I am fascinated by maps, especially when they give me a window into the history of a place I see every day. This struck me for the first time when I was looking at a historic map of Philadelphia and realized there had once been a river right underneath the place I was standing. The city’s sewers and streets and buildings had literally been built on top of this water system that made Philadelphia as a city possible. All the sudden, I had the feeling that pre-industrialized Philadelphia still existed underneath the streets, and I thought I could almost hear water rushing.
I recently had this experience again when viewing some photos from the Archives’ collections on Historypin, a recently released beta of a mapping/storytelling website and mobile app produced by the UK-based non-profit, We Are What We Do. Before their beta release in July, we sent them a group of photographs from the Smithsonian Institution Archives' collections, from 1865 until today, showing the growth of the National Mall that is home to many of Smithsonian’s museums, libraries, and archives.
The Historypin map app is beautiful, allowing you to scroll though time over a map, and fade in and out of pictures of the past over a live image feed of the street in front of you enabled by your mobile camera. Historypin is also working on some tools where we can enlist you to help us geotag, or refine the geo-coordinates, of more of the photos in our collections from all over the world.
Download the Historypin app or browse the map from home with some photos from the Archives. You will also find photos contributed by other cultural heritage organizations, and by people like you and me which lend a more personal narrative to the maps. We will keep you posted about new contributions and developments on Historypin from the Archives.