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Transforming Public Engagement with Underrepresented Stories through Humanities Sources and Immersive Experiences

The Department of History is collaborating with the Center for Human-Computer Interaction to pioneer a new approach to public exhibits that will immerse visitors in an augmented or virtual environment to explore and reflect on humanities datasets. Our intention is to introduce new audiences to the National Endowment for the Humanities-funded digital history project, The American Soldiers in World War II. This crowdsource project comprises some 65,000 pages of uncensored reflections on the war and military service handwritten by service personnel. Overcoming the limitations of bounded screen and printed page, augmented and virtual reality opens up creative possibilities for exhibiting and exploring large documentary collections, such as this one. With ICAT SEAD funding, we will retool the AR/VR platform, “Immersive Space to Think,” designed by members of CHCI, with the goal of creating an immersive museum exhibit that mixes artefacts with digital objects to help tell the story of the American GI. We will be focusing on the experiences of Black soldiers who served in a segregated Army and were denied the rights and privileges of their White comrades, even as the US and its allies were waging a war in defense of democracy. To create an immersive environment that helps convey the complexities and contradictions of their wartime experiences, and that reaches new and diverse audiences, ideation and design will entail collaboration with communities of color. Our work will center on developing an immersive environment that is particular to this digital project, but if successful, we believe it could be adapted for exhibiting many other sorts of large history and humanities collections.