Katherine is a high school student thinking about learning local history as a way to be civically engaged.
When I was first introduced to the Off the Map project, all I knew was that we would be “creating app content” for a historical map. I have always loved history and felt a close connection to my community, so I thought it would be an amazing experience and something I could be proud to have contributed to. Other than that, I didn’t know much about what I was getting into.
My optimism about the future of the project was heightened after session one, when I picked Founders Square as my topic and was able to experience Maryville’s history in a more vivid way during our community walk. Based on the knowledge I gained of my area during the walk, however, I knew it would be a particular challenge to research. Founders Square, historically a bustling hub of town full of vibrant stories, was now a parking lot that I wouldn’t look twice at in passing!
If we were going to represent this area and tell its story, the app would have to do some pretty special things. After brainstorming with our app developer, Garrett, during session two, the other designers and I came up with some ideas for the app. I then began to see the reality of what this project could be.
The first thing we all agreed on was that it should be accessible to everyone and available for educational purposes. It should be intergenerational and dynamic. I picture this app used in classrooms; teachers could assign their students a project to learn about our town and its special history as they walk through it. Eventually, students could even contribute to the app’s historical content. I also think it is very important that the app include lots of visuals. It would be difficult, I believe, to picture Founders Square without historical documents and images, and the same is true for many other students’ topics. If the app is going to feel like an experience of significance to its users, it needs to be immersive, engaging, and visual, and I think images of our history can accomplish that.
These are only a few things that could be featured on the app, and the possibilities are really limitless: timelines, social groups, historian chats, guided audio tours, and the list goes on. They are, however, a place to start when thinking of how the app should reach across generations to achieve its storytelling purpose and to make historical Blount County come alive again.