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Ally Campo an Archaeologist at Montpelier with EV's Google Cardboard
Ally Campo an Archaeologist at Montpelier with EV's Google Cardboard

by Donald Kim

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities’ Encyclopedia Virginia (EV) is collaborating with a Charlottesville, VA-based business to create a new line of virtual reality (VR) headsets. These Google Cardboard headsets will feature the faces of important historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Dolley Madison, Pocahontas, and more (the full list can be found below).

I spoke with Peter Hedlund, Programmer for Encyclopedia Virginia, about the new headsets and VR in general. Hedlund explained that Cardboard Safari was a natural fit. Cardboard Safari is a design studio that creates sustainable cardboard art for homes. Encyclopedia Virginia and Cardboard Safari worked together to create an affordable cardboard VR headset with features like adjustable lenses and improved button design.

I asked Hedlund where I can find the headsets, and he said, “We plan on distributing them at teacher and librarian conferences that we attend in the fall, but are also considering making them available for sale in museum and historic site gift shops. For example, headsets with James Monroe’s face would be sold at the Highland gift shop.”

Google Cardboard
Google Cardboard

Virtual reality is an increasingly relevant form of media. Videos, games, and more are being created for VR platforms. And now more than ever, virtual reality is accessible to the general public. Anyone with a smartphone can download Google Street View, Google’s Cardboard app and a host of other VR apps. All a user needs to get started is a headset.

VR enables users to immerse themselves in new environments that would otherwise be inaccessible. For example, a student can explore anything from the inside of Buckingham Palace to the inside of a brain.

When someone uses a headset to look around a room or a place, they are looking at a special image called a photosphere. A photosphere consists of many pictures taken from a single point. The pictures come together to form a single photographic environment.

Encyclopedia Virginia capturing Google Street View Panoramas at the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum in Lynchburg

Since 2013, Encyclopedia Virginia has been working with Google to create photospheres of historical sites across Virginia. Thanks to this partnership, a teacher can use Encyclopedia Virginia to take students to Montpelier, Poplar Forest, and other historic sites without leaving the classroom.

Hedlund explained that while VR content is often produced with professional equipment, anyone can make their own using their smartphone. He added, “Encyclopedia Virginia aims to add meaningful features that make research more engaging, reflect technological trends, and stay true to the original mission.” Using VR, Encyclopedia Virginia makes history more accessible. And the new headsets embody an excitement for past, present, and future.

Human Ties LogoIn September, Peter Hedlund (along with Matthew Gibson, director, Digital Initiatives at VFH) will be leading a workshop titled, “Taking It to the Streets: Virtual Reality and Historic Places.” The hands-on workshop will introduce participants to virtual reality tools and demonstrate how they can be used to collect, analyze, visualize, and publish map data using the power of the cloud. The workshop is a part of Human/Ties, the 50th anniversary celebration of the National Endowment for the Humanities taking place in Charlottesville.

If you want to dive into the world of virtual reality, it’s never been easier. Pick up your own Google Cardboard ($15) or if you run into the Encyclopedia Virginia team at an upcoming conference you can get one of the special EV headsets from them directly. If you don’t have a headset, that’s OK. You can still enjoy photospheres of historic sites in Virginia thanks to VFH’s Encyclopedia Virginia right from your computer or phone.

Explore More

To Appear on Headsets: – Adèle Clark – Maggie Lena Walker – Thomas Jefferson – Anne Spencer – James Madison – Dolley Madison – Barbara Johns – Mildred Loving – Irene Morgan – Irene Langhorne – Arthur Ashe – Mary Willing Byrd – Woodrow Wilson – John Mercer Langston – Oliver Hill – James Monroe – Patrick Henry – Richard E. Byrd – George Mason – Pocahontas – Harry F. Byrd – Elizabeth Van Lew