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Idaho State University professors develop prototype history phone app for Yellowstone National Park

September 5, 2014
ISU Marketing and Communications

Idaho State University history professors are developing a mobile application to show the cultural and environmental history of Yellowstone National Park.

“We are close to Yellowstone and the app presents a great way for us to connect to the history of it,” said Yolonda Youngs, assistant professor of history.

Yolonda Youngs in Yellowstone.A grant awarded by the Idaho Humanities Council to Dr. Youngs (PI) and Dr. Kevin Marsh (co-PI) has helped develop the prototype for the app titled “Digital Wonderland.”

The prototype was developed with contributions from ISU students Chloe Troester-Solbrig and Caitlin Long and app developer, Katie Gibson with High Country Apps. The app is designed for Yellowstone visitors walking or driving around the park who want more information regarding the history of the places they are visiting.

Although the prototype for the app is finished, Youngs is seeking funding to finish the app and make it available for download. They are also seeking to collaborate with nonprofit groups such as the Yellowstone Association, the National Park Service, and park concessionaires. Youngs anticipated the app being available for download in one or two years.

App screen shot.Users will read short historical narratives written by scholars called site stories that use specific locations in Yellowstone to tell stories about the park’s cultural and environmental history. The site stories will also feature pictures of places in the park in their current state and also from early tourism days.

“We want to be use digital technology to put history into people’s hands,” said Youngs. “Short narratives can change how people look at the park. And you can have history in your hand as you are looking around.”

Youngs got inspiration for the Digital Wonderland app after living, working and researching in Yellowstone for 20 years. She also worked as a kayaking guide in Yellowstone and rafting guide on rivers throughout the West. As a guide, she loved interpreting National Parks for a public audience. During her three and four day long trips, Youngs would carry books and journals of explorers who crossed the same areas they travelled and would share history with the rafters on the trip.

During the next phase of development, developers will use scholars from regional universities and Yellowstone experts to share their specific knowledge of different areas. The app will also provide links to Facebook and Twitter pages as well as a Flickr site for visitors to upload their personal photos.

“We want people to upload their own pictures and personal history of Yellowstone,” said Youngs. “Pictures can help scholars find different things about Yellowstone’s history and show visitors how the park has changed over time.”

The name Digital Wonderland comes from an 1890s campaign by Northern Pacific Railroad that tried to get people from bigger cities like Chicago, Boston and New York to come visit the “wonderland” in Yellowstone.

Contact: Yolonda Youngs, younyolo@isu.edu or 282-2379


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