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Top Ten Posts of the Year #10: Then and now Google Images, writing prompts, HistoryPin, and other cool stuff

I’m sure most of you are doing the same thing I’m doing right now. Spending time with family and friends, watching football, catching up on that book you’ve been dying to read, eating too much, and enjoying the occasional nap.

Between now and the first week in January, you’ll get a chance to re-read the top ten posts of 2015. Enjoy the reruns. See you in January!


Several months ago, I was in beautiful Fremont, Washington, a community north of downtown Seattle. My son had just graduated from Seattle Pacific and we had the opportunity to spend a few days exploring the metro area. We had already done all of the typical Seattle touristy things – Pike’s Market, Space Needle, the icky wall of chewing gum.

While looking for lesser known attractions, Jake suggested Fremont. Every Sunday, Fremont hosts ahuge flea market / delicious food truck / arts and crafts extravaganza that attracts thousands. I went for the food and stayed for the old books and super cool old maps.

While browsing through one particular booth looking for artistic inspiration, my daughter ran across a box full of old photographs. No names. No dates. So we practiced our primary document sourcing skills, deducing that they must have been taken in the late 1940s / early 1950s by American soldiers and their families. Scenes of the Eiffel Tower, festivals complete with lederhosen, and celebrations with uniformed Americans were prominent.

Erin selected a pile of the most interesting images – picking quite a few that seemed to be from the same camera roll and photographer.

Okay. Your daughter found some old photos. And . . . so what?

It took me a while to figure out the so what. The so what started to develop when she became intrigued with several of the images, particularly with one that showed what seemed to be a Gothic cathedral.

old pics

After almost two decades of living in the house of a history nerd, this became a challenge for her that had to be defeated. What cathedral? Where? What’s the backstory? (And why would someone take a picture of a church and not include the spires? Seriously. Who does that?)

A flip through some of her art books revealed nothing. Online lists of Gothic cathedrals. Nothing. Maps and databases. Nothing. Generic Google image search with keywords like “gothic” and “france” and “cathedral” delivered so many results as to be unusable.

Then she remembered some of her Google Image search skills.

Using her phone, she took a picture of the old photo, messaged it to herself, dragged the digital copy from her desktop to the Google Image keyword search box, and sat back to watch the magic. Because it shouldn’t be this easy.

Try it yourself. Go to Google Images. Click the camera icon, enter a photo URL, or simply drag and drop an image from your hard drive into the search box. Then relax and experience the genius that is Google Search.

image search 2

image search 1

Google compared the features of Erin’s photo to its massive image database and while it didn’t find an exact match, it did find enough to make a suggestion:

Best guess for this image: basilique notre-dame de l’Épine

google search results

This obviously led her to the Wikipeda page for the Basilique Notre-Dame de l’Épine and enough online images to confirm that her old photograph was taken in the small French town of l’Epine, not far from Verdun, France.

old pic computer screen

Yeah. And . . . ?

Stay with me here.

If nothing else, this kind of historical thinking activity is engaging and sucks kids into the process of doing history by presenting a mystery that has to be solved. Erin isn’t that much different than any other cynical college kid. But when she found Basilique Notre-Dame de l’Épine, when she solved the puzzle, she was like a kid at Christmas.

And yes. The sort of Google Image search process Erin used is a neat parlor trick. Can you and your kids replicate the same process that Erin used in your classroom? Absolutely.

Yes. Erin used an image she found at a flea market. You probably aren’t gonna make the trip to Fremont for cool old pics and maps. But you are already using images and photos as part of your instruction. Some probably from your textbook’s supplementary materials or actually in your textbook. Others come from online archives such as the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and other sources.

So give your kids some images. Don’t tell them what or where or when. Let them source them as best they can. Maybe use a variation of the Visual DEI activity to start. Then turn them loose online. It’s a great way to encourage and practice historical thinking skills.

But the so what for me is less about using Google image search and more about the Then and Now opportunities available here.

You may have already seen Then and Now images. There are tons of them online. Katrina here andhereD-Day. Black History. Flickr has some collections. And if your head’s not already spinning on the writing prompt possibilities, take a few minutes.

  • Why so much change over time?
  • Why so little change?
  • What happened in between when the images were taken?
  • Who are the people in the image? What happened to them? What do they look like now? What are they doing now? How has time changed them? Their attitudes?
  • What will this place look like 20 / 50 / 100 years from now?
  • Why was / is this building / place / event important?
  • Should the building / place / event be preserved / remembered?

You can – should – have kids create their own Then and Now images. Using something like Keynote or Powerpoint makes the process pretty simple. I went to Google Maps. Punched in the address for Basilique Notre-Dame de l’Épine. Opened Street View. Took a screenshot. Inserted the screenshot into Keynote. Inserted Erin’s old image.

And bang.

Basilique Notre-Dame de l’Épine Then and Now.

blended image old new

Keynote even has a slider that lets you adjust the transparency of the older image, giving kids the chance to really see similarities and differences.

My C4 Framework, Common Core Literacy skills, and the NCSS national standards encourage kids to do more than just write. Kids need to create and share beyond just your classroom. The cool thing?

There are free tools ready to help you and your kids do that.

The best is a site called HistoryPin. The site enables your kids to overlay – pin – historic images, videos, and audio recordings onto current images. It runs on Google maps and encourages you to add your own memories and accounts to the pinned records, highlighting the personal and historical connection to changing landscapes. Making HistoryPin a  perfect place for kids to publish their primary source images, research, and writing.

They have some great How-To guides that you and your students can use to get started. Get a sense of what it can look like with my Basilique Notre-Dame de l’Épine HistoryPin. (If nothing else, use the Map andCollections at HistoryPin to find Then and Now images ready for immediate use.)

historypin 2015

WhatWasThere is another web-based tool that lets you and your kids view and create Then and Now images. It works in a very similar way as HistoryPin. One big difference is that while HistoryPin discontinued its mobile apps to focus on its web presence, WhatWasThere does have an iOS version.

If you’re looking for another mobile option, you might try a tool called Timera.

Timera is an app and online community for making Then and Now photos from a library of historical photographs. You can add to the library by uploading historical photos or use previously uploaded photos for your creations. The app features a variety of photo editing tools to easily create Then and Now composites using photos from your mobile device. Timera is available for both iOS and Android.

Whether you use Google Images, Keynote, PowerPoint, HistoryPin, or Timera, Then and Now images are simple but powerful tools for engaging kids and supporting historical thinking skills. We’d love to hear how yours turn out.

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