HyperCities: A Digital Platform for Urban History


The HyperCities project and website, developed by UCLA, USC and CUNY takes a spatial approach to history and uses the Google Earth platform to collate the layers of history of a particular place. Information about people, buildings or institutions can be tied to a particular geographic location and cross referenced by time so that you can see the evolution of urban spaces. These objects, organized by both a geographic and a temporal marker, can take the form of almost any kind of media including photographs, oral histories, historic maps, 3D reconstructions of buildings.

The precursor to HyperCities was a project created by Todd Presner of UCLA, “Hypermedia Berlin,” which consisted of a manually geo-referenced historic maps of Berlin creating a web-based environment for students to investigate the layers of Berlin’s history. The Hypercities project is an expansion of this idea, both in terms of the geographic coverage and in terms of participation. In a similar way to Wikipedia, the new platform allows anyone to contribute content and even gives the creator of an object the option to allow others to edit their contributions. Objects and collections can also be closed to outside editing and the owner also has the option to make their collection or parts of it invisible to the public. Collections can be imported and nested within other collections, allowing users to combine data in an almost infinite variety of ways, often bringing forms of media into contact with each other that are usually separated.

Hypercities currently contains significant content for Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Rome, Lima, Ollantaytambo, Berlin, Tel Aviv, Tehran, Saigon, Toyko, Shanghai, Seoul and the founders hope that this will continue to expand. A recent project showcasing the capabilities of HyperCities is one created by Xarene Eskandar on the protests around the 2009 Iranian elections containing more than a thousand objects documenting the location of the protests and their repression as they unfolding using Youtube videos, twitter feeds and Flicker photos. See here for a Youtube video showcasing this collection. HyperCities can also form the platform for class projects as Todd Presner has used it for his class at UCLA, “Berlin: Modern Metropolis.” See here for a YouTube video on this collection. Because anyone can contribute a collection, HyperCities is certainly not limited to the academy and provides a forum for a community to assemble  and display their own history.

Further Reading:

Janice Reiff, “Two Ideas, Two Cities, Two Projects: A Digital Urban World.” Perspectives on History. May 2009. American Historical Association.  15 June 2009.

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One Response to “HyperCities: A Digital Platform for Urban History”

  1. Physical reminders of the past « History Compass Exchanges Says:

    [...] embodiment of nineteenth-century science while visiting the dinosaurs at Chrystal Palace Park, highlighting the historical possibilities of the digital historical maps of Hypercities, or the immediacy of looking at the Guardian’s interactive map of the first night of the Blitz, [...]

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