Discover the Histories of the National Mall

Why is this space called a “Mall?” Did cattle ever roam the Mall? How have protests changed over time?

mallhistory_homeVisitors will find answers to those questions, and more, in the new website, Histories of the National Mall mallhistory.org, developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media with funding from the National Endowment of the Humanities. Access mallhistory.org from a phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop and begin discovering the rich history that shaped the National Mall.

The National Mall has a history of its own that is invisible when walking its paths. Most visitors see what appears to be a finished product: a deliberately planned landscape with memorials, monuments, and museums symbolizing the history and values of the United States. Designed at George Washington’s request by Pierre L’Enfant in 1790, the Mall in its earliest days was a messy place where transportation arteries and commercial markets existed. Lively neighborhoods bordered the Mall. Near the Capitol, pens held enslaved people and captured freemen like Solomon Northrup, awaiting sale to traders. Only after the 1880s did the Mall begin to transform into a place for commemoration and memorialization.

Now known as a place of protest and political expression, the Mall also has a long tradition as a public park and place of leisure for Washingtonians and tourists who strolled winding pathways in gardens and learned from collections in the Smithsonian’s galleries. Citizens, government officials, and local businesspeople have shaped the history of this well-known public space—and very few know its history.

Mallhistory.org offers 4 major sections to help visitors learn more about their National Mall:

  • Mapsmap_layers act as a wayfaring guide on today’s Mall and an entry into geolocated historical sources that appear as pins. Visitors may select from 8 historical maps that show how the Mall’s landscapes and built environment looked in different eras. When walking on the Mall, users see a star on the map that indicates their own location. Choosing a historical map layer then reveals to the user events and sources from that time period located nearby.
  • Explorations are short historical episodes of Mall history that begin with a question related to the themes of politics and protest, design and monuments, or work and play. Each question is answered with historical sources from Washington, DC area libraries, archives, and museums. Users may browse by question or theme.
  • Past Events offer users a quick chronology of significant Mall-related events.
  • People provides short biographies of individuals who shaped the Mall’s past and present.

Histories of the National Mall is the newest addition to RRCHNM’s portfolio containing 20 years of award-winning digital history content.

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Since 1994, the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University has used digital media and computer technology to democratize history—to incorporate multiple voices, reach diverse audiences, and encourage popular participation in presenting and preserving the past. We sponsor more than two dozen digital history projects and offer free tools and resources for historians. Learn More

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