Mobile Apps for History is a two-credit computer science course that is available exclusively in the second semester of Concord Academy’s centennial year. Its students range from freshmen to seniors, all of whom have completed at least one computer programming course. Mobile Apps for History is taught by Computer Science Department Head Ben Stumpf ’88 and Will Sarazin, an intern from Fitchburg State University. They lead students in completing an ambitious project for CA’s Centennial: releasing a fully-fledged app that chronicles the history of Concord and CA.
The app features historical research that students compiled last semester in Kim Frederick’s course, U.S. Public History: Musketaquid/Concord/Concord Academy. Stumpf and Frederick have been planning the app’s various contents over the past year. Library Director and Archivist Martha Kennedy was also involved in the process, using the library’s archives to find photographs, writings, and models of CA’s history from as far back as its founding in 1922.
The app will contain a series of “points” that users can interact with by physically approaching historic locations around Concord. Examples include the Munroe House on 228 Main Street where Henry David Thoreau used to live and Haines House, CA’s first building, purchased on May 19, 1922.
Some points contain little-known or surprising pieces of information, such as the fact that the Student-Faculty Center (Stu-Fac) was once a gymnasium, or that all of Concord was once covered in a massive glacier.
It is important to note that much of the content was created with Concord’s rich multicultural history in mind. In particular, certain points highlight the critical contributions of Native Americans (the Musketaquids) who once occupied the land of CA and the wider Concord area. Other points have to do with Concord’s significance in the abolition movement during the nineteenth century and its involvement in furthering social justice and equity movements leading into the present day.
To engage and immerse its audience in Concord’s history, the app’s contents will be primarily presented in augmented reality (AR), a technology that works with a phone’s camera to superimpose 3D objects into the camera view. Students in the course produce the contents of the app through programs such as Blender and Unity, which are essential for the creation of 3D objects and structures. The app is also planned to feature green screen video footage of actors who have volunteered to guide the user through the various points. The roles will be played by CA students, so keep an eye out for your classmates when the app releases!
While using the app, users will be able to look through their phones and view in physical form the objects and people from the given time period. In regard to the app’s unique format, Stumpf believes, “It offers a novel way to experience history, where we see the past layered onto the present.”
Stumpf urges readers to consider how they have learned about history, for instance, about Thoreau writing his famous book, Walden. He states, “Maybe you read about it in a history book. Maybe the book had a drawing of it or an actual photo. If you’re lucky enough to visit Walden Pond, you might see the actual site of the cabin. Maybe a history scholar is there describing the scene.” He then explains that using the app will be like combining these experiences together: “Now imagine you’re holding your phone, exploring any historical site, and any or all of these learning aids are superimposed upon what you see, helping you envision and understand what occurred there. These are the sorts of experiences we’re working on.”
As for the app’s user audience, Stumpf expects that they will be split into two groups, the first being people who are interested in CA’s history like students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents. The second will be people who want to experience the broader history of Concord in a new way.
In order to offer a unique way to experience history, Mobile Apps for History intends to combine cutting-edge technology with accurate and engaging historical knowledge. Whether you’re looking forward to CA’s Centennial, interested in Concord’s history, or just willing to learn something new, Mobile Apps for History will connect you to the fascinating history of the very land we live on.