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.

Rochester Contemporary Art Center 6x6x2010: 5,000 Artworks by 2,000 Artists – $20 Each!

I just got back to Rochester and took in the new art show and sale at the Rochester Contemporary Art Center. 6x6x2010 is the third exhibition of thousands of original artworks, made and donated by celebrities, international and local artists, designers, college students, youths and YOU. Each artwork is 6×6 inches square and signed only on the back, to be exhibited anonymously. All artworks are for sale to the public for $20 each to benefit Rochester Contemporary Art Center. Artists’ names will be revealed to the buyer only upon purchase and all artworks will remain on display for the duration of the exhibition. Don’t miss Rochester’s largest exhibition, and a chance to show your artwork in great company and support Rochester’s Downtown contemporary art venue. The show runs June 5 – July 11, 2010.

View and Buy Works Online

Donate $20 to help support Rochester Contemporary Art Center’s ongoing programming. In appreciation of your support we will give you an artwork of your choice. You may select your artworks from the available pieces (those without red “SOLD” dots).  After completing the checkout process and making your donation (major credit cards or PayPal), you will immediately receive an email revealing the artist’s name for the work(s) that you selected. You can choose to retrieve your artwork(s) during Purchased Artwork Pick-Up Hours: July 11 – 14, 1-7pm. If you are unable to pick up during this time, select “Please ship to Me.”  

As a RoCo member, I thank you for supporting Rochester Contemporary Art Center!

soundtrack: Joe Tunis,  video: Chris Reeg,  digitization: Megan Charland

Seeing American History Through the Artist’s Eye: A Teaching and Learning Resource

Thomas Hart Benton - Boomtown The Education department at the University of Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery has just launched a new web feature which pairs works of art with teaching strategies.  

Their new teaching / learning site, Seeing America,  documents the Gallery’s outstanding collection of American Art through 82 works and their connections to American history, culture, literature and politics.

The accompanying Classroom Guide integrates background information on the art, the artist and America with visual literacy classroom activities. Lesson plans and resources are readable online and available as downloadable pdfs. 

Download a pdf sample Context and Classroom Activities for
Thomas Hart Benton’s Boomtown. (above)

After you’ve had a chance to view the site leave a comment with your responses. I’ll pass them along to my friends at the Education department.  


If your interested in world art, take a look at my blog post “Picturing the Story – An Interdisciplinary Approach to Culture, Environment, Language, and Learning.”  I served as an advisor to the Education department’s last teaching site – “Picturing the Story: Narrative Arts and the Stories They Tell.” It uses world art from the permanent collection of the Memorial Art Gallery dating from 1500 BCE to the 20th Century. Each work has a story to tell, either visually through imagery and symbol, or indirectly through custom and ritual. The stories reflect sacred beliefs, folk traditions, common human experiences, or unique cultural practices. 

Fiction is a Lie that Tells the Truth: Reflections on Life and Literature

Abraham Rothberg

RothbergFor the last 5 years I’ve been a print-on-demand publisher, producing ten books for a dear friend – Abraham Rothberg. Abe has had a distinguished career as a journalist, university professor and author of 16 published novels, two books of history, a collection of short stories, two children’s books, and a volume of literary criticism. His previous work was published by mainstream publishers and has been favorably reviewed in NY Times, Harper’s, Time Magazine, and Publishers Weekly. Unfortunately his previous work had gone out of print. So we decided to cut out the middle man and self publish.

Recently we held a tribute to Abe – the man and his writings – as part of the Jewish Book Festival, at the Rochester JCC. 

Abe surprised the attendees with an eloquent reflection on fiction. [Excerpt]

... Serious fiction is a lie that tells the truth. Fiction can introduce you into the lies and truths of other people’s minds and hearts, to your own country and time, or strange, foreign places and other eras, into the most public forums and the most private scenes of human intimacy; it can make you see, hear, feel, love, hate, forgive, judge, understand, and yet not be bound by the consequences of all those activities, though you are there as a participant-observer in the most personal and informed ways. 

… And so, tonight, you will hear some of the lies I have written I take to be important truths, serious fictions about our lives and times I thought my books might contribute to the cultural and political conversations and dilemmas of our epoch. If that has not taken place as I wished– and I am sorry to say it has not–it was not for the want of my trying. Complete text of his presentation

Read more about Abraham Rothberg and purchase his fiction

Picturing the Story – An Interdisciplinary Approach to Culture, Environment, Language, and Learning

Fox and the Heron I’m pleased to served as an advisor to a new interactive resource for teachers and students. “Picturing the Story: Narrative Arts and the Stories They Tell” uses world art from the permanent collection of the Memorial Art Gallery dating from 1500 BCE to the 20th Century. Each work has a story to tell, either visually through imagery and symbol, or indirectly through custom and ritual. The stories reflect sacred beliefs, folk traditions, common human experiences, or unique cultural practices. 

Each work of art includes downloadable resources – the story that inspired it, the culture where it originated, the techniques used to produce it, as well as extensive lesson plans, activity suggestions, and recommendations for further reading. The lessons and stories are designed to be used at a variety of grade levels. 

Downloads resources include: 

  • Classroom Copy – Printable, condensed version of online materials, copy-ready for classroom use. 
  • Curriculum Connections – Organized by subject area:  Social Studies, ELA, Science, Art/Art History. Lesson extensions, children’s book recommendations, and activity suggestions, most with accompanying activity sheets.  
  • Learning Skill-based Activity Sheets:  Printable, copy-ready sheets that address specific learning skills, for classroom use with online materials or printed classroom copy. Includes skills such as constructing comparison, identifying context, recognizing sequence and many more.

Detail - Rama Sita and Lakshmana Return Every work of art has a story to tell. These stories can explain the unexplainable, teach a life lesson, or celebrate our common human experiences. Each work in this collection is approached from three different perspectives: 

1. Picturing the Story: Viewing a work of art while reading/hearing/seeing its associated story. The story is available as on-screen text, as an audio file voiced by a professional storyteller, in ASL video interpretation, or printable pdf version. In addition, an audio “guided-looking tour” of the work of art by a museum educator helps focus attention on important details and promote visual and verbal looking skills. 

2. Reading the Art:  Understanding the symbolism and references used in this work of narrative art. High-quality images of works of art, with zoom-able details, comparison or supporting images, and interpretive information connect elements of the work of art to its associated story.   

3. Connecting the Culture:  Exploring the cultural and functional context of this work of art. Historical and cultural context information, including maps, supporting photos, and other images, connect the work of art and the story to the cultural background, promoting document-based and inquiry-based learning.  Information addressing purpose or function of work, biographical information on artist (as available), geographical and environmental issues, and process and tools of creation allows the objects’ significance to extend into a variety of curriculum areas.

Details from: 
 “The Fox and the Heron”  Flemish, Frans Snyders ca. 1630-1640 
 “Rama, Sita and Lakshmana Return to Ayodhya”  Indian, Rajasthan, Rajput School ca. 1850-1900