Ideas for Using AASL Best Websites: WhatwasThere

Last month I wrote about HistoryPin, a collective visual ethnography of images from around the world. A location online where anyone can add pictures and everyone can search by site to find amazing historic photos located just about anywhere. This month I wanted to write about another great image and history website that has won the recognition of AASL Best Website for Teaching and Learning in 2015. It’s called WhatwasThere (

WhatwasThere is another photographic archiving site. It was introduced online in 2011.  WhatwasThere sees itself as a virtual time machine, showing users what a street or area looks like currently and what it looked like in the past using historical photographs. WhatwasThere creates a photographic history through the use of images along with location and date. With this method of collection users of the site can navigate locations in the past, present, as well as compare past and present images. Any location covered by Google Maps can have photos loaded in WhatwasThere. It is an exciting, interactive website that is continuously growing. WhatwasThere is perfect for historical fiction. Think on the setting of a novel or book and what it looked like in the past, then see what it looks like now? Oral History or genealogy are other great ways in which WhatwasThere can be used.

Regardless of what you are doing in your classroom or library WhatwasThere is an amazing site to simply explore. I warn you it is what I call a time suck. You will fall down an online searching rabbit hole and come back out hours later. It’s so much fun to explore this site. The wealth of information and photographic data is marvelous. When integrated into a class or library setting wonderful learning opportunities can happen. WhatwasThere is completely free, and is continuously seeking new photographs for the collection.

See my Tech 15 YouTube Channel Video about WhatwasThere and how to use it:



Author: Heather Moorefield-Lang

Heather Moorefield-Lang is an associate professor at The University of South Carolina in the School of Library and Information Science. To see more of Heather’s work visit her website at, email her at, or follow her on Twitter @actinginthelib.

Categories: Blog Topics, Technology

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