Imagine if the past could speak and the voice of history could be heard in the streets, the events of yesterday unfolding once more among those of today.
This is the idea behind 50 Years, 50 Stories, a concept for a mobile app designed to connect the city’s past with its constantly changing present. The app would consist of an interactive map with markers at various places of significance, such as the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church or Birmingham City Jail.
A user of the app would be able to walk around the city and unlock different stories in the form of videos and photographs that are relevant to each historical location they come to. As their Kickstarter profile suggests, the project would create a “museum in the streets.”
All of that assumes that the app will come to pass. Whether that will happen will depend on the success of an ongoing crowd-funding campaign that must raise at least $50,000 by next Wednesday.
The 50-year anniversary of 1963 has led to everything from art exhibits to march reenactments to concerts and plays to numerous stories in newspapers, magazines, and books all themed around Civil Rights. This app will be another way to observe the progress the city has made since 1963, while also trying to continue efforts toward equality by increasing awareness of the issue.
“1963 was the year that the city came to the national stage, and now that we’re celebrating 50 years, the city finds itself looking back to where we were and thinking about where we are now,” said Alan Franks, co-owner of Franks Global Media, which is developing the app project and the stories behind it. “We really felt like there would still be a national interest in what has changed over those years […] We hope to tell a comprehensive story of Birmingham and the events that led up to 1963.”
50 Years, 50 Stories has been a work in progress for two years. The project was inspired by the London Street Museum app, which was designed to juxtapose old photographs of historic London landmarks with the modern city people see today. The project then evolved from being a mere companion to a physical walking tour of downtown Birmingham to the digital, interactive experience that will be found in the app.
Amanda Shirelle Azoroh, a member of the team behind 50 Years, 50 Stories, cites the motivation behind the project as a desire to connect the past to the present in a way that is relatable to a new generation of tech-savvy people in a highly mobilized world.
“Each person working on the project has their individual reason for doing this,” said Azoroh. “But when I was approached to be part of the project, the opportunity to make an impact — and being an African-American myself — just made it hit close to home, because I want to educate the next generation and I believe that what’s going on with media technology could also be used to preserve our history.”
The kind of multimedia technology used in the app will allow it to reach a much larger audience than was possible before. “Someone might walk by Kelly Ingram Park and have no idea what it’s about; all they see are some statues. But with our app they would be immediately prompted to ‘unlock the story.’ It allows us to get someone’s attention who otherwise wouldn’t have even thought about Civil Rights,” said Azoroh.
Envisioned by its developers as an important educational tool, the app would be key in reaching a younger generation that might not be very interested in a regular museum visit or history lesson.
“I like the idea of taking history into this new form of telling stories to try to engage a younger audience,” said Franks. “I think what I like about this project is that it really targets that younger generation and keeps the stories up to date with the most advanced technology.”
But, like pretty much everything else in the world, it needs money.
The project is at the core of a Kickstarter campaign, getting most of its funds from the same community it aims to help. The City of Birmingham has contributed a generous amount to the completion of the project, but a bigger budget will allow a bigger app with more features on a more diverse range of platforms.
“We started the Kickstarter campaign in order to involve the community and give them a sense of ownership. We’re trying to get people involved in something that could make Birmingham really stand out,” said Franks.
The app would also be able to evolve and grow, including more information on a broader spectrum of Birmingham’s history. “This is just phase one that we’re raising [money] for,” said Azoroh, “so this project has the potential to build on itself.”
The first phase is set to include archival videos and photos. This will include historical data and other information about Birmingham’s past and how it intertwines with the Civil Rights Movement. Additional funds would allow the team to include interviews with different people that lived during the era, a feature that would add a level of intimacy to the experience which would not exist with archival footage alone.
With enough funds, the project would also be able to include the era right before 1963, stories which are often overlooked in history lessons. “We really want this first phase to be a springboard to bring in more history of events leading up to 1963, but we thought this would be a smart place to start,” said Franks.
More money would also mean more for education. The team plans to teach seminars on technology and provide DVDs and information to schools in the area. Backers of the project would be able to choose schools to donate materials to, giving them access to the project off site.
So far, the project has 33 backers and has raised $1,536 and counting. In addition to this, the City of Birmingham has generously offered to match every pledge up to $10,000, making each donation worth twice as much. Even so, the project will only be funded if $50,000 is pledged by Wednesday, June 5 at 6:30 p.m.