The Immersive Global Middle Ages Institute, which commenced in January 2022 and concluded in December 2023, represented a crucial milestone in advancing digital humanities in the 2020s. It embodied a balanced approach that signified a fundamental transition in how we studied and portrayed history and culture. This transition aimed to integrate immersive technology into the realm of humanistic disciplines without disrupting the traditional disciplinary foundations
At the crossroads of medieval studies, multidisciplinary epistemologies, and globalization, the Middle Ages transcended being solely a Western European and Christian experience. Instead, it was a global epoch characterized by interconnectivity, cultural diversity, and numerous centers of cultural and political authority.
The utilization of immersive technology to explore other times, places, and cultures had emerged as a rapidly evolving methodology in research and education. Unfortunately, access to the necessary hardware, software, expertise, and institutional support was not uniform. This institute served as a gateway initiative, fostering skill development and capacity-building among participants who sought to incorporate immersive technologies into research, education, and public engagement within the context of the Global Middle Ages (500-1500 C.E.).
The institute’s curriculum was designed to enable the comprehensive examination of cultural, religious, economic, political, and environmental dynamics that shaped global medieval communities. This was achieved by constructing geographically accurate 3D representations of medieval cityscapes, utilizing digital-layering techniques with qualitative and quantitative data sourced from primary documents (literary, administrative, ecclesiastical, royal, and municipal manuscripts), maps and plans (including digitized antiquarian maps and Google Earth), as well as secondary studies (monographs, document collections, journal articles). The institute placed a strong emphasis on addressing theoretical aspects of global interdisciplinary work, with a particular focus on developing sustainable processes beyond the institute’s duration.
Participants had the opportunity to:
- Embrace and apply a digital Annales School approach to interdisciplinary research within the context of the Global Middle Ages.
- Engage in discussions surrounding significant thematic issues that informed the effective deployment of immersive technologies.
- Attain expertise in the research process, design methodology, creation of virtual objects, prototyping of city-scale models, and the public presentation of immersive medieval city/communities using SketchUp Pro software.
Upon completing the 28-month institute, comprising both virtual and in-person workshops, each of the fourteen participants showcased a substantial project, demonstrating their mastery of immersive digital humanities and their profound understanding of medieval global theory, applied methodologies, and production techniques.
Virtual and In-Person Workshops
The institute offered an intensive series of fourteen monthly virtual workshops spanning from January 2022 to December 2023. Additionally, there were two four-day in-person workshops, one hosted at the University of Colorado–Colorado Springs during the summer of 2022 and the other at Vanderbilt University in the summer of 2023. These workshops were meticulously structured to guide humanists through a comprehensive curriculum in immersive reality, culminating in the successful development and presentation of individual substantive projects.