Technology and the Humanities: the Fort Vancouver Mobile App

The NEH Office of Digital Humanities is a pivotal supporter of projects that pair technology and the humanities. Just this year, the Office gave 23 awards to new projects through the Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant – one of many ways the Office encourages the development of digital tools with a humanist purpose.

The Fort Vancouver Mobile App is one such digital tool that received a Start-Up Grant in 2011. Since then, the app has won numerous honors including the Historic Preservation Officer’s Award for media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation and the John Wesley Powell Prize from the Society for History in the Federal Government – one of only two projects nationwide.

Creation of the App

Dr. Brett Oppegaard, an assistant professor at Washington State University, assembled a team of historians, archeologists, and academics to create a mobile device for the Fort Vancouver National Historical Site. Though it was already one of the most popular historical attractions in the Portland area, the device has completely changed the dynamic between park and visitor.

Vancouver App 1

The app connects to landmarks at Fort Vancouver and encourages user interaction.

What it Does

The app – designed to suit most smartphones – lets guests learn about the people who lived at Fort Vancouver throughout its history. It includes maps, images of archived documents, and other interactive features such as video portrayals of interesting individuals. All of these materials can be accessed through visitors’ phones as they explore the Fort’s reconstructed village and stockade.

Vancouver App 4.png

Visitors receive a wealth of information about the Fort from downloading the app onto their phone. Photos courtesy of The Columbian newspaper.Vancouver App 3.png

As a 19th century fur trading outpost, the Fort was a hub of commerce and attracted a number of races and cultures, giving it the nickname “New York of the Pacific.” One character in particular – a Hawaiian pastor named William Kaulehelehe – is a star of the app’s Kanuka module, which explains the rich history of the Fort’s Hawaiian community.

A Model for Future Projects

Dr. Oppegaard and others call this innovation digital storytelling, and it has struck a chord with Vancouver visitors. Tourism in the area has skyrocketed, and the app’s website has been visited over thirty thousand times. The app uses open-source technology, which means other parks interested in digital storytelling can replicate Oppengaard’s work. The Fort Vancouver Mobile App marks the beginning of an exciting new trend towards interactive – and mobile – park programming.



Exploring the Constitution Across the Nation

Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, will be asking probing questions about the Constitution to Americans across the country on the new PBS show CONSTITUTION USA with Peter Sagal, premiering tonight.

Peter Sagal. Courtesy of Christopher Buchanan / Insignia Films.

Peter Sagal. Courtesy of Christopher Buchanan / Insignia Films.

With a grant from the NEH, Sagal explores contemporary constitutional debates about free speech in the digital age, same-sex marriage, and separation of church and state. He speaks with everyday Americans as well as legal scholars, historians, and public figures. To collect these intriguing and sometimes surprising insights, he travels on his beloved and patriotic Harley Davidson motorcycle.

The series will air every Tuesday in May. Each one-hour episode focuses on a central theme of the Constitution: “A More Perfect Union,” “It’s a Free Country,” “Created Equal,” and “Built to Last?” For more information on each episode, visit Constitution USA’s website.

The website provides video clips further resources on each of the four themes to be covered in the show. It also has games for younger audiences (take the citizenship quiz!), a summary of the show’s background and purpose, and the episodes themselves once they air.

Be sure to tune in tonight at 9 p.m. eastern time for the show’s premiere!

Spring Break Activities: NEH on the Road

NEH on the Road is an exciting program that brings scaled-down versions of NEH-funded exhibitions to mid-sized museums, libraries, schools, and universities, locations around the country. For seven weeks at a time, these places offer exhibitions normally unavailable to local audiences – and thus expand the reach of these interactive displays.

From Carnivals to Civil Rights

Seven exhibitions are currently circulating throughout the country. One of these is “¡Carnaval!,” an exhibit that examines eight communities from around the world where some kind of carnival is an important cultural event. New Orlean’s Mardi Gras is featured, as well as a lesser-known carnival in Laza, Spain. The exhibition includes photographs, video clips, and the gorgeous masks, necklaces, and shoes that feature heavily in the celebrations. “¡Carnaval!” is currently in Moraga, California, until April 14.

¡Carnaval! Courtesy Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe, NM. Photo: Shirley and David Rowen.

¡Carnaval! Courtesy Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe, NM. Photo: Shirley and David Rowen.

Another exhibit currently on its way to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is “For All The World to See: Visual Culture and The Struggle for Civil Rights,” which explores how visual culture affected the struggle for racial equality in America during the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century. The exhibit claims photographs of Emmett Till’s murder, for example, changed American perspectives of racism.

For All The World To See. The exhibition at the International Center of Photography in New York.

For All The World To See. The exhibition at the International Center of Photography in New York.

Please find the locations for all other current “NEH on the Road” exhibitions below.

“¡Carnaval!”: Hearst Art Gallery in Moraga, California, Feb. 2-April 14, 2013

“For All The World to See: Visual Culture and The Struggle for Civil Rights”: Chippewa Valley Museum in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, April 6-May 25, 2013

“Wild Land, Thomas Cole, and the Birth of American Landscape Painting”: Arnot Art Museum in Elmira, New York, April 6-May 25, 2013

“Our Lives, Our Stories: America’s Greatest Generation” will be exhibited in Red Cloud, Nebraska, starting on June 16.

“The Bison: American Icon,” “Farm Life: A Century of Change for Farm Families and Their Neighbors,” and “House & Home” will all resume their traveling schedules on September 1, 2013.

If your community is interested in hosting one of these traveling exhibitions, please take a look at the “NEH on the Road” website or its Facebook.