Virtual trenches immerse students in First World War poetry
With Armistice Day fast approaching a JISC project team has taken an unusual approach to ensuring that people continue to learn about the First World War.
The First World War Poetry Digital Archive and the Learning Technologies Group at Oxford University have collaborated on an exciting new project in the 3D virtual world Second Life to simulate areas of the Western Front 1914-18. The team believes this is the first time anything of its type has been done on Second Life.
This project, which is funded by JISC, has arranged a range of digitised archival materials like poetry manuscripts, letters and diaries from the major poets of the First World War including Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg and Vera Brittain, along with contextual primary source materials. These materials have been supplemented with new interpretative content and a spectrum of interactive tools and tutorials, streaming video and audio effects.
Watch the video to explore the virtual trenches and find out more
The artefacts have been drawn from the highly successful First World War Poetry Digital Archive, launched in 2009 to mark the 90th anniversary of the end of the war. By placing them in an online virtual model the project aims to make the collection more useful and engaging to a range of different user groups across UK education sectors, research communities and the heritage industry.
Ben Showers, digitisation programme officer at JISC, said: “The First World War Digital Poetry Archive is constantly pushing the boundaries of what it means to be an academic archive, and now users are able to interact with the collections and materials. JISC funding for this additional virtual environment means students, researchers and everyone interested in this material can collaborate and become immersed in the world of the Western Front to experience the immediate context of these manuscripts and poems like never before.”
Visitors to the virtual trenches are given a unique immersive experience where they can explore a training camp, dressing station, a trench network and No Man’s Land. The terrain is waterlogged and difficult to navigate, rife with rats and littered with poppies. Moving nearer to the front line the clamour of shell blasts and artillery fire becomes louder and louder.
Dr Stuart Lee, lecturer in English at Oxford University, said: “Attempting to form the context of a particular piece of literature is a key critical approach in the discipline, which normally involves studying secondary material, or in rare case, site visits. By piloting the use of Second Life, the First World War Poetry Archive is approaching this in an innovative way. More importantly it is showing how new technologies (virtual worlds) can be utilised to provide more interesting access to key research and teaching resources.”
As guests explore the simulation, they can listen to the voices of veterans recounting their experiences of the war, watch original film footage from the time, and learn about life on the Western Front. Within this context they can encounter some of the most powerful poetry in English literature by handling the original manuscripts, turning the pages of the poet’s war diaries and letters, and listening to readings.
At the end the visitor is teleported out of the trenches to a teaching area. Here they are asked to consider the memory of the war, and to confront their own prejudices and stereotypes - was the war really all about trenches, mud, and rats, or are their other aspects to it that we now need to consider? Should it only be remembered as mass slaughter, a gross act of futility, or more a collective act of unparalleled heroism that ended ultimately in a victory for Britain and its allies?
Kate Lindsay, project manager, said: “Virtual worlds create opportunities to do things that are impossible in real museums. By simulating parts of the Western Front, we can embed an entire exhibition's worth of content within in the space. This can be further enhanced by placing digital versions of real archival materials and narratives along the paths that visitors take. The result is an immersive and personal experience. It's not 'real' but it does offer possibilities for understanding a part of history that is now beyond human memory."
Explore the virtual Western Front in Second Life
Find out more about the projectSee JISC's Getting started in second life guide