Advances in immersive technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality enable the creation of experiences that can bring the past to life in new ways and in new places. Sights, sounds and even smells from the past can be recreated to help people understand the world around us as it was or might be. Our project will explore how such technologies might be used to address two key challenges:

First, organisations such as museums, galleries and archives have amassed large and important collections which preserve insights into our histories. Where possible these are accessible online and in museums, but these assets are frequently de-contextualised, displayed away from their original place of use or creation, and with limited interpretation. This restricts how much can be understood about them and how many people can access them. We want to explore ways in which our histories can be re-contextualised through immersive experiences so they can be understood within the places they originated.

Second, urban redevelopments are frequently accused of erasing pasts, creating bland spaces with little connection to the locale and therefore limiting broad engagement with place. We will explore the ways in which immersive experiences can overcome these criticisms by providing ways to explore the historical narrative of that place. Rather than erasing history, bringing it to life through projections, soundscapes, smells and stories.

Imagine watching a projection of Stevenson’s Rocket flying along a railway track as you stand on a bridge; listening to the sounds of a shipyard as you walk along a riverside; or using a tablet to peer through layers of a building to see its occupants from 300 years ago. But we want to do more than this, we want to explore the ways in which people can add their own histories into these experiences. Perhaps enabling someone to upload photographs of family members who worked in that shipyard, or lived in that building. Or adding a previously unheard story of relative who helped inspire a major invention, or who went to see an event unfold. In this way we hope untold histories can be added to the grand narratives of the past. Making accessible the everyday stories which don’t make it into museums, but which are no less valuable.

Project Details

December 2017 – September 2018
AHRC (AH/R010137/1)
Funded value:
  • John Swords, Northumbria University (Principal Investigator)
  • Dave Kirk, Northumbria University (Co-Investigator)
  • Richard John Watson, Northumbria University (Co-Investigator)
  • James Charlton, Northumbria University (Co-Investigator)
  • Claire Nally, Northumbria University (Co-Investigator)