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See History in Your Reality: A New Flickr Photo Project!

by on October 7, 2010


The National Archives introduces an exciting new way to use our historic photograph collections!  History Happens Here! augments reality and combines the old with the new in the same frame, giving the viewer a unique perspective on how our country has evolved over time.

For those of us who are familiar with the latest in tech-y ideas, augmented reality is a live, direct view of the world where the physical environment is modified by some kind of technology.  This could be anything from a Google map on your iPhone that displays the closest gas stations or 3-D graphics in a video game.  In a low-tech way, History Happens Here! invites you to create your own augmented reality by introducing a historic photo into your current world.  The effect can be astounding:

Photograph of Jefferson High School Marching Colonials Performing on the Steps of the National Archives Building on Constitution Day, 1974. ARC ID 3493297

Photograph of Jefferson High School Marching Colonials Performing on the Steps of the National Archives Building on Constitution Day, 1974. ARC ID 3493297 (Click on the photo to view it on Flickr).

The inaugural stand in front of the Capitol Building, Washington, DC. A shot taken from a distance, showing the guests seated under the stand, a band gathered below it, and a larger crowd seated behind the band. President Harry S. Truman may be speaking at the podium., 01/20/1948.  ARC ID 199970.

The inaugural stand in front of the Capitol Building, Washington, DC. A shot taken from a distance, showing the guests seated under the stand, a band gathered below it, and a larger crowd seated behind the band. President Harry S. Truman may be speaking at the podium., 01/20/1948. ARC ID 199970 (Click on the photo to view it on Flickr).

Photograph of the Washington Monument Foundation Construction in Washington, DC, ca. 1876.  ARC ID 596327.

Photograph of the Washington Monument Foundation Construction in Washington, DC, ca. 1876. ARC ID 596327 (Click on the photo to view it on Flickr).

Here’s how the project works:

We have already gone through some of our most iconic photos of memorable events, national landmarks, and historic buildings and compiled them in our photostream on Flickr.  This set includes images of places in major cities, National Parks, and nationally recognizable  buildings.

First, find a photo in the History Happens Here! set, print it out, and visit the site of the photo (the photos are geotagged too!).

Next, hold the picture up in front of the building/landmark, and take a picture of your augmented reality!

Creating an augmented reality

Finally, visit our History Happens Here! group on Flickr, and share your “mash-up” with us!  Please remember to include the original caption of the photo and the persistent URL in the description of your mash-up.

History Happens Here group

Tips and tricks for capturing a good perspective:

  • What you may perceive as lined up by your naked eye will change when you look through the camera, so you should always be looking through your camera lens when trying to line up the photo with the landscape.
  • You are the zoom for your mash up!  Try moving the camera and/or the photo closer or farther away from you for a better shot.  A simple tilt of the picture can make the perspective even more impressive!
  • If you can’t get a perfect mash-up, don’t worry about it.  Sometimes it’s impossible to stand exactly where the photo was taken in the past.  Pick one element of the photo and try to line that up perfectly; you might be surprised by the results.
  • Some pictures that you may think will only be “ok” actually turn out to be very striking and thought provoking as you see your world merge with the past.  Standing on the steps of the Capitol for this shot was one of those moments:

Photograph of the John F. Kennedy Family Members Leaving the Capitol Building, 11/24/1963.  ARC ID 595952.

Photograph of the John F. Kennedy Family Members Leaving the Capitol Building, 11/24/1963. ARC ID 595952 (Click on the photo to view it on Flickr).

Right now there are over 80 photos to choose from within the Flickr set.  We know there are thousands of photos in the National Archives’ holdings that will work for this project.  If you know of a photo not in the set, go out and use it anyway!  Your creativity and input is always appreciated.

Warning:  History Happens Here is an addicting project.  You will want to go to lots of places and see how things have changed.  So get ready to experience history today through the lens of the National Archives!


Comments

Nikki October 11, 2010 at 2:42 pm

This is a wonderful project, and a great way to get people interested in history. However, you really should give credit to the originators of this idea: the folks over at the Flickr Looking Into the Past group: http://www.flickr.com/groups/lookingintothepast/.

That group has been creating such photos for years; you should see if there’s a way to work with them so everyone can share in the project.

Mary (admin) October 14, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Hi Nikki,

The Flickr group Looking Into the Past has been collecting photos for over a year and has compiled thousands of augmented reality images. This project focuses solely on National Archives photos, and we would love to get some of the Looking Into the Past users involved. There’s a link to History Happens Here! in the group discussion, and we look forward to collaborating with this group as History Happens Here! moves forward!

John Haag January 25, 2011 at 7:25 am

The contest is over and I just saw this post for the first time. :-D

However, I was able to enter a couple of images and I have my fingers crossed – big time – that they will be something that contributes to the goals of the project.

Thanks to NARA and to the contest organizers for this amazing opportunity!

Jill January 25, 2011 at 10:06 am

Thanks, John, for your interest in our project!

- Jill (Admin)

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