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Virtual and Augmented Reality Bring Historical Objects to Life

26 Jun 2023 8:13 PM | Anonymous
  • Scholars are using virtual and augmented reality tools to aid history research.
  • The tools also enable laypeople to visit places and examine objects normally only available to scholars.
  • Using VR, people will turn the pages of a 15th-century book or stand before Renaissance-era artwork in the Vatican.
  • An AR project will let people walk through the 19th-century neighborhood around Union Station, when it was home to Chinese immigrants.

For most people, the chance to walk through a re-creation of early 20th-century Chinatown in Los Angeles or page through a 15th-century Christian devotional book known as a Book of Hours is the stuff of fantasy. But faculty at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences aim to bring historical objects into people’s laps — sometimes literally — through innovations in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

“As faculty we want to conduct scholarly research, but not just for itself; we want to take that knowledge and make it as broadly and widely accessible as possible,” says Bill Deverell, professor of historyspatial sciences and environmental studies at USC Dornsife.

Deverell is collaborating with Professor of Cinematic Arts Scott Fisher and a team of scholars at the USC School of Cinematic Arts on the Chinatown project, which includes an AR program that lets Union Station visitors see what their immediate surroundings looked like in the early 20th century, before much of Chinatown was razed to make way for the train depot. Using archival materials, such as photographs and maps depicting the streetscapes, the team aims to create an app enabling users to look through their phones and see a model of the old neighborhood, streets, homes and shops.

The project, which also involves the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, is still in the early stages, but Deverell says the team is making progress on filming, programming and research for the project.

You can read more in an article by Meredith McGroarty published in the USC Dornsife web site at: 

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