At a Glance

What is it?
WhatWasThere is a website that lets users compare what places look like today with what they looked like in the past.

About the Author

Deb Vojslavek

Deb Vojslavek is a 5th-grade teacher for the Rockwood School District in the St. Louis area and a Teacher Representative.


screencap, WhatWasThere logo, 16 December 2011, is a free, dynamic site that allows historians of all ages to take a walk down memory lane as they pore over photos of the past. Created in Ann Arbor, MI, by Enlighten Ventures L.L.C., WhatWasThere lets users upload photos and place them at addresses found on Google Maps. Enlighten Ventures’ vision is to provide a photographic history of the world for users to investigate. Simply type in the name of a state, city, or local address and begin examining photos in the collection.

Getting Started

If you are ready to see the past, simply go to and type in the name of the city, state, or country you are interested in exploring. Once at a specific location, the number of pictures available at a location is identified by map markers. Click on the marker and your time travel will commence. Zoom in or out of the map with the toggle bar located along the right-hand side of the screen. Look to the left to find thumbnails of the photographs available to study. Click on a photo, and you are taken to its exact location on the map. There, the photo detail tab allows you to learn the date the picture was taken and its title and read a detailed historical description. Roll over the photo with your mouse for a closer look. Another option is to click on the street view tab to see what your destination looks like today. The past will literally fade into the present as you adjust the sliding bar at the top of the photo. Again, you decide how much you want to see as additional photos found in the surrounding area are marked for further exploration. Using the photo markers provided, you can journey through the past of any area you have chosen.

The past will literally fade into the present as you adjust the sliding bar at the top of the photo.

While at you can make history when you upload your own pictures or look at the latest photos that have been added to the website. If you have photos to share to help record your local history, become a member of the site to gain permission to post pictures. To set up a free account, just register a username, provide an email address, select a password, and begin uploading photos. "Tag" your photos with the year, location, descriptive information, your source, and the photo’s copyright status. If you know the street address of your image, you can position it on the Google street view, placing it directly over the address as it appears today. WhatWasThere is developing tools to let others who know your city help with the identification process if you are unsure of a photo's particular details. At this time, photos without specific addresses are not shared with other users.

Downloading the iPhone App for your iPhone or iTouch also allows you to access mobilely, using the camera on your phone to view “an augmented reality experience of the history that surrounds you.” Consider friending on Facebook to check out their version of “Today in History,” which daily features a photo from the site you can share with your students.


The most exciting aspects of are its applications for use with students of all ages. Typically children view history through their modern lenses and not in the context in which events occurred. This site allows users to practice evidence-based thinking as they synthesize the evidence from historical photos with the information obtained from other sources. This will help students to begin thinking like a historian as they determine the impact of events that are recorded in history.

Sharpen your social scientist skills as you compare and contrast photos from the early 1900s with those of the present.

One example would be to use the site while learning about the Constitution. WhatWasThere will take your students on a virtual fieldtrip to Independence Hall. Once there, sharpen your social scientist skills as you compare and contrast photos from the early 1900s with those of the present. Class discussions can focus on the significance of this landmark, preservation issues, and any questions your students would like to investigate to help them learn more about the time period when the Constitution was written.

After students formulate questions, is an excellent website for students to explore to help them understand “how we know what we know about the past.” can encourage historical thinking as students “feel the history of a specific location in a new way.” Being exposed to America’s photographic history enables children to see the complexity of history from more than one point of view or perspective.

For more information

WhatWasThere not meeting your needs? Try Historypin, another online tool that organizes photos by time and place.

With the advent of the internet, you can find thousands of historic photographs with a few mouse clicks. Ask a Digital Historian has tips on where to start looking.

Visual primary sources are natural fits for students with developing English language skills. Get ideas for using photographs with English Language Learners in Teaching English Language Learners.

Your students will get the most out of visual sources if they source them—that is, if they ask where they came from. Learn a strategy for getting early elementary students excited about sourcing in Ask a Master Teacher.