Book – Multimedia: from Wagner to virtual reality

Multimedia is emerging as the defining medium of the twenty-first century. The World Wide Web, CD-ROMs, virtual reality arcade games, and interactive installations only hint at the forms of multimedia to come. Yet the concept of integrated, interactive media has its own long history, an evolution that spans more than 150 years. [1]

Multimedia: from Wagner to virtual realityThe concept of multimedia changed through time and will probably change in the future. Randall Packer and Ken Jordan, editors of the book “Multimedia: from Wagner to virtual reality”, define five characteristics of the new media that makes them different from any other media:

- Integration, “the combining of artistic forms and technology into a hybrid form of expression”;

- Interactivity, “the ability of the user to manipulate and affect her experience of media directly, and to communicate with others through media”;

- Hypermedia, “the linking of separate media elements to one another to create a trail of personal association”;

- Immersion, “the experience of entering into the simulation or suggestion of a three-dimensional environment”;

- Narrativity, “aesthetic and formal strategies that derive from the above concepts, which result in nonlinear story forms and media presentations”.

The book is divided in five chapters, titled with the above characteristics, and in each chapter we can read some of the most important essays related with each characteristic.

In the first chapter about integration, there is an essay from 1849, by Richard Wagner, the German composer, about his concept of Gesamtkunstwerk, the total artwork. In 1916, Marinetti et al., wrote about “The Futurist Cinema”, declaring cinema as the supreme art “because it embraced all other art forms through the use of (then) new media technology”. [2] In 1924, Moholy-Nagy reinterpreted the Wagner’s concept by calling it “Theater of Totality”:

It is time to produce a kind of stage activity which will no longer permit the masses to be silent spectators, which will not only excite them inwardly but will let them take hold and participate – actually allow them to fuse with the action on the stage at the peak of cathartic ecstasy. [3]

In interactivity chapter, we can read essays from John Cage about the participation of the public in a performance, being a perfect example of this his piece 4′33”, and authors like Wiener, Engelbart on “Augmenting Human Intellect”, Krueger [video] or Alan Kay.

Hypermedia opens with the known “As We May Think” by Vannevar Bush, where he describes the Memex and invents the notion of what we know now as hyperlink. In this chapter, we can find other articles like the one from Ted Nelson, who coined the words hypertext and hypermedia and Tim Berners-Lee, who invented World Wide Web.

The chapter about immersion has essays from Morton Heilig, considered as the father of virtual reality, and his vision of “The Cinema of the Future”, as an experience of a virtual world, and the description of “The Ultimate Display” by Ivan Sutherland:

In 1966, Sutherland took a crucial step toward the implementation of his vision by inventing the head-mounted display – a helmet-shaped apparatus designed to immerse the viewer in a visually simulated 3-D environment. [4]

Scott Fisher, that worked in Aspen Movie Map Project, from MIT, in 1970s, William Gibson, that coined the term cyberspace in his novel Neuromancer, the creators of CAVE and Char Davies, author of Osmose, an immersive, interactive multimedia work, are other authors from which we can read some essays.

Narrativity starts with 1964′s “The Future of Novel”, by William Burroughs which “express the essential narrative strategies of computer-based multimedia storytelling long before their time.” [5]
The chapter continues with essays by Allan Kaprow, who coined the term Happenings in 1950s, Roy Ascott, Pavel Curtis, about MUDs, Pierre Lévy and Janet Murray, author of “Hamlet on Holodeck”.

“Multimedia: from Wagner to virtual reality” sums up works from artists and engineers that worked with multimedia concept, which are crucial to understand the “relentlessly changing nature” of multimedia. [6]

The book has a website that can be found here.


[1] Randall Packer and Ken Jordan, eds. 2002. Multimedia : from Wagner to virtual reality. [Expanded ed.]. [New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001], Overture, xv.

[2] Ibidem, Overture, xxi.

[3] László Moholy-Nagy, “Theatre, Circus, Variety,” in Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality, ed. Randall Packer e
Ken Jordan [New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001], 25.

[4] Randall Packer and Ken Jordan, eds. 2002. Multimedia : from Wagner to virtual reality. [Expanded ed.]. [New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001], 253.

[5] Ibidem, 304.

[6] Ibidem, Overture, xxxvi.

Welcome to Çatalhöyük, a 9000 year-old village!

For more than a decade, archaeologists and scholars have gathered in central Turkey to explore the remains of the 9,000-year-old village of Çatalhöyük. First excavated in the 1960s, Çatalhöyük became world-famous for its dense architecture and spectacular wall decorations. Between 1997 and 2003, a team from the University of California Berkeley worked intensively on one building there, bringing to light the life history of a Neolithic home.

The team from the University of California Berkeley decided to use the new media to foster the knowledge about this project and although it is a past project, it gives us very interesting ideas on the use of the new technologies.

Remixing Çatalhöyük

Project Website

Remixing Çatalhöyük was a project inserted in OKAPI (Open Knowledge and Public Interest), a program from University of California Berkeley.

The project has a website (although the website is in flash, you can access a text only version of it here), from where we can explore several sections and collections. Not only the website provides information about the findings of the excavation, but it tells us how archaeologists live there and work.

We can explore the history of Çatalhöyük through a time-line and have access to four different collections:

- Life Histories of People, Places, and Things

- Senses of Place

- Archaeology at Different Scales

- The Public Face of Archaeology

The archive section has more than 65,000 photos, videos, articles and other multimedia research materials, provided under Creative Commons NonCommercial Attribution 3.0 licensing. Faculty, students, and staff at the University of California, Berkeley, created multimedia remixes using ideas and materials mined from the archive that are available in the website.
But the most interesting possibility is that any user can make their own remix and upload it to the project website.

The project has an island on Second Life, a 3D virtual world, where we can see a virtual reconstruction of Çatalhöyük, as it may have looked in the past and as it exists today. It is possible to visit the interior of a building, to take a guided video walk, to visit the museum and to make our own remix of Çatalhöyük reconstruction.

Screenshot of the project island in Second Life

Screenshot of the project island in Second Life

Direct Link to the island in Second Life. You must have installed Second Life on your computer.

Playing History


A flurry of interest has arisen around the potential of digital games, simulations and interactives to promote humanities learning, spurred in part by a growing body of research on the value of educational games. Foundations and universities have invested millions of dollars into developing these games, yet many are built, tested, and promptly shelved, played by only a handful of students during the pilot testing phase. There is no comprehensive directory to connect teachers with these resources. – In About Playing History

Playing History, a project of Trevor Owens and Jim Safley is a collaborative directory for reviewing and sharing historical games. You can search for a specific game or choose from the tag cloud a subject of your interest.

Each game has some general information – the description, the publisher, the URL where you can find it, the time period it refers to, – and some classroom details, like the grade level, if it is free or not and the lenght of the game.

The idea of having a website where you can find historical games is great, but the best feature is that users can create an account and rate and review those games, which will be very usefull for other users that are thinking in using digital games in their teaching.

You can see some reviews like this one, from the user zgilbert, of Pyramid Challenge, a game from BBC:

Wonderful game for my 6th grade ancient civ. class. Includes specifics on culture, geography, and other sciences. Can take a few times to complete for the students, but that is the beauty of the game because the students want to finish the pyramid. They don’t even know they are learning. I can ask questions months later concerning pyramids and the kids will know it. The information is stored into long term memory.

So, if you use digital games in your classroom, go to Playing History and share your experience with other users.

Trevor Owens told EuroMACHS that users will be able to add games too, in the near future, which would increase the number of digital games, although you have already 128 historical games to choose from.

You can follow Playing History on Twitter, too.

Playing History is powered by Omeka, which we already reviewed in EuroMACHS’ blog.

Digital Humanities in 2008, by Lisa Spiro

Lisa Spiro, director of the Digital Media Center at Rice University’s Fondren Library, made a three posts series on her blog about the developments on Humanities in 2008.
The first post talks about the emergence of Digital Humanities, about the several essays and dialogues that try to define this field and the efforts to achieve collaboration and coordination in Digital Humanities.
The second post focus on digital scholarship, open access and resistances. The third article discusses the developments in Digital Humanities research.
The posts have many links to articles, essays and projects that gives us a very good overview of the Digital Humanities developments and are a worthwhile reading.
Thanks to Lisa for this great review.

Digital Humanities in 2008, Part I

Digital Humanities in 2008, II: Scholarly Communication & Open Access

Digital Humanities in 2008, III: Research

EPOCH Research Agenda for the Applications of ICT to Cultural Heritage

Imagine that a municipality department of a harbour town in Sweeden starts to preparing the fundaments of a new bridge and they found out the remains of an old tunnel used in the 16th and 17th centuries to transport goods on small boats to a marketplace in the centre of the town.
Imagine that they allow Jan Anders, a junior archaelogist, together with two volunteering students, to dig into the tunnel to see if there is something worth to rescue. Jan has only one week before the bridge works began again. Jan noted too that the ceiling of the tunnel it isn’t very stable.
Until now, this scenario is not so different from others from today, where political decisions and unstable excavations do not coincide with archaeological works and time.
But let’s imagine further. Suppose Jan and his students found today five coins, which seemed to be not of Nordic origin, and some fragments of pottery and fabric. Then Jan decides to ask for help from the International Virtual Excavation Agency (IVEA) to get information about the finds and wether he should invest the effort to stabilize the walls and try to rescue possible further interesting finds.
He uses his hand-held  3D scanner from his portable excavation support kit to scans the pottery fragments and uploads them together with photographs of the coins onto IVEA database.
Meanwhile, the IVEA has issued a call for assistance and within two hours a group of experts in numismatics, pottery and fabrics joins in a virtual environment equipped with a digital archaeology workbench and access to relevant databases around the world.
They’ve found, through automatic digital image comparison technology, that coins were Spanish from the late 17th century. Pottery experts run the 3D objects of the shards through an application that suggests various shapes of the pottery. The most convincings results suggest that the pottery is a wine jug and after comparing it with typical Nordic jugs of the 18th century the experts confirm this finding as the most probable.
Meantime, an expert in acquisition of chemical data, assists Jan with the conservation and analysis of the fabric. Jan does not know how to handle the infrared microspectroscopy tool from his excavation support set, but the chemical expert can see him remotely and guides him handling the tool. They find the fabric is damask and has traces of substances associated with crimson pigment.
Jan reported the results to the responsible municipality department and the decision is taken to shore up the site and explorer it further, but nothing is found over the following days.
All the data, expert comments and annotations are assembled into a multimedia record of the excavation. (Arnold and Geser 2008, 45-46)

This is one of the five hypothetical future scenarios described by the European Network of Excellence in Open Cultural Heritage (EPOCH), co-funded by the European Commission, in its EPOCH Research Agenda for the Applications of ICT to Cultural Heritage, from which resulted a series of recommendations about the application of Information and Comunication Technologies (ICT) to Cultural Heritage (CH), describing topics and priorities for future research.

The EPOCH final report gives us a set of recommendations about the use and the future developments needed in several areas, from the promotion of interdisciplinarity and the effective dissemination and sharing of the results of the research work to the recommendation of EuroMACHS, as an example of European Masters degree programmes that are needed in Education. (Arnold and Geser 2008, 37)

The report has a strong focus on 3D technologies applied to Cultural Heritage sector. The recommendations range from the need of more develop on 3D digitization tools, mainly for objects like jewlery and glass objects to the creation of metadata for 3D objects. Developments of tools that allow to make searches by shape and material similarity, development of intelligent tools for capturing data that simplify the processes and reduce the level of ICT skills, and development of easy to use authoring tools, are other points focused.

Virtual Reality, which is able to provide virtual access to cultural heritage that is located in remote, difficult to reach and protected areas or which enables to present virtual reconstructions of objects or places that have been partially destroyed or entirely lost, mobile, location-based technology, applications from Web 2.0 and digital libraries, as a way of gathering content, are other points focused.

We can find in this report several recommendations and guidelines regarding the transfer of knowledge from Cultural Heritage institutions to organizations that can develop market-ready solutions and offer services.
Concerns about socio-economic relevance of Cultural Heritage, decision-making, valuation tools and indicator models are some of the topics described.

The importance of this report relies in a set of recommendations that can guide research in this area, providing knowledge of what is being done and what developments are needed. But this report can also stimulate our creativity regarding future developments and possibilities on Cultural Heritage ICT.

Read the EPOCH Research Agenda [pdf]

Arnold, David  and Guntram Geser.  EPOCH Research Agenda for the Applications of ICT to Cultural Heritage. EPOCH Project, 2008.

León: 20 Centuries of History

Announced as the biggest multimedia historical reconstruction of a city, the León Multimedia Interpretation Centre gives us a comprehensive view of León historical development, from Roman time to Modern days.

Entitled “20 Siglos de Historia” it allow us to easily grasp the city architectural and historical evolution by convincingly model and overlap older and modern city maps. Users can swimmingly see how the city expanded from its original boundaries, and how some of today most important monuments have become part of the city.

In addition, it has an excellent historical overview, allowing a clear understanding of some key events linked to the city evolution.

Certainly a site that deserves a visit, with excellent information for tourists, students, teachers and cultural heritage content producers.

Please visit the site at