Published: Sept. 26, 2013

Free app digs into MSU history

By: Alex Barhorst Residential and Hospitality Services barhors1@rhs.msu.eduContact(s): Lynne Goldstein Anthropology office: (517) 353-4704, Andy Henion Media Communications office: (517) 355-3294 cell: (517) 281-6949

Two Michigan State University anthropology professors collaborated to create a free app that gives users access to the university’s extensive history.

“It allows you to dig, metaphorically speaking, into the research that exposed the heritage of MSU,” said Ethan Watrall, co-creator and an expert in digital archaeology. “The idea is to explore the campus as a museum.”

Known as Msu.seum, the interactive app applies geopositioning technology built into smart phones to identify the user’s location on MSU’s 158-year-old campus. On the app’s map, users can click on nearby buildings and landmarks and learn about their history.

A passerby of Beal Botanical Garden, for example, might admire the floral landscape without considering how the grounds became what they are. Msu.seum would locate a user on West Circle Drive, identify the garden as a landmark and tell the story of professor Beal’s early work burying jars of seeds as part of an experiment that MSU faculty members have continued to this day.

Lynne Goldstein, professor of anthropology, supplied the photos and research content for the app.

“We want to engage faculty, staff, students, alumni and guests with archaeology as they walk around campus,” said Goldstein, who’s also director of the MSU Campus Archaeology Program. “It adds more life to the story and more detail.”

Watrall, an assistant professor, directs the Digital Cultural Heritage Field School, while Goldstein runs the Campus Archaeology Heritage Field School. The idea for Msu.seum, along with the design of the original model, came from a cooperative effort between students from the two five-week programs.

Goldstein and Watrall were impressed with the student product and decided it was worth investing more time into a second model.

“In five weeks, students couldn’t be expected to do the complete project,” Goldstein said. “The work they had done was spectacular, but we wanted to add more information.”

The student creators have been credited with the app’s design. Watrall said their work could serve as an example for future students.

“It’s important that students studying archaeology know they can learn how to do this,” he said. “They don’t need to hire a professional.”

With the needed funding, the professors hope to build a third version of Msu.seum. It would be compatible with both iPhones and Androids and could be accessed on the web. The current version is only available on iPhones.

The app would also include a social aspect allowing users to communicate, ask questions and discuss findings. It could serve as a model for both digital archaeology and campus engagement.

“The people using it are really interested and excited,” Goldstein said. “It’s a window into both the heritage and archeology of MSU’s campus and the current research at MSU.”

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