Thursday, 28 March 2013

Historypin for folklorists?

I am currently doing some work for the University of Hertfordshire for the second phase of the Heritage Lottery Fund backed All Our Stories project. (I suspect the reason academic writing is worsening is that academics have to write sentences like that to keep their sponsors happy).

I'm basically helping out on the oral history front, but I the University is also setting up a Historypin project with the aim of bringing together various of the local researches. I recently went to an introductory session run by Historypin's Rebekkah Abraham that pointed the local groups towards what they could do on the site.

The site definitely has potential, and any social historian will want to keep an eye on it: it's possible to upload images, film and audio items, pinning them to GoogleMaps. It has some limitations at this stage. It's not yet well set up to upload text documents, and it relies on a number of other platforms for the uploading (film and audio can only be uploaded via YouTube, and registration is only available through a Google account). Even with these limitations it does offer the opportunity of comparing a range of historical material about specific locations. It feels like one to watch, rather than one that's already there.

For a folklorist who does not deal so much with specific geographical locations I think it'll be of perhaps even more limited application, but I'm keen to try and use it to interlace folklore (oral and ephemeral artefacts of social cultural life) with a more orthodox social history. I'm thinking about ways of using it as a platform for some oral documentary material that is specifically place-related (local legends etc), but that will require paying some attention to how informants are prepared to let me use their recordings.

More straightforwardly it offers the possibility of uploading photographs of folklife etc. I've set up an account, and I'm looking to put up the photographs of wayside shrines there sometime in the future. In the meantime I've made a small start to using it as a documentary platform for my photos of graffiti, and am hoping that if I can assemble enough it will be possible to organise them thematically and historically. The pedestrian underpasses of Hatfield, for example, have proved rich sources of evidence of popular attitudes. I snapped this comment on the financial crisis there last week.

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