1. juni 2023

Immersive app brings the hidden histories of Copenhagen to life

A mobile app for Copenhagen turns conventional history tours on their head. It has an innovative living history trail that tells a powerful story of murder, execution and anatomical dissection in the seventeenth century.

Map by Johan Huusman, 1674. Copenhagen Royal Library.

Hidden Copenhagen transports local users and visitors back to 1673 and the true tale of Gertrud Nielsdatter, who was beheaded for the crime of infanticide.

In a trail called ‘Anatomy of a City’, users are guided by Nils, a fictive medical student who witnessed the dissection of Gertrud’s body in the university’s anatomy theatre. Across seven city-centre sites, some famous, others off the beaten track, Nils delves into a world in which unmarried pregnant women, facing social stigma and isolation, risked the strict justice of King Christian V for the crimes of infanticide and abortion.

The trail also tells the story of how anatomists – such as the renowned Nicolaus Steno – relied on the corpses of executed criminals to investigate the workings of the body and thus advance scientific knowledge.

Hidden Copenhagen, the seventh app in the Hidden Cities collection, is developed as a collaboration between the University of Exeter’s Hidden Cities team and historians and archaeologists from the Centre for Privacy Studies and The Saxo Institute of the University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen City Archives, and Museum of Copenhagen.

The Centre for Privacy Studies’ involvement with the Hidden Copenhagen Project goes back to 2019 where a delegation from the Centre, including PhD-fellow Anni Haahr Henriksen, postdoctoral scholar Natália da Silva Perez, and Centre Director Professor Mette Birkedal Bruun co-organized a seminar at the Centre for Early Modern Studies at University of Exeter. In 2019, head of the Hidden Cities Project, Fabrizio Nevola was director of the Centre for Early Modern Studies at University of Exeter, and the seminar sparked the first exchanges between the Hidden Cities Project and Centre for Privacy Studies. Hidden Copenhagen was put in the hands of postdoctoral researcher at PRIVACY Jesper Jakobsen who teamed up with Professor Ulrik Langen from the Saxo Institute at University of Copenhagen, who had already contributed to the PRIVACY-volume Private/Public in 18th-Century Scandinavia (ed. by Sari Nauman and Helle Vogt). We are pleased to see the fruits of these ongoing collaborations and to launch the Hidden Copenhagen App. We thank the Hidden Cities Project for inviting us to join the ongoing app-project and our Danish Hidden Copenhagen collaborators from The Saxo Institute, Copenhagen City Archives, and Museum of Copenhagen.

About the project and the collaboration, Hidden Cities trail director Dr David Rosenthal says: “This is a great example of how a fascinating piece of situated public history can come about organically through the research and collaboration process,” and he continues: “It began as a story about the Copenhagen of a seventeenth-century student, and it still is. But it also tells a bigger story about attitudes to crime and gender on one hand, and early modern science on the other.”

Centre Director Professor Mette Birkedal Bruun comments on the relationship between research and outreach: “It was been really exciting to follow the work with Hidden Copenhagen. The Danish National Research Foundation Centre for Privacy Studies is above all dedicated to research, but as this whole process shows, sometimes scholarly work that we would characterize as outreach comes with new perspectives and important new research insights.”

The app orientates itself using GPS and allows users to toggle between a modern street map and a map of the city from 1674. Starting at Trinitatis Kirke and ending in Gammel Strand, the trail plunges users into the physical city of the 1600s. incorporating images from the archives, museum objects associated with places on the trail, as well as the recent discoveries of archaeologists. Nils’ narrative about the Copenhagen of 1673 is complemented by expert commentary at each stop.

Professor Fabrizio Nevola, Chair in Art History and Visual Culture, and head of the Hidden Cities project, says: “We increasingly order the world around us empowered by mobile devices and geo-location, toggling between 2D maps to 3D street views. The potential of these same technologies for historical research on cities is only starting to be realised. At the same time Augmented Reality invites a new approach to the ‘museum without walls’, reuniting cultural heritage – cities, buildings, artworks – across time and space.”

Hidden Cities apps include Exeter, Valencia, Hamburg, the Dutch city of Deventer, and the Italian cities of Florence and Trento. All have been produced in collaboration with specialist historians and are free to download from the Apple App Store and Google Play. The first twentieth-century trail was released in May, a story about the Spanish Civil War set in Valencia in 1937. Three more apps will be launched in 2023, for Landshut, Tours and Venice.