Moving from Little Rock, Arkansas to the Washington, D.C. area this fall was bittersweet, because as excited as I was to start my graduate career, I had to put my museum work on hold temporarily and leave a position where I was involved with many ongoing projects and programs. This semester, I had the pleasure of taking a seed of an idea that was born at my job in Little Rock and growing it into a real project that has great potential for growth and audience outreach. By using Historypin to create a photo tour of Historic West Ninth Street, I was able to apply skills learned in the Digital Public History class to an ongoing effort of public historians at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center to engage the Little Rock community in the city’s African American history. It’s always satisfying to use the things we learn in school to accomplish real goals, especially for this project, as I know many people who are deeply passionate about preserving and educating others about Arkansas black history.
The original dream for the project was something very similar to the Museum of London’s Streetmuseum app, which allows users to hold their smartphone up to a particular location and see a historical image directly imposed on the space. However, something like Streetmuseum would cost many thousands of dollars that most smaller museums don’t have, so I was incredibly happy to learn about Historypin, a great (and free!) alternative that would allow for a similar experience. Using Historypin ended up being even more ideal, I think, because of the crowdsourcing element available through the platform.
Overall, I’m very pleased with how the tour of Historic West Ninth Street turned out. I ran into a few issues, mainly that Google Maps doesn’t have exact street addresses for businesses and buildings that don’t exist anymore. I particularly ran into a dilemma as to include images of places that were demolished to make way for the Interstate highway, as placing an image on a tour where people can’t actually go deviated from the original purpose of having users actually walk down in the Ninth Street area. I decided to go ahead and include them, as they emphasize how drastically this historically black district was changed by urban renewal and the expanded highway system. Also, I’m hoping that as I begin advertising the tour, users who were familiar with the area can help with more precisely locating the images of old businesses and other various buildings.
I’m excited to keep working on this project over the summer, getting the word out about it through working with Mosaic Templars Cultural Center and other cultural heritage institutions in Arkansas. Partnering with the Pop Up West Ninth Street entrepreneurial program will be especially productive, as Pop Up focuses on getting people to physically come down to the area. Getting the community involved in a key part of the project, as it has great potential to act as a collaborative tool between individuals and cultural heritage professionals and institutions. Long term, I hope to possibly work with the Historypin team to create a larger project that will include collaboration with people from across the state to pin images, tell stories, and document Arkansas’s African American history in a centralized location.