Published August 8, 2017

On Thursday, August 10 2017, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities’ Encyclopedia Virginia (EV) along with Google Street View, will launch the first-ever virtual tour of Virginia’s Tangier Island, marking a continuation of EV’s efforts to provide virtual imagery of Virginia’s most historically significant places.

Located amidst the Chesapeake Bay, Tangier Island is the only populated offshore island in Virginia, and is home to descendants of some of the earliest English settlers. Today, the island is facing serious environmental issues. If no immediate action is taken, the island could disappear in the next 25-50 years, making the residents of Tangier Island some of the first climate-change refugees in the continental United States.

Under such pressing circumstances, EV is using technology through its ongoing collaboration with Google Earth Outreach to document and preserve the imagery of the island before it is too late. “This is an important story and a very unique part of Virginia’s landscape and culture,” said EV director, Peter Hedlund. “We want to capture the stunning imagery of Tangier Island because in 25 years, it may be too late. It may be a place that no longer exists.”

Along with the launch of the virtual tour, Richmond-based EV collaborator Kelley Libby is producing a radio piece recounting the process of capturing the imagery as well as the importance of this project. The EV team also plans to travel to Tangier Island to debut the virtual tour at what is the last combined K-12 school in Virginia, providing an opportunity for residents to experience this revolutionary imaging resource.

There is concern on the island about getting environmental protections, which has been difficult largely due to the island’s isolated location. EV’s hope is that the residents of Tangier can use the imagery to help advocate for their environmental needs and share their stories and concerns with the broader public.

“When we consider the diminishing boundaries of Tangier Island, we often forget the impact environmental change has on culture,” said VFH executive director Matthew Gibson. “This 360-degree imagery helps preserve what the island looked like at one point in time and allows people worldwide to virtually walk the island, even if one day it’s no longer there. When paired with the oral histories and memories of Tangiermen (men and women refer to themselves as “Tangiermen”), the virtual tour provides powerful insight into a changing landscape’s effects on culture and tradition.”

VFH’s current work on the topic of Tangier Island also includes the With Good Reason radio program “The Rising Tide,” scheduled to air on August 12, and a forthcoming book by VFH Fellow Earl Swift.

Update: The virtual tour of Tangier is now available in Google Street View and With Good Reason has published a short feature on the making of the VR tour of Tangier. We recommend listening to the feature while exploring the streets of Tangier.

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