Virtual Heritage and Engaged Audiences: a challenging relationship

When Ruth Tringham, Professor of the Graduate School (Anthropology) at UC Berkeley and CoDA’s President, was invited to address the final keynote at the conference “Modeling Culture: 3D Archaeology and the Future of the Past” organized by UC Santa Cruz in April, she was in a bit of a crisis. Although a total pioneer in the experimentation of all new technologies and creative remix of archaeological data and virtual worlds, Ruth was never a big believer in – or practitioner of 3D modeling and virtual archaeology. Or better said, not a convinced supporter of the way 3D modeling and virtuality are conceived and used today in archaeology and cultural heritage in general. Of course, the crisis passed quickly, and Ruth took this opportunity to formulate deeper thoughts on a constructive critique of 3D modeling and virtuality today, and come up with her own “theory of change”, which she shares with us in the slideshow below.

In her presentation “Prowess-ing the Past: Considering the Audience”, Ruth gives a thorough analysis of state of the art, best practices, and successful (or not) case studies, and shares a new audience-centric point of view.

Above all, she shifts the focus from 3D modeling in archaeology and cultural heritage to consider the ways in which a more active motivation and engagement of users (whether professionals or general public) might also lead to the long-term sustainability of the models and visualizations. She presents a strong argument to evaluate the impact and engagement of 3D models, not so much based on how many users visit a model once, but on the duration of the visit and even better, the number of re-visits and frequency of enjoyment.

Ruth asks a number of questions (that we consider the right questions!) that are all aimed at the overarching goal of her exploration: what is it that engages or might engage users in the VR model or other digital visualization product? Why do we frequently revisit an amusement park or the zoo, but rarely a VR installation? What is it that might motivate revisitation and re-use of in-place and online installations? Ruth highlights for us a number of interconnected aspects that would lead in her opinion to greater audience engagement with installations and models involving 3D visualizations of the past: Participation, Exploration, Cultural Presence, Education of Attention, and Multisensorial Experience. Enjoy the slideshow and send us your feedback or links if you know of projects and initiatives that can feed into these reflections.

Cinzia Perlingieri