Exploring literature with Historypin

This semester, students in Sarah Bilston’s Victorian Short Fiction class read a Charles Dickens short story, “The Bloomsbury Christening,” which follows the irascible Mr. Nicodemus Dumps on a trek through Victorian London. Then, with help from their professor and RIT staff, students used a digital tool to create a map of the character’s journey.

In the digital humanities, scholars use technology to engage with history, literature, and the arts. Digital humanities assignments and projects also expand the possibilities of undergraduate scholarship; they invite students to explore texts in new ways, to relate personally to course material, and to gain experience writing for a public audience.

For this digital humanities assignment, students used Historypin, a digital mapping and storytelling tool that is popular with museums and cultural institutions. RIT staff visited the class to provide students with an overview of the tool. Instructional materials from the class session are available below:

For this Historypin assignment, each student mapped a single location from the story, and they also identified a historical image to represent the location. To find historical images, students searched a variety of online archives and image repositories, such as:

Students juxtaposed their historical images with contemporary Google Street Views. They also composed text to introduce their image selections and contextualize the moment in the story where the location appears. After class, RIT staff compiled students’ work into a single Historypin tour.

Students’ work can now be viewed publicly on the Historypin website, as well as below:

Later, students reflected on what they learned by completing a digital humanities assignment:

I thought the Historypin assignment was very crucial to giving context to the story we had read. It was in finding an artifact from that time period that I understood exactly what was happening on that street as the narrator perceived it. I realized how important it is to search the locations mentioned in the stories we read, as it gives insight into not only the book but often the character as well. The author wouldn’t just choose a location randomly; it is through this assignment that I understood Dickens’ purpose and intention in choosing his locations.

The Historypin assignment taught me that it is important to understand the real places a story is set in or around. By mapping out the locations, it helped me become more connected with the story. As someone who has never been to London, I was able to picture the buildings more easily in my mind, which was something I could not do by just reading the work.

Historypin allowed me to further my knowledge of historical London, and deepen my understanding of the short story we read in class. Once I was able to visualize the areas that Dickens’ characters lived in, my engagement with the text improved.

If you would like to introduce Historypin or another digital humanities tool in your undergraduate course, reach out to the RIT staff!