Huntsville, Ala. (January 18, 2012) - John Kvach first thought of creating a geocache trail project for his public history students attending The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAHuntsville) last fall.
Kvach, assistant professor of history at UAHuntsville, hoped to combine affordable and accessible technology with local historical resources to create a hidden history Huntsville geocache trail for his students.
A highly popular outdoor treasure-hunting activity in state and national historical and cultural areas, geocaching uses a global positioning system (GPS), and navigational techniques to search for hidden artifacts in containers.
"My students were divided into work groups under the leadership of UAHuntsville student Erin Looney who oversaw other students involved with picking sites, gathering information, research, and creating each individual geocache for the 'Hidden History of Huntsville' project. Ten caches total were hidden - five in downtown Huntsville, and five on Monte Sano," said Kvach.
"As other public history classes become involved in the project more caches will be added to the list. I would like to have high school students help create caches in association with what they are learning about local history in Huntsville," Kvach said. Found treasures and artifacts were identified as UAHuntsville Public History and will soon be active on the geocache.com website.
According to Kvach, the university's "Hidden History of Huntsville" geocache trail project is the first of its kind in the state of Alabama. "A few towns and historical sites have created similar trails but nothing this detailed existed in the state until UAHuntsville students created it for their community," Kvac said. "We did not communicate with the city since all of these caches are on public property. We would, however, like to work with the city to enhance Huntsville's historical legacy."
While geocaching is a growing hobby for people who enjoy a challenge and like being outdoors, Kvach wanted an intriguing, non-traditional way for his students to learn something new about local history. "We want individuals and families to learn something new about their community and have fun doing it."
Kvach believes the cutting edge use of technology will greatly impact the field of history. "Historians will always rely on traditional tools to create historical narratives, but newer forms of technology will create new avenues to reach the public.
"In the past, books served as the link between historian and reader. Now historians such as myself have access to websites and technology that allows people to interact with history and enjoy it. We are past the days of memorizing dates and reciting names. UAHuntsville's public history students are encouraged to think about interpreting history to the public and allowing the public to reinterpret what they learned. As lifetime learners it is important to realize that history belongs to everybody, not just those who write books or work in archives," said Kvach.
UAHuntsville public history students will finish hiding geocaches at the end of the month, and have the trail ready by Wednesday, Feb. 1.
Kvach is offering his experience to neighboring towns in North Alabama, interested in creating a geocache trail. "Rather than reinvent the wheel we could share the knowledge that we gained during this semester-long project," he said.
He noted that geocache trails "cost little to no money to create" and can involve groups interested in highlighting their area's historical locations. "If enough people became interested we could create a Hidden History of North Alabama and offer residents and visitors a great outdoor activity and the opportunity to interact with the region's rich history."
****EDITOR'S NOTE: UAHuntsville's History Department is in the final stages of creating the state's second public history program. A public history minor will be available to undergraduate students interested in historic preservation, museum studies, historical archaeology, archival management, and historical interpretation. For more information, please contact Dr. John F. Kvach, the director of the public history program, at 256-824-2570 or email email@example.com .
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