Seeing the Past with Computers

Experiments with Augmented Reality and Computer Vision for History

Subjects: Media Studies, New Media, History, Historical Methods and Theory, Digital Projects
Hardcover : 9780472131112, 254 pages, 22 figures in print book, 35 figures in digital supplement, 6 x 9, January 2019
Open Access : 9780472900879, 254 pages, 22 figures in print book, 35 figures in digital supplement, February 2019

Generous support for the open access edition was provided by the University of Ottawa.
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A pathbreaking volume of innovative case studies exploring uses of visual technologies for historical research and teaching


Recent developments in computer technology are providing historians with new ways to see—and seek to hear, touch, or smell—traces of the past. Place-based augmented reality applications are an increasingly common feature at heritage sites and museums, allowing historians to create immersive, multifaceted learning experiences. Now that computer vision can be directed at the past, research involving thousands of images can recreate lost or destroyed objects or environments, and discern patterns in vast datasets that could not be perceived by the naked eye.

Seeing the Past with Computers is a collection of twelve thought-pieces on the current and potential uses of augmented reality and computer vision in historical research, teaching, and presentation. The experts gathered here reflect upon their experiences working with new technologies, share their ideas for best practices, and assess the implications of—and imagine future possibilities for—new methods of historical study. Among the experimental topics they explore are the use of augmented reality that empowers students to challenge the presentation of historical material in their textbooks; the application of seeing computers to unlock unusual cultural knowledge, such as the secrets of vaudevillian stage magic; hacking facial recognition technology to reveal victims of racism in a century-old Australian archive; and rebuilding the soundscape of an Iron Age village with aural augmented reality.

This volume is a valuable resource for scholars and students of history and the digital humanities more broadly. It will inspire them to apply innovative methods to open new paths for conducting and sharing their own research.

Kevin Kee is Dean of Arts and Professor of History at the University of Ottawa. Timothy Compeau is Assistant Professor of History at Huron University College at Western University.

"Seeing the Past with Computers is a serious and valuable contribution to the field... the scholarly imaginations of digital humanists and librarians alike will benefit from this text."
College & Research Libraries

- Joshua Avery