Historic photo of Chinatown

Virtual and augmented reality bring historical objects to life

USC Dornsife faculty use VR and AR to provide unprecedented, close-up interaction with the past.
ByMeredith McGroarty

In brief:

  • Scholars are using virtual and augmented reality tools to aid history research.
  • The tools also enable laypeople to visit places and examine objects normally only available to scholars.
  • Using VR, people will turn the pages of a 15th-century book or stand before Renaissance-era artwork in the Vatican.
  • An AR project will let people walk through the 19th-century neighborhood around Union Station, when it was home to Chinese immigrants.

For most people, the chance to walk through a re-creation of early 20th-century Chinatown in Los Angeles or page through a 15th-century Christian devotional book known as a Book of Hours is the stuff of fantasy. But faculty at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences aim to bring historical objects into people’s laps — sometimes literally — through innovations in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

“As faculty we want to conduct scholarly research, but not just for itself; we want to take that knowledge and make it as broadly and widely accessible as possible,” says Bill Deverell, professor of historyspatial sciences and environmental studies at USC Dornsife.


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