I’m always on the lookout for mobile apps whose goals are to help people explore the built environment and landscapes of historical significance. The National Park Service (NPS) recently introduced an official app to the Boston National Historical Park and the Boston African American National Historic Site. The app which is free of charge, features short entries on some of the country’s most significant buildings and landscapes associated with the struggle for independence and the birth of the nation. Entries on roughly two dozen pre-Civil War black owned structures are also included. Many of the 36 entries in this app are enhanced with images, audio and video, allowing for a broader historical interpretation and access.
Of the 36 entries featured along the Boston National Historical Park and the Boston African American National Historic Site, the entry for the Smith Court Residences in Beacon Hill is the lengthiest of all. The rest of the entries are too short and leave much to be desired, with many missed opportunities up for grabs. For example, the entry for the Phillips School in Beacon Hill, one of Boston’s first integrated schools, researchers write "the architecture is typical of 1800s Boston school houses," but fail to mention for the untrained architectural historian, exactly what features make the Phillips School typical of that period. Another example is the entry for the Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Regiment Memorial where writers failed to mention Augustus Saint-Gaudens the designer or the monument’s contributions to the field of American sculpture.
The app has some great features which include a long list of FAQs ranging from historical and directional questions, to questions about the National Park Service. The option of choosing a thematic tour already organized by the NPS or build your own is also available. What the app lacks in information on the architectural significance of certain sites and structures, it makes up in both historical and contemporary images, allowing for easy comparison between the past and present. The app is smart, but the National Park Service could expand on each entry and better contextualize the sites and structures that make up the Boston National Historical Park and the Boston African American National Historic Site.