Histories on the National Mall is a website that does exactly what the title would suggest – it provides a comprehensive history of the National Mall. This includes a timeline of events related to the Mall, people involved with designing and making the Mall and its monuments, events such as scavenger hunts around the Mall complete with historical articles attached, and what we’re here to talk about, a map of all the monuments and history on the Mall. If your digital project includes a mapping component, I would highly recommend looking at the site.
The map section of the website allows you to use different filters to experience the Mall in different time periods through various sources. Without any filters, there are 345 different monuments, sites, papers, audio, and visual pieces of Mall history to choose from, each with a piece historical scholarship attached to explain the pin.
If you’re interested in narrowing down what you want to see on the Mall, click the lines with circles on them at the top of the image above, which will let you choose what era you’d like to search in and what type of item you want, including events, places, and monuments. That presents you with even more specific filters to narrow down your search results, my favorite being the option to look for places that ghosts have been sighted. This is an excellent example of how history can be digitized and condensed down for people curious about the mall to learn more. As a lover of maps, I think this is a great tool for tourists and residents of the city to piece together the city’s history and to do research on sites off of the beaten track.
Scavenger Hunts, Timelines, and Articles, Oh My!
Histories on the Mall also includes more information than just the maps. The site has scavenger hunts at specific monuments and sites, like the Smithsonian Castle, which has close-up photos of places in the location for participants to find on the hunt, giving people fun ways to engage with the monuments once they get there. It also includes a timeline of the history of how the Mall was developed and articles briefly answering questions people might have, like “were there alternate designs to the Lincoln Memorial.” The search feature on the site also provides a list of articles, historical context, and the locations on the map for the search results, which is a great tool for research! This combination of historical research and tools for people to explore the city and its history makes for an aesthetically pleasing, enjoyable, and educational web experience.
ARIS Games is an online tool and app that anyone can use to create tours, games, or stories based off of a real map. ARIS games, which stands for Augmented Reality Interactive Storytelling Engine seems pretty cool, but has its share of glitches. It’s from the Field Day Lab at the University of Wisconsin and consists of web programming to make a game or a tour and then lets people on the app use the tours and games you create. On the app, if you can get it to work for more than 30 seconds, you can also view popular games and tours made near you. The product is free, but it sounds like if you get over 100 views/players monthly on your project, you can pay to get ARIS to provide additional product support.
*I had problems with my phone crashing every time I tried to open the app, see below for the fun adventures I had.
Making a Game or Tour
To start anything, you first have to create an account. Once registered, you then have to click “new game,” even if you’re creating a tour. There are different types of interactive tools you can create for the audience including:
Plaque: an object in the game that provides the viewer with information, which can be text, images, or videos
Trigger: game settings that allow players to access objects (can be something simple like opening the game or a GPS location)
Conversation: interactive ordering of text and media. This can mean actually creating a conversation between the user and the person you create by creating options for the user to choose in the conversation.
To create anything, you start with a blank screen and a tool that says “starting scene” which is basically the introductory screen for the tour or game.
On the left side of the screen here, you can see I have already created a Conversation titled Welcome and a Plaque called Introduction. To add these to the starting scene, you hit the little plus button. This tool also allows you to link webpages to the scene. To create other conversations, plaques, characters, etc, you can hit the little plus button next to them on the left side of the screen, which will then allow you to add them to the scene in the middle.
The Locations tool, which is located at the top of the screen, allows you to drag the character you are using, or the item, to the location you want. This can either be set to trigger when the person using the app is at the actual location on the map, or by clicking on the link. I couldn’t get this feature to work for me in terms of setting a location for a character, but according to the Field Lab Tutorials, which are actually extremely helpful, this is how it should work. You can change the location of characters and triggers for plaques and conversations. This could be an extremely useful tool to use on a tour project, as it could be set to trigger when the mobile device gets near to a point you want to discuss, especially considering some spots might be easy to miss.
Creating new scenes will allow you to create different interactives for each spot on your tour or your game.
Clicking on either the Nearby, Popular, or Recent tabs will take you to tours or games that meet that description, as you can see from the image below, there are a wide variety of uses for the program.
(This is as far as my poor phone got)
Once I clicked on a tour to explore, my app kept crashing so I didn’t get to see what the finished product looked like. After trying to open the app on multiple other devices, I gave up. After reading other reviews online, it seems like this app needs serious revision, although it does represent a cool intersection of mapping, tours, and gaming. It’s potential is to provide users with a series of tours, presented as quests, that would tie history to the location around the user through mobile interfacing. I hope that it sorts out the bugs eventually, because I do love the idea. (side note, this is also the reason the post is late. For some reason I thought maybe my phone might sort itself out if I left it alone and turned it off. Turns out that doesn’t do anything for computers)
What do you think? Would it be worth updating the ARIS Games system to work, or have other apps and web programs proven more useful?
What can we learn about apps vs. websites from these projects?
Whether or not you’re doing a mapping project, do you think you could learn anything from these sites? How do they reflect the field of digital history, or better yet, public/digital history?