As the recently appointed historian for the City of Ogdensburg I was stunned at the amount of historical artifacts and research that I had inherited that somehow was crammed into a very small space. I had always been interested in local history and in a previous life had worked as an archivist at the Ogdensburg Public Library, until teaching called me.
Twenty years later I was given the task of not only preserving Ogdensburg’s history, but making it accessible to others.
Two huge issues I faced as a teacher were dealing with non-readers and students who hated history. I began using technology to generate interest. For example students might not like history, but they enjoyed creating projects using MovieMaker or PowerPoint. In addition I made videos and podcasts to supplement class work because non-readers needed to be able to access the material in a different way than reading.
When I became the City Historian I kept these two issues in mind because according the the Pew Internet Research Project, typical American adults read less than five books per year, so I felt that writing scholarly articles would not in fact make history more accessible. With that in mind I began making short videos that were no longer than three minutes about historic homes and notable people in my community.
I created QR Codes that will be placed along a walking tour route in the city. QR Codes are easy to make and are free (http://www.qrstuff.com/) . The public will be able to use their smartphones to scan the code which is then linked to the appropriate video. So far I’ve created videos about Congressman John Fine, Suffragist Marion Sanger Frank, Senator Preston King, the Ogdensburg Business School, Horwood Stained Glass Windows, and the Ford Family Vault. I foresee themed walking tours throughout Ogdensburg which could feature notable people, the Underground Railroad, Prohibition, and Horwood Stained Glass windows.
Another use for QR Codes would be within historic buildings. For example, the Ogdensburg Public Library has a wonderful collection of original works by Edmund Sawyer, who was a wildlife artist. His work is virtually unknown in the community, but QR codes next to a display could give a history of the artist and information about each work of art.
QR codes could also be used for history scavenger hunts or for before and after views of cityscapes throughout the years. These codes could also be linked to oral histories. For example Ogdensburg was quite the smuggling mecca during Prohibition. Many family stories have been passed down through the years. These family histories could be preserved and shared through QR codes. The list of possibilities is endless.
Making history accessible is the bane of every local historian. Research and artifacts do no one any good if they are locked away. Historians tend to be cautious. We are not known as innovators in technology, but we can use what is available to keep history fresh and alive knowing that just like technology we will have to continue to change with the times.