Utrecht develops app allowing users to ‘travel through time’

Back in time with the Utrecht Time Machine: residents asked to help

See the Domplein as it looked centuries ago, or attend the signing of the Union of Utrecht live and in person; soon you’ll have a chance to do just that with the Utrecht Time Machine app, which researcher Toine Pieters and HKU lecturer Ramon Verberne are developing in collaboration with the Utrecht Archives. The prototype version of the app will be unveiled in the presence of Mayor Jan van Zanen on Thursday evening.

The goal of the Utrecht Time Machine is to make Utrecht’s rich history visible, so that users can experience it personally. Utrecht’s history goes back to the Roman Empire, so what would it be like to be able to travel back in time? The scenario might seem like something from a science fiction story, but new technology has brought it within reach today. The app will allow users to scroll through time at various locations around the city.

Citizen science

Pieters drew inspiration for the app from a wide range of sources. “Several other time machine websites and apps have already been developed, like the one for Venice. But we wanted to be the first to use the app as a citizen science project.” Pieters aims to have groups of students from very different backgrounds work together. “It would be fantastic if archaeologists, historians, geographers, computer scientists, and teaching students could continue developing the app together. And of course, contributions from everyday citizens would be ideal; people with stories to tell, or old photographs or movies of the city sitting in the attic.” The groups of students can gather to work in the Teaching & Learning Lab at Utrecht Science Park or in the Utrecht Archives, which is also a partner in the project.  

Screenshots from the Utrecht Time Machine app. Left: the signing of the Union of Utrecht. Right: the Dom square in the year 410 AD.

Historic signing

The app will be presented and launched by the Mayor of Utrecht on Thursday evening in University Hall. Those in attendance can use the app to travel back to the year 1579, and watch live as avatars sign the Union of Utrecht, the founding document of the Dutch Republic. Pieters emphasises that the app will eventually offer many more scenes. “We’re currently working on the Domplein and the chapel in University Hall, but of course we aim to add as many locations in the city as possible in the lead-up to Utrecht’s 900th anniversary in 2022.”

European initiative

Utrecht Time Machine is part of the European initiative Time Machine FET Flagship. The project’s goal is to visualise 2,000 years of European history. This version of the app, featuring the Domplein and the Union of Utrecht, is the prototype version of Utrecht Time Machine. The app is still under development, and more of Utrecht’s history will be added over the coming year. Utrecht Time Machine is a collaborative effort by Utrecht University and partners such as Hammersmith Hardmen Media and the Utrecht Archives. The goal is to involve as many organisations in the UTM as possible, including Utrecht Marketing, the City of Utrecht, and businesses and institutions located in the Utrecht region.

More information

Toine Pieters, project leader: 06 - 1362 1033
Nieske Vergunst, press officer: 06 - 2490 2801
Wietske de Lange, press officer: 06 - 4575 8244