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New app for history buffs

Are you obsessed with history? Or do you just have a passing interest in the past? No matter what, the iPad/iPhone app HistoryWise, by two ex-University of Copenhagen scholars, should pique your interest

The team behind the app calls it ‘the world’s largest and most advanced historical quiz’. With questions spanning the globe, from Japan to Latin America, via Medieval Europe, it certainly is comprehensive.

Players can choose a single area they wish to concentrate on, or test themselves in world history. Feel particularly strongly about the Israeli-Arab conflict? Make sure you have all the facts straight. Want to know more about the historical importance of medicine and disease? There’s a section for that, too.

University of Copenhagen alumnus Michael Bremeskov Jensen, a historian and now a diplomat in the Danish foreign service, and Ittai Gradel, an Ancient historian educated in Oxford, reckon that knowing the facts of history is key to historical awareness.

“Historical methodology is a splendid thing, but if it is not founded on factual knowledge, it is just hot air. We think both school and university have downgraded the value of factual knowledge too much in the last generation or so. Facts are not the opposite of fun and creativity, as is often implied. But our app with its 3,500 questions in world history is for people who enjoy such facts. No one will know the answers to all these questions, but we think players will find the answers worth knowing – quite unlike so much of the info in all the trivia quizzes in fashion these days,” says Michael Bremerskov Jensen.

“Call us snobs by all means, but we don’t really care to know who won the Eurovision song contest in 1976, or what the colour was of Elizabeth Taylor’s dress at her second wedding. And we think we are not the only ones”.

See how history students from the University of Copenhagen fared on the new app in the University Post test here.

Commodus slayed midgets

Questions are written from a Western perspective, and are chosen as the ones that are deemed most significant in the eyes of the app’s authors, while avoiding triviality. What happened in 1715 to thwart the adoption of Catholicism in China? Was the 2000 Ridley Scott flim Gladiator correct in depicting Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius’ assasination by the hands of his son?

(In case you are wondering, in 1715 Pope Clement XI issed a papal bull decrying Chinese ancestor worship as barbaric, and incompatible with Catholicism. As far as the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius is concerned: his son and successor Commodus was a notable egotist and neurotic, who during his reign would strip his clothes and slay midgets while pretending to be a mighty giant. Despite that, he is innocent of patricide.)

According to the app’s authors, historical literacy is fact-based knowledge: if you know what happened and have a modicum of chronological awareness, you’re well on your way to understanding history. The app is well positioned to strengthen such knowledge, while simultaneously entertaining its user.

According to Ittal Gradel, the other historian and developer, it is both fun and educational, and for both individuals and teams.

“Not only single history buffs can compete against others or play individually, but also, for instance, schools can compete against each other and bring some fun and games into the teaching of history – and even team building. And the quiz need not merely entertain in a passive way – we encourage our users to suggest questions. We will ourselves continue to expand the pool of questions, but we also hope that users will contribute with questions from their own interests and specialties. To encourage it, we even plan competitions with cash prizes for the best such questions received,” he says.

Rich, Corinthian leather

The app features a skeumorphic interface, reminiscent of a leather-bound book, and buttons featuring prominent stitching. On the home screen, the player can chose between the number of players, themes to be included in the questions, and statistics on previously played games, where the they can see how many of the questions they have gone through, and the percentage of correctly answered questions.

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