Mobile technology and the humanities

April 20th, 2010 |

NCSU Libraries recently launched WolfWalk (, a web-based self-guided tour of the NCSU Campus for advanced mobile devices such as Apple’s iPhone/iPod touch/iPad or devices running Google’s Android OS. The project makes use of a device’s location-awareness to display historic information and images of sites of interest in the user’s vicinity, thus creating an in situ learning experience. I would be interested in talking with others who are working on or thinking about similar projects, either related to exposing library/museum collections in new ways or using the capabilities of the mobile devices for studying and teaching the humanities (e.g., history). Also, how could concepts such as augmented reality be applied in this context?

Site note: We published WolfWalk as a mobile web site, but also plan on launching a “premium” iPhone application sometime this summer. ┬áThis application will be available free of charge, but will include some features that we could not implement in the mobile web version for technical reasons. I’d be interested in hearing what people think about the two approaches, i.e., the open, browser-based mobile web vs. the platform-focused and tightly controlled “There’s an app for that” approach.

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5 Responses to “Mobile technology and the humanities”

  1. Mark Long Says:

    That sounds like an interesting project. If you are not aware of it already you may want to look at the program created by The University of West Florida entitled Next Exit History which the University of Central Florida (where I am located) has partnered with for the creation of content. The scope of the project is to generate historically-themed podcasts to be delivered to GPS-enabled devices for heritage tourists. I have students in two different classes this semester working to create podcasts, while using their efforts on specific sites or events to enhance their understanding the larger historiographical themes of the course (in theory, at least, as I have yet to receive their final essays to learn how that worked).

    I would love to offer what little I can about this project, bearing in mind that my role is not technical in any way, but focused on content generation.

  2. Jon Voss Says:

    This sounds like a great project, and I’m looking forward to hearing more about it in VA and will be happy to share what we’ve learned to the extent that it’s helpful to you. I’ve launched LookBackMaps as an iPhone app that’s now up on the App Store for free. We’ve got some work to do to manage scalability on the iPhone app that accesses all locations, but we’ve created a module-based app that makes it cheap and easy for smaller institutions to release their own apps (much more manageable to have images/audio/video etc bundled with the app rather than pulled from a DB and individual sites). The funnest part of our app is the AR-like feature which overlays historical photos over your camera view–and it sounds like something you’ve got in mind too. There will be more of that kind of development coming out of the team responsible for, as they just got NEH funding to specifically develop AR features for mobile devices around their collection.

  3. dboyer Says:

    Sorry I missed this post until now. I’m the project manager for, a website of 80,000 historic photographs of Philadelphia that Jon mentioned in his previous comment. We have a mobile app that works on iPhone/Droid. It’s location aware as well so people can easily view the historic photos around their location. We should begin work on adding augmented reality features to the site in the next few months.

    I’d be happy to talk to you about mobile tech and share stories about our project. WolfWalk sounds interesting and I’d love to learn more!

  4. John Murray Says:

    One project I’ve been a part of is TerpNav — an open source mapping program that unites OpenLayers with a custom-rendered backend that we host on our servers generated by Mapnik. ( We’re investigating more mobile applications though — so very interested in storing map data on the device.

  5. wayne.graham Says:

    I’ve been playing around with different ways to interact with maps on mobile devices as well. We’ve had some success on mobile devises with WMS calls from Geoserver for our historic raster maps and vector maps with just OpenLayers. I’ve had some luck with a monkey-patched version of OpenLayers that responds to touch gestures on iPhone/iPad and Android.


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