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Gigapans feature Civil War trails, museums

Gigapan high-resolution image technology has allowed Carnegie Mellon’s Global Connection Project initiative to document Civil War trails. (credit: File Photo ) Gigapan high-resolution image technology has allowed Carnegie Mellon’s Global Connection Project initiative to document Civil War trails. (credit: File Photo )

Imagine sitting at your computer, with the world at your fingertips, and being able to explore historic Gettysburg and see where Abraham Lincoln once spoke “four score and seven years ago.” Perhaps you’d like to take a trip down a Civil War soldier’s memory lane to Little Round Top to see where a great battle was once waged.

Thanks to recent developments in Gigapan technology and Google Earth, this dream is now a reality. Pennsylvania Civil War trails are now viewable in Google Earth. Gigapan is a high-resolution image technology developed in part by Carnegie Mellon, the NASA Ames Research Center, Google, Gigapan Systems, and Deep Local, Inc. It is a part of Carnegie Mellon’s Global Connection Project initiative, which, according to the project’s website, “develops software tools and technologies to increase the power of images to connect, inform, and inspire people to become engaged and responsible global citizens.”

Gigapans, short for “gigapixel panoramas,” are extremely high-resolution images that are taken using a robotic mount for a digital camera and state-of-the-art software. Gigapan’s mission, “to make all aspects of the Gigapan experience accessible and affordable to the broadest possible community,” is now coming to life through the use of Google Earth, which is free to use from any computer.

Gigapans of Pennsylvania Civil War trails are the first of their kind to be featured on Google Earth. Along with historic battlefields, other aspects of Pennsylvania’s Civil War history are viewable in Gigapans, including cemeteries, monuments, and museum exhibits.

Not everyone supports the idea that visiting a museum through your computer screen is a brilliant invention, however. First-year history major Isabel Smith-Bernstein, who comes from a family of individuals involved with museum management and conservation, spoke out against the Gigapans. “I think [the Gigapans are] stupid, because it takes away the experience of actually going there. It takes away the impact of actually standing in the same space as hundreds of Civil War soldiers,” she said. “There’s a certain feeling that you get when you’re at place with so much history, and that will just go away. Since the youth of today already are alarmingly disinterested in history, this will only increase that disinterest, since there’s no more impact — no punch. Just another computer screen with some pictures. It makes the travel less important.”

George Cornelius, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, pointed out some positives of the Gigapans, a development that he believes will allow Pennsylvania to emerge as a leader in the tourism industry. “This new tool for Pennsylvania Civil War trails will allow Pennsylvania to solidify its position as an industry ‘thought leader’ in tourism by not just embracing emerging technologies, but by building them,” Cornelius said in a press release on Carnegie Mellon’s website.

A former anthropology major, sophomore Chrissy Swierkocki wondered how much further this technology can go.

“Hopefully other parts of the country and the world can utilize this technology in their own historic areas,” she commented. “Especially with museums, it’d be great to have those resources available online.”

To check out the new Civil War trails resource for yourself, log onto www.pacivilwartrails.com.