After much prodding from family and friends, I finally threw up my hands and got an iPhone a couple of days ago. Given my proclivities, I started looking for apps that might come in handy for historians and history enthusiasts. Here’s a list of some of them. They’re a mixed bag; some of them are really useful and creative, while others seem a little superfluous.
- Revolutionary War Site Locator. I’m really fond of this one. It’s a map program that tags Am Rev parks, museums, monuments, and cemeteries, allowing you to find historic sites near your current location and instantly access background information, photos, links, directions, etc. One of the things I liked about using a TomTom when doing heritage tourism is that you could pull up the names and locations of nearby museums and parks, but this app is far more comprehensive, with many more sites included (down to the burial places of individual historic figures or small museums with just a few Rev War items) and much more information per site. If you’re in Kansas City, MO and you need a Rev War fix, just bring up the map and you’ll find that there’s an equestrian statue of Washington in town, and you’ll also get information about when it was constructed, who made it, who raised the money, and so on. (This is an actual example, believe it or not.) This app is also constantly updated with additional material from other users, and you can add your own photos and sites for the benefit of others.. At only $1.99, it’s a must have for AWI aficionados.
- American Civil War Locator. Identical to the Rev War app, except the locations are broken down into “Major Civil War Battles,” “Civil War Sites,” and “Civil War Events,” which gives you the dates of upcoming reenactments or symposia and contact information for the hosting venue. It’s $1.99 and well worth the price.
- Museum Locator. Includes hours, admission, contact information, and instant access to maps and official websites. This app is free, so it wouldn’t hurt to go ahead and download it for those occasions when you’re on vacation or a business trip with some extra time to kill.
- Freedom Trail Walking Tour. This is the sort of thing that you could only do with handheld digital technology. This app gives you access to information about sites along Boston’s Freedom Trail—maps, videos, admission, hours, links, etc. It’s like having your own personal tour guide for Revolutionary Boston, and it’s free.
- CamScanner. There are quite a few document scanning apps, but this one seems to be the most popular one available in a free version. You just take a photo of the document with your iPhone and crop the picture, and you get a high-contrast PDF or fax-type electronic version that you can visually enhance, share, upload to a computer or the Internet, tag for easier searching, etc. It’s mostly intended for simple, black-and-white documents like articles, bills, receipts, and so on, but it might come in handy in archival situations when dealing with printed or typed material. I haven’t had chance to try it on older manuscripts yet; it might not work without the heavy contrast that you get with modern documents. Still, it’s a handy thing to have on hand, especially since most archives restrict the use of conventional document scanners. This device never comes into contact with the document surface itself, since it’s basically using the phone’s camera function and then enhancing the image. As long as you disable the flash, you might be able to use this for quick, easy image acquisition in many repositories while doing research. Of course, it goes without saying that you need to check with the institution beforehand to see what guidelines they have in place.
- WorldCat Mobile. A handheld version of the library database. You can search for materials, see which repository with the item you need is closest to you, instantly call for information, and then get a map to find out how to get there. This app is free.
- Constitution and Declaration of Independence. These apps include the text of the documents along with additional notes containing information about the dates of ratification and so on. Handy for quick reference purposes. They’re both free.
- Abraham Lincoln Quotes and Abraham Lincoln Quote App. These are more gimmicks than anything else. The first costs $1.99 and generates a random Lincoln quote every time you tap the screen; the second is pretty much the same thing, but also plays an audio version of the Gettysburg Address and costs $0.99. I’m not sure what you’d need this sort of thing for.
- The Civil War: A Narrative. Unabridged audio recordings of Shelby Foote’s massive trilogy for $19.99 per volume, with automatic bookmarks to pick up where you left off, navigational capabilities, and more.
- Today in History. One of several similar trivia apps. A free version is available.
It seems to me that the most inventive stuff is being turned out for historical tourism, giving people instant access to information about places they can visit and helping them make sense of it when they get there.