For Historian, AR Fulfills Dream of Time Travel
Why would a historian be interested in helping build an Augmented Reality app? His answers demonstrate not only his love for the subject to which he has devoted his life; but also a willingness to accept how new technologies can enhance our understanding of events.
How do you see this project in the context of other historical accounts of the Alamo?
This is, of course, a unique project. It allows the viewer to “resurrect” the history at will–to call up the fort’s defenders and watch them in action, or to summon the Mexican soldados as they besiege or attack them. You can enter the Alamo church and walk up its wooden ramp to the cavalier gun position, or visit Jim Bowie in his south barracks sick room, or report to Colonel Travis in his west wall headquarters room. All this has never been done before.
How important is it that the history is accurate?
Accuracy is always a tough challenge, especially in the case of the Alamo, because the historical record is generally thin, contradictory, and confusing. And the story is suffused with myths that die hard because they’ve become part of the popular, universal consciousness. There are also partisan, and often political, viewpoints that muddy the waters, unfortunately. But true History can be much more exciting than myth or propaganda, and in the case of the Alamo “new” facts continue to be uncovered by scholars who strive long and hard to find them. In the process we learn that the Alamo was a very human story, and not as simple or easily explained as nineteenth and twentieth century traditions have handed down to us.
As an historian, what drew you to participate in this project?
The opportunity to help create a more realistic Alamo, via the cutting-edge parameters of twenty-first century digital technology and Virtual Reality, and thus to provide viewers with both historical and visual perspectives–and in this case, the word “perspectives” is used literally–never before seen in the subject.
You’ve studied the Alamo most of your professional life, what makes this different?
As a historical artist who has often recreated the Alamo compound in paint and ink, there have been many times I wished I could inject myself into the fort, in a human size relating to the actual conditions, to get a better understanding of things from selected vantage points. And what Imagine Virtua has achieved is just that.
One can now see the true extent of the walls from any position, and how vast a space it really was. By being able to look at other points in the fort while inside the fort, you see how, militarily, attempting to defend it with 189 instead of 1,000 men was a foredoomed venture. By being able to travel up cannon ramps, look over the walls, enter the buildings, and so on, the effect is truly ‘You Are There.’ I would indeed call that different!
What is the most exciting aspect of this project for you?
The medium’s ability to travel anywhere within and without the recreated Alamo compound, from any position high or low, and at any angle. It “puts” you there as never before. There have been many Alamo models, as well as reconstructions of the fort for motion pictures, but never anything so accurate–nor so physically immediate and flexible when it comes to virtually injecting yourself into the place and time.
Do you see this changing the way future generations learn history?
Visual teaching aids are paramount in making history come alive, but what Imagine Virtua has done is something truly revolutionary, since it can also be applied to reconstructing any event, period or place, ancient or modern, with the added bonus that the viewer can essentially jump into the recreation and imagine him-or- herself as a participant. For students, scholars, and the public in general, the value of such a medium as both a learning and entertainment tool is limitless.