Twenty years ago, when Kevin Kee was still a student, he earned extra money guiding tours at a national historic site.
Now, the Brock University history professor has developed an iPhone app that might have put his younger self out of a job - a GPS-guided interactive tour of War of 1812 sites in Canada, complete with an immersive, mystery-solving component for the more adventurous among history nerds.
"There's nothing better than a fantastic human being in front of you, who can take you from place to place," Prof. Kee said, "but if they're not around, there are some very cool things we can do."
The app, which costs $7.99 through Apple's iTunes site, guides visitors through past and present points of interest in Niagara-on-the-Lake and nearby Queenston, Ont., where British troops battled the Americans. Mr. Kee and his team of developers, mostly Brock students, plan to add more sites in places such as Windsor and Kingston in time for the war's bicentennial in 2012.
The app is but one in a burgeoning array of smart phone tools for historical tourists. Others include:
Chicago Gangland Tour ($2.99, iTunes)
Led by Jonathan Eig, former Wall Street Journal reporter and author of Get Capone, the tour starts at Al Capone's home, proceeds through several of the taverns he supplied with illicit suds and ends at the site of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/chicago-gangland-tour/id365450715?mt=8#)
Museum of London: Streetmuseum (free, iTunes)
Using GPS, this "augmented reality" app allows users to point their phone at a building in London and see what used to be there, as an archived overlay image appears on the screen. (http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/museum-london-streetmuseum/id369684330?mt=8#)
Rick Steves' Ancient Rome Tour ($2.99, iTunes)
One in a series of Steves tours of such popular European sites as the Louvre and St. Peter's Basilica, the Rome tour features audio narration and video and includes the Colosseum, Forum, Arch of Constantine and Caligula's Palace, plus tourist tips on restaurants and transportation. (http://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/rick-steves-ancient-rome-tour/id323455485?mt=8#)
Explore 9/11 (free, iTunes)
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum offers an interactive guide to the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center in New York, with audio and photos in the augmented-reality "overlay" mode, based on accounts from emergency responders, searchers and Lower Manhattan workers. (http://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/explore-9-11/id387986451?mt=8#)