Immersive engagement

Designing and testing a virtual Indian Residential School exhibition

Authored by: Adam Muller

The Routledge International Handbook of New Digital Practices in Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums and Heritage Sites

Print publication date:  November  2019
Online publication date:  October  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138581296
eBook ISBN: 9780429506765
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter explains the Embodying Empathy (EE) project, a Canadian multidisciplinary public–private research and creative partnership that, thanks to funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the generous assistance and direction provided by a remarkable group of Indigenous Survivors, has produced a digitally immersive representation of one node in the network of institutions comprising Canada’s Indian Residential School (IRS) system. As a project, EE is both complicated and challenging. It has several aims, one of the more significant of which is to address some fundamental questions posed by recent developments in curatorial and commemorative practice, especially those arising from the so-called ‘experiential turn’ in heritage thinking and design. As exemplified by museums such as Washington, D.C.’s Newseum and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, this experiential turn designates curatorial strategies aiming to produce enriching interactions between museum contents and museum-goers rather than occasions for quiet reflection, aesthetic appreciation or education (per se). Increasingly, museums are relying upon sophisticated digital technologies to facilitate and sustain these interactions. Part of what EE has been designed to help settle is the matter of whether some major curatorial assumptions—such as that virtual experiences, through the feelings they elicit, contribute to altering durably people’s moral or political dispositions—hold any water at all.

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