Saturday morning, I went to SILS’ very own Professor Anthony Cocciolo’s presentation with Brigitte Doellgast, the library director of the Goethe-Institut NYC on the German Traces NYC project that the two of them worked on alongside Dr. Debbie Rabina.
I was at an advantage, having been one of the research participants that got to play with German Traces in the fall. German Traces NYC is an “augmented reality experience” that gives users an experience in two of the many neighborhoods in New York City that can claim German heritage. Via a mobile web browser, you can pick how much time you have and how far you want to go and the app will build a walking tour, taking you from point to point, where at each site of interest there’s a 2ish minute podcast accompanied by music and photos that tells you about the history of that place. It’s really a lot of fun, and very informative. I enjoyed it quite a bit (other than the fact that it was raining buckets the day I did it, and I cut mine short because slogging around in rainboots while trying to balance an iPad under an umbrella is just really not fun).
The other part of German Traces is the augmented reality, where photos of the buildings as they used to look are superimposed on the building when you hold up whatever mobile device you’re using. That part is cool, but sometimes, as Anthony said, doesn’t work quite as well, because it’s dependent on the cell network recognizing your location, and in New York that can be sketchy sometimes (big buildings, lots of people on the network).
I enjoyed watching the presentation; it was fun to hear it from Anthony’s point of view, since I’d already heard about it from Dr. Rabina. Funny thing: at one point, someone asked what would be needed to do this, and Anthony responded with, “well, a graduate student…” He was, sort of, referring to Dr. Rabina’s reference class project this past spring semester, where we created podcasts based on E.B. White’s “Here is New York,” working under the same idea as the German Traces project, that creating this small vignettes supported by substantial research based on real locations, education is more effective and users learn more in a more enjoyable way. It was a ton of work, but I really enjoyed it, and the finished products were totally worth it!
So in conclusion, German Traces is a really cool idea that I think is a good model for getting archival and museum material out there in the “real world,” everyone who comes to NYC should try it, and in the meantime, check out my class’ website here and watch our projects! (Shameless self-promotion: I did the one called “When Broadway Was A Country Road.”)