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The John Rylands Research Institute

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Developing mixed reality applications with archival collections in the digital spatial humanities

Clancy Wilmott (Geography)

Clancy’s project aims to test the compatibility and resource requirements of using archival spatial collections – specifically, historical maps, plans, architectural schemas, and elevations of the University of Manchester – for mixed reality environments, specifically, using Microsoft’s HoloLens. Mixed reality environments - as opposed to mobile phone applications or virtual reality models – offer the ability to overlay digital visualisations over physical landscapes in-situ, via spatial mapping and holographic technology.

This project will specifically use the University Map Collections, and the University of Manchester Archive to focus on volumetric spatial representations of the Oxford Road precinct, including maps, plans and schemas in order to explore the potential to research, communicate and teach place-history through mixed reality technology. The ability to mix digital visualisation over physical landscapes has unexplored benefits for researching the relationship between archival and contemporary visualisation, and its flow-on impacts on pedagogic innovation in field research and digital humanities, and the communication of place-histories to public audiences.

Mixed-reality technologies, like the HoloLens, use an open-source Unity software that is widely used for three-dimensional modelling by architects, games developers and others, because of its ability to plug in pre-existing urban models, games landscapes and to link to physical spaces using the cartographic world coordinate system. Thus, this technology has potential to scale up into a major project that will shape the theoretical and the methodological futures of the digital spatial humanities by mapping historical and contemporary links between different approaches to representation of place, at a time when the digital spatial humanities is gaining increased recognition.

As such, this project is designed to a) ascertain the amount of time and difficulty involved in setting up archival collections in the three-dimensional HoloLens-Unity software; b) explore the possibilities of this technology as a mixed reality, immersive and interactive way of understanding place-histories; and c) establish the kinds of archival collections which can be translated into mixed reality environments.

This project is funded by a JRRI Digital Humanities grant and runs from September 2018 to March 2019.