Project Showcase: Clio
10 January 2018 – Pamela Curtin and David Trowbridge
History is all around us—in the streets, buildings, and artwork that make up the landscapes of our everyday lives. Recognizing the potential of mobile devices to connect us to these pieces of the past, historians at Marshall University developed Clio, an educational website and mobile application. Named for the Greek muse of history, Clio is an innovative digital platform that allows public historians to use GPS technology to engage audiences and document historical narratives.
The project began at Marshall University in 2013 as an experiment in digital mapping of regional history. It soon grew into a national project with nearly 30,000 individual entries and over 200 walking tours. These entries and tours have been created by three thousand volunteer contributors and 400 institutions ranging from historical societies and volunteer-operated museums to universities and the National Park Service. Funded entirely by grants and donations, Clio has reached six million page views. It is not-for-profit and free for everyone to use.
As a public history project, Clio invites all organizations, universities, and individuals to share stories of the past. Emphasizing collaboration allows for entries that include the expertise of scholars and the perspectives of local residents. To mitigate the challenges of a platform that invites public contributions, Clio entries and suggested edits are reviewed prior to publication. Clio offers special accounts for educators and institutions that make it easy to create, vet, and improve entries with their students, staff, volunteers, and members.
Each Clio entry begins with a concise summary followed by a more detailed narrative about a historic building, museum, monument, landmark, or other site of cultural or historical significance. In addition, “time capsule” entries allow users to learn about significant events from the past lacking a marker or historically important sites that no longer exist. Entries blend text with images, maps, videos, oral histories, and other media, along with links to relevant books, articles, and websites. Clio has become popular with university professors, historical and cultural institutions, as well as tourists and locals who enjoy learning about history around them.
Individual entries can be linked together in walking and driving tours that incorporate Google Maps and step-by-step directions. Examples of these tours illustrate Clio’s potential to make connections between historic and cultural sites. Graduate students at West Virginia University created the West Virginia Women’s History Tour, which corresponded with an art exhibit. A number of walking tours highlight downtown historic landmarks, such as a tour of Old Towne Petersburg, Virginia created by the Petersburg Preservation Task Force. AmeriCorps members serving with Clio have created tours of historic mansions and estates in Washington, D.C., the 1864 Missouri Expedition of the Civil War, and major battles of the American Revolution.
Using Clio in the classroom allows professors to work with students as they create and improve draft entries based on feedback from peers and their instructors. Students can create entries that are only viewable to their classmates and professor pending the approval of the instructor. Educators tell us that students are more engaged, creative, and enthusiastic when writing Clio entries than traditional paper assignments because the platform offers them authorship and an audience.
In addition to learning how to write for the public on a digital platform, students have the option of conducting oral histories, taking standard and 360-degree photographs, creating short videos, and writing longer narratives—each of which can be linked within their Clio entry. Some courses have even created walking tours for their communities and campuses, including the University of Richmond and Boise State University. Clio becomes a virtual museum that encourages exploration and discovery of physical spaces, buildings, markers, and monuments.
New entries are added to Clio every day and new website and app features are in development. We recently released instructional videos that guide users through the process of creating entries and tours. The Clio Foundation is supported by generous donors and received a $60,000 matching grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 2017 to develop digital heritage trails.
In addition to resources and information on the Clio website, historians can connect to the project on Facebook and Twitter. Feel free to reach out to us with questions and ideas. We hope that Clio connects you with history and culture in your communities.
~ Pamela Curtin is an AmeriCorps member with the Clio Foundation and a graduate of history programs at West Virginia University and Saint Vincent College.
~ David Trowbridge is an associate professor of history at Marshall University, director of African and African American Studies, and the founder of Clio.