Part of the remit of funding we received for the First World War Poetry Digital Archive was to experiment how online archives could make use of Web 2.0 softwares and social media to bring new experiences, visualisations and understandings to archival materials, and otherwise flat web sites. The project has produced a number of mashups (visualising items on google maps, or multi-layered timelines), tools (The Path Creation Tool), and has built communities on twitter, facebook, and google groups – all of which have proven to be very successful. On the 2nd of November, the project will be launching probably the most unique and exciting installment of this experiment, The First World War Poetry Second Life Sim.
For the next year the Frideswide Island managed by The Learning Technologies Group will simulate areas of the Western Front 1914 – 1918, including a training camp, a trench system, dressing station etc. Within this setting is placed an exhibition’s worth of archival content – film, audio, photographs, manuscript images and further enhanced with contextual information and poetry readings. The truth is however that it is unlikely that these items will ever be together in a physical exhibition, they have been digitised from over 30 different libraries, museums and personal collections worldwide. And also unlike in a museum these are not placed behind glass cabinets, they can be touched, handles and manipulated, the stories of the War are spoken by ghosts, poetry is revealed in floating word clouds and underneath the murky waters of shell holes. The build itself is outstanding, the trenches are waterlogged and difficult to navigate, rife with rats, shells blast, and as one moves nearer the front the sound of battle in No Man’s Land intensifies, it is a truly immersive experience. 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 there 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?
We are not quite sure what the response to the sim will be. From the pre-release tours of the sim we have given so far the response has been very exciting with lecturers keen to hold classes in-world. It is difficult developing something in a 3D world without it coming across like a game, would some perceive this remodelling as disrespectful? And where will its value lie? In the experience of the actual build and the possibilities to interact with the archival materials placed there? Or in its possibilities for collaboration and discussion?
The First World War Poetry Second Life Sim will be launched on the 2nd November. For details on using Second Life and accessing the sim visit the web site.