By Jenny Morgan

A new computer game explores past and present Holyoke. Among other things, users learn about a dead man floating in a canal in 1864.

Like any good history course, “Immigrant City”—which focuses on Holyoke, Mass.—requires students to immerse themselves in their research. The class recently took this directive to another level, creating an interactive computer game that allows users to explore simulations of the city throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

“In general, I like to get people out of the classroom,” says Frank Couvares, the E. Dwight Salmon Professor of History and American Studies. This past semester, he co-taught “Immigrant City” with Mark Clinton, professor of political science at Holyoke Community College. A dozen students from Amherst and HCC enrolled in the course, which met weekly, rotating between the two campuses.

Couvares came up with the idea for the course last year. “I wanted to do something in urban history, and I used to teach labor history,” he says. Holyoke seemed a natural subject. As Couvares began preparing the course, Ben Lieber, dean of academic support and student research at Amherst, approached him with the idea of collaborating with HCC. Then Scott Payne, director of Amherst’s academic technology services, entered the mix, bringing the idea of using historical data to create a simulated environment.

The class required students to work together to map out how neighborhoods and landscapes in the city have changed over time. The computer simulation will eventually belong to HCC and the Holyoke Public Library, where it will be available to anyone who wants to use it.

Image courtesy of Scott Payne