Virtual Reality: Making History Come Alive

While currently accounting for only one percent of storytelling experiences consumed by viewers, Virtual Reality (VR) technology will be an important tool to watch for virtual tourism in the future.  A team of three friends launched a pilot project, called Hidden in Plain Site (HiPS), in January 2021 after seeing a void in storytelling that could bring to life historic sites whose context has been compromised by demolition and urban renewal.

Dontrese Brown, David Waltenbaugh, and Dean Browell collaborated with the Black History Museum of Virginia, the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, to explore VR as a tool for encouraging empathy by overlaying historic photographs of “hidden places” at the crux of Richmond, Virginia’s black history. This technique is especially powerful for touring sites that had been cleared for development and left vacant. As the project progressed, parking lots were places that were regularly associated with stories and truths that evoked the most pain.

“VR technology holds incredible potential to tell powerful stories like those in our narrative in impactful new ways. In addition to promoting empathy in a manner that was previously impossible, the immersive nature of the technology enhances education and learning retention and brings these stories to life as never before.”

– David Waltenbaugh (VPM News interview)

The HiPS pilot was self-funded and has allowed the team to lay out a repeatable process for partnership development and producing compelling content. They’re now looking for more places and partners with stories to tell and to grow the project wider, achieving greater social impact.

To learn more and to track the progress of the project follow HiPS via social media on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

By climbing a telephone poll, the Hidden in Plain Site team were able to approximate the view from the window of a building from which an historic photograph was taken. The building is now gone and its footprint is paved as part of a parking lot.