Google Earth is a free tool which allows us to explore the globe from the comfort of our own computer. Touring the planet at high altitude, zooming in and out of countries, towns, and even streets, the terrain can be examined, or one can add his or her own overlay maps and construct virtual flyover tours of selected locations. This software has obvious applications in geography but it also has incredible potential for History. Overlays are maps that are scanned over a historical site to give a much better sense of the place. In addition 3-D models give the users an opportunity to rotate and tilt as desired to view a site from different angles. Tours or flyovers which are a series of placemarks can be arranged by date or theme and take the audience along the route from one spot to another.
Members of the Iranian Student Association (ISA) at the Pennsylvania State University produced a presentation for ISA’s 2013 Norooz Gala. This video that was primarily intended to provide non-Iranians with a glimpse of the geographical, cultural, and ethnic diversity of Iran shows the potential power of this tool in educating people. http://youtu.be/yZnHd0jgH2k. With the help of the 3-D models the Eiffel tower in Paris can be seen up close from different angles.
Tools such as http://bbs.keyhole.com contain hundreds of placemarks and tours posted by community members and made freely available for download. These tend to have associated discussions and debates which can form the basis of some lively lessons concerning interpretation. The weakness of the forum is its chaotic structure. Each post is simply listed chronologically, with no thematic arrangement, although ‘star ratings’ help to identify the strongest contributions.
www.googleearthhacks.com/dlcat40/ is another site but it doesn’t have the discussion element, however, the links are clearly vetted for quality, so that placemarks of rather limited usefulness don’t appear in quite so much abundance. Aerial shots of such sights, historical flyover, and tours of sites relating to different historical event such as assassination of President Kennedy can be found here.
What ties all of these ideas together is not just the ability to show something new and exciting, but the ability to interact with the tools. One can explore spatial information in constructing historical arguments rather than just getting the information through lectures and texts. Google Earth can be embed into digital scholarship. Files could be offered to readers for them to download and interact with scholars work on a different level.
The main concern with this software is the privacy. The dramatically increased access to the world from the comfort of a computer is exciting and fascinating. However, once someone looks up his/her own address the excitement could quickly turn into reactions such as “that’s kind of creepy.” While most of us love the idea of viewing the world on our computer, we don’t really like the idea of the world viewing us. With that said could someone use Google Earth to more effectively stalk a target? Could burglars use Google Earth to case an area? There are a couple of things to note when considering privacy concerns. First, the information on Google Earth is already available elsewhere; and second, the imagery is not live, no one is viewing satellite data in real-time using this application, so old data is arguably not very useful to a stalker. According to an article in the Time Magazine Google has also ended the controversy of the pesonal privacy by obscuring the faces of people. http://content.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1631957-1,00.html
In Summery, considering the drawback and the step Google has taken to address that concern, Google Earth is a powerful visual tool that can give a better sense of historical locations and events through its interactive 3-D maps and other options as mentioned above. This software is free to download and works on any operating system including mobile devices. With tools like Google Earth, historians can construct interactive and engaging forms of history. Users can generate graphical representations of events to visually convey them. Furthermore, since Google Earth is a map in a virtual environment, teachers can literally “fly” students through the terrain that a historic event happened at.