What follows is our draft chapter for ‘Seeing the Past‘, a colloquium hosted by Kevin Kee at Brock University. The chapter will eventually be published in ‘Seeing the Past: Augmented Reality and Computer Vision in History’ http://kevinkee.ca/seeing-the-past/book-abstract/
Hearing the Past – S Graham, S Eve, C Morgan, A Pantos
This volume is about seeing the past. But ‘to see’ does not necessarily imply vision. To see something can also mean to understand it. We frequently see things that do not exist, in this sense. “I see your point” or “I see what you’re saying”. ‘I hear you’ we sometimes say, also meaning, I understand.
In which case, how should we “see” the past? You can’t see the past. You can only see the present. You might believe something of what you’re looking at as being ‘from’ the past, but it still lives in the here-and-now. Thus, there is always a cognitive load, a ‘break in presence’ [Turner, 2007] that interrupts what we are seeing with awkward details. This is why we talk of the historical imagination, or the archaeological eye. To understand the past through augmented reality might not require vision. Yet, the majority of augmented reality apps currently available privilege the visual, overlaying reconstructions or text on an image of the present through a keyhole, the viewport offered by our small screens. The clumsiness of our interfaces also creates a break in presence. Visual overlays are clunky, with low-resolution 2D graphics, all of which further contribute to breaks in presence.
In short, they do not help us see the past – to understand it – in any meaningful way.
In this chapter, we suggest that ‘hearing’ the past is a more effective and affective way of providing immersive augmented reality. We argue from cognitive and perceptual grounds that audio – spoken word, soundscapes, acoustic horizons and spaces, and spatialized audio – should be a serious area of inquiry for historians exploring the possibilities of new media to create effective immersive augmented reality. We explore some of the phenomenology of archaeological landscapes and the idea of an ‘embodied GIS’ [Eve, 2014] as a platform for delivering an acoustic augmented reality. Drawing on Phil Turner’s work on ‘presence’ in an artificial environment [Turner, 2007], we explore ‘breaks’ in presence that occur in augmented, mixed, and virtual environments. The key idea is that presence is created via a series of relationships between humans and objects, that these relationships form affordances. When these relationships are broken, presence and immersion is lost. We argue that because the sense of hearing depends on attention, audio AR is particularly effective in maintaining what Turner calls ‘affective’ and ‘cognitive/perceptual’ intentionality. In short, the past can be ‘heard’ more easily than it can be ‘seen’. We explore three case studies that offer possible routes forward for an augmented historical audio reality.
Read the Chapter: Hearing the Past