Those who read my blog will remember that earlier in the semester, I outlined a proposal for my final project. To briefly recap, my colleague Amanda Zimmerman and I were interested in creating a self-guided walking ghost tour app for smart phones and tablets for the White House Historical Association. Since that blog post, we had meetings with Dr. Kerr and the White House Historical Association, and while some objectives, design or function aspects have changed, we are very excited to announce our final product and if I do say so myself it is pretty great. But before the big reveal, here is a little background information on our spook-tastic app.
Practicum Project for White House Historical Association
Our final project for History and New Media was born out of the work we did for the White House Historical Association. For our practicum project, we were elected to create a seasonal guided walking ghost tour that would take place in Lafayette Square. For those unfamiliar with Lafayette Square, it is a seven-acre public park across the street from the White House. In the nineteenth century, the square was a cultural and fashionable residential neighborhood that housed Washington, D.C.’s elite. With powerful politicians and individuals calling the square home, it was the backdrop for scandals, murders, suicides, and pivotal moments in American history. Yet due to government agencies taking over the square in the twentieth century, it is very easy to walk through the square and not recognize the rich history.
We wanted to breathe life back into Lafayette Square and wanted to create a fun opportunity to engage visitors with the square. Due to the vast range of folklore attached to Lafayette Square, a ghost tour was the best way to accomplish this goal. However, unlike other ghost tours, that readers of this blog may be familiar with; this tour is not about scaring visitors, but instead is a cleverly disguised history lesson. The in-depth primary and secondary research we did on dark tourism, Lafayette Square’s ghost stories, locations, and individuals has transformed into an entertaining interactive one-hour walking tour. Visitors get to hear the ghost stories but the emphasis is on accurate information and historical interpretation. It should be up and running by the end of summer, and I recommend everyone in the area checks it out!
Why an App?
One of History and New Media’s objectives is to teach public history graduate students to recognize the potential that new media has when producing products or programs for the public. One of the fantastic benefits of using digital resources for a public historian is the opportunity to reach new audiences. The downfall of creating a walking tour is that people need be locals or visiting tourists to experience it. Another problem is that we had to eliminate a couple locations due to distance or material. However, modern technology has opened a door that allows us to solve these problems. Throughout the semester, we have learned about different digital platforms and resources that we can apply to the way we present history. After careful consideration, we settled on creating an app. It is one of the best new ways to engage new audiences-as almost everyone has a smartphone, tablet, or a friend with access to one. Those who are interested in learning about the nation’s capital can download the app or if people do not like going on guided tours they now have an opportunity to receive the tour’s content. An added bonus is that the locations like the Octagon House and the Tracy House are no longer eliminated. This is because with an app, we do not have to worry about time or distance. The app we designed is easy to navigate and inviting to all age groups. In addition, it allows people to learn on their own time, and allows users to actively find people or locations that interest them.
As we began to design the app, we chose to eliminate the audio and testimonial option. While those two options the White House Historical Association can flesh out in the future, we realize it did not fit with our vision for the app. Our agenda behind the app was to focus on the square and the history behind it. Dan Brown’s book Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning recommended that we start with creating a structure outline, below is our flowchart.
Next, we began to sketch our designs for our wire-frames. Please forgive my handwriting and my ugly deformed ghosts. I promise that I am artistic.
In case, you cannot tell from my scribbling, Wire-frame 1 is the home page. We decided that it would be a map with ghosts hovering over the haunted locations. After clicking on a ghost, the user has four options to select: Architectural History, Biographies, Ghost Stories, and Images. When the user clicks on one of the four options, a new screen appears with text and images. If they click on “Biographies” or “Images” they have the option to select and view the numerous biographies we wrote or the images we discovered. So for example, if the user clicks on ghost over the Decatur House, they can read a history on the house; read Stephen Decatur, Susan Decatur, and Commodore James Barron’s biographies; read the ghost stories associated with the house; sift through photographs of the house and individuals.
When we designed the app, we opted to use the user-friendly program called Prototyper. The program gave us a range of templates and widgets to choose from and showed us how our design appears in various digital platforms. The program also provides a space for the app designer to write notes and outline the functions of the app. It was a great resource to tap into and made our wire-frames a 100x better. If anyone ever has to design an app, I highly recommend downloading it.
Below are our wire-frames. The script and images were fashioned into a binder for Dr. Kerr and the White House Historical Association. I hope you enjoy looking at our app and please let Amanda and I know what you think in the comment section of my blog!