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Breaking the Chains: Augmented Reality Freedom Stories

I don’t think US K-12 kids  ever hear the full story of the Underground Railroad. We read about Harriet Tubman and other brave conductors. Students browse through stories of individuals and families who hid and protected runaway enslaved persons. And somewhere in there is usually a story or two about how enslaved persons were trying to reach Canada.

But we don’t hear about what happened once runaway enslaved persons reached Canada. What was life like there? Were there free men and women of color already living there?

Now we can find out.

The Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples and the Augmented Reality Lab at York University in Toronto, have collaborated to share not just a ton of first person and primary source accounts of escaped enslaved men and women but also something they call Augmented Reality Freedom Stories.

Breaking the Chains: Presenting a New Narrative for Canada’s Role in the Underground Railroad is a web-based educational project that aims to share new research about Canada and its African Canadian pioneers. Combining digital 3D models and oral histories, tales of the Underground Railroad can be integrated into the classroom as one piece of the larger history. Settlers who came to Canada in search of freedom re-tell their stories of bravery and survival.

Men, women, and children from all walks of life, religions, and ethnic backgrounds engaged in a secret system to assist those escaping from American slavery in the search of freedom and equality. Thousands traveled the secret routes assisted by “conductors,” usually free African Americans who risked everything to help freedom-seekers on their way. Thousands more came to Canada with little or no assistance at all and their stories have yet to be told. The Canadian piece of the story is often overshadowed by our own American enslaved persons narrative and the later Civil Rights Movement.

Breaking the Chains focuses on four regions in what is now Ontario:

the Niagara Region
the Detroit River borderland
Central Bruce Peninsula
the Greater Toronto Area

ar-tubman-1Learning about the African Canadian pioneers through the use of instructional media kits, lesson plans, and Augmented Reality vignettes. Primary documents such as maps, photos, letters, and official documents are included. Part of the package include augmented reality stories through the use of a mobile app that allow your students to listen to the personal stories of freedom seekers who made their homes in Canada in the years before the American Civil War.

Install the iOS app on your iPhone or iPad and download the trigger cards needed to activate the AR at the Freedom Stories site. Print out the trigger cards, launch the app, point the camera at the image on each of the cards, and the stories spring to life.

ar-tubman-2No iOS device? There is a web-based version that provides a similar experience though you’ll need to put up with the clunkiness of using a laptop webcam.

While the project focuses on Canadian curriculum and content, there’s plenty here for those of south of the border.


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