University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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Virtual Reality Simulations in Cultural Heritage
Ioanneta Vergi

Last modified: 2011-12-19


While virtual technology has evolved into a popular and user-friendly medium for people to experience heritage, the shape of tangible heritage has progressively been converted into a digital reality. The role that museums and cultural heritage institutions play in interpretation and representation using new and emerging virtual media is strongly involved with the adoption of simulacra, digital pictures and signs.

It is the intention of this paper to argue that virtual heritage could not be recognised as a reconstructed simulation of the past, but rather as a comprehension of heritage in the present. However, because virtual heritage always carries its reference, as without the factual heritage it would have no meaning, it will be maintained that virtual reality in heritage applications is a creative and productive replication where its simulations have infinite visualizations.

Using  Baudrillard’s theory of Simulacra and Simulation to investigate virtual heritage as simulations of replications without origins, it will be argued that the practice of advanced techniques in computing science has put virtual productions into a position where the original heritage itself becomes separated and different from the virtual mechanical products. Virtual heritage reconstructions have come to stand as displays in their own right, almost replacing the historical role of objects in exhibition making. In a sense they have become objects and heritage is seen to be important as it is more accessible to the public when it contains and gives information that is communicated by a variety of new technologies such as VR.

The visualisation of historical knowledge through virtual reality is making the process of representation problematic. Two case studies in virtual heritage will be presented, the ‘Ancient Virtual Athens’ created by the Foundation of the Hellenic World in Athens, Greece and  the ‘Kyoto Virtual Time-Space’ project, by Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan which aim to create city models where visitors can travel virtually in historical cities. Heritage, in an analogue or virtual form, is a material object by definition. Both shapes have different histories, means of production and origins which result in representing ‘aura’ and ‘authenticity’. Hence, by accepting and understanding virtual heritage as a separate reality with its own creativity, it will be maintained that both tangible and virtual heritage do not lead in the same direction nor to the same experience. 


simulation; virtual heritage; public engagement