Illustrating History with Piktochart and Pinterest

Pinterest is a great resource for capturing, organising, and sharing visual information and related links to websites, blogs, and online databases. It contains countless arts and crafts ideas, recipes for making gorgeous food, kids party ideas, beautiful wedding dresses, and images of home decor to aspire to. Online retailers and bloggers embrace Pinterest and incorporate the “Pin” button into their posts, encouraging their visitors to share what they’ve found to Pinterest’s ever-growing collection in the hopes of reaching new audiences and selling more products. And it’s easy to use.

Pinterest has another important (but seriously underused) function: it allows historians and teachers to share visually appealing images — specifically infographics, but also digitised photographs and historical sources — and provide brief text captions to share with countless others via Pinterest’s platform.

My Quick Intro to Pinterest: In Pinterest, everyone has their own page (like a home page) with their own boards (picture virtual bulletin boards, each with a theme you’ve chosen). You can search for specific items using the search bar or scroll through Pinterest’s suggestions that are tailored to every user’s stated interests and recent pins. Pins are images that have a web link attached and usually some accompanying text, either an explanation of the pin, or a comment on the pin. Pinning is the act of adding a pin to one of your boards. Once someone has added a pin to Pinterest, others are then able to click on it to enlarge it, “Like it” by clicking the heart symbol, “Pin it” to one of their own boards, or share it with others in or outside of Pinterest. You are also able to see other people’s boards, including friends from other social media sites, but everyone also has the ability to make some or all of their boards “private.”

Lots of us take photographs in the process of our work, such as of a new source or information, a library, our surroundings, a statue or monument, a plaque, or a historical site or building. We can also scan and share print sources (provided that you have the right to copy or digitise the item), images of books we’re reading, and even document an entire research trip in photographs. Add the ease of taking digital photographs now that so many of us have cameras on our phones and there’s no reason to snap a picture here and there in our work.

Like Instagram, Pinterest makes it easy to upload and share images, but Pinterest connects these images to explanatory text and commentary, allows for and encourages the pinning of infographics, and includes a vital link to a website for more information.

An infographic is a visual representation of information. We see them all the time, such as in charts, graphs, and some posters. They work particularly well for data that includes numbers, such as statistics, dates, and quantities. And that’s where Piktochart comes in. Piktochart is a website that allows users to use and modify various templates (or design their own from scratch) to present information in an interesting and visually-pleasing manner. It’s free to use if you don’t mind there being a watermark at the bottom of the finished product. It’s also fairly user-friendly if you take some time to walk through the tutorials and work from one of their templates.

The big question is, how can we as historians harness Pinterest, Piktochart, and the infographic?

We can use it to share our research, inform others, and grow interest and awareness.

To start, try searching Pinterest using broad search terms such as “history”, “British history”, “slavery”, etc. to see what’s already out there. Not on Pinterest? Google “history infographics” and you’ll be amazed and inspired.

By searching for “slavery” on Pinterest, for example, I found some excellent infographics drawing attention to the shockingly high rates of modern slavery around the world and some interesting timelines of the abolition of new world slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries, which I pinned onto one of my boards. Each pin has an accompanying website for more information, some of which I wouldn’t have come across otherwise, and therefore the pin acted as a promotion of someone’s research or site. Then I started thinking about what information I would want to share, and of those ideas which I might be able to represent graphically. I knew that I wanted to share some of the stats from Isles Abroad’s first month, so I chose a template from Piktochart and in the space of about an hour (from signing up to downloading the finishing product), came up with the following infographic:

isles-abroad-feb-2016 (1)

Now that it’s online, anyone can share it to Pinterest and, if any Pinterest users are interested enough to click on the link, it will direct them back here. In the near future I want to develop an infographic showing a timeline of the slavery debates, so over the next while I’ll be jotting down dates and notes with an infographic and corresponding blog post in mind. But the data on an infographic can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Just remember to think about 1) what you want to share, 2) who you want to see it, 3) why you want to use an infographic, and 4) what do you want people to get out of it.

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