"WhatWasThere" maps your journey to the past...

Nashville, Tennessee View of Lower Broad - WhatWasThere
Last week I blogged about the online map tool called Historypin, which allows users to overlay historic photographs and share images from their personal photo albums on Google Street View and Google Maps, providing compelling windows into the past.

This week, I'm exploring a similar product called WhatWasThere, offered by a Michigan-based company called Enlighten Ventures. Here's a description of WhatWasThere from their website...

The WhatWasThere project was inspired by the realization that we could leverage technology and the connections it facilitates to provide a new human experience of time and space – a virtual time machine of sorts that allows users to navigate familiar streets as they appeared in the past.

The premise is simple: provide a platform where anyone can easily upload a photograph with two straightforward tags to provide context: Location and Year. If enough people upload enough photographs in enough places, together we will weave together a photographic history of the world (or at least any place covered by Google Maps). So wherever you are in the world, take a moment to upload a photograph and contribute to history!

I typed "Nashville" into the search engine and discovered four locations currently on WhatWasThere's digital map, including this very interesting 1890s era image of Lower Broad with Merchants Hotel in the distance, from the Metropolitan Government Archives of Nashville and Davidson County. Typing "Tennessee" into the WhatWasThere search engine currently yields 25 photos of Memphis, 1 image in Camden, and 1 image from my native home town of Chattanooga. For iPhone users, WhatWasThere also offers a free iPhone app that gives you the ability to learn on the go, no matter where you are traveling.

I have an affinity for maps and for history, so social media tools like WhatWasThere and Historypin offer amateur cartographers like me a chance to explore the past in a whole new way. Hopefully more people will start using these new information technologies. I see online tools like this not only as a source of information and education, but also as a way to deliver history and archival collections to a wider audience.

Click here to begin your own journey down memory lane on WhatWasThere.

Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.