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Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology

Volume 10, Issue 3, Spring 2007

Real and Virtual Places

Jeffrey Jacobson, Lynn Holden
Pages 55-61

Virtual Heritage
Living in the Past

Virtual Heritage (VH) is the use of electronic media to recreate or interpret culture and cultural artifacts as they are today or as they might have been in the past (Moltenbrey, 2001; Roehl, 1997). By definition, VH applications employ some kind of three dimensional representation; the means used to display it range from still photos to immersive Virtual Reality. Virtual Heritage is a very active area of research and development in both the academic and the commercial realms. (Roehl, 1997; Mitchell and Economou, 2000; Addison, 2000; Stone and Ojika, 2002; Champion, 2004b; Champion and Sekiguichi, 2004; Levy, 2004). Most VH applications are intended for some kind of educational use. While the main activity of virtual heritage is to create ancient artifacts, the real goal is to understand ancient cultures. Most VH applications are architectural reconstructions, centered on a reconstructed building or monument. However, in the same way that archaeologists and historians study the artifacts because they are the primary cultural evidence we have, VH uses architecture as a frame for recreating ancient cultures. The larger goal of VH is to recreate ancient cultures, not as dead simulations, but as living museums where students/users can enter and understand a culture that is different from their own. The closest analog is the real-world living museums, where actors in period dress occupy a life-size historical setting and interact with the visitors. Ultimately, we would like to see the users themselves creating activities in the virtual space as a way of exploring different cultural viewpoints. For example, students who know about the Virtual Egyptian Temple (Jacobson and Holden, 2005) and the supporting material may attempt to recreate activities there. In doing so, they would learn about what is and is not possible in the architectural and cultural space. In this paper we will begin by reviewing the issues and tradeoffs around building the architectural models for VH applications. These models are crucial in themselves and many of the issues involved in designing and creating them also apply to the dynamic and interactive aspects of VR. Then, we will touch on issues of how to bring culture to life in VR, the strengths and limitations for VR technology for VH applications. Finally, we will present the Virtual Egyptian Temple, our current project, as a working example.