Terrastories Application

Terrastories: a geostorytelling application designed for remote communities

Terrastories logo

Terrastories is a geostorytelling application built to enable 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 viewable 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: 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 partner communities' 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 (read about our experience at RFG2018 here). ACT is also using Terrastories to map oral histories with the Wauja in Brazil and the Kogui in Colombia. In 2019, 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.

For inquiries, please contact Rudo Kemper at rkemper@amazonteam.org.

Download and install Terrastories

Terrastories can be downloaded from Github here.

To install, build, and run Terrastories, please visit the Setup guide on Github.

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, here.

This demo is dynamically generating the latest build of the code on our Github page. As new contributions get made to the code, the demo will update to reflect those changes.

Note: if you are loading the demo website for the first time, it may take up to 20 seconds to spin up. Afterwards the content will load faster.

Methodology guide

The Terrastories application is part of a broader methodology on working with non-Western communities to document, map, and record 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). 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 how to use the Terrastories application.

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

How to contribute

Terrastories is open-source, and contributions are welcome! We could use Ruby on Rails, Mapbox, Docker, front-end, or UI/UX support, and our open issues are indexed by priority and difficulty.

Coding events: we will post any future Terrastories development coding events here. In the past, Terrastories has been built at Ruby for Good 2018 and Ruby by the Bay 2019. If you are interested in having Terrastories at a coding event, get in touch!

Join us on Github or in the Ruby for Good Slack #terrastories channel. Please also read our How to Contribute guide for more information.

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.

Read more →


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.

Read more →


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

Read more →

Partner organizations