Terrastories: a geostorytelling application designed for communities to safeguard oral histories

Terrastories logo

Updated: June 3, 2020.

Terrastories is a geostorytelling application built to enable indigenous and other local communities to locate and map their own oral storytelling traditions about places of significant meaning or value to them. Community members can add places and stories through a user-friendly interface, and make decisions about designating certain stories as private or restricted. Built with the Mapbox platform, Terrastories works both online and offline, so that remote communities can access the application entirely without needing internet connectivity.

The main Terrastories interface consists of an interactive map and a sidebar with media content. Users can explore the map and click on activated points to see the stories associated with those points. Alternatively, users can interact with the sidebar and click on stories to see where in the landscape these narratives took place.

Through an administrative back end, users can also add, edit, and remove stories, or set them as restricted so that they are watchable only with a special login. Users can design and customize the content of the interactive map entirely, and the interface itself is customizable with a color scheme and design reflecting the style of the community.

Terrastories can be fully translated to any language.

Terrastories: Matawai Konde 1.0 (October 2018)Terrastories: Matawai Konde 1.0 (October 2018)

Mapping indigenous oral histories: The project to develop this application was initiated by the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT), an organization which partners with indigenous and other traditional communities in the Amazon rainforest to help them protect their ancestral lands and maintain their traditional culture. In 2017, ACT realized the need to develop a custom interactive mapping application designed for mapping and safeguarding the intangible cultural heritage expressed in indigenous place-based oral histories, which are at risk of disappearing.

The first version of the application was built at Ruby for Good 2018 for a Surinamese community called the Matawai. ACT is also using Terrastories to map oral histories with the Wauja in Brazil and the Kogui in Colombia. In 2019-20, the Terrastories development team is planning to finish a public SaaS ("Software as a Service") version. Terrastories is a free and open-source (FOSS) application and we are looking forward to working with communities across the world in helping them use Terrastories, as recently undertaken in Ontario, Canada.

Terrastories is being built with the following two UN Sustainable Development Goals in mind:


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Download & install

Terrastories is available for download on Github.

Press the "clone or download" button to download a ZIP file to extract (or use Git to clone the repository).

To install, build, and run Terrastories, please visit the Setup guide on Github, and let us know where we can improve on the instructions.

Please note that while Terrastories is in a stable state, it is under active development and we recommend reaching out first.

 Terrastories demo

We now have a demo of Terrastories up and running on Heroku, here.

This demo is dynamically generating the latest build of the code on our Github repository. As new contributions get made to the code, the demo will update to reflect those changes. Please note that there is no media content (videos, photos, etc.) on this demo.

Log in with username: login@terrastories.io, password logmein to see a restricted place / story in Suriname.

Methodology guide

Mapping and recording place-based oral histories: a methodology (PDF, December 2019)

The Terrastories application is part of a broader methodology on working with non-Western communities to map, record, and safeguard their place-based oral histories.

This is a methodology currently under development and constant refinement, but we are now sharing an initial draft (as of June 2019). Also available in Dutch.

In this guide, we are sharing step-by-step information on our process, recommendations on optimal audiovisual kits, best practices for recording in the field, and information on how to use the Terrastories application.

We also recorded a presentation about our methodology and Terrastories at an ACT side event at the 2019 UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Watch this video here.

How to contribute

Join us on Github or in the Ruby for Good Slack #terrastories channel.

Terrastories is open-source, and contributions are welcome (we have had 50+ contributors to the code so far, and that is not counting design work!) We could use Ruby on Rails, Mapbox, Docker, Webpacker, front-end, or UI/UX support, and our open issues are indexed by priority and difficulty. You can also visit our page on Ovio here. Please also read our How to Contribute guide for more information.

Coding events: The next Hackathon event is scheduled to take place at Ruby by the Bay 2020 and The Amazon Lab in 2020, Berlin.

In the past, Terrastories has been built at Ruby for Good 2018 and Ruby by the Bay 2019, and during Hacktoberfest. If you are interested in having Terrastories at a coding event, please get in touch with us.

Learn about the communities using Terrastories

Matawai elder showing an important historical place along the Saramacca River in Suriname.

Matawai elder pointing out an important ancestral site along the Saramacca River in Suriname during a mapping expedition.

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Feature in Sabaku no. 61 (Nov 2019 - Jan 2020) →


Kogui mamos being recorded sharing council about the connections between the spiritual and the material at the site of a sacred rock nearby the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia.

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Wauja from the Ulupuene village in the Xingu Indigenous Park, Brazil are taking action to preserve and map their intangible cultural heritage.

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Partner organizations