Friday, 17 February 2012

Building a Time Machine

Most people (and that includes most residents) see Leicester primarily as a red brick and concrete city and their sense of its history is anchored to that. Much of the earlier historic built environment has been lost or is fragmented and it’s understandably difficult to visualise how the fabric of the city looked in the past.

As well as the fact that Leicester’s hidden history is fascinating, we miss out on a huge opportunity to foster civic pride and a better sense of civic identity.

DMU academic, Dr Douglas Cawthorne’s new AHRC funded Digital Building Heritage project offers a fantastic chance to visualise the past both through digital modelling like the Virtual Roman Leicester project and also digital locative tools to explore archived media.

We know there are terabytes of photos, videos, sketches, audio and texts squirrelled away in academic departments, heritage groups’ archives and in the homes of residents.

My dream would be to collate and present this data in exciting, interactive formats that will allow citizens to peel back and browse the layers of the city’s history. I’m particularly excited about the idea of being able to do this within a real-life building (call it a “museum” if you like) as well as on devices and web browsers.

Technology to harness and reveal this data in exciting ways (Virtual Reality, 3D Modelling, Augmented Reality, Locative Media, etc.) is already mature and straightforward to harness. What is more difficult is opening the silos of data and getting people to share what they have.

My colleagues at Leicester Civic Society are stoked about this project and we would encourage anyone with an interest in Leicester’s history (particularly those with data to contribute) to step forward and contact Douglas.

Finally, I think Digital Building Heritage Project isn’t a very engaging name so any suggestions for a catchy project name would be welcomed. My suggestion is “Leicester Time Machine” which I think lends itself to a tardis-like physical venue that could have the feeling of being bigger on the inside than out.