Shared Pasts: Decoding Complexity

We successfully launched the Shared Pasts: Decoding Complexity App prototype at the SWCTN event at Arnolfini and Watershed. The feedback was excellent and we are looking for the next phase funding to create a finished piece, from which aim to build interest in the platform from other cultural venues. This project was based on the research of SWCTN Academic Fellow Coral Manton.

Shared Pasts: Decoding Complexity uses augmented reality technology as a mechanism to reveal layers of narratives built on historic artefacts and places. The project aims to give a 360 degree view of the past revealing the complexity surrounding cultural collections and landmarks, showing that meaning-making is dependant on the lens through which you see the past. This is a new platform to allow the retelling of history; showcasing, enabling and enhancing narratives from many more points of view.

Prototype Showcase, photo credit: Joe Auborn

At this moment in U.K. history there is a pressing need to tackle the challenges of seeing from others perspectives, recognising complication, and dealing with the echo chamber. This project aims to challenge people’s potential bias in their approach to history. Enabling people to orientate themselves to see diverse outlooks via an intuitive interface and system of ‘recommendations’ based on seeing/experiencing alternative narratives.

Bristol, like many U.K. cities, holds many contested histories rooted in colonialism. This project will look to expose the intricacy around some of these histories, revealing the characters, societal and political structures, social pressures, cultural contexts etc. around historic objects and places.

Prototype Showcase, photo credit: Joe Auborn

This project brings together a multidisciplinary team led  by Coral Manton, a qualified museum curator, creative technologist and lecturer in Creative Computing at Bath Spa University. She is working with Chris Hunt, director of Controlled Frenzy, to develop the application and supporting platform.

The prototype is developed using research by Sue Giles, Senior Curator of World Cultures at Bristol Museums and historian Professor Olivette Otele, Professor of Slavery at Bristol University. The narratives will be developed by writer Lisa Harewood and interactive fiction researcher Julia Scott-Stevenson.

The narratives are voiced by Adjoa Andoh – a Bristol born actor. Voice direction is by Sarah Addezio.

Adjoa Andoh, Narration for app.

District Officer's Staff from the Collection of Bristol Museums. Prototype Showcase, photo credit: Joe Auborn

3D Scanning, CAMERA University of Bath

Immersive technologies are being adopted in the cultural sector to allow users to experience history – however this retelling of history through immersive experience can often simplify complicated stories – focusing on a singular point of view. This new AR platform enables the user to explore complicated, often underrepresented, narratives from differing points of view to gain a 360 view of the past.

Further to this the app has a machine learning  backend – based on a recommendation system (similar to platforms such as Netflix). However we aim to subvert the concept of personalisation – recognising that a personalised approach to history can reenforce existing biases. Our system recommends you follow on narratives that widen your field of view based on opposing points of view from data demographics different to your own.

The focus of this prototype is revealing narratives of colonialism, Empire and slavery in Bristol. Allowing conversation to take place around the cities relationship to wealth, growth, and the most destructive and dehumanising trade to take place – that of the transatlantic slave trade.

With the support of Bristol Museums, The British Library, Bath Spa University and The South West Creative Technology Network.