A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

NKU graduate students create self-guided walking tours to bring local history to life


By Feoshia H. Davis
KyForward correspondent
 

Kentucky is a state full of varied history, culture and geography. From the eastern Appalachian Mountains, north to the Ohio River, West to the Land Between the Lakes, and South to the heart of the Daniele Boone National Forest, each place has its own story.
 

With 120, mostly rural counties, Kentucky has many unique, historical tales to tell across its riversides, hollows, towns and cities. Along with a few larger institutions, small museums and historical societies dot the state working to preserve and display local history. But many of these places struggle to keep history alive. They rely on volunteers and have few resources to preserve and present those stories to a wide audience.
 

That ongoing problem is one that two Northern Kentucky University graduate students are working to help solve. They’ve just created a new high-tech, lower-cost way for museums to bring local history to life and digitally share it with the public.
 

Instant Access Tours bring history to life
 

Northern Kentuckians Sean Thomas and Steve Oldfield created Instant Access Tours, a digital history preservation company. Instant Access grew out of a class project required to graduate from NKU’s master’s of arts in public history program.
 

Instant Access Tours works with existing historical content to create interactive apps that users can access through their smart phones. It creates self-guided walking tours that people can access by downloading a QR code, similar to a bar code, to their smart phones which will show videos, text and images along a pre-mapped historical route.
 

Users not on site can take virtual tours through their home computers.
 

“Our goal is to revive old or ineffective walking tours and bring them into the modern age, with the hopes that they will educate and inspire learners for generations to come,” the Instant Access website proclaims.
 

These tours tell local history through digital broadcasts, featuring interviews and on-location scenery and artifacts.
 

Oldfield, a former television reporter and movie critic, narrates the videos. He’s a graduate of The Covington Latin School and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He teaches at the University of Cincinnati and mentors students in a high school photography club. History has always held a special place in him and is a large part of his childhood memories.
 

“I’ve been a museum person since I was little. When my family went on vacation, we didn’t sit on the beach. We went to local museums or checked out the local cemetery. That has always been in my family’s background,” Oldfield says.
 

Thomas, a former Army videographer, calls himself a “history nut.” He covered Capitol Hill for the U.S. Army, along with working as a cameraman for the funeral of President Ronald Reagan. The idea for the tours came following work Thomas did with the Fort Thomas Military and Community Museum.
 

“I realized that these small museums really have hard time marketing themselves. Then they lose visitors and they lose money. I thought ‘How could I help museums keep there doors open?’ Thomas says.
 

Both believe Instant Access Tours will help small museums reach a broader audience in more dynamic and accessible, way.
 

“The problem with some places is they can’t afford to be open all of the time. So lots of times the doors will be closed on a particular day or hour when a family comes to visit. (Through these self-guided tours) museums can still give families the opportunity to see some of what they provide,” Thomas says.
 

Instant Access Tours works with small cities to tell big stories
 

Oldfield and Thomas have worked with the city of Augusta and a small city across the river in Ohio, New Richmond.
 

You can see their work commemorating the story of the Battle of Augusta online. The local Battle of Augusta commission hired Instant Access to package commemoration of the Sept. 27, 1862, Civil War-era battle. The videos are also part of an on-site walking tour.
 

The site features an intro and interviews by Augusta resident Nick Clooney. It also includes historical photos, drawings, other artifacts and interviews with area historians detailing the battle and the stories of the people behind it.
 

In addition, Instant Access Tours also is working with New Richmond, Ohio, to tell that city’s history as part of the Underground Railroad that secretly brought Southern slaves North into freedom.
 

Several cities are talking with Instant Access, and their next project may be with the City of Covington, which will be celebrating its bicentennial in 2013.
 

“We are talking to a number of cities and everyone is excited. A lot of people say, ‘Why hasn’t this been done before? Well, the expense would have been so much more than just five years ago. The technology has gotten a lot more affordable. This is a creative way for museums and historic sites to get some online exposure,” Oldfield says.
 


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