My tour through virtual reality

Teaching, research, and more

My tour through virtual reality

A Screenshot of "Versailles: The Palace is Yours," from Google Arts & Culture

This week, I was confronted with a veritable smorgasbord of groovy tools in HIST 8500. On the one hand, something more familiar, an area in which I could in fact see myself drawing on it for teaching purposes and even creating work of my own; the other, a place where frankly I’m completely at sea but which nonetheless was super cool!

To start with the first, both listening to and learning about how to create podcasts came in very handy for me this week, as my composition students are preparing to turn in their research projects and some of them are making podcasts. It’s not the first time students have had the option of making a podcast in one of my classes, but I’m embarrassed now to say that this was my first time visiting the Adobe Studio and Makerspace. I do listen to podcasts–namely All Songs Considered and 372 Pages We’ll Never Get Back–but I’d frankly never devoted a lot of serious thought to making my own podcast.

New Music Friday from All Songs Considered–basically the only way I learn about new albums coming out, since I’m pretty out of touch.

Why? Well, for starters, the idea I had in grad school has already been taken, by the Media-Eval Podcast, and I’m sure they’ve got it covered better than I’d be able to anyway. (It’s been on my to-listen-to list for ages, but alas, life gets in the way.) Which leads me to my next reason, which is that I feel like I might get out an episode or two and then just let the whole project die because I got busy, which isn’t generally the best way to run a podcast. But it was really inspiring to talk about the ins and outs of recording and editing and the resources available at Clemson, so who knows! Maybe someday I’ll bite the bullet and actually carve out the time to try my hand at podcasting, or at the very least be able to speak to my students with more authority about what to do and what not to do from the creator’s perspective, not just the listener’s.

To move to the second topic, I just didn’t know diddly about creating virtual worlds in an academic way, and I still don’t really know how to make them myself, but by golly did I love the worlds we were introduced to on Wednesday.

A screenshot of a VR representation of Sainte-Chapelle chapel in Mozilla Hubs
Sainte-Chapelle in Mozilla Hubs

Sainte-Chapelle, my beloved! The moment I learned that I could visit this 3D rendering of Louis IX’s chapel on my own computer on Mozilla Hubs, I knew I was going to have to track that URL down, because medieval Parisian landmarks hit my inner child, right in the “Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame enthusiast” gut. I went to Paris, oh, I don’t know, ten years ago or so, and Sainte-Chapelle and the Cluny medieval museum were among the highlights of my visit. I’m trying to figure out an opportunity to make my students walk through this 3D representation–I don’t know what they’d learn from it, but it’s so goshdarn cool!

A screenshot of a VR representation of Notre-Dame de Paris in Mozilla Hubs
Notre-Dame de Paris in Mozilla Hubs
A screenshot of a 3D model of Notre-Dame de Paris on Sketchfab
francois.bouille‘s downloadable 3D model of Notre-Dame de Paris on

This frankly hit even harder. I was really upset by the fire that damaged Notre-Dame de Paris in 2019, and seeing it in all its glory (well, most of its glory) in a 3D representation really impressed upon me a use for VR that I’d never even considered: the preservation of culturally or historically important buildings or landmarks that might be damaged by war or disaster.

I might not have been able to see much in the VR representation of Versailles, but I was excited to see that you can see a lot of the material on Google Arts & Culture. On the same trip to Paris some decade or so to go, I made a day trip with my mother to Versailles, and we both agreed that if we went again, we’d just hang out in the gardens. Why? Well, first, because the gardens of Versailles are amazingly beautiful, and part of a fascinating history of French formal garden horticulture, but second because the palace was just packed. Wall-to-wall people, and that was after waiting for an hour in the hot sun to get in, with the kind of fast-pass we got for attending with a tour group. It just didn’t seem worth it to me, especially because the Sun King isn’t really my jam. But if I could just tour the palace by myself from the comfort of my home, well, I would 100% be on board with that.

I don’t know how much I’ll be able to make use of VR in my own research and teaching, but having seen it, I think I have a clearer idea of how someone could. With labeled virtual placards, something like Sainte-Chapelle or another landmark, say, the Durham Cathedral, or the castle of Chinon, could be a fantastic part of a medieval-focused lesson plan, and I think it would make an amazing student project for students who know how to use the tools. My own work is more on the literary side, but I don’t know, a VR representation of the scenes in some texts might tell someone something in a similar way to the way that maps can tell us something about a text. In any event, I’ve discovered some cool tools to play with and have a good deal of food for thought.


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