One moment, visitors to the Indiana History Center are sitting in a futuristic console in front of a massive flatscreen display. Then with little more than a point, touch and swipe of your finger, you’ve tumbled into a wormhole into a specific geographic part of the state such as Bartholomew or any of Indiana’s 91 other counties.
Visitors to the revamped Destination Indiana exhibition at the Indiana History Center are warned that it was easy to get lost in nearly 200 years of past culture.
“Whatever you’re interested in, and whatever your connection is to Indiana, you’ll find it somehow in that gallery,” said John Herbst, president and CEO of the Indiana Historical Society. “If fashion is your thing, you can go in and look at the styles of things people are wearing. If transportation is your thing, you can look at all of the modes of transportation. Whatever you want to zoom in on and look at, you can do.”
With tens of thousands of photographs, documents and other historical items — more than even the greatest history buff could sort through — the Indiana History Center has turned its massive collection into a journey through time.
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By digitizing its items and modernizing the way people explore them, history center officials hope to open up the past in ways that people have never seen before.
“This is a great way to see the historic photographs and documents from deep inside the IHS archival collections,” Herbst said. “We have so many materials in the collection, and we are always looking for new material to bring to the public, to have people know what’s here.”
Destination Indiana was unveiled in 2010. The technology let people poke through the history center’s collection in a limited way.
But with an upgrade, the system has been vastly improved, Herbst said.
“The great thing about Destination Indiana is that you are in the driver’s seat. You decide what they’re going to visit, you decide how close you want to see detail on things,” he said. “You can back out, go to another journey. No one is telling you what you should be interested in.”
Working with PLOW Digital, an Indianapolis-based interactive development company, the historical society was able to develop an interactive touchscreen that let people chose which historical paths they wanted to follow.
Like you do with a cellphone or a tablet, people swipe and poke through their journey.
“It’s funny to think that in five or six years, technology that was fresh when we put it in could be outdated,” Herbst. “So we really had to make these changes and keep up with history.”
Destination Indiana is divided into two separate features. A large theater setup lets groups can experience one of the history center’s main “journeys” together.
Curators have created 10 themed excursions that play on a curved 10-feet-by-24-feet screen.
People can go inside the creation and evolution of the Indiana War Memorial, take a virtual journey through the Benjamin Harrison Historical Site or learn about Burger Chef, at one time the second-largest hamburger chain in the country.
But for more in-depth and personalized journeys, the history center offers smaller stations that give you the power to explore more than 300 subjects.
Sitting in front of the glowing flatscreen, a constellation of historic photographs drift towards the viewer. Images of old round barns, vintage Indianapolis 500 cars and famous Hoosier historical figures lure people into the system.
The interface is space-age futuristic, with zooming portals that take you from topic to topic.
People can learn more about Indiana titans of business such as the Ball family glass magnates or James A. Allison, automobile entrepreneur. They can find out about the athletic prowess of the championship Crispus Attucks High School basketball team or the deep roots of agriculture in the state.
“It’s a great way for us to tell all of these stories, share some of these images, and let people explore on their own. They can look at the topics that interest them,” said Suzanne Hahn, vice president of the archives and library at the historical society.
But the designers of Destination Indiana have upgraded the system to also allow you to take journeys specific for all 92 counties. Photographs of individual towns and cities display what life was like 120 years ago, from images of interurban street cars to local businesses to the way the streets were laid out.
Historic maps let you see the names of people who owned land locally in 1822, small creeks or churches that dotted the landscape, for example.
“Before, there were almost two separate ways to view it: you could view topic journeys, or geographic journeys. Now, under places, we have the different county journeys. You can chose whatever county you’re from, and explore them that way,” Hahn said.
The new Destination Indiana system is available to anyone who visits as part of admission to the center, as part of the larger Indiana Experience series of activities and displays, Hahn said.
What: An innovative immersive and interactive display of historic images allowing visitors to explore Indiana’s history and every corner of the state.
Where: Indiana History Center, 450 W. Ohio St., Indianapolis
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Admission: $7 for adults, $6.50 for seniors 60 and older, $5 for children ages 5 to 17, free for kids under 5.