in the past but with useful context provided in text. This website is useful for small organizations that want a platform or to create even an easily accessible tour.

c) Wordle helps you generate “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. Because the Wordle web toy does not work, you should install a desktop version of it on your laptop. Do not try to use the web one, even after downloading Firefox Extended Support Release, it does not work. Instead, if you do not have it, download and install Java. Then download Worldle for Mac or Windows, the link is on their website’s main page. It’s pretty straightforward after that, you just copy and paste the text.  

Featured Image: René Magritte, Golconda (Golconde), 1953. Oil on canvas, 31 1/2 × 39 1/2 in. (80 × 100.3 cm). The Menil Collection, Houston. © 2017 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

4 Replies to “Time Travel and Word Clouds: A Short Guide to Three Fun and Informative Digital History Websites”

  1. For what it’s worth, I like your feature image the way it is 🙂 It’s always a pleasure to have a screen full of Magritte!

    I like what you said about PhilaPlace feeling like walking through Philadelphia with a friend who’s very knowledgeable about the city’s history. I was in Philadelphia over New Year’s and as soon as I opened the site I went looking for the places I’d been to on the map to check out what was there before I arrived, which is always fun. I do wish there were a more curated way to go through the site, though, rather than just clicking around until you find something interesting. If there is one, I didn’t find it.

  2. I found PhilaPlace to be extremely interesting as well. In particular, I like that they include oral histories and community events as well as photos and document. I was having trouble viewing the videos, but it emphasises that the people who live in these areas are just as much a part of the history as the buildings. I’ve travelled to many cities and have even taken historical walking tours that claim to do the same thing that this website is doing. While I quite enjoy having someone tell me all about the history of a place, it would be nice to then have access to evidence and more in depth descriptions.

  3. I found PhilaPlace to be extremely interesting as well. In particular, I like that they include oral histories and community events as well as photos and document. I was having trouble viewing the videos, but it emphasises that the people who live in these areas are just as much a part of the history as the buildings. I’ve travelled to many cities and have even taken historical walking tours that claim to do the same thing that this website is doing. While I quite enjoy having someone tell me all about the history of a place, it would be nice to then have access to evidence and more in depth descriptions.

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