Real and Unreal Worlds

By Lina Crompton

This week in #hist5702x (I feel like the hashtag is integral at this point, despite what Jimmy or Justin have to say) we’re taking our first trip to the Canada Science and Technology Museum.  But if I’ve gleaned anything from this week’s readings, it’s that AR (augmented reality) apps and programs can make the museums extend their reach beyond their four walls.

In Natasha Baker’s article from 2012, Tracy Ruddell states that at the Royal Museum of Ontario, “we’re all about real-world objects.”  And for many, that’s what museums are in a nut-shell: keepers of artefacts, disseminators of information, and dolers of heritage, science, or art.  However, the NMC 2011 Horizon Report for Museums writes that museums can’t rest on their historical laurels anymore.  To fulfill their educational and outreach mandates, the modern museum must have an easy-to-navigate web presence and must produce content that’s more than uploading static words onto a page.

What struck me the most about the potential for AR apps both in and outside of the museum (some of which can be found here and here) is their potential to connect the imaginary to the museal world of facts and figures, the intangible to the tangible.  Augmented Reality walking tours like the Museum of London Streetmuseum or even Carleton History’s own Rideau Timescapes app literally take the history out of the institution and layer it onto the built and natural environment.  Likewise, programs like QRator bring the outside world in to the museum by hosting new kinds of user-generated content, layering public perceptions onto the historical record of the artefact.

As the CHIN Professional Exchange on AR warns, the museum must be mindful of their audience when producing AR programs.  However, the museum must also be mindful of the new kinds of interaction that AR can foster.  What is being done to the artefact by digitizing it?  Does our understanding of the past change when the real is transformed into the unreal?  What happens in these blended reality worlds, and how does it change the user’s relationship to history?  What is the burden of responsibility when the museum makes “invisible things visible” (as the NMC Horizon Report puts it)?

Some of this and more will hopefully become clearer as our class moves through this project – into the “real world” of the museum and the “unreal world” of our AR production in weeks to come.

This post originally appeared on The Recorded North