WebWatch: Rebuilding our past


Take a peek into the past as Anna Burzlaff explores the forgotten world of WhatWasThere.com

How far we’ve come in the past two centuries. Constant developments in science and technology have created a world in which each day heralds a new discovery or understanding, as we frantically attempt to catch-up with progression in an age that is manically changing and barely able to focus on the present, let alone the past.

With each discovery comes a shadowing or blurring of the past. In a society which is consistently looking towards the future, reflection upon what preceded us has become a rare occurrence. The buildings of yesterday have been torn down, erased, and in most cases forgotten.

Now, more than ever, the importance of reflection and meditation are becoming apparent. Our lack of understanding or insight into the past has proved too many times to have far from beneficial consequences.

WhatWasThere.com is a site which not only allows for some gentle nostalgia, but also invokes contemplation.  Providing its viewer with a keyhole into the past through photos of particular places dating as far back as the early 19th century, WhatWasThere.com is laid out in a Google map style, where one zooms in and scrolls across a map of the world to find highlighted streets and buildings from the past.

The site describes itself as a virtual time machine and aims to create a photographic history of the world. While WhatWasThere.com still has a long way to go, and is clearly still in its infancy, its premise is more than commendable. Images of iconic streets and buildings, mingled with less well-known landmarks, create a site in which one could easily pass an hour.  Photos of O’Connell Bridge from 1960 and Harcourt Street from 1910 provide glimpse from an era long lost.

The site not only creates a nostalgic and reflective effect, but it also allows, in fact it asks for, your participation.  Once you know the place and date, your old photos can become part of photographic history, and with perhaps the most straightforward registration known to the internet uploading photos is as easy as it gets.

In many ways, WhatWasThere.com has the potential to be transformed into a full-fledged hobby, easily occupying hours and days with photo rummaging and research. The site may not be the most exciting or alluring superficially, and is more than likely geared towards an older generation, however it is straightforward, simple to navigate and essentially insightful.

While WhatWasThere.com appears to still be in its infancy, with much of Europe, sparsely documented, it is a site which at the very least will provide a calming break from the hustle of modern-day development.