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Ripped Apart: A Civil War Mystery app review

ripped apart title screenAs Ripped Apart: A Civil War Mystery (Smithsonian, 2015; iOS only) opens, it’s your first day as an intern at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. After curator Isabella Wagner introduces you to the museum and the task at hand, you head down to the creepy basement — alone — to get to work.

Your job is to comb through collections of documents and personal items, plus incomplete carte de visite albums, to identify the four Civil War–era Americans who owned them. By carefully examining the artifacts and their item tags, puzzling out smudged words in several personal letters, matching loose cartes de visite to the correct places in the albums, and noting your observations, you collect clues to the identities of the four individuals. The numerous photos, documents, and other artifacts (reproduced at extremely high quality) are real, selected from the Smithsonian’s archives, and thus so are the fascinating, and frequently tragic, personal stories.

ripped apart work station

ripped apart CdV album

An encyclopedia of 19th–century figures and concepts provides a helpful reference to the history, and Curator Isabella offers tips, additional info, and encouragement via text message throughout. The ghostly presences of the owners also offer encouragement as you work, then gratitude when you identify them and free their spirits from this plane. While this paranormal hook seems a bit gratuitous — after all, the stories themselves are plenty compelling — it does add a little thrill to your task.

After completing all four albums, you’re invited to create and share your own digital carte de visite — while also learning about 19th–century photography technology. The app is accompanied by a very thorough website, which offers more details about the real lives of the individuals included, a behind-the-scenes video, a webinar on using the app in the classroom, information about applying to be a Smithsonian intern, and more. An engaging way to explore the human side of this infamous part of American history.

Available for iPad (requires iOS 8.0 or later); free. Recommended for middle-school users and up.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.

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