VR Lab

Head: Prof. Dr. Martin Langner
Team: Tobias Kreten, Thorben Langer, Lena Schrötke

The VR Lab uses virtual, augmented and mixed reality technologies to recreate spaces of the past and to critically question these visualisations. It builds on the section "visualisation" in the Campuslab Digitisation and Computational Analytics, and was expanded into a Virtual Reality lab in 2021 as part of the MWK initiative "Innovative Teaching and Learning Concepts: Innovation plus". It cooperates with the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna as well as the German and the English Departments at Göttingen University.

The term Virtual Reality (VR) is a technical term in Computer Science. As such, it is usually associated with a real-time computer-generated, interactive environment, often perceived with an appropriate headset. Hyperrealistic modelling corresponds to a general expectation of VR pushed by the gaming industry. However, it poses some danger to historical visualisation because it assumes a position of authority over the viewer when the physical object no longer exists, or at least its appearance cannot be verified.

Reconstructing the past with digital methods, there are two conflicting requirements that can hardly be reconciled so far: historical accuracy and comprehensive spatial experience. To tackle this problem, the VR Lab aims to lay a groundwork on the tension between historical evidence and cultural presence.

There is a stark contrast between the needs of sciences/humanities and the gaming industry, which is currently dominating the development of virtual reality. We need to consider the theory of virtual spaces and their manifestations in dependance on social issues and discipline-specific features. Only in doing so we can develop methods of implementation that are appropriate for the complexity of historical situations. With the relativity and uncertainty of historical conditions, aesthetic demands and transparency regarding the sources on every step of the reconstruction, the visualisation has to go above what‘s usually considered standard in video games, and has to be connected with decision-making processes and design specifications that must be critically questioned.

Therefore we are working on (a) digital reconstructions reproducing historical reality as correctly as possible, (b) computer animated models interactively modelling certain views and perspectives, (c) digital heritage simulations recreating dynamic processes and participation in rituals and practices of the past and (d) virtual heritage environments offering the possibility to experience 3D virtually reconstructed historic sites as visitors, travellers or even as residents.

With the London Charter, the DH community has even imposed rules on itself, and there are a number of suggestions on how to visually design appropriate uncertainties. However, the research and development of suitable workflows and strategies for the creation of digital reconstructions remains an essential task, even if initial approaches to standardisation and further recommendations for documentation already exist.

The goal of the lab does not only lie in the product itself however. The process of reconstruction and simulation serves as an experimental field to examine research questions associated with the material and different hypotheses next to each other. This field currently lacks methodological stringency and a comprehensive theory that needs to be developed. For a consistent comparison and uniform evaluation of 3D models and VR applications, the paradata and parameters have to be standardised. In this emerging field the Digital Humanities find themselves in the center of scientific examination of Virtual Reality.

On a theoretical level the VR lab will discuss the potentials and limits of virtualisation as a tool of scientific imagination and as a phenomenon in itself. We explore specifically the hermeneutic possibilites and generally the characteristics of virtuality.

You can find more information about the Lab's activities here.