Week 9: Soweto ’76 and “Humanities Gaming?”

While conducting research for my final exhibition, I came across an interesting and appropriate subheading for this week’s discussion of 3D and virtual environments in the Digital_Humanities reader coauthored by UCLA’s Peter Lunenfeld and Johanna Drucker, among several others at UCLA and abroad.

Under the section entitled “Humanities Gaming,” the text explains how “Digital Humanities gaming has begun to successfully engage with historical simulation, virtual cycles of competition, and the virtual construction of learning environments.” In conjunction with Diane Favro’s walk through historical simulation modeling at UCLA and Snyder’s “Virtual Reality for Humanities Scholarship,” I think interesting questions can be asked regarding both the form and function of 3D environments in academia today. Historically, games have never been held in high repute by academia, however recent developments in new media studies and narratology (the study of game narrative) have removed some of the stigma that was once attached to gaming. In the Digital_Humanities reader, several “case studies” surrounding virtual environments and interactive media are given as examples of experimental forms of interactive media that have might be incorporated into the pedagogy of the digital humanist.

One such example provided is the “Soweto ’76 3D” site, which is described as a unique 3D “archive interface” that allows visitors to easily guide themselves through a virtual recreation of the township combining both education and exploration as they learn about the places, people and past of Soweto. The front page of the site explains to visitors that with the formal end of Apartheid in 1994, public archives in South Africa underwent a massive transformation and were enlisted as vital community resources in the effort to build the fledgling democracy. According to the site, as a result of the “regularly used censorship, the destruction of documents, and restricted access to the archive as vehicles for the eradication of oppositional memories that might endanger the welfare of the state” during the Apartheid, many of the holdings of archival institutions in South Africa continue to be under threat today. The program is designed as an interactive exhibit in which users can click on locations, read about different buildings and even add their own insight and knowledge to the collection through a process of peer review.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 11.17.23 AMhttp://soweto76archive.org/3d/video/

I thought this example was a very interesting intermediary between what is commonly considered a game versus an academic resource. Games have rules and they are often commercial by design. Although some games such as Assassin’s Creed attempt to create virtual environments based on historically-accurate data, I think that the difference is really illuminated when players become participants and are allowed to alter the fabric of the environment themselves or are deliberately invited to interpret the scene with a critical eye, rather than one that is pushed in a certain direction or given only certain tools to construct meaning within the environment itself.

Week 9 Blog Post

From: http://www.techieapps.com/gadgets-of-the-future-will-virtual-reality-become-real
From: http://www.techieapps.com/gadgets-of-the-future-will-virtual-reality-become-real

I work for a company that designs, builds and manages interactive 3D spaces. As our final product is a three-dimensional product, 3D modeling and the newly developing technologies have been incredibly helpful in our planning, designing and building processes. Our detailers use 3D modeling programs to produce drawings that are used across all the teams, but especially by the shop who build the space. We also recently purchased a 3D printer, which allows us to make miniature mockups of spaces or pieces we would like to include in our next project. Because of my limited experience with three-dimensional technology, I had never given much thought to the humanities applications of 3D and virtual reality.

Despite my limited experience, I have realized how many applications there are for Virtual Reality technology. Scholars are already incorporating the technology in to research projects and education: just check out UCLA’s historical modeling projects. As discussed in Virtual Reality for Humanities Scholarship there are many opportunities for those in academia to integrate virtual reality resources and programs in their curriculum. Personally, I am a visual learner, so to be able to see and interact with the environments I am supposed to be learning about would be invaluable. Synder and Freeman argue virtual reality applications could lead to the “possible increase in spatial, scale-related, temporal, and holistic understanding of the represented architectural space over use of static images and two-dimensional drawings”. I couldn’t agree more. Virtual reality mimics your “experience” with the outside world, which tends to make you more engaged while increasing your interaction and absorption of information. Image what classrooms could be like with fully integrated virtual reality programs! Readings could be paired with virtual tours, which could be incorporated with “knowledge checks” throughout the experience. As was concluded in the Meaning in Motion: A Personal Walk Through Historical Simulation Modeling at UCLA : “Digital technologies are open to adaption and redirection, shifting the description from research as a product, to researching as an on-going process, itself giving meaning through motion.” The development and introduction of virtual reality applications will also be an on-going process, and will continue to spread as it is introduced in different market areas.

A fully integrated virtual reality curriculum is looking to be on the horizon, but there are so many other applications for the technology—so it will be interesting to see how it’s first competitively brought to market. Virtual reality and virtual reality devices (like the VR headsets Oculus Rift and Gear VR) have been the talk of gamers, travel agents, and sports broadcasting alike. The possibilities seem endless, but a company has yet to bring a competitive product to market. According to Sony, within the next couple of years gaming will revolutionize virtual reality. Because gaming is such a hot market, tech companies seem to be competing to bring the next generation of gaming technology to market. Although there are many avenues with which this technology could be applied, gaming seems to be the one of most focus. I agree with Sony in that virtual reality will likely be part of the next revolution in gaming, but I am more interested to see how the technology is spread across other markets once it’s introduced. If Sony, or Facebook, or Google, can pull off a VR headset (initially programmed for gaming) I don’t expect it will be long until the talks about applications to education, travel and sports viewing will become reality.

Virtual Reality for Social Change

Our reading regarding Virtual Reality was pretty specifically focused on historical simulation modeling, but I found that a lot of articles about VR technology did not discuss that particular usage as significantly as they did utilizations in science and gaming. However, The Telegraph published an article by Monty Munford that explores the idea that virtual reality, so often depicted as exact and utilitarian, can be a manifestation of empathy.

The examples provided in the article, such as using Oculus Rift to comfort the terminally ill or pairing Virtual Reality with a social justice campaign to improve “understanding,” might not be exactly what digital humanities scholars have in mind when they consider how to employ VR technology. Instead, Virtual Reality refers to reconstructions of three-dimensional reconstructions of artifacts and virtual renderings of ancient locations. Most projects that employ Virtual Reality could be interesting outside of academia, but like Snyder mentions in “Virtual Reality for Humanities Scholarship,” the average person might not find them as impressive as scholars do because they are exposed to similar effects in media and are not familiar with the subject of the project.

However, I found the author’s argument about how Virtual Reality can be used to bring humanistic concepts to a wider population interesting, if at times questionable. The article seems to be inspired by very specific, individual instances of VR use rather than by a trend with a lot of potential. Additionally, the author seems to overestimate how “real” Virtual Reality can truly be. When discussing the practical application of Virtual Reality for empathetic purposes, he writes that “the ability to be taken to other parts of the world to ‘feel’ what it is really like to be afflicted with Ebola or cowering under fire in Syria will be a very powerful experience and one that is likely to lead to more understanding. It will certainly have more topical impact that re-recording a song about African that was relevant in 1984, but is now almost offensive in patronizing the people that well-meaning pop stars are trying to help. A few sessions for these singers strapped to a VR headset and a real African experience would certainly improve their lyricism, if not their attitude.” I definitely think employing Virtual Reality in order to bring attention to social issues is an innovative idea, but the experience that is created for the user through Virtual Reality technology is still someone’s perception of reality and should not be confused with reality itself.

Week 9- 3D Modeling as Pedagogy

For the past 8 months, I have been working on the Paris: Past and Present project.  Run by Professor Meredith Cohen of the Art History department the project seeks to mediate the art historical with the digital, creating 3D architectural models of 13th century Parisian structures.  As you may have seen from Raphael and Haley‘s posts, they are also involved with the project.  If this is a project you find interesting, please read Raphael and Haley’s posts and don’t hesitate to ask all of us for more info!

Reading Lisa Snyder’s Virtual Reality for Humanities Scholarship really got me thinking about notions of pedagogy behind 3D modeling and the creation of virtual realities. Over the past quarter, my main duties on the Paris: Past and Present project have been to create tutorials which explain both historical context and technical steps.  This task has made me appreciate how massive the scope of virtual reality projects are.  As Snyder explains, there is a necessity to define the scope: will the project be process or product based? As the name suggests, process-based projects are created with the intent of investigating a new type of process or creation.  They are made without the intention of longevity.  Product based projects are meant to create a resource which will continue to exist as a stand-alone resource.

Using 3D modeling in the classroom brings up questions of product and process: to what extent should both be explained?  Should students be trained to use/alter the resource to their own needs (product) or trained to create their own replica (process)?  This is perhaps more a question of what type of class is being taught, but it is, none the less, something I think about when creating tutorials.

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Over the past month, I have been compiling a comprehensive guide to making 13th century Parisian arches in Vectorworks (an architectural-grade CAD program).  I am continually amazed by how long this process has taken! It seems that making a tutorial would be simple, but when it is necessary to establish “process,” things get more complicated.  In a digital humanities virtual reality project, process does not simply refer to a single discipline. Process requires the explanation of the program, project protocols (naming, document size), keyboard short cuts, sourcing of raw data, documentation of sources, and historical context. These “sub-processes” are technical, administrative, and humanities based.  It can be a lot to juggle and requires highly structured explanation! In the article, Snyder briefly mentions how level of technical proficiency (using sketch up vs a more complicated software) effects the ability to adapt software to the classroom. This thought haunts me as I look at my 40 page 2D Tri Arch tutorial, how should one judge scope of process?

I hope that in her presentation this week, we will hear more from Lisa Snyder about VSim and pedagogical applications of virtual reality. I am really excited to hear what she has to say! I am curious if anyone else has any 3D modeling/virtual reality pedagogy thoughts!

Week 9: 3D modeling and cross-cultural interfaces

This week’s topic of 3D modeling brought me back to my late elementary school days when I would play computer games like Roller Coaster Tycoon, which allowed you to build and maintain an amusement park. It’s funny to think that that game is my go to example when thinking about 3D modeling, but at the time the franchise started to take off back in 1999, it seems like it was a relatively untapped subject. The nostalgia that the sheer title of this week’s topic brought got me excited to dive into the readings.


Something that quickly stood out to me was how Diane Favro noted how “researchers experimenting with new technologies” create simulations. Her piece “Meaning in Motion. A Personal Walk Through Historial Simulation Modeling at UCLA,” provided a brief history of the evolution of 3D modeling at UCLA, with an emphasis on its role in a roman architecture project. It’s awesome to see that with today’s technology we have the ability to recreate intricate, anicent architecture. I was really intrigued by the points she made, and coupled with the positive reviews of her courses by other students, I may have to take one her classes before graduating.

Straying a bit from the topic, I wanted to point out how the concept of 3D printing has always fascinated me, so I decided to do a little background research on it. The SparkNotes version  is that through additive processes, successive layers of materials are laid down under computer control. Objects of any shape can be created, and are produced from a 3D model or some other electronic source.

Last year I took an Egyptian religion class with Professor Dieleman, which I really enjoyed and would recommend to anyone trying to knock out that elusive Philosophical + Linguistic Analysis general education requirement. During one of the classes we looked an interactive, online Egyptian model of the ancient Karnak, which virtually allowed the user to walk around in a first person mode. Even though I found the readings very informative and interesting, being able to use this interactive model as an additional learning tool was definitely a welcomed change of pace. This week’s readings have made it apparent how crucial 3D models are in the field of digital humanities, and it’s definitely exciting to follow where it will progress. I haven’t thought too much about 3D modeling in respect to our group project, but it has the potential to be a solid addition if we can figure out how to purposefully implement it.

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Week 9: 3D Modeling- History and the Sims

I was very interested in the development of three-dimensional simulations. At UCLA, the development of the utilization of digital technologies was focused on the historical simulation of Ancient Rome. Unlike Google Earth, which we examined last week, these virtual simulations had to be created completely from scratch because no one has photographs or videos of Ancient Rome, like they do of the modern Earth. Although some sub-par creations were made first, the author says that they had to make serious changes to the original model to make it more accurate and user-friendly. The first phase of this makeover was the formation, data aggregation and interrogation of process. Firstly, this was difficult because people wanted to watch the projections like a movie but the scholars were more focused on accuracy than entertainment. With accuracy they focused on making the quality of the images uniform, and then even trying to make the buildings accurate in terms of both size and time. The second phase was the geo-temporal interrogation and increased kinetic experimentation. This meant continuing to build upon what had already been created and making it accessible for other scholars to join in as well.

Reading this article, I was so impressed by how recently all of these programs had been created. Looking at the images in the article, I was reminded of some of the buildings I had created while playing Sims when I was younger. The Sims game is a popular computer game, in which the player can essentially create a virtual reality. In my Sims games I would not only create people, but also create houses, parks, and whole towns. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this software, that was so readily accessible to me, had made it possible for me to create a 3 dimensional world. Although I had not been thinking about these towns in the historical sense, I realize now that with this software I could have created my own, somewhat inaccurate, Roman town, or any other time period for that matter.

With this realization, I now wonder which aspect of the 3-D modeling was utilized first. I wonder if the technology was first used for commercial purposes or educational purposes. This means, for example, whether these games were created in the model of programs created for historical purposes like this one, or the idea for historical models came from the ideas of computer games.the-sims-4-build-mode-house-2jpg-9589a6_1280w

Learning By Building

Whenever I get into a conversation with someone about classes, and I mention that I’m taking an introductory course on digital humanities, he or she always asks, “What is digital humanities?” It seems like most students have never heard of digital humanities as a field, and it’s understandable because it is a rather new discipline, especially in a university setting where dominant majors and minors have been set in place for a long time. I only heard of digital humanities through a friend who minored in it and recommended that I take the introductory class to see if it was something I’d be interested in. Seeing that digital humanities is a growing field, I can see why there are a lot of discussions about  whether it can be a solid and teachable field like chemistry, psychology, or history.

In “Introduction: Theory and the Virtues of Digital Humanities”, Natalia Cecire writes about the controversy that the field has to face as many people still have doubts and negative opinions about digital humanities being a new discipline. Cecire provides a quote from Geoffrey Rockwell that states that digital humanities “is undertheorized [in] the way any craft field that developed to share knowledge that can’t be adequately captured in discourse is. It is undertheorized the way carpentry or computer science are.” Ramsay elaborated that digital humanities is characterized by a “move from reading to making”, which makes the field “nondiscursive”. Digital humanities is not a normal field when compared to other disciplines that have gone through the test of time and the production of knowledge. Basically, almost all other disciplines have some sort of structure and universal way that they can be taught in a school setting through textbooks and other collections of knowledge. However, digital humanities is different because there is no step-by-step way it can be taught and there is no basis or foundation of collection of knowledge like the other disciplines.  Much of the learning is experiential; there is shift from reading to making. Cecire compares digital humanities to “hacking”, and I thought it was an interesting comparison because Cecire describes a hacker as someone who looks at data and “learns about them from making or doing”. This changed the way I viewed digital humanities as a field, and I understood why this DH 101 class revolves around a final project — it is about learning by doing.



I stumbled on an article titled “More Hack, Less Yack?” In it, the author declares that practitioners of digital humanities should be more concerned about building and getting things done than to get into problematic discussions about the discipline of digital humanities. I think this is exactly what we should do, and I’m glad that we are focusing on our projects to really experience the new and exciting field of digital humanities.


Favro’s History of Architecture and Urban Design

I had the pleasure of having Diane Favro as my professor for History of Architecture and Urban Design 10A last winter quarter. She incorporated both her work and her student’s work with 3D modeling of ancient architectural sites throughout the course to help explain the design and function of each place. I think having these models to learn from as a student made it easier to understand the purpose and function of these ancient sites and visualize how the people of the time would actually live in them. For example, I still remember her digital model of Karnak, an ancient Egyptian temple and holy site. She was able to visually walk us through the temple and explain the significance of each room, right down to the details of the carvings on the wall. When we went online to explore this model ourselves, we could explore the changes that occurred to the structural site as time passed. In addition to using 3D modeling in lectures, we had a series of projects to complete throughout the quarter that introduced us to geographic and 3D modeling of our own. One of the projects required us to use one of UCLA’s 3D visualizations of Pompeii to create a walk-through narrative of a citizen’s last day before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Having my story actually move through the city added an entirely new dimension to my project that I have never been able to achieve before. When I visited Italy this past summer, I was lucky to have the chance to visit Pompeii and easily navigate the same route I had plotted in my project, seeing the ruins that the setting of my story became in real life. It was also fascinating having the knowledge of what the actual Pompeii structures probably looked like before the eruption, then looking at the ruins themselves and imagining them with this image in mind.

Having this first-hand experience with 3D modeling has shown me how it can not only enhance Digital Humanities projects, but help one understand and remember the material in a much simpler way. 3D modeling opens doors to new questions that could not have been asked before by giving the viewer a new perspective of an ancient site or object. We can receive a better picture of what a person’s life was like in these ancient civilizations As Favro says, “If a picture is worth a thousand words, an interactive 3D simulation is worth tens of thousands.”