Jon Voss, Historypin, and Social Change

On November 5th, we had the wonderful opportunity to hear Jon Voss present on Historypin, which is part geospatial DH tool and part social media. Some researchers may criticize Historypin - it may not provide historical information that is reliable, rigorous, or tailored to faculty research interests - but that's not the point, Voss insisted. With Historypin, communities (aging communities especially) can come together around shared social history and create projects that are truly important to them. Voss is putting DH in the hands of those who have never had access to it before - the "technological have-nots," communities not typically included in historical archives, and culturally insular populations. 

Historypin is primarily oriented around a social goal, and the knowledge component is a side-effect. Voss's goal with Historypin is to democratize local histories, bringing communities together to share stories and build stronger local connections. These locals may not be interested in the scholarly approach of a historian; there are tools to serve these goals as well, but Historypin is not really one of them. That's not to say that researchers can't work with Historypin. Voss showed off several Historypin projects done in conjunction with Stanford, including mapping memories of Japanese internment. The difference with using Historypin, Voss says, is that researchers must adapt to community interests, and not the other way around. 

Voss's presentation most directly spoke to my personal career interests, which include using DH in accessible ways that enable and empower knowledge communities outside of the university. Voss describes his career as a trajectory based on a single question: am I doing rignt now what's really important for the world? Historypin may not serve university faculty effectively, but I don't think that's a problem for this project. DH has value in many contexts, and one of those contexts can be empowering communities to build their own social histories.