Classroom Connections. Making History with Great Online Tools

As librarians we are always looking for great ways to collaborate with our peers. Great online sites and mobile applications provide opportunities to integrate and enhance our instruction and classroom partnerships. In the area of social studies and history, two great online tools have been released: Historypin and WhatwasThere.


Historypin was released in 2011 and is a collection of archival photographs—in essence a historical photo-ethnography. Based on mapping and images, volunteers digitize photos, gather stories, and record information. At this time, over 60,000 citizens from all around the world, along with 2,000 libraries and archives, have shared more than 380,000 pieces with Historypin (Historypin 2015). Needless to say, this is quite a collection. Students, teachers, and librarians can search by location or project. If a piece of literature is being read in class and the teacher wants to show images from a specific location or time period in the book, Historypin can help. A librarian could be looking for images to enhance a digital storytelling project, and this is an excellent site for that. If educators are interested in adding to the Historypin collection, they can start their own ethnography, oral history, or photography project and add to the collection with their students. The Historypin collection grows because of the citizen science idea behind it. Everyone is a collector of photographic data, and anyone can add to the growing image archive. This is an amazing collection to share in a classroom, and a wonderful resource to include in any literature, social studies, or history-based lesson.


WhatwasThere is another photographic archive site. Also created in 2011, WhatwasThere sees itself as a “virtual time machine” showing users what a street or area looks like currently and what it looked like in the past through the use of historical photographs. WhatwasThere creates a photographic history collecting images with location and date. Through this method of collection, users of the site will be able to navigate locations in the past and present, as well as compare (WhatwasThere 2011). Any location covered by Google Maps can have photos loaded for WhatwasThere. It is an exciting, interactive website that is continuously growing, similar to Historypin.

Need Ideas for a Classroom or Library?

WhatwasThere is perfect for historical fiction. What did the setting in a novel or book look like in the past? What does it look like now? Oral History is another wonderful project in a history or language arts class where WhatwasThere could be used. A genealogy project is an additional example where WhatwasThere could be incredibly useful.

Regardless of what is being taught in a classroom or library both Historypin and WhatwasThere are amazing sites simply to explore. The wealth of information and photographic data available on each online tool is marvelous. When integrated into a class or library setting, wonderful learning opportunities can happen. Both sites are completely free, each continuously seek new photographs for their collections, and both are happy to answer questions.


Works Cited

Historypin. “Overview.” (Accessed July 15, 2015).

WhatwasThere. “About.” (Accessed July 12, 2015).

About the Author

Heather Moorefield-Lang, EdD, is an assistant professor for the Department of Library and Information Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. To see more of Heather's work visit her website at, email her at, or follow her on Twitter @actinginthelib.

MLA Citation Moorefield-Lang, Heather. "Classroom Connections. Making History with Great Online Tools." School Library Connection, November 2015,

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Entry ID: 1989338

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