A friend recently sent me a link to the National Trust’s recently unveiled heritage travel website called Gozaic. According to the home page, Gozaic will let you:
plan life-enriching travel and join a community that shares your passion for experiencing culture and heritage. Build your own custom itineraries exploring sites with stories to tell. Book guided tours to destinations rich in culture. Share your photos and reviews with others. Explore. Go. Connect. It’s all here at Gozaic!
Just on first glance, this looks like a promising step forward in a direction that many have seen the need for but that is more complex when you get into it: using social networking and GIS mapping to pull all the heritage sites together into a convenient planning tool. While the guided tours are geared to a much higher income bracket than the one I’m in, more interesting to me are the custom mapped itineraries, the sharing of reviews and photos, and the ability to form “Circles” with other Gozaic members who share your particular interests, such as Civil War, Architecture, or Music Heritage.
Since the site has just gotten up and running in the last few weeks, it should probably still be considered a work in progress–in fact, I notice that the little word “Beta” is off to the side. I think the site’s success will depend largely on how quickly it gains members and how often they keep coming back–in a similar way to other social networking sites like Facebook, Gozaic depends on a critical mass of interested and interesting people to join and begin to create their own Circles, Trip Journals, reviews of historic sites, etc.
Just as a trial, I joined the site (free and relatively easy) and entered the destination “Mississippi” under the Explore tab. The results were conveniently arranged by town. The coverage isn’t comprehensive and is a bit random–there’s an entry for Greenwood but not Greenville or Clarksdale, both of which are also important cities in the Mississippi Delta and have heritage sites and museums. Hopefully the coverage will grow over time.
Clicking on any city takes you deeper into the database, giving you an overview and a list of sites in or around that town. You can click on any site and it takes you to another page that gives you information about that site–again the amount of information for each site varies tremendously and at times I was left wondering why a particular site was even listed because the overview wasn’t very forthcoming. Each city and each site has a “Save” button that allows you to add it to an itinerary that you create and can save under your profile. You can also share your itinerary with others or print it, complete with a map.
I decided to create an itinerary called Civil Rights Tour and started out in Philadelphia, Mississippi just to get a feel for how the system worked. After clicking around, I think the system works pretty well, but the background information still needs lots and lots of work. In some cases it’s flat wrong, but in the majority of cases, there just missing or inadequate information.
But . . .
When I added Philadelphia, Mississippi to my itinerary, then checked my map, I found that it had placed the point on the map at Philadelphia, PA, as if anyone would want to visit there instead of our own more important Mississippi town.
Recognizing that the site is just getting up and running and will grow and mature over time, I’m curious about sources of information for each site listed. For instance, for Philadelphia, Mississippi, the Gozaic overview for the town gives us accurate information as far as it goes, but it neglects the town’s Civil Rights history, the very history that gave the Philadelphia Historic District its national level signficance on the National Register. Three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, were jailed in downtown Philadelphia before being released that same night to be killed on the highway back to Meridian. The three men were traveling through Philadelphia after visiting Mt. Zion church, east of Philadelphia, which had been burned after voter registration meetings were held there. The disappearance of the men, the eventual recovery of their bodies by the FBI, and the ensuing federal court case against several alleged conspirators brought national attention to Philadelphia. Martin Luther King, Jr. led two marches on downtown from the Mt. Nebo church on the other side of the railroad tracks to protest the murders and the lack of justice against the murderers.
Gozaic doesn’t have any entry for the downtown, the jail, or the courthouse–all of which are still there. It does show both the Mt. Nebo church and the Mt. Zion church–the original cause that led to the whole ensuing saga–but this is what Gozaic has to say about Mt. Zion:
This historic church was restored after a fire in 1971. The grounds feature a historical marker and a monument honoring the civil rights workers slain in Philadelphia in 1967.
The fire, of course, was in 1964, not 1971, and the church was completely rebuilt, not restored. Also, the civil rights workers were murdered in 1964, not 1967, and I think it would be helpful to note why there’s a marker to them at this seemingly innocuous church. Maybe Philadelphia was a bad choice because of all the connections that need to be made between these sites, but this is heritage travel we’re talking about right? If we don’t make these historical connections, what’s the point of including these particular sites? As an aside, Mt. Zion is placed incorrectly on the map–it’s not in Philadelphia, it’s out to the east on county road 747.
Collaboration is Key
Perhaps Gozaic would benefit from using National Register nominations as the basis for the sites that are listed on the National Register instead of trying to gather information anew. Certainly there are many sites in their database that aren’t listed on the Register and will be harder to get information about, but at least the National Register would be a good foundation to work up from. If the National Register is too hard, since nominations are still not online in most states (please may it happen sooner rather than later), then even links to Wikipedia articles would help give a little context.
I also notice that there are no links to webpages for those sites that have them–is this something that will be added in the future or is the National Trust going to try to go it alone and not allow sites to get involved in updating their own information? Collaboration with heritage sites will be another key to success–the whole point of social networking is collaboration and allowing groups and individuals to share their little pieces of information and opinions. Statewide heritage tourism groups, such as MDA or Main Street in Mississippi, would also provide valuable input and could even help administer Circles or other types of groups.
As I said at the beginning, Gozaic is just getting on its feet and I’m not trying to knock it down here, just pointing out the parts I think have promise and those that need more work. I hope for its success and am glad to see heritage tourism perhaps stepping into the 21st century.