History in ACTION

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What is `History in ACTION’?

`History in ACTION’ is a website which gives Canberrans and visitors the opportunity to create their own personalised bus tour exploring Canberra’s rich history.

What’s the benefit to the ACT Community?

With Canberra’s 100 Year Centenary celebration coming up in 2013, now is a great time to see the Canberra’s history as seen through the eyes of those who lived it. The National Archives of Australia has over 40,000 photographs of Canberra’s history, beginning with its establishment as the National Capital in the 1930′s and documenting its growth into the thriving city that we know today.

From the pictures of the first parliament standing on the steps of an incomplete (Old) Parliament House, through to images of Lake Burley Griffin sans water, these images tell the story of Canberra.

The `History in ACTION’ website provides a unique way of exploring Canberra’s history, providing photos and historical information connected to both suburbs and to particular ACTION bus routes. Any bus ride can then become a tour of Canberra’s history, solving the problem of a wealth of heritage information being untouched and unseen by those who would be most interested in it.

Who is it for?

The photos and stories in the National Archive tell the story of Canberra, but we often find it hard to connect these stories to the places we live and work every day. `History in Action’ provides Canberra residents a way to explore the history of their city as they commute through it, and visitors to Canberra can explore the city and suburbs of Canberra at their leisure, and for the price of an ACTION bus fare.

How does it work?

Using data from the NAA’s Photosearch and Mildenhall datasets we algorithmically tag photos by suburb and year. We then calculate which photos are geographically connected to ACTION bus routes throughout Canberra.

‘History in ACTION’ is built around a set of open source technologies designed for fast, iterative data analysis and visualisation, and designed to allow inter-operability between datasets. We designed the core visualisation to take JSON data as the input, with the intention of making it easy for additional datasets to be added to be added to the interactive map visualisation.

The nitty gritty: We used a variety of data analysis techniques in R to geo-locate our photos and attach their metadata, used a variety of Javacript libraries to create the visualisations on the web page and Python

Some of the technology used in creating ‘History in ACTION’ includes:

  • Javascript
  • R
  • Python
  • D3.js
  • jquery.js
  • Nginx

Next Steps

We plan to make the website accessible on mobile devices, using their inbuilt GPS tracking capability to locate nearby areas of historical interest and dynamically presenting these to the user.

The NAA data we have included in the website is fascinating, but Canberrans have even more stories to tell. `History in Action’ won’t be a static data silo, with no data going in and out: it will be a living representation of the life, photos and stories of Canberra and its inhabitants. We plan to incorporate the ability for Canberrans to add their own geotagged photos to the database, and also provide an API so that others can access this data.

By providing a tool for Canberrans to document their lives, `History in Action’ can be of use far into the future as the place we go to find out the fascinating history of this city.

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