The visitor’s aids evolving with technology

As new technologies emerge, we have new tools to rely upon during our tour of historic sites. That in turn changes our appreciation for the site. Something I’ve thought about before, but our recent family visit to Virginia’s Historic Triangle offered a good example.

Back in 1982, my family visited Colonial Williamsburg. The standard hand out for the tour looked like this:


Simple pamphlet featuring a map on the inside:


But even at the age of 14, I was not content with the ordinary reference material. I picked up this “extra” for the visit:


I’m guessing the book cost less than $5 at that time. Fairly standard souvenir book of the day (though a lot less “glossy” of those today). Inside was packed lots of history:


Handy stuff while on the tour, adding to a memorable event. But the book found more use after the visit, as I read and re-read the pages, reliving in a small way the summer visit. That old book remained on my “tour guides” shelf largely because of the fond memories.

Preparing for our recent visit, I pulled out the old book. But knowing things had changed at Colonial Williamsburg, I turned to that great mass of information always at our fingertips – the Internet. Then… to one of several Apps for my mobile device. There was the modern version of the pamphlet, with its map:


… Filtering that view to remove restaurants, hotels, and other stuff…. But the “free” app had several markers referencing the sites:


Maybe the $4.99 app offers more, but I still favor my old souvenir book. I’m neither pro or anti ebook. And I don’t think that the point of contention here. I just don’t see the same attachment to an app’s display as to the pages of the souvenir book.

That said, I’ll gladly use apps, such as the Colonial Williamsburg app (and of course you know how I love the Civil War Trust’s Battle Apps). The great advantage of the app is of course the wealth of tools – media-based, GIS-empowered, and such – that no book can match.

But, as often the case, technology comes with “considerations.” One is control. With the book format, while nothing stopped anyone from writing their own, there was some control over distribution. The site, be that Williamsburg or Gettysburg, decided what sold in the lobby or gift shop.

There are a handful of Williamsburg apps. I assume they have some approval at some level. And in the wake of the 150th anniversary there were at least dozen Gettysburg apps for an eager audience. All there in the App Store. Quality and content varies. I would say the platform is somewhat self-policing. Good apps get good reviews, which gives better rankings. And I would still think the app advertised in the lobby would be the more likely candidate for use… What with the official seal of approval and all.


2 thoughts on “The visitor’s aids evolving with technology

  1. Craig, it’s funny that you posted about this. I was at the toy soldier show in Hackensack this past Sunday and one of the vendors had some of these old guidebooks for sale. I did not buy them, but they were fun to look at. I agree that something has been lost in the battlefield apps. There is something about tossing a book or pamphlet into your backpack and heading out to walk a battlefield. For one thing, a person can’t spill his water or sunscreen on his smart phone. The maps and guidebooks I still have from my trips to Gettysburg and Antietam have a special provenance for me. The creases, dirt, and occassional grass stains are testament to the rugged use to which I put them on those summer afternoons.

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