This website is an initiative of J-Lab.

Who's Blogging


Retha Hill is the Director of the New Media Innovation Lab and a Professor of Practice at Arizona State Universityís Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Hill joined the Cronkite faculty in the summer of 2007 after nearly eight years at BET.

Click for full bio.

Project Blog: Mobile Black History Project

Imagine pointing your mobile phone at a Washington, D.C., landmark and reading about its relevance in African-American history. Layering data over real life is at the center of the emerging field of augmented reality, and this mobile phone application will bring black history to the forefront, starting with historic sites in Washington, D.C. Retha Hill, a recent Knight News Challenge winner and director of the New Media Innovation Lab at Arizona State University, will run the project.

An Augmented-Reality App with Black History for 12 Cities

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Black History Mobile App had its fits and starts over the past 12 months, but the app formally launched in August 2011.  We now have content for 12 U.S. cities.


We contracted in last 2010 with a Boulder, Col., company to build the back end for the content management system and the front-end interface with should have been compatible with various augmented-reality browsers, especial Layar and Wikitude.

The company did complete the content management system to house the back end but, after several tries, was not able to build a stable interface with the Layar browser.



   • Posted by Retha Hill on 01/12 at 01:05 PM

Black History App Up and Running Again!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

After a long summer of redoing the Black History Augmented Reality app, it is up and running on Layar once again. I am very appreciative of BuildAR, an Australian company that worked with me to get all of my cities coded correctly for the Layar platform.

Currently we are in the following cities:

  • Baltimore
  • Boston
  • Charleston
  • Chicago
  • Cleveland
  • Columbus, OH
  • New Orleans
  • Philadelphia
  • Phoenix
  • Richmond, VA
  • Washington, DC
  • Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada


   • Posted by Retha Hill on 09/27 at 10:12 AM

Hitting the Reset Button

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

As almost every innovator has discovered at one point or another, it is the team that you assemble that can help you soar or trip you up. Months into my Black History Augmented Reality project, I have good and bad news.

The good news is the content for nine cities is available in Layar where users in Baltimore, Boston, Charleston, Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C., can download the Layar browser and use the camera lens of their smartphones to find out about black history. I also have content for New York City and Ohio that I have to put into the database, and data from Detroit and Los Angeles are being collected now.

The bad news is the app designed specifically for the iPhone is not ready.

My developers finally admitted what was obvious for months: that they were unable to create an Augmented Reality native iPhone app. The developers tried to use a third party iPhone builder (despite my warnings against it) and then tried to integrate Layar Player into it. It just didn’t work.


   • Posted by Retha Hill on 05/25 at 09:17 AM

Layar Version Up and Running in Eight Cities

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Black History Augmented Reality app has been well received by people who have used it. Currently, it is available through the Layar browser, an augmented reality application for most smartphones.  Layar works on the iPhone, and a version of the Black History Augmented Reality app specifically for iPhone is under development.

To find and use it, download the Layar browser and search for “black history”. If you live in or visit Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Richmond, Charleston, Philadelphia, Boston, New Orleans or Phoenix, you can see points of interest pop up around your city.

I partnered with my fellow New Media Women Entrepreneurs at NolaVie to develop the locations for New Orleans.  You can read more about it here.


   • Posted by Retha Hill on 02/22 at 04:39 PM

Getting There: Mobile Black History App Aims for February Release

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

With our planned launch in time for Black History Month in February just around the corner, we’re down to nail-biting time here.

I’ve accumulated content about historical sites for six cities, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Phoenix, Richmond, Philadelphia and Boston. With the help of freelancers, whom I’m paying $1 per location they add, we’ll also have content for Charleston and Nashville. I’m excited to report that we are working with one of our fellow New Media Women Entrepreneurs awardees, NolaVie, to produce content for New Orleans.

Our original goal was to get both the iPhone app and the Layar version (for any smart phone user) up and running by the end of January. As predicted, our biggest delay was with development fixes.


   • Posted by Retha Hill on 01/25 at 03:46 PM

A Start-Up Junkie

Friday, November 05, 2010

Call me a start-up junkie, but it is always exciting to see a project come together.

Six months ago, the Black History Mobile app idea was just that - an idea. What if I could use the Augmented Reality technology to guide people to places of interest and significance in black history in Washington, D.C., and other major U.S. cities? That was the premise. Today, I have the reality in my hand. Looking through the camera lens of my iPhone as I cruise around downtown and central Phoenix, I see a dozen or so significant moments of Arizona black history pop up.  There on the corner of 8th and Washington Streets is where a group of black Phoenicians in 1886 founded what would become Tanner A.M.E. Church back. And here, at Old Main on the Arizona State University campus, Benton James walked across the stage in 1924 to become the first African American to get a degree from this great institution. And right here at LoLo’s Chicken and Waffles, the app tells me I can dine like a Harlemite on some fine southern cuisine. And there in this urban neighborhood, cotton fields grew as late as the early 1970s.

Next week, while I am at the Women’s Entrepreneurs Summit, sponsored by J-Lab, I can’t wait to break out and test all of the augmented reality markers in Washington, D.C., that I’ve put together, from the hotel where Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote the “I Have a Dream” speech to the house where Benjamin O. Davis, the first black five-star general lived and raised the second black five-star general, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., to the arsenal where the conspirators who plotted and carried out the Abraham Lincoln assassination were put to death by hanging.


   • Posted by Retha Hill on 11/05 at 08:06 AM

Work is Underway

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Work on the Mobile Black History App is underway. I’ve partnered with a Boulder start-up called BloomWorlds to develop the augmented reality app that will guide users to interesting places in the nation’s capital where African American history took place. BloomWorlds’ founder Darrell Brogdon is a talented programmer who got his start at the company that became McAfee and then with Linden Labs, the makers of Second Life.  He’s done a number of iPhone apps, is a serial entrepreneur and, like me, a history buff.

I’m going through the often-tedious task of tracking down longitude and latitude for all of the notable (and not so well known but still significant) places where black history happened in D.C.  Aside from Google Earth and Wikipedia, if anybody knows of a better source for coordinates, please let me know.


   • Posted by Retha Hill on 09/21 at 03:03 PM

Ready to Get Started

Thursday, August 12, 2010

First, a heart-felt thank you to J-Lab and the judges for giving me a New Media Women Entrepreneurs grant. The grant will allow me to pursue my two passions: media transformation and history. The Black History mobile app will utilize the emerging technology of augmented reality to tell users something they might not know about the history of places all around them.

Like most entrepreneurs, my plans are ambitious. We will start providing content in Washington, D.C., but I hope to quickly launch in several more cities. My plan is to have the app up and running well in advance of Black History Month 2011. Yikes! February 2010 is only six months away, so I’ve got my work cut out for me.

Despite my ambitious plans for the app, I am mindful of a couple of key lessons of entrepreneurship:  Keep it simple and make sure you have an A Team going into any project. So with that in mind I am wrapping up a contract with the development company that will build the app on several mobile platforms.

Thanks to the National Association of Black Journalists Digital Taskforce for your love and support in San Diego. Several people have stepped up to help me with the content so what I put out includes the obvious Black History milestones but some less well-known lore from locals.

Several members of my former crew are also primed and ready to help, too.  So, I‚Äôll be back shortly with more announcements soon!

   • Posted by Retha Hill on 08/12 at 04:04 PM