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History student creates Hershey mobile app

For most people, Hershey, Pa. means delicious chocolate, thrilling amusement park rides and the philanthropist Milton Hershey. However, for Megan Keller ’13, the real story lies deeper than the tourist attractions and candy bars. The story of Hershey, engrained in its rich history, provides a deeper look at the industrious workers that brought this town its fame. Keller found a way to intertwine this story and her Messiah College education to develop and produce a mobile application that narrates a historical walking tour through downtown Hershey.

As a history major with a social studies certification, Keller took many classes that challenged her to engage in public history, a process that makes history more accessible to an average person. For her public history class last fall, Keller was challenged to consider an exhibit that would bring history to anyone. Keller knew she could take it one step further than doing something traditional and expected like building a Colonial exhibit.

Sitting in a study room in Boyer Hall, Keller stared down at her iPhone and began to consider the power of the applications. She realized how many people she could reach by developing an app that delivered history to users. She researched and proposed the development of a public history app for a Hershey tour. During this stage of planning, Keller determined how expensive the process would be, what kind of software it would take and what type of research would be necessary.

As an employee of Chocolate World and a life-long resident of Hershey, Keller picked her hometown as the destination for her walking tour. By living in the community, she believed she could bring a meaningful perspective and tell the story of the workers and factories that worked so hard to build the town. In doing this, Keller hopes to not only offer a chance for tourists to engage in Hershey’s history, but also give back to her community.

Given a chance to turn her dream into a real app, Keller chose to use her proposal for her departmental honors project. As the first history student to do her honors project with an electronic medium, she spent the summer reading books about writing an app and practiced by making mini apps on her computer. After formally presenting the project in December, Keller’s app was shipped off to Apple in mid-January.

Throughout this process, Jim LaGrand, professor of American history, served as Keller’s advisor. He helped with the historical aspect of the project and encouraged her in the midst of challenges. When going through the legal hoops and working out the audio bugs, Keller greatly appreciated LaGrand’s confidence and reinforcement.

“Megan is ambitious and forward-thinking. She realizes that for the discipline of history to fully realize its goals, some historians have to think carefully about how to reach public audiences with historical scholarship,” says LaGrand.

For the technological component of the project, Keller mostly taught herself and received some advice and coding help from Jon Wheat of Information Technology Services at Messiah. In doing so, Keller walked away with a valuable new skill set, as well as an understanding of how to write clearly for a broad audience.

The app, named iHersheyTour, leads users through a mile walking tour of downtown Hershey. Giving walking directions and full audio narration, the tour takes approximately an hour to an hour and a half to complete. The free app will be available on all Apple products in early February.

In the near future, Keller plans to create a website and blog that supplements her app and serves as a history resource.  She would also like to continue to engage in public history by developing additional mobile apps.

“It’s wonderful she’s already doing this as an undergraduate. Her project showcases impressive research and communication skills that could be implemented in many different ways in the future,” says LaGrand.

Story by Emily Mohler `13. Photos by Megan Dobinson `16.

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