Starting a unique high-tech company was probably the last thing Sean Thomas and Steve Oldfield thought they’d find themselves doing when they enrolled in the Master of Arts in Public History program at Northern Kentucky University.
But when the two began working on a class project together, they quickly realized there was a niche for their expertise and their passion.
“We have lots of small towns in this area that have interesting historical value,” Thomas said. “But they don’t have the money or manpower to have guided tours. People just pass right through them without any chance of learning about the remarkable things that happened there.”
Thomas and Oldfield decided their capstone project would put a new spin on traditional walking tours. They teamed up with Brian Sauer, a graduate student in the NKU computer science department, to develop high-tech historical tours. Their class project became Instant Access Tours, and these history students became entrepreneurs.
They brought the right combination of experience to the venture. Thomas has spent years as a videographer and editor; Oldfield is an award-winning journalist. Add their collective passion for history and the new company was a no-brainer.
Instant Access Tours selects local historical sites, collects existing information and research, and develops engaging web pages with narrative text, photos and video interviews. The company recently launched its first tour, which celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Augusta (Ky.). The tour, available at http://www.battleofaugusta.com, provides the rich history of this critical Civil War battle.
“There is so much interesting information out there,” Oldfield said. “It just takes some digging. Residents of the communities flesh out the stories in a very personal way. Imagine driving through a small town and seeing a QR code on a building. Point your cell phone at the code and suddenly you are transported back to some historical event. Or log onto a web site to get a full story of something that happened in that town. That’s what Instant Access Tours is all about.”
Dr. Brian Hackett, director of the NKU M.A. in Public History program, said that while the business venture may not have been expected, the concept is a natural extension of the public history program. “The role of a public historian is to share history with the general population,” he said. “Blending technology with history is a really exciting way to tell the stories people want to hear.”
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