Historypin – Make DBQs with a Digital Time Machine That Layers Image, Story and Location

While planning for my next document based question (DBQ) workshop, I discovered Historypin. It’s a great mashup of digital photos with stories layered over Google maps. Users can search images by geography / time and post historic photos with stories to maps. It’s fascinating to view historic photographs set against the backdrop of current Google map street view.


Here’s a circa 1894 photo I uploaded to Historypin showing a bridge crossing the Erie Canal in downtown Rochester NY. It’s layered over a functioning “street view” in Google maps.

In Historypin’s story section, I provide a brief history of the canal’s impact on the growth of the city.

Then I pose a question. “I wonder if the people in the old photograph still appreciated the canal’s role in creating the city of Rochester, or if they had come to see it as outmoded nuisance which divided the city in half?”

For more ideas for classroom see:  image guide | story guide | teachers’ notes

What I like most about Historypin is that it adds a new dimension to the DBQ approach to instruction – students don’t simply learn from historic documents – they get to document their world for future generations.

More from Historypin:

Historypin was created as part of our current campaign to get people from different generations spending more time together. From a lot testing, we found old photos are a great way of getting people talking about how their street used to look, what their grandparents were like and what’s changed (or not) over time. 

We decided to create a website where people everywhere could share their old photos and the stories behind them, pinning them to a map of the world. We also thought it would be neat if you could compare these old photos with how the world looks today, making the site a bit like a digital time machine. So we asked Google if they’d help. They let us use their map and Street View functionality and helped us build the site. 

The great thing about Historypin is that when they’re using the site, loads of people are spending time with someone from a different generation. Older people have attics full of old photos, younger people know when to click and when to double click.

4 Replies to “Historypin – Make DBQs with a Digital Time Machine That Layers Image, Story and Location”

  1. This looks great. I’d love to read more about how you use HistoryPin with DBQs (or DBQ-related skills). We have a terrific intergenerational program…this would be perfect for our 6th graders to do with the neighboring retirement community. Thanks for the post!

  2. Hi Kristen,
    I just found it a few days ago and am still exploring its possibilities. I did post a few photos and posed a comment in the form of a question. I’ll be trying it out in a teacher training workshop next week.

    I like your idea of using it in the intergenerational program. The students could work with the seniors to correctly place the photos. Should generate great discussion and reflections. Good luck

  3. Peter, I’ve just spent some time on your site, drawn in by your work on Bloom’s Taxonomy and your ideas for it’s implementation with Teachers and Students. I’ve ended up here marvelling at your excellent suggestions in the area of creation of DBQ’s. I work in a college in Ireland supporting students with Learning Difficulties, and consequently I’m always on the look-out for good teaching and learning ideas, that clearly enunciate the processes of learning. Thanks so much for sharing your ideas! Ann Mc Loughlin

    1. Ann,

      Thanks for taking the time to write. Always nice to hear that my material is finding a good home.
      Plus your comment brings back memories of a delightful week in Clifden, Connemara.

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