Immersive Global Middle Ages institute will recreate worlds that no longer exist

Thanks to a $250,000 National Endowment for the Humanities award, UCCS faculty will teach scholars to develop immersive virtual reality reconstructions of Middle Age societies. Photo credit: Gabriel Kiener, Unsplash.

Is time travel possible? Short answer: Not yet— at least, not in the sense you’re thinking. But Roger Martínez-Dávila, Associate Professor of History at UCCS, may have landed on the next best thing: using immersive virtual reality tools to recreate worlds that no longer exist.

The project, called Immersive Global Middle Ages, aims to create new ways of experiencing medieval history on a global scale, even though these societies have faded from existence. Supported by a $250,000 award from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Institute for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities, the project will teach participants to use advanced computer modeling and virtual reality tools to reconstruct global societies from 500-1500 C.E.

“Experiencing other times, places, and cultures through immersive technology is a flourishing methodology in research and teaching,” said Martínez-Dávila. “Unfortunately, the hardware, software, expertise and institutional support to build virtual and augmented reality experiences are not evenly available.”

“The institute is designed to be a gateway to building skills and capacities among participants, who will learn to employ immersive technologies in research, teaching and public outreach for any world region during the Global Middle Ages.”

The Global Middle Ages institute will take place over 28 months of virtual and in-person workshops, and will accept 14 participants. Over two years, the participants will master virtual object creation, city-scale model prototyping and immersive reality tools including SketchUp Pro and Oculus. At the completion of the institute, participants will deliver a full virtual recreation of a medieval society.

Martínez-Dávila highlights the global nature of the project, from its international cohort of collaborators to the societies that will be recreated.

“The project will support scholars in their development of virtual reality worlds that showcase the Middle Ages from a global perspective,” Martínez-Dávila said. “It won’t just highlight European perspectives, but also Asian, African and Mediterranean societies, among others.”

“The project has a distinct international and global reach, too,” Martínez-Dávila continued. “We are engaging 15 international collaborators from England, Spain, and Australia, as well as the U.S., in the production of the institute. We welcome ethnically, racially, and gender-diverse academics, as well as applicants working in cultural institutions, associations, museums, libraries, archives and other humanities-related organizations.”

The Global Middle Ages institute is a collaboration between the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and Vanderbilt University. The institute will run from January 2022–December 2023 and will award technology stipends of $3,800 to participants for the purchase of immersive technology computers, Oculus Rift headsets and licenses for modeling software. Expenses to attend in-person workshops are also covered by the institute.

All are welcome to apply, including university students, researchers and individuals working in the humanities. Applications will be accepted beginning in late September 2021.

For more information, visit the Global Immersive Middle Ages website. For questions, contact Roger Martínez-Dávila, co-project director and co-principal investigator, UCCS, and Lynn Ramey, co-project director and co-principal investigator, Vanderbilt University. To receive updates on the application process, please send your name, position, institution and email address to: [email protected].