etrends | cleveland state creates history with mobile app
By Pamela J. Willits
Cleveland Historical, a free mobile app developed by Mark Tebeau, a history professor at Cleveland State University, may change the way people think about Cleveland.
By offering the opportunity to explore the people, places, and moments that have shaped the city’s history, Tebeau hopes to broaden the user’s perception of Cleveland through storytelling. “If we can reconnect people to the city’s past, we can create a renewed sense of pride of place,” he says.
“Society has become complacent in telling stories; we don’t give them a context. The mobile aspect changes how we think about storytelling. People want images and sounds, not just a list of names and dates. From a conceptional and technical standpoint, app design and storytelling go hand in hand.”
Designed to curate the landscape, the app uses Google maps to flag historical sites while linking them to historical texts, archival images, oral history audio files, and short documentary videos. To generate app content, CSU students and community members have captured the personal stories of 800 area residents, each having a unique perspective of Cleveland history.
Browsing through 370 stories outlining the city’s colorful history, app users are introducedto Cleveland’s favorite sons, the Van Sweringen brothers, who built a railroad empire, along with Cleveland’s Terminal Tower. Standing on the west bank of the Cuyahoga River, users can learn the history of The Powerhouse, which was recently revitalized as the Greater Cleveland Aquarium.
The app also contains 28 tours ranging from cultural gardens to sacred landmarks and from sports to food traditions, such as the creation of family-owned Bertman Original Ball Park mustard. Users also get a taste of the architectural and cultural highlights of Shaker Heights and University Circle. Crossing the river, users can explore the trending neighborhoods of Tremont, Ohio City, and the Detroit-Shoreway area.
“Mobile technology is also pushing the boundaries of the formal classroom and is changing how we learn,” Tebeau says.
Locally, Medina teachers are using the app as a teaching supplement in 10th grade history classes. Working in conjunction with the Medina Historical Society, one teacher is helping curate Medina’s history, proving Tebeau’s belief that the app is collaborative by nature.
Technical director Erin Bell and Mark Souther, the director of the CSU’s Center for Public History and Digital Humanities, helped guide the project through the development stages. DXY Solutions developed the coding while Epstein Design Partners created the look and feel of the app. Built on Omeka, an open source archival CMS, the mobile app framework for iOS and Android devices is ideal for cultural heritage and educational institutions.
“Everyone thinks this only happens in Silicon Valley, yet we’re at the front edge of innovation right here at Cleveland State University,” Tebeau says. To date there have been 10,000 phone app downloads, with the website averaging 5,000 unique visitors a month.
Through Curatescape, a trademark of CSU and the Center for Public History and Digital Humanities, the app is now being licensed to other cities, including New Orleans, Baltimore, and Spokane, Wash.
As for the future, look for the release of an iPad specific version.