Journeys – where history meets geography: Asa Letourneau

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My name is Asa Letourneau. I work at Public Record Office Victoria, in the Online Access team. I contribute to the team across a range of initiatives including online exhibitions, social media applications, and website development.

In early May this year I put a call out to all of PROV asking if anyone would like to put together a team for the App My State Hack Day. It was pretty short notice (the Hack day started in 3 days!) but fortunately I got a yes from a colleague, Abigail Belfrage, who works in Online Business Development at PROV.

With some trepidation but buoyed up with a healthy dose of WE CAN DO THIS!! we turned up to Box Hill TAFE for the Hack Day (really a weekend which neither of us could totally commit to because of children and lives etc…). Anyway we teamed up with two complete strangers (web developers/coders) and between the four of us came up with the concept behind Journeys. We wanted to build an app that overlays historic records over a contemporary landscape — bringing the past into the present. The rest is history. We ended up winning the Hack Day and had just enough of a taste of the dizzying heights of minor celebrity status to push on and make a go of it for the main prize — the App My State Open Competition.

What followed over the course of the next 12 days was a lot of blood, sweat, tears, Google waves, Skype calls, Tweets, numerous emails and, God forbid, a face to face catch up with the whole team. We made the competition deadline entering our very BETA BETA app Journeys (which is still so BETA!). Here’s some choice words from Abigail that she wrote for the App My State entry application and the Journeys site respectively.

Journeys is a website devoted to mapping digitised cultural collections such as maps, data and images. Utilising Google Earth functionality, it has a ‘tour’ feature that allows users to virtually fly over landscapes, populated with images or maps relating to that landscape. A user in the site can create a map by layering historical records over the contemporary landscape. People can learn about geography through history, and history through geography and, with the opacity functionality, experience a map merging into the landscape. Journeys can be a powerful research tool for learning about places, communities and individuals around Victoria.

We even gave the team the name Mappster. We are a team that began as strangers (and now are good friends) who busted a mighty move at the App My State Hack Day 8 May 2010, building Journeys in less than 24 hours. Emboldened by Journeys’ win on the day, Mappster resolved to grow the app, and enter it in the App My State competition 12 days later!

Who is Mappster?
Abigail Belfrage, content & design. History and archives nerd, budding geek. Dreams about maps and mapping in her spare time.
Asa Letourneau, content & design. web2.0 junkie
Nguyen Ly, coder & UX junkie who thinks sleep is overrated! By day he’s a professional .Net enterprise applications developer.
Gregor McNish, an old programmer trying to keep up rather than getting sucked into management.

While we didn’t end up winning the App My State Competition, we did learn an awful lot from the experience, met some great people and produced something that we are now going to take further. Even the team is still together! Despite Journeys being a private venture, we have started using the skills and knowledge acquired to promote similar projects back at PROV and feel confident that a culture of mapping historical records will grow from strength to strength.

So there you have it. Journeys: where history meets geography and where people can engage with historical records in a truly interactive way.

One Response to “Journeys – where history meets geography: Asa Letourneau”

  1. Kimberley Meagher Says:

    Congratulations Mappsters! A very engaging project and story about how it all evolved. Could History/Geography become the new super subject in school curriculum? Could History/Geography shed it’s dowdy image via the new applications and interactivity that the net can provide and become almost as cool as art and design? Keep up the great work!

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