By Molly Igoe
The Augmented Archives Gallery, featuring pieces from Washington College’s archives and special collections, made its debut on Aug. 21. On the last day, Aug. 31, guests were invited to learn about what inspired the project and how it has impacted the College community.
The gallery is an augmented reality exhibit curated by over 30 students and led by Special Collections Librarian and Assistant Professor Heather Calloway, Instructional Technologist Raven Bishop, and Head Archives Assistant and senior Sarah Graff.
Calloway began by thanking Sandbox, who first proposed the project. “We planned for this project a couple years ago, and I thought it would be a great way to get archives and special collections out into the public and make them more accessible. I’m the only full-time archivist at the College, so no one has ever had the chance to do anything with the special collections.”
Usually, Calloway said, “You walk into a museum gallery and everything says, ‘Don’t touch,’ or ‘Don’t take pictures,’ or, ‘Stay away,’ and there are barriers.”
She imagined the gallery as a way to see what is behind the glass of a display, or what’s inside of a book.
“This project is a modern response to a central problem in archives and special collections, and that problem is the archives are hidden. Meaning, they are behind locked doors,” she said.
The goals of the project, according to Calloway, are to increase awareness, access of and engagement with the collections; to produce a model that other students and faculty can replicate; and to make student research visible and accessible.
The main component of this project is that it utilizes a fairly new technology known as augmented reality. According to Bishop, this emerging technology has been around for the past few years and has recently gained momentum.
“Augmented reality is different from virtual reality. With augmented reality, you can overlay digital content onto the real world, so as you see in the gallery, the portraits can come to life and talk to you, or the pendant in the case, you can scan its card, and it will come to life and show you it’s secrets,” Bishop said.
“Virtual reality takes you out of your current reality and puts you in a different reality. Augmented reality allows you to stay rooted in your present reality with digital content hidden in plain sight,” she continued.
In mainstream culture, more artists are using augmented reality to showcase their work and start a dialogue. She spoke about Ram Devineni, an Indian street artist who wants to change the narrative of rape culture in India by making murals using augmented reality components. Images on the mural pop out and come to life once they are scanned into a smartphone.
“We’re very fortunate to have had this experience, and I think this project really shows what can happen across disciplines when we come together,” Bishop said. “We’re so fortunate to have the Sandbox grant to have the funding and research to do this work. We’ve been able to do a lot of things, like presenting at conferences; we’re going to speak at the Smithsonian Archives in a couple of months, so this project has really propelled us.”
Before the talk, audience members were given cards with various portraits or artwork that can be found around campus.
Graff explained that these cards are used with the Aurasma app, available to download on most smartphones. WC students can log in with a guest login, using the username WCarchives guest and the password georgeguest.
“One of my favorite things is, if you’re a Harry Potter fan, and you notice the talking portraits throughout Hogwarts Castle, we have that, too.,” Graff said. “Through Aurasma, you can go around campus, and whenever you see one of the old guys in a classroom, they can talk to you. You can pull out your phone and listen to John Toll talk about the buildings, you can see Gary Clarke at his last concert here at WC, you can also listen to George Washington.”
The only caveat is that the app is very sensitive to light, so if it is too cloudy or too sunny, it might not work.
Dr. Courtney Rydel, assistant professor of English, also led the project. According to Calloway, Dr. Rydel involved her pre-orientation group from two years ago, so they could work with the special collections and rare books at the College. In Calloway’s pre-orientation group this year, students helped finish the gallery, and one student is the voice of two portraits.
Calloway also organized a scavenger hunt for all the pre-orientation students, where they went around campus with the Aurasma app, looking for certain portraits and buildings in order to become familiar with campus.
For the third year, she is teaching a first-year seminar called Voices from the Grave. Students are given iPads and are taught how to use various apps. At the end of the class, they have to present their family history in different ways, which ranges from oral history to video to photographs.
“The key thing that this project has done is to put history into the hands of our students. Our students are the ones who have really created all of this, and we are thrilled that we’ve been able to utilize all these resources that have never been used before at the College. They’re the ones who are really taking it to the next level,” Calloway said.
Bishop said, “We’re going to collaborate with other faculty members on campus. We just had a class that made use of the gallery today, so we’re starting to see these ideas percolate across campus and I’m hoping we can help expand them beyond our campus as well. Keep watching us online and on social media.”
For those interested in tracking the progress of this project, there is a 17-minute documentary on the archives website under Augmented Archives at www.washcoll.edu/offices/miller-library/archives-special-collections/augmented-archives.