April 7, 2021

Working together to bring history to life

Think historic city walks are boring? Roaming through Utrecht’s history should become fun and easy for everyone with the Utrecht Time Machine lustrum app. Three Utrecht University students are helping to develop it. ‘This app is perfect for those who like their culture in bite-size chunks.’

by Lennaert Rooijakkers

Image of square Domplein in Utrecht

Thirty locations in the city

‘Every Utrecht resident has walked across the Domplein hundreds of times, but how often do you consider what happened there 300 years ago?’, says Tessa Nauta (24). Asking the question is answering it: hardly or never. However, Tessa hopes to change this situation soon, together with Tim Overkempe (23) and Shahin Nazar Kermanshahi (28).

The three students are helping Professor Toine Pieters and Het Utrechts Archief to create the Utrecht Time Machine lustrum app, which aims to bring to life 30 well-known locations in Utrecht. Before the project started, the students hardly knew each other (Tim and Shahin study History and Philosophy of Science, Tessa studies Human Geography and Urban and Regional Planning), but now they’re working together to realise an ambitious project. In the anniversary year of Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht, this should help to build a bridge between the city and academia.

A time machine

The lustrum app is a pilot of Utrecht Time Machine: a consortium in which various Utrecht heritage institutions, including Het Utrechts Archief and Oud Utrecht, and the Municipality of Utrecht, participate to connect and present data about Utrecht's history in a form that is accessible to everyone; just like a time machine.

Tiles with QR codes

Users of Utrecht Time Machine will have total freedom to create a route for themselves. By scanning plaques with QR codes located all over the city, users will be able to discover Utrecht’s history. By the way, that history cannot often be found in one place. The team therefore actively collaborates with partners to establish new connections between the various sources about the city. Together with computer science student Simon Dirks and other IT professionals, the app is being designed in such a way that you can view the stories from all kinds of sources with a few clicks on your smartphone.

Want to know more about the history of the Catharijneconvent? Then grab your smartphone and dive into its history in the blink of an eye. Feel like checking out all the points on the map? Great. Prefer to limit yourself to one or two locations? That’s OK, too. Shahin: ‘This app is truly intended for those who like their culture in bite-size chunks. We don’t offer a two-hour city walk through 17th-century Utrecht. You decide for yourself what you do. The app should be accessible to all, not only to hard-core history buffs.’

Help build history

For each location, the developers are investigating what information, photos, maps and reproductions can best be shared with the users. The app is currently being populated with the help of the Utrecht Archives and the Old Utrecht Foundation, but ultimately the intention is for other partner organizations and residents of Utrecht to become involved in the process as well.

For each location, the developers are investigating what information, photos, maps and reproductions can best be shared with the users. The app is currently being populated with the help of the Utrecht Archives and the Old Utrecht Foundation, but ultimately the intention is for residents of Utrecht to become involved in the process as well.

Join the walks from 1 June

Are you eager to wander through the city or Utrecht Science Park and to sample some of Utrecht’s history? The various Utrecht locations and walks will start becoming available in mid-Spring. The students will have completed the project by the end of May, when all 30 locations will have been digitised. So save the date of Tuesday 1 June 2021 in your diary – from then on you’ll have Utrecht’s rich history at your fingertips.

Source: Utrecht University