Digital Project Reflection: Exploring the History of Capitol Hill’s Alleys

Project Poster

Project Goals: Taking the Road Less Traveled

I discovered DC’s unique alleys on my first walk to Giant after moving to the city. I veered off course immediately to check them out and was fascinated by the alley homes I discovered. I didn’t really give them any more thought afterwards, until I became more involved in historic preservation this past year. When this course started I was really excited to create a digital project, but struggled to decide on a topic. My supervisor kept bringing up a survey on alleys completed by DC’s Historic Preservation Office. I decided to look at it to see what she was talking about and became instantly hooked by the story of alleys outlined in the survey. From that point, I decided to create a digital project about the history of alley communities in DC.

The ultimate goal for this project is to have the public find and explore overlooked histories in the world around them. I want them to reevaluate and reinterpret their environment to find stories of the past that often go unnoticed.

My (more focused) goal is to also have them look at DC and its history differently. Washington, DC is the nation’s capital and an epicenter of tourist sites, monuments, and popular museums.  These aren’t bad things and they are important when it comes to teaching history; however there is a local history in this city that’s deep-rooted and unnoticed by most people who aren’t native Washingtonians.  DC is often seen as a place full of transient residents who don’t stick around and that are quick to leave, but this isn’t true.

HistoryPin, Mobile Media, and Interpreting “Space”

For this project I used HistoryPin. I wanted to work with this platform because of it’s ability to overlay the past on top of the present. This essentially means that users can put a historical image on top of a present-day site and be able to explore how places have changed over time. This idea of understanding how the environment has evolved is vital to my project, because alleys have experienced both physical and social changes over time. HistoryPin’s tour capabilities were also important to my work. I knew I wanted to create a tour early on and for the most part, HistoryPin is easy to navigate. I didn’t have any major problems inputting my tour’s information onto the site. I also liked the aesthetic style of their tours.

I was a bit disappointed to learn that their app is no longer available, but it looks fine when accessing in on the web while using a phone. I will keep my eye out to see if the app makes a reappearance in the future though.

Overall, I feel that this project relates well to our class discussion about mobile media.  A few of the articles we read (and that I specifically reported on) dealt with using digital tools, such as apps, to explore spaces and their history differently. I think that making this tour available digitally is very useful for users, and it allowed me to be more creative in how I approached this subject. I also included prompts throughout the tour, and some of the questions deal with re-imagining “space” in alleyways.

What I Have Learned From My Experience

One of the most important things that I have learned while creating this project, is that digital tools can really change the way public historians teach and share history. They can also offer the public different ways to explore and learn about the past. I am especially amazed by the role cellphones can play in all this. While conceptualizing and developing this tour I often thought about how anyone can take their cellphone, open the tour, and almost instantly have the chance to explore the past in a meaningful and interactive way.

This was very much true for a lot of the things I learned in this course throughout the semester. Digital tools can really open new doors in our understanding of history. They also help people connect with one another on a much larger scale. For example, my tour is on the internet, and because of that it has the potential of being used by a wide audience. We can also hold a discussion about the content of this tour using the digital tool it is published on.

I had a great experience creating this project and look forward to continuing my exploration of digital history in the future!

The Tour!

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