Bringing the Past to the Present

The long drive from Charlottetown to Alberton on Monday morning was made enjoyable by the beautiful weather.  The sun shone brilliantly on the fields and groves of trees as we passed through Hunter River, Fredericton, Kensington, Miscouche, Inverness, and countless other communities on our way to the western part of the Island.  I gazed out on the fields and farmhouses, and the sheer beauty of the landscape transported me back in time.  For centuries Islanders have built their lives around farming, and, for a brief moment, as I stared out the car window, it was as though I was travelling in a horse and wagon in the middle of the nineteenth century.  Then a massive tractor rolled by and my illusion was shattered.  Modernization is so much of a reality in the twenty-first century, that even my imagination can’t always maintain a daydream of times past.  

The whir of the passing tractor made my mind wander elsewhere, to thoughts closer to the present.  I reflected on modernization, and how it has been a point of contention on Prince Edward Island, like most places in the Western world, since the early twentieth century.  The introduction of automobiles, electricity, indoor plumbing, mechanized farming, and computer technology are just some of the major implementations which forever changed life on the Island.   I watched as the tractor retreated in the rearview mirror, and thought about how a hundred years ago its existence was unimaginable to those living on Prince Edward Island’s farms.  Yet modernization did come, and with it came great change, not only to how work is performed, but also to the very composition of Island communities.   Some of these changes are still regarded with mixed feelings today.

With these thoughts in my mind Courtney and I arrived at the Alberton Museum Heritage Centre to do a presentation on the new iPad app being released for the Telling Island Stories project.  The app is designed to engage Islanders and tourists alike in Island history.  It is a multimedia application, which takes books, photographs, maps, interviews, and more, and makes them available in a single source.  It is also collaborative, in that community members will be able to contribute their own content to the application.  In essence, it is a medium through which Islanders can tell stories about what it was and is like to live in Prince Edward Island.   

The Telling Island Stories app is an exciting and groundbreaking new approach to history; however, as Courtney finished up his presentation and moved on to questions, it became clear to me that my thoughts from the drive up had been very appropriate.  Many of those who attended the presentation voiced their concerns and discomfort about using this new type of technology, resurfacing old debates about modernization in a new form.  While the Telling Island Stories iPad app undoubtedly represents modernization, I believe that it is quite different from other forms.  To some extent this app could be considered a way of subverting modernization--we are taking technology, something that has threatened our way of life, and are using it to perpetuate our values and to encourage community-based relationships.  That is why I appeal to everyone to be open-minded.  Change can be intimidating; however, these new forms of technology are not going anywhere.  This is why I believe so wholeheartedly in the Telling Island Stories project.  It is simultaneously embracing this new technology, while also harnessing it to keep our past alive.  

The Telling Island Stories iPad app will be available on June 1st from the Apple app store.

If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact us!