The Center for Public History & Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University has developed a mobile app (appropriately named Cleveland Historical) stocked with historical tours of the city. Each of the app’s 20 tours guides users through “layered, map-based, multimedia presentations” that include historical photos, interpretive text, and even videos. This kind of walking tour eliminates the need for volunteers or scheduled tours, allowing any smartphone user to explore the city at their own convenience and pace. Not only that, but the app connects to social media sites so users can connect with the various establishments involved and update their friends with sweet, sweet historical tidbits.
The app offers tours on a variety of topics allowing users to tailor their experience to whatever appeals to them at the moment. Visitors to Cleveland might take advantage of “Libraries, Archives, & Museums” or “Music History & Venues” while history-buff residents might be drawn to a more in-depth examination of their city’s development in tours like “Civil War”, “Conflict”, or “Cleveland Food Traditions”. Whatever topic users choose, they will participate in a digital narrative of the city. Maybe a skilled and passionate tour guide could recreate a version of these tours with copies of photographs and a knack for dramatic interpretation, but the collection and presentation of these materials in a digital format does the job much more elegantly. The wealth of information about the city that is available in the app makes the narrative flow well, and the addition of multimedia historical resources keeps users engaged and interested.
Though Bryan Alexander outlines several of the key issues facing augmented reality (design flaws, geolocation complexities, bandwidth caps, intellectual property concerns, etc.) in his book The New Digital Storytelling, Cleveland Historical appears to be successful. The app is available for free for both iPhone and Android users, making the history as accessible as possible for any who knows it exists.