About the Project
The 2017-2018 Praxis cohort has moved the material history of UVA out of Special Collections and onto Grounds. Using Augmented Reality applications, our project, titled UVA Reveal, Augmenting the University, challenges the surface of our perceptions of objects and places. UVA Reveal thus explores otherwise hidden stories, histories, and questions surrounding objects and spaces at UVA. In doing so, we hope to prompt users to re-examine everyday environs and critically reflect on the structure, culture, mission, and history of the university.
Background of the Project
Augmented reality applications are becoming increasingly prevalent in society (witness Pokémon Go) and in the academy. For instance, a DH project titled The Whole Story uses an app that allows users to build AR statues of women and place them in the spatial landscape for others to see. By putting women back in the narrative, the app challenges the unequal statuary landscape and its implication that men are the makers of history. The digital spaces created by AR thus assume an openness and mobility that is lacking in physical space,1 which may be controlled or limited by socio-economic and political reasons. Nonetheless, these spatial boundaries can seemingly be circumvented in digital spaces, and users can move rapidly across zones that they would be unable to otherwise. UVA Reveal is thus designed to explore how real spaces can be experienced through changing, mobile technologies that enable spatial and temporal augmentation. The objects of our investigation include both buildings and documents at or connected to UVA, especially documents from the special collections library.
About our Process
We designed UVA Reveal: Augmenting the University as a project that allows the user to reveal layers of meaning and various utilization through cross-platform engagement. Much like the design and thesis of our project, we let the development and implementation process reveal itself to us in various layers.
We began with a shared interest in public-facing digital humanities. We then:
- Moved toward an interest in local scholarship
- Thought about using the library for accessibility as well as community engagement outside of just the university
- Wanted to understand the connection between UVA’s history, Charlottesville, and access to education, broadly conceived.
- After a long discussion about accessibility and universal design, we decided on an Augmented Reality project that used a mobile app with a supplementary website; even as this website would have additional content, so too would it serve on its own as a standalone way to explore our project
- The AR app is built on a Unity platform that allows scans of library objects, videos, websites, sound materials, and other sources to appear on a related site or object when scanned by the phone’s camera.
- From the beginning, we were also interested in creating a reproducible, documented project for likeminded scholars to follow. Toward this aim, we are documenting our workflow on GitHub.
- When a user employs the app, they can have a full, on-site experience.
- They may, however, be directed toward the webpage for additional content and will be prompted to visit the website off-site for additional project information or for further learning.
- If a user is interested in creating their own version of UVA Reveal: Augmenting the University, they will find full documentation of Unity and the mobile platform on the website.
- On the website, a user will have a full experience that is nonetheless mediated through their computer rather than on location.
- They will have full documentation of what the app can do. They will also be given instructions for how to use the app on-site.
- The website user will also gain access to the library search project, allowing them to browse through UVA library collections based on their selected search terms.
- They will also see full documentation of the library search project so that interested parties can engage in similar work.
Our project uses Unity to layer 3D models on images – including university buildings and physical objects – that will enable the viewer to experience the virtual layering of time upon an object. Unity is easily exportable to Android, iOS, and HoloLens platforms, and we have created an app with which our users will be able to engage the AR experience (including the virtual display of text, images, and videos upon physical objects) through their personal devices. In so doing, UVA Reveal helps uncover the history of and connections between spaces at the university. To download our app, please visit this link. Instructions about how to use the app are available here.
Website & Further Development
To develop our website we used: Jekyll, a commonly used static website generator. What does this mean? In very simple terms it means that the website is a number of files put together in a folder with a very specific structure. Unlike CMS (Content Management Systems) such as WordPress, Drupal or Joomla, Jekyll doesn’t have a GUI (Graphical User Interface) online platform. Jekyll is based on the idea that you edit files on your computer (mostly text) and when you are ready to publish them on the web, you execute a certain number of commands on the terminal.
Jekyll sites, are hosted for free with Github pages, which also means that a Github account is necessary. The collaborative nature of most Digital Humanities projects benefit from being hosted on Github because of its powerful version control capabilities. Git allows teams to work on the same project (i. e. editing the same files) and allows collaborators to check conflicts before they commit to merge them. Github also stores the version history of all the files of a project. If something went wrong on a newer version of a file, it is easily traceable and restored from an older one. The committed versions of a Github repository are also public (for Digital Humanities projects in particular) which means that anyone could copy them and contribute to them or fork and replicate them to build something different. Github offers the Open Source community a place where they can collaborate in new projects, improve existing ones, and share knowledge and expertise in good faith.
This is the UVA Reveal repository on Github. If you notice an anomaly please let us know. See something, say something, and let us improve the project, as much as learn from doing it.
The 2017-2018 Praxis cohort would like to thank the UVA Scholars’ Lab staff for their time and financial support, without which this project would not be possible. In particular, we thank Jeremy Boggs, Zoe LeBlanc, and Shane Lin for their development expertise; Ronda Grizzle, Amanda Visconti, and Brandon Walsh for project management advice; Drew Macqueen for his assistance with GIS; and last -but certainly not least- Arin Bennett for his invaluable insights and patience in teaching us how to use Unity.
We recognize that the same can be said about digital spaces, i.e. firewalls, paying services, language barriers, profile/password credentials, profiles set to private, digital literacy, etc. Our project, however, is open-source and freely available to the public. ↩