National Award Goes to Cumberland County for Innovative History Podcasts
July 23, 2013
One of the nation’s most prestigious historical preservation organizations is recognizing Cumberland County for an innovative new program that takes people “inside” many of the county’s architectural treasures by way of new technology – even when the buildings are closed to the public.
The American Association for State and Local History announced that the West Jersey Time Traveler program – a series of audio podcasts that profile the county’s remarkable historical architecture – has won a Leadership in History Award of Merit. Out of 84 national awards this year, only two are from New Jersey.
West Jersey Time Traveler is a project of the Cumberland County Cultural & Heritage Commission. Fifteen sites are profiled – including what might be the oldest Swedish granary in the U.S., one of the nation’s best-preserved 18th century churches and a vital stop on the Underground Railroad.
A distinctive feature of the program is the way visitors access the audio podcasts. Each site is marked with a sign that includes a special visual symbol called a QR code. Visitors with smartphones and a free QR code reader app can simply point the phone’s camera at the sign and the audio podcast specific to that site will load within seconds. Then it’s just a matter of tapping the “play” button to listen to a 3 to 5 minute piece that takes the listener on a journey to another time period when the structure was most relevant.
“Many of our incredible historic landmarks are only open a few times a year,” said Matthew Pisarski, the Commission’s principal planner. “Until now, if a visitor showed up hoping to experience the site, the best they could do is peer inside the windows. These interactive podcasts make it possible to have a rich experience 365 days a year, even if the building is closed.”
“To be recognized nationally is a great source of pride for Cumberland County,” said Freeholder Carl Kirstein, liaison to the Cultural and Heritage Commission. “We have a rich story to tell, and this is a perfect way to share it with the public.”
The podcasts were written and produced by Bridgeton-based Shoot the Moon Communications utilizing research by the Commission and a review panel of scholars from across the region. STM president Keith Wasserman said the segments come alive through the use of compelling soundbites from people intimately connected to each historical site.
“It was fantastic to spend time going through these landmarks with people who know them so well, people who appreciate their significance and speak as if they lived the history,” said Wasserman.
The unique signs placed at each site, feature the words “Hear Here” above the name of the site and the QR code. They were designed by VSBA, a prominent Philadelphia architecture and graphic design firm.
For those who can’t visit the sites in person or who don’t own a smartphone, the entire set of podcasts as well as supplementary information and photographs can be found on a dedicated website – www.cumberlandhistorical.org. The Commission intends to use the website to build a repository for additional historical materials relating to the sites.
West Jersey Time Traveler received partial funding through a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.