Digital Technologies Expo
“March on Beijing 1900” is an immersive virtual reality (VR) prototype that reenacts, with historical sources, the ten-day march on Beijing by troops of the Eight-Nation Alliance in August 1900. The global visual record of the Boxer Uprising offers a rich array of cultural perspectives and media formats for exploring history with increased visuality. The “March” project draws on a 2,500 image archive of Boxer Uprising sources collected by Sebring and historian Peter Perdue of Yale University, and from units they co-authored for MIT Visualizing Cultures (http://visualizingcultures.mit.edu). Upending traditional formats means asking how we can leave the screen display to experience new digital ways of seeing. How can images remain images in historical narratives? How can digital archives become environments for deep observation, as visceral as physical archives, yet digitally powered? The “March” VR prototype displays images geographically and temporally along several maps. The app is an image sorting tool as much as a virtual world, placing sensory experience and an exploratory stance above traditional linear exposition. The archive, envisioned as a space that lies beneath the “March” pathway, would be a digital-visual work space, and source for additional narratives such as the siege of the Foreign Legations, and James Ricalton’s stereographic tour. Initially developed by Sebring’s students at Duke University in 2018, “March” is a work-in-progress that starts the conversation of multi-dimensional databases and authoring tools, especially as VR headsets are becoming economical, untethered, and shared virtual spaces.