A handful of apps exist that allow one to easily create basic AR experiences. In the fall of 2018 my digital writing class used HP Reveal to create an augmented reality quest of our campus.1 To prepare for this project, students used AR apps for several weeks (either geocaching or Pokémon Go), wrote essays about AR, and proposed potential sites to augment. Our hope is that the forthcoming project will help visitors to better connect with our campus.
Catawba is a small liberal arts college named after the Catawba Indian Nation and located halfway between Charlotte and Winston-Salem, NC. Though a private college, Catawba is entwined with the history of our small city. Like many colleges, most campus tours occur during class time and prospective students have few opportunities to interact with campus clubs or culture while there. By augmenting objects on the tour, we invite potential students and their families to interact with our campus in unique ways.
We used HP Reveal (formerly Aurasma) to create our AR project. HP Reveal uses stable images as ‘triggers’ one can then overlay with a variety of media (sound, video, GIF, image, text, even a website) to create auras. Students in my class proposed a variety of sites that fell squarely in three different categories: school history and lore, campus social life, and how to manage college. Focusing on history (as this survey does), some students worked with our campus archivist to augment public campus spaces dating back almost a century. Other students focused on lore passed down from one generation to the next, including not stepping on the college seal before graduation and the ghosts that seemingly haunt every campus.
Digital Humanities continues to resist definition. However, in my years publishing, teaching, and creating under the purview of the field, I find it most useful to think of DH as a method of inquiry using digital tools to create public academic projects. In this project, I have asked students to situate their experience of the college today with its 167 year history. By creating more immersive spaces, we also hope to help visitors to feel like active members of our community who can freely explore and reflect on the place they find themselves.
At the time of writing, I am in the process of receiving and grading these projects. So, I have not reviewed all of them. However, I’ll share my preliminary reflections. HP Reveal is relatively easy to use. It has a pretty simple (though not always intuitive) interface and supports a wide variety of media that can be layered to tell a unique story. As such, like many DH projects, we spent a lot less time creating auras than we did figuring out what would be the most appropriate stories to tell about our campus. In Persuasive Games, Bogost argues for procedural rhetoric “its arguments are made not through the construction of words or images, but through the authorship of rules of behavior, the construction of dynamic models.” Creating models, though, is a lot to ask, especially when trying to both understand our place within a campus history and realize that one day all of us will be ‘history’ and not ‘present.’ In summary, inviting a diverse public onto our campus through a playful activity is a challenge (though not an insurmountable one). While the tools are cool, it is the long-standing work of researching and situating ourselves and others into both a historical and rhetorical structure that makes for engaging projects.
1This project was HEAVILY influenced by one done by Jill Morris at Frostburg State University. She has written about the project in an upcoming edited collection called The Pokémon Go Phenomenon: Essays on Public Play in Contested Spaces.
Bogost, Ian. Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007.