Recovering Boston’s History in the App Age
Posted on June 6, 2012
The NPS Boston mobile app recently debuted on iPad, iPhone, and Android, placing the experience of the Boston National Historical Park and Boston African American National Historic Site in your hands. As the Boston Herald reported on May 24th, the app creates a virtual park ranger to guide tourists from the new National Park Service visitors center through the Freedom Trail and Black Heritage Trail in the Hub, as Boston’s downtown is known.
With the opening of the new visitors center, Faneuil Hall (built 1742) and adjacent Quincy Market (built 1824-26) have been marshaled once more into the service of conveying early American history, much as developer James Rouse drew upon colonial and Revolutionary American historical associations when crafting Faneuil Hall Marketplace, an upscale, locally oriented shopping experience, on the eve of the nation’s Bicentennial, a story detailed in Nicholas Dagen Bloom’s essay in American Tourism: Constructing a National Tradition, a new book from the Center for American Places.
As another American Tourism contributor, Rutgers University–Camden history professor Charlene Mires, has argued in her work on Independence Hall, the tendency has been to force historic sites to convey a narrow range of history, with the colonial and early national periods usually winning much more favorable attention than the age of immigration, industrialization, and urbanization a century or so later. Like Independence Hall, Faneuil Hall as depicted in the app focuses heavily on the foundations for the creation of the United States. Yet in its inclusion of sites on the Black Heritage Trail and some additional sites beyond either “trail,” the NPS Boston app begins to recover a broader swath of the city’s history. As the early 20th-century image above suggests, Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market had a lively history that spanned a long stretch of years after the nation’s early years. Perhaps future extensions of the content will help travelers access even more of Boston’s heritage.