The 1990s saw the development of digital technologies supporting the 3D (three dimensional) modeling of cultural heritage objects and environments. For the first time, humanists could digitally model and reconstruct the damaged or vanished monuments of the past. The results were typically 2D renderings or videos (“animations”). The decade of the 2000s saw the enhancement of 3D environments with avatars making it possible for scholars to enter into the 3D world and to use the Internet to interact with the simulated environment while communicating with fellow humanists located anywhere on the planet. Such software platforms are called networked virtual worlds (NVWs).
The Humanities Virtual World Consortium (HVWC) will explore how the unique characteristics of networked virtual worlds can enable and advance humanistic research while working towards creating a sustainable base for mainstreaming the technology in humanities scholarship. Our initial work is based upon a series of related scholarly initiatives that draw upon virtual world technology and which are meant to:
a) advance the current state of research on the phenomenology of space and place,
b) design visual and aural conventions to evoke the sensorial experience lost to us due to technological and evidentiary constraints,
c) test the current capabilities of virtual worlds to explore chronotopic problems, previously inaccessible due to the limitations of prior technology,
d) guide future development of humanities-driven virtual worlds, and
e) produce works of exemplary digital scholarship, disseminated in formal, peer-reviewed publications, that solve specific research problems in particular disciplines and area studies.
Our overall intent is to demonstrate how networked virtual worlds can uniquely enable important kinds of research inquiry, and thus contribute to the transformation of scholarly communication in the relevant subject fields and to the field of digital humanities. With this in mind, our projects have been chosen so that they span multiple disciplines— including Archaeology, Art History, Architectural History, Buddhist Studies, Classics, History, Irish Studies, Literary Studies, Tibetan Studies—and periods from the ancient past to contemporary times. While the projects explore discipline-specific research questions, they share common goals concerning humanities research and scholarly communication in a networked virtual world environment.