Take a stroll through time in Europe’s cities: new historical trail app as part of Exeter University’s Hidden Cities project brings new locations online
As part of its Hidden Cities project, the Digital Humanities Lab at the University of Exeter has co-funded the creation of a smartphone app and website, that enables users to explore various European cities on foot, as well as virtually at home, and learn about their history. The project has launched five city apps, which feature historical-themed trails guided by contemporary characters. The project is wide in scope, and involves researchers from universities in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK. Exeter is one of five cities involved in the project, alongside Hamburg, Deventer, Valencia and Trento, which all have their own trail apps.
The three-year project, funded by heritage institutions such as the University of Exeter, Humanities in European Research Area (HERA) and The Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM), aims to examine how public spaces, from street corners to major city squares, were shaped by the everyday activities of ordinary city-dwellers between 1450 and 1700. The Hidden Cities website looks at different European case studies, which all draw attention to spaces of sociability and communication, places where goods, knowledge, and news were produced, sold, and consumed, and where civic or ecclesiastical authority was enforced and contested. Each case study has a strong focus on material culture, looking at how traces of the early modern past often remain inscribed in the built environment today. In collaboration with the museum and heritage sector, the project examines period objects, from armour to cheap print, that were associated with specific urban sites and which now sit in museums and archives.
The research underpinning the app and website is based on a detailed exploration of Exeter’s city archives in the Devon Heritage Centre and aims to be a new way of making academic research more accessible to a wider public audience – visitors to Exeter, in particular, but really for anyone interested in Exeter’s history. The project is led by Exeter’s Professor Fabrizio Nevola, who is the University’s Director of the Centre for Early Modern Studies. Professor Nevola specialises in the urban, cultural and architectural history of Early Modern Italy, and has developed a strand of research on the street life of contemporary urban environments. His research and publications informed the Hidden Florence app (which can be accessed at https://hiddenflorence.org) which enables you to walk through the cities’ past through the eyes of five contemporary characters.
The Hidden Cities interactive website (https://www.hiddencities.eu) enables you to navigate through academic research pertaining to each city, using period maps and modern views. Through its ‘How to Use’ page (https://www.hiddencities.eu/how-to-use-this-website) it also prompts you to explore comparable places, objects and activities across all five cities. The project’s app takes its research themes and translates them into city walks guided by contemporary characters. In Exeter, for example, the trail user is taken around Elizabethan Exeter by Thomas Greenwood, a real-life haberdasher who was appointed a city steward in 1588. Along the way, he introduces other real-life individuals he would have encountered in his everyday life. The ‘Hidden Cities’ banner, therefore, is designed to underline the often overlooked or obscured histories, which the project aims to reveal for Exeter, Valencia, Hamburg, Deventer and Trento.
During the current COVID-19 pandemic, heritage work, in general, has proved pertinent. The Hidden Cities team has produced a film, which can be accessed here: https://www.hiddencities.eu/news/hidden-cities-and-pandemic, that describes how they have been struck by the analogies that resonate across the centuries about public space and pandemic. The video conference, conducted via zoom, focuses on objects of material culture and their relation to public space in the Early Modern period in European cities, and considers what they tell us about everyday responses to pandemic in the past.
This project illustrates the importance of digitizing heritage during this time, in order to continue the investigation of spaces that are not currently accessible. To take a journey through any of the five cities, access the app at either the App Store or via Google Play, or visit the website: https://hiddenflorence.org.