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A New Way to Tour Historic Battlefields

projects-interpretive-planning-civil-war-battle-app-200x135To fulfill its mission of preserving Civil War battlefields and maintaining awareness of their historic significance, the Civil War Trust is constantly looking for new ways to engage the public. In early 2010, the Trust began a project to create a series of self-guided tours of selected battlefields for iPhones with GPS technology.

These “Battle Apps” would allow visitors to follow a “virtual” tour and position themselves at strategic points on the battlefield using the GPS features. To make the historical significance of those sites come alive for visitors, the Trust envisioned a rich media experience that would include historical photos, video clips of historical experts, and audio clips of first-hand accounts.

Bringing Knowledge and Creativity to the Project

For the apps to succeed, not only did the content need to be historically accurate, it also had to be enlightening, informative, and engaging. Because of the firm’s depth of knowledge and resources, the Civil War Trust chose to collaborate with History Associates to develop the historical content for the first two Battle Apps.

The first app would focus on the popular Devil’s Den and Little Round Top sites at Gettysburg. The next app would highlight the Battle of Fredericksburg, which took place in December 1862. Historians at History Associates began each project by reviewing the events of the battle in these areas and collaborating with Trust and Park officials to identify significant tour stops. These stops were set up in the app as “Virtual Signs” that would be layered with supporting information that could be explored as the user chose. In addition to these Virtual Signs, historians identified many additional points of interest to be highlighted throughout the battlefield.

Historians then set out to research and build a multimedia narrative. For each app, the firm consulted an array of primary and secondary sources to create a script. They researched historical documents, located images of the battle, and identified compelling first-hand accounts. They assimilated their content with videos produced by the Trust at selected sites to further describe the events that took place. They also compiled a “learn more” section that included little-known facts and additional imagery, plus an “additional resources” section with biographies, battle maps, orders of battle, and even treasure hunts. Historians tested draft versions of the apps to ensure that the content was appropriately presented within the platform.

The resulting Battle Apps were released in 2010 and 2011 and have been praised by users. “The historical research is solid and easy to read and reread at your leisure. Great videos, images, and design,” noted one customer review. “Along with the Gettysburg Battlefield app, the Fredericksburg Battle app represents ground-breaking integration of GPS and iPhone technology to change the way we understand these battles,” noted another.

History Associates continues to collaborate with the Civil War Trust in developing content for future Battle Apps. These apps are currently designed for use on Apple’s iOS platform (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad), but with future releases the Trust is planning to expand onto other GPS-enabled smartphones.

For more information about the content, use, and availability of GPS-enabled Civil War Trust Battle Apps, please visit www.civilwar.org/battleapps.

For help on your app project, call us at (301) 279-9697 or contact History Associates.

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