The Montana Historical Society is ready to travel along with you as you discover the historical wonders of Montana.
If you are not much of a traveler, you also can visit those wonders virtually from your favorite armchair.
MHS has a mobile app and website, ExploreBig. The tremendous MHS collections and data set of historical marker text tells you the stories of Montana by guiding you to the fascinating historic buildings and places where Montana history took place.
The ExploreBig mobile app is available for both Android and iOS devices by searching for “Explore Montana History” on the Google Play and Apple App Store. ExploreBig is also available on the web at explorebig.org.
The new site draws on information from more than 1,500 buildings and sites across Montana that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and have a MHS historical marker sign. The sign text information has been fully researched for the stories they tell by MHS staff members.
“We are focusing on broad state themes that link disparate sites across the state,” says MHS Digital Services Manger Tammy Troup. “We began chronologically and future tours will be thematic or focus on historic districts.”
Tours on the site include Homesteads, Mining Industry, Early Montana, Railroads, Hamilton Historic District, and Great Falls Northside Residential Historic District. Troup says new themes and stories will continue to be added to ExploreBig.
When you open the Early Montana tour, you see a state map with pins denoting locations that tell the story. Below the map is a narrative that begins “The earliest historical sites in Montana reflect the period of transition when European building ways and property ownership ideas marked a land long in use by Native Americans.”
At the conclusion of the narrative, individual sites are shown explaining their importance to the tour and an historical photograph of the building or site. The app uses GIS technology to help you navigate to the sites. It also hosts audio and video files that allow you to listen to stories about many of the sites.
The idea for the project came about when Gov. Steve Bullock asked state agencies to come up with new ways to use the data and collections they have to benefit the public. “MHS staff thought the use of the historical marker information would be a great data set to use,” says Troup.
Troup joined the Society around two years ago and moved to Helena from Ohio. The project has given her an appreciation for regional connections to shared history.
“If people are real travelers or armchair travelers, this is a great way to see the patterns of history and the movement of people and ideas as Montana developed,” she says.
Local museums, historical societies, and libraries are encouraged to contribute to the project. It is also hoped that people in the lodging industry and others who deal with the traveling public will share the app with them.
As time goes by the app will have more and more community tours added to it.