Digital Project Proposal

For the digital project I would like to use a digital tool to document and present the religious history of Washington, D.C., particularly its religious buildings.

After some very brief web browsing I have determined that there is not any kind of definitive guide or database for historically significant religious buildings or institutions in our nation’s capital online, which is a shame because of the culturally and religiously diverse history of the country and the city. There are a few website articles that mention tourist-friendly churches and short explanations of skyline defining steeples, but nothing that outlines the historical development of the religious life of the city.

So, I would use something like HistoryPin or StoryMaps to use photos of the religious buildings that now exist to tell a brief history of the religious life of Washington over the last 3 centuries. For example, I could use a picture of the Washington National Cathedral to explain both the history of The Episcopal Church in the United States and how city designers had long planned and wanted a sort of ecumenical national house of prayer for the capital city.

Another example could be St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Downtown DC, which is the oldest Catholic parish in the city and even hosted British troops for Sunday Mass during the British Invasion of Washington during the War of 1812. There is a lot of history to be learned from this church alone.

It would not only be Christian churches either; the Islamic Center of Washington on Embassy Row would of course be included, and I think I would include the enormous LDS Temple just outside the city in Maryland. There is a Sikh gurdwara on Massachusetts Ave that I pass to go to work, and the city boasts some glorious historical synagogues.

I think it would be cool to create some kind of historical tour of the great buildings of the city, hopefully including buildings from many religions. It would be an opportunity to learn about religious history, DC history, and artistic and architectural traditions of many religions.

The tour could be fairly comprehensive while still being base level enough to only being hitting the highlights, so to speak, and perhaps there would be some sort of way to focus on a specific faith tradition.

This would be a fun project to make for me and I think it would actually be useful as a public history tool, not to mention something to show people that have already seen the boilerplate DC stuff like the Mall and the Smithsonians and such.

2 Replies to “Digital Project Proposal”

  1. This is such a clever idea! Your post made me stop to think of how many religious institutions exist just around where I live. I definitely pass by and don’t give them much thought. I think this project is such a great mix of urban history, architectural history, cultural history, and many other things. I’m curious, would you focus on religious institutions with significant local history, federal history, or both? The examples you gave seem to have big historical presences, and I’m sure there are probably smaller local churches (etc.) that have rich histories within their own communities that aren’t necessarily on the scale of the National Cathedral or St. Patrick’s.

  2. Hi Andy,

    This is a great idea for a project. I think you are very right that this could work in either StoryMaps or in HistoryPin. To sort out which would work best you could try working on it in both of them. My initial thought is that it might be easier to accomplish this in HistoryPin and that would have the added benefit that what you create will be up and indexed as part of their broader platform. If you did use StoryMaps, you could probably customize it more, but you would then be in a situation where the project would likely only last as long as the AU instance of StoryMaps keeps it online. Given all of that, if you can make it work in HistoryPin that might be the way to go. HistoryPin also comes with some built in tour functionality.

    I think it’s great that you are going to include a range of faiths in the sites you include. A lot of religious history that is run by church organizations and communities tends to focus narrowly on a specific set of traditions but it would be really interesting to see this spread out more widely. That does open up a question of scope. I think you are going to want to spend some time thinking through what a reasonable scope for something like this is. I think getting at least 10-15 sites on here would be ideal, but if you go relatively shallow in terms of the research you do on each site, you could potentially go higher, to something like 20-30 sites.

    If you were going to focus on something that could work as a walking tour, you would probably want to zero more in on one specific neighborhood. For example, I could see something just on religious sites in Georgetown. That said, if your intention is for this to mostly be something someone would use from a computer to explore religious history across the city, then I think you should try to seek out significant religious sites in all of the wards and on both sides of the Anacostia.

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