digitalculturebooks, an imprint of the University of Michigan Press, provides free, open access to scholarly works relating to digital humanities and new media. Accessible on this resource is Pastplay: Teaching and Learning History with Technology edited by Kevin Kee. First of all, let me say, the entire book is worth the read! All chapters are informational about learning and implementing digital history. But, in terms of digital Indigenous history, two chapters in particular prevail. The chapters are: “Interactive Worlds as Educational Tools for Understanding Arctic Life” by Richard Levy and Peter Dawson, and “Tecumseh Lies Here: Goals and Challenges for a Pervasive History Game in Progress” by Timothy Compeau and Robert MacDougall. Secondly, it should be stated that I am not a expert in these technological fields. I am learning. So, if you’re wanting a better understanding of such digital history creations, check out the articles.
The authors of “Interactive Worlds as Educational Tools for Understanding Life” argue that virtual environments may assist in the revitalization of Indigenous cultures. Levy and Dawson primarily focus on the case studies of the Thule Whalebone House. Specifically, the digital reconstructions of Thule dwellings in the Canadian Arctic. These archaeological findings are presented in 3D models. Indigenous cultures, and other people, have been shown this reconstruction on a website, and as well, in a 3D virtual theatre. Immersive virtual reality theatres can also be referred to as a computer automated virtual environment — or simply CAVE.
First of all, the authors point out that certain archaeological projects, much like the Thule whalebone house, have focused on accessibility. For remote Indigenous communities, it may be difficult to attend a museum or seminar. Thus, these archaeologists (and others involved in this Arctic project) decided that a simple internet connection would be adequate in bringing forth these research findings. This is especially important for the Inuit people because “original communities” should have some sort of access to their artifacts. Levy and Dawson suggest that virtual environments of an artifact provides opportunity to expand on further professional and public research. In the case Thule structure, perhaps ethnographic information or Aboriginal oral stories. The Canadian High Arctic project, which collaborated with organizations like Virtual Museums, displayed their content on websites, in a 3D virtual theatre, and also a kiosks. For this piece, we shall only concentrate on the website and CAVE. The website does provide access to anyone with Internet; however, a 3D virtual theatre may be harder to get to.
On the website Thule Whalebone House, audience members may visually acknowledge the computational 3D whalebone structures that once, a long, long time ago the Thule, now the modern-day Inuit people, once lived in. The site provides an understanding of the past Thule lifestyle. The immersive experience comes from 3D virtual environments. The authors claim that “digital replicas” of artifacts that are inaccessible or no longer exist may help Indigenous cultures reconnect with their heritage. And at the University of Calgary’s Schlumberger iCenter, which is a 3D visualization facility, students and Elders participated in a viewing of the whalebone house and others. Inuit Elders, in particular, had a strong emotional response to the environment as it was representative of their history, culture, and identity.
Now to move from 3D virtual environments to games. In “Tecumseh Lies Here: Goals and Challenges for a Pervasive History Game in Progress,” Compeau and MacDougall explain the world of ARG, and a current history project. Honestly, the provided explanation for the term was a tad hard to grasp but then, I checked Wikipedia for the simpler understanding. You may want to do the same as the “field” is complex. Sticking to the article, however, it is stated that Augmented Reality Games, or pervasive games, are not contained in one virtual space. Generally, the online interactive game activity has a storyline, connects numerous users, can have time limits, and uses transmedia. They are intended to dissolve the boundaries between the gaming world and reality.
Compeau and MacDougall argue that the ARG platform is comparable with “inquiry-oriented history pedagogy.”Meaning that such games suit the history educational technique of investigative research that uses primary and secondary sources. Using an educational, engaging and playful historical approach, the creators of the now concluded game Tecumseh Lies Here mixed American-Canadian-Aboriginal history with ARG. The game concentrates on the mystery surrounding Tecumseh, a Shawnee war-chief, during the War of 1812. Without going into too much detail, during the War of 1812, Tecumseh and his Aboriginal confederacy allied with the British to fight against the Americans. It is commonly suggested that at the Battle of Thames, in October 1813, Tecumseh died. This is where the pervasive game comes in. Tecumseh’s remains were never found or identified, thus his death is surrounded with controversy. Perhaps he did die at the Battle, or perhaps he didn’t. In Tecumseh Lies Here, which blends fiction and history, players attempt to solve the mystery of the remains of the Shawnee war leader.
It is important to note that the Chief and the War of 1812 is memorialized differently depending on nationality and identity. The same goes for the interpretation of Tecumseh’s death. And this is why the pervasive game topic makes for such a interesting case. The article also expands on the problems and challenges that ARG creators face. This includes issues with educational games, ethics, time, cost, impact, etc. Regardless of the problems, pervasive games seems to have potential as a digital history medium. Currently, the big problem is it that people (like me) cannot play Tecumseh Lies Here as it’s already completed.
I really hope these Article examples supply inspiration about the vast possibilities associated with digital Indigenous history! It is projects like these, ones that incorporate accessibility, interactivity, engaging history pedagogy, creativity, and finally playfulness, that will (continue to) change the landscape of Indigenous history.
Richard Levy and Peter Dawson, “Interactive Worlds as Educational Tools for Understanding Arctic Life,” In Pastplay: Teaching and Learning History with Technology, ed. Kevin Kee (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014) 66-87.
Timothy Compeau and Robert MacDougall, “Tecumseh Lies Here: Goals and Challenges for a Pervasive History Game in Progress,” In Pastplay: Teaching and Learning History with Technology, ed. Kevin Kee (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014) 87-109.