I felt a sense of frustration in Bonnett’s 2003 article Following in Rabelais’ Footsteps: Immersive History and the 3D Virtual Buildings Project. Whilst he perceived the benefits of using a 3D environment to teach students to confront the issues associated with creating visualizations from an incomplete historical record, it was clear he thought the technological limitations were restricting its potential. Has access to immersive realities changed in the past decade? We do see them feature ever more increasingly in the museum setting but as for the classroom, I am unsure.
I think once more we are faced with the question – do visualizations teach us anything new about our research, anything we do not already know? In most cases I do not think it does. But I do see potential, for example in reconstructions of ancient cities we can decipher new correlations between building and monuments that may not have been obvious before. Here I mean in terms of sight lines and settings (as researched by Elizabeth Marlowe in Ancient Rome), the connections that would have been assumed by people in the past, but are not necessarily obvious now. Of course, it takes vast resources to build an environment that would be conducive to making these discoveries, something that the digital humanities often lack. And so maybe Marlowe’s architectural drawings are an easier way of demonstrating her theory visually.
There is another issues to be considered, relating to the interpretations we make during the 3D visualization process, both in computer and caved based cases. We experience virtual realities that have been created by another’s perception of a past reality, we look through their eyes, so to speak. It seems to me there are many layers of interpretation involved in creating such models – for example in reconstructing a historic building, there are interpretations made concerning the difference between the plan and the building that was actually constructed, interpretations of the gaps in the historical record and how they should be presented, interpretations made by the designers of the interface which frames our visualization and so on. As Diane Farvro mentions immersive realities necessitate the addition of “aural and kinetic” layers which will add yet another layer of interpretation. How can we hope to recreate the sound and textures of the past accurately? However despite the associated issues we push on, and I think we are right to do so. Humanists work within a society that is increasingly connected to 3D representations in advertising, gaming and film, to mention a few. An expectation has been created and the humanities must keep up.