Book Abstract

Seeing the Past: Augmented Reality and Computer Vision in History

It is the impossible dream of historians to see the past firsthand, to witness events as they happen, and remove the uncertainty of history. Though such aspirations remain a subject for science fiction writers, recent developments in computer technology are providing historians with new ways to see (and perhaps touch, smell, and hear) traces of the past. These tools and techniques are providing fresh insights and historical discoveries as well as a new medium for historians to teach and share their knowledge in excitingly innovative and even subversive ways.

Seeing the Past is a unique collection of essays which explore the current and potential uses of augmented reality (AR) and computer vision, in historical [and archaeological] research, teaching, and presentation.

Augmented reality, once the esoteric pursuit of engineers and computer scientists, is entering the mainstream as smartphones, tablets, and wearable computing become part of our daily routine. Place-based AR applications are a common feature at heritage sites and museums, and with the improved registering technology made possible by seeing computers, historians are creating immersive and multi-faceted learning experiences.

Computer vision, which is also used in many AR applications, has been employed in a variety of endeavors from industrial production to the security sector. It is now being directed at historic images and three-dimensional artifacts to find patterns, details, and discoveries which are beyond the capacity of the human eye. Research involving thousands of images can now be undertaken to recreate lost or destroyed environments, buildings, or even forgotten populations, among many other uses.

Seeing the Past will be the first book to explore uses of AR and computer vision for historical research and presentation. Our contributors will reflect upon their own experiences working with these new technologies, share their knowledge and ideas for best practices, and engage in a theoretical discussion of the implications and future possibilities of AR and computer vision in historical studies. The volume will also feature live, interactive examples of augmented reality on its pages to introduce the medium to historians and heritage practitioners, teach them how work with it, and encourage them to make their own contributions to the medium.