In early November I hosted a symposium in Niagara-on-the-Lake called “Seeing the Past: Augmented Reality and Computer Vision for History”, with a fantastic group of colleagues in history, digital humanities, and computing. Our goal was to reflect on our experiences working with these technologies, share our knowledge and ideas for best practices, and engage in a theoretical discussion of the implications and future possibilities for history and the humanities generally. We wrote and reviewed chapters that we are publishing in an edited volume that will feature, in addition to text, interactive examples of AR and CV. In these ways we hope to introduce these technologies to our readers, teach them how work with them, and encourage them to make their own contributions to these emerging forms of expression and analysis.
On the first day of the symposium we worked in small groups building and using AR, CV, and some virtual reality technologies that help us try to see the past. (For instance, many of us test-drove an Oculus Rift (a virtual reality headset that allows a wearer to completely immerse herself in a virtual world) for the first time). I’d been looking forward to trying the Oculus Rift, but ended up feeling queasy for a couple of hours afterwards. On the second day we reviewed the draft chapters. My favourite chapter opening: “How should we see the past? You can’t see the past” (Shawn Graham).
I felt simultaneously elated and grumpy when it was over. My grumpy-ness was simply the let down that followed two of the best days I’ve experienced as a researcher, with some of the kindest, smartest, most imaginative people I know. We had a lot of fun, and did some outstanding work. I’m looking forward to assembling the book in the months to come.
A special thank you to Brock University, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Canada Research Chairs program, each of which helped fund the symposium. Thanks too to Karen Flindall for helping make it happen.