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WhatWasThere: Old pics and new maps

whatwasthere logo

Lisa from Maryland stopped by the other day to browse the Google Maps Gallery post and left a quick comment about the similarities of the Maps Gallery and a site called WhatWasThere.

(Lisa works as a Secondary Social Studies Mentor in the Howard County Public Schools and also made sure to pass on another great D-Day photo source and oral history archive.)

I had never heard of WhatWasThere. I’ve heard of HistoryPin. And Histografica. And I’ve even heard of Smithsonian’s interactive maps. But WhatWasThere?

Nope. And it’s so cool. How have I not run across this before?

The WhatWasThere folks say that their project

was inspired by the realization that we could leverage technology and the connections it facilitates to provide a new human experience of time and space – a virtual time machine of sorts that allows users to navigate familiar streets as they appeared in the past.

The premise is simple: provide a platform where anyone can easily upload a photograph with two straightforward tags to provide context: Location and Year. If enough people upload enough photographs in enough places, together we will weave together a photographic history of the world.

And for the last few years, they’ve been collecting old photos and pasting them onto Google Maps around the world.

Using the site couldn’t be much simpler. Head to the site and enter a city name, state, or country. Once you’re at your location, the number of pictures available at that place is identified by map markers. Zooming in or out of the map will highlight fewer or more pictures.

Click on a marker and you zoom in to that exact location.You can get picture info including date and historical data. Hover your mouse over the image and you get a square that zooms in on just the photo for more details.

But the best part happens when you click on the Google Street View button. The image morphs over a current view of that place and a slider appears allowing you to adjust the transparency of the image. Sweet!


(Union Station in downtown Kansas City. Site of the famous Valentine’s Day Massacre)

You and your kids can also upload your own photos to add to the database. You’ll need to create a simple account to get access to the upload option. Tag your uploads with the picture’s year, location, descriptive information, your source, and the photo’s copyright status. If you know the street address of your image, you can position it on the Google street view, placing it directly over the address as it appears today.

And you and your kids don’t need to be the ones to actually take the photos. There are tons of online sites to capture historical photos. Get started by heading over to the TeachingHistory site.

whatwasthere berlin 2

whatwasthere berlin 1

President Kennedy at the Brandenburg Gate

wwt 101st at normandy 2

wwt 101st at normandy 1

Members of the 101st Airborne Division, Normandy, June 7, 1944

How cool is that? Seriously. Let your mind wander a bit into the different possibilities for teaching and learning here. Compare and contrast images from different periods. Before and after events. Primary source analysis. Mystery learning i.e. where do you think this image was taken? Why is this place important? Who was it important to? Why do some areas have more images than other areas?

Not to mention the opportunities for kids to upload their own images. Why this image? Why this place? How many images do we need in a place to tell the story? Do we need to include more that one place to tell the story? What information do we need to include with each image? Where can we find that information? All sweet questions that support historical thinking and problem solving.

How did I not know about this? Sheesh. I don’t feel stupid at all. Much.

Anyway . . . thanks Lisa! Sweet tip.

(And don’t forget the WhatWasThere iPhone app for past image viewing goodness while you’re onsite.)

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