Brain Pickings

Historypin: Past Meets Present in Street View


What urban storytelling has to do with the end of WWII and Google Maps mashups.

Photographic Time Machine is one of our all-time most popular articles, but it spotlights projects that, while fascinating, are one-off art experiments. How fantastic would it be if there were a broader, more expansive platform for intersecting past and present through historical photography, a digital time machine of sorts? Well, now there is. Enter Historypin — a mashup of modern mapping and archival photos that offers a new way to explore and share history.

Developed by We Are What We Do, the social movement behind Anya Hindmarch’s now-iconic I’m Not a Plastic Bag bag, in partnership with Google, the project pulls photos from various national archives and private-sector collections, and “pins” them over Google Maps Street View to create a fascinating fold in the space/time continuum.

Archival photos can both be dated and geotagged, painting a precise portrait of how specific locations have changed. Users can even submit their own and write stories about them, adding a wonderful urban storytelling component akin to Hitotoki.

From 19th-century views of Baltimore and Potomac Railway Station to London’s iconic High Street on Victory in Europe Day in 1945, Historypin features nearly 2,000 photos and stories pinned just a couple of days after the official launch and has the potential to become the largest user-generated archive of historical images and stories, documenting not only how the physicality of our world is changing but also how our experience of it is responding to those changes — a priceless timecapsule of cultural change.

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