Gowalla is a mobile application that allows you to check-in to locations that you are currently located within. You can use it to interact with friends, collect stickers, or go on tours of specific areas. For the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative Fieldschool, our challenge last week was to create a Gowalla trip based on the concept of campus as museum. We worked with the Campus Archaeology Fieldschool students to create a concept, and the next day with implemented this.

The problem with a lot of digital or mobile based tours is that they simply mimic real tours. Most students have taken the general tour of campus, and information about the buildings is freely available in other applications like Foursquare. What we did was to introduce a playful element into the tour to make it more of a narrative. This type of tour is becoming increasingly popular, with museums using augmented reality to introduce layers of history over the places where the history actually occurred. Instead of keeping history in museums, these mobile based tours allow people to explore the area and connect it directly to historical knowledge. A great example of this is the Museum of London’s Augmented Reality maps which fuses historic photos over the existing area. The question was how to harness this type of historical reality for MSU.

Using Gowalla, we created a historic layer in the real world by making a campus tour circa 1918. The tour is led by Erasmus Cole, a third year student at the Michigan Agricultural College and part of the class of 1919. He guides people through the tour, discussing the various buildings and their functions during the year that the tour takes place. The photos of the buildings are historic, so Gowalla users can see the campus as if they actually were on the tour with Erasmus in 1918.

To make the tour more interactive, we also introduced four other historical characters who use Gowalla to bring different perspectives to the 1918 campus. These include:

Theophilius Stump: Class of 1922, a new student to MAC who is adventurous and a little tired of getting picked on by the older students. His older sister is Hadley Stump.

Hadley Stump: Class of 1919, in her final year studying Home Economics, and she is going steady with Erasmus. She’s a little bit annoyed at the antics of her younger brother Theo.

Hattie-Mae Aldred: Class of 1920, also studying Home Economics, and she is a perfect student.

Cuthbert Cole: Erasmus’ father, and an alumni, class of 1876. He was one of the last students to stay in Saints’ Rest.

Each of these characters interacts with Erasmus’ tour and shows their own pictures and insights into places. They interact with one another and there is even a little romance story. All of the photography and historical information was taken directly from MSU archives and the Campus Archaeology Program. Not only are players able to explore a different side of MSU, but it is completely based on historical information. As more information becomes available we can have the characters update the locations with more pictures and highlights.

Using this type of format allowed us to integrate play into Cultural Heritage. We took data which is widely available online, and prepared it in a new format. Users are given the change to be immersed in MSU’s history, and can also directly interact with it. The words and pictures of our historical characters are not separate from contemporary ones, but rather are integrated into it. We laid a historic layer of reality over the contemporary. Taking this type of approach makes cultural heritage part of the life of the campus.

You can take Erasmus’ tour of MAC, circa 1918 by clicking this link: Michigan Agricultural College Tour or by friending Erasmus Cole on Gowalla.