Q and A with Nick Stanhope, Creator of Historypin

By merging old photographs with new mapping technology, this site fuses new connections between the generations

Historypin is a website that allows users to "pin" old photographs, video or audio clips to Google Maps at the very locations they were snapped and recorded. Shown here is the Wisconsin State Capitol from 1939. (Courtesy of Historypin)

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How have specific communities used it?

To give an example of something that has given birth to itself completely on its own, without any involvement through us—a community of users in Nova Scotia has started up and been particularly active. A few people there have gotten everyone involved. Local archives and institutions are taking part, and there are school activities going on. Suddenly, there is this really buzzy, exciting little community of users who are coming together to talk about their shared history and their relationship with Nova Scotia history.

There was one particularly inspiring event recently at a school in a bit of Essex called Billericay. They invited older people from within the community ,and students interviewed them about their photographs, filmed and recorded their stories and made comparisons between what the area looked like then and now. It became obvious to us how these small, lovely examples can become replicated over and over again.

As of right now, over 50,000 photos and stories have been pinned. Who have been the biggest contributors?

At the moment, it is probably a fifty-fifty split between individual users and institutions in terms of the contributed content. We have well over 100 archive partners now, and I think about 60 or 70 percent are in the U.S. We have strong relationships with the Museum of the City of New York and the New York Public Library. We just did a great little pilot with the Brooklyn Museum around a pinning game, which invited users to locate some pictures that the museum didn’t know the location of. It is something we are going to look to scale up over the next few months. And, we have a very exciting, budding relationship with the Smithsonian.

Why do you think it has really caught on in the United States?

I studied U.S. history and have always loved all things American. But I oddly had never been to the States before this year. What struck me was that it just feels like Americans have a slightly more intimate relationship with local heritage. There is this thing that you notice a lot as a foreigner. When people meet for the first time in the States, the first question is always, where are you from? Where did you grow up? That always makes me want to say, “I grew up playing ball with someone’s cousin outside Chicago,” or something like that. The similar question here is probably, what do you do, or something like that, which is less welcoming or warm.

I think family, roots, neighborhoods and heritage are a very strong part of the American psyche. I just feel that there is a particular resonance in the States. People are excited about reaching into their attics and digging out their old photographs.

What other sites, focused on historical content, do you think are clever?

We are big fans of dearphotograph.com, which is based on some similar starting points that a photograph can open up a doorway to a story. There is a site called oldweather.org. It looks at the history of weather and therefore the future of climate—so, again, this idea of geospatial mapping of historical content and crowd sourcing to effective social ends.


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