The HistorySpace Project – Information Rich Virtual Environments (IRVEs) for Historical Scholarship

The HistorySpace project is a collaboration led by I-CHASS and Brock University’s John Bonnett. Its primary purpose is to support the development of the 4D virtual environment as a medium for scholarly communication. How can a multi-media virtual environment be designed to function in a manner akin to a journal? In support of this fundamental objective, the project has two aims. The first is to support the easy creation of complex expressive objects. Complex expressive objects are aggregates of text, sound, 2D animated content and high resolution 4D models. They are used to express content in a cyberenvironment. The second purpose of HistorySpace is to support the use of complex objects to generate narratives, as well as multi-media documents for documentation (in essence, multi-media footnotes), and peer review of submitted multi-media content. Funding associated with this grant will allow us to design workflows and accompanying tools to support both tasks. When completed, HistorySpace will enhance the analytical, expressive and pedagogical capacities of historians, particularly in domains of history where space is an important variable, domains that include architectural history, urban history and social history. It will realize this aim by exploiting the capacities of XML, X3D and related technologies such as XPATH and XSLT to express spatio-temporal patterns in 4D over the Internet. Spatio-temporal patterns will be expressed by changing the color and morphology of the complex objects situated in our environments. Our intent is to create tools that will enable historians to access the expressive capabilities of XML and XML-related technologies, and do so in such a way that they will not need to program. Our intent is further to use the capabilities of both to enable users to easily alter existing cyberenvironments. When realized, HistorySpace’s tools for complex object generation, narrative and document creation, and cyberenvironment alteration will enhance the expressive and analytical capacities of scholars. For example, architectural historians will be able to alter buildings, highlighting or removing building constituents as needed, while annotating others. Social historians will be able to color code buildings to support the detection and expression of important spatio-temporal social patterns-such as the changing demography of a given neighborhood over time. Significant to the humanities, the HistorySpace Project will culminate in the production of Information Rich Virtual Environments that allow non-specialists to construct their own virtual environments using datasets derived from their particular humanities discipline and topic.