Virtual Heritage (VH) can be defined as “the use of computer-based interactive technologies to record, preserve, or recreate artefacts, sites and actors of historic, artistic and cultural significance, and to deliver the results openly to a global audience in such a way as to provide formative educational experiences through electronic manipulations of time and space” [Stone, R.J. “Virtual Heritage: “The willing suspension of disbelief for the moment…””; UNESCO World Heritage Review; October, 1999; pp.18-27.]
Individual HIT Team researchers have a strong historical track record in Virtual Heritage, from the first ever Virtual Stonehenge, launched at the London Planetarium on 20 June 1996 (the day before the Summer Solstice), presented by the famous astronomer, the late Sir Patrick Moore, to Virtual Lowry – a unique VR experience in which the user was able to “enter” an L.S. Lowry painting and “re-emerge” into a three-dimensional world, constructed using images from the artist’s paintings.
More recent research has concentrated on recreating sites and artefacts relating to industrial and maritime archaeology. Not only are these fields more in keeping with the engineering focus of the School in which the Team resides, they also offer the opportunity to interact with real-world rural and sometimes remote communities (fostering strong public engagement – see “Heritage on my Doorstep”, below).
They will also help develop techniques, new VR effects and new technologies that can be re-used in other applications, including teaching and student projects.
The HIT Team also works closely with the University’s Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage [http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/historycultures/departments/ironbridge/index.aspx], and has unique collaborative relationships with such organisations as the National Museum of the Royal Navy, the Shipwreck Museum at Hastings, Promare (a public charity established in 2001 to promote marine research and exploration) and South West Lakes Trust.