Digital Embodiment and Historical Authenticity

While reading the Favro and Yee and Bailenson articles, and listening to the lecture in class on Wednesday, I was intrigued by the variety in the quality of each project’s model, reflecting both the size and budget of the project as well as the end goal of the project. A project, for example like the Roman Forum prototype that Favro uses in her article, requires more modeling detail than a less academically oriented project, like a video game, might when digitally recreating that sight. However, the inverse would likely be the case when discussing the detail required in modeling people. In the Yee and Bailenson article, the findings of the profound immediate effects on participants of the study highlighted in this article signal the importance and significance of historical accuracy, or at least authenticity in 3D modeling and digital embodiment.

In class on Wednesday, we tried to model the paupers we had studied to create Twine stories in MakeHuman. Trying to accomplish this task in a historically authentic manner proved much more difficult than I had expected. This exercise made me realize the level of research, planning, and thought that would need to go into a digital embodiment project in order to create historically authentic models.



Favro, Diane. “Se non èvero, èben trovato (If Not True, It is Well Conceived): Digital Immersive Reconstructions of Historical Environments.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 71, no.3, (September 2012): 273-277.

Yee, Nick and Jeremy Bailenson. “Walk A Mile in Digital Shoes: The Impact of Embodied Perspective -Taking on The Reduction of Negative Stereotyping in Immersive Virtual Environments.” Stanford University, n.d.

“Walden: A Game” Critique

“Walden: A Game” focuses more on the entertainment side of the spectrum between historical scholarship and entertainment, but through the authentic setting and Thoreau related objects with which you interact, the developers balanced the entertainment with humanities scholarship.

The developers articulated their goals in the “about” section. In creating “Walden: A Game”, they aimed to cater to a wide range of players from gamers who enjoy playing experimental video games to Thoreau/Transcendental literature lovers and scholars. They also aimed to create a game that would allow players to experience how Thoreau lived at Walden Pond. I think that they successfully met these goals because it is a beautiful and easily playable game (even for someone who has very little video gameplay experience) that allows players to get a sense of what life was like at Walden Pond and what the landscape looked like, all while helping players learn about Thoreau and his life through the letters from his family and friends and the voice overs quotes from his writings.

Child’s Workhouse Uniform Shoes

These rounded, sturdy-looking, brown leather child’s shoes are a replica of one in the October 26, 1806 inventory of the Staplehurst Parish Workhouse in Kent.

In the context of a museum exhibition, these child’s shoes can support the messages of other displays to help give visitors a more complete sense of a cobbler’s process, the workhouse uniform, or the life of children in the workhouse.

For a shoemaking exhibit, shoes can either act as a hands-on display using a replica or 3D digital rendering to help visitors understand the weight, feel, and size of uniform shoes, or as the image of a final product.

In an exhibit (physical or digital) on the uniform or the life of children, shoes can help illustrate the simple functionality of the pauper’s uniform, and if combined with a digital form of inventory/minute records, shoes could be used to help bring to life the wear and tear of workhouse life on the uniform. This digital tool can also reveal how often children received new shoes, combining the total institution feel of the workhouse with the evidence of some governing committee’s care for the maintenance of children’s uniforms.


Photos by Susannah Ottaway.

“An Inventory of All and Singular the Good and Chattels of the Work-house of the Parish of Staplehurst Kent as taken the 24th of October 1806 by order of the Overseers Messrs Ts. Simmons & Ts Bromley at the Death of the late Master Daniel Axell.” Kent Library P.347/18/1.


County Asylums Act

The County Asylums Act of 1808 established the foundations of a national institutional network of insane asylums. It authorized the founding of publicly funded, county asylums to accommodate more mentally ill people. These asylums particularly helped paupers, whose other choices were remaining in their potentially hostile communities or living in workhouses. This Act stemmed from a string of legislation in the 18th century attempting to curb abuses in asylums, some of which were founded in the 14th century with unchanging views on treatment. Bethlem hospital was the most important example of this medieval approach to mental illness. In Bethlem, patients were on display to the public. People came to visit as one in the 21st century goes to visit a zoo: for entertainment and to gawk. This came to be the 18th and 19th century standard of what not to do in caring for the mentally ill.  However, at institutions like St. Luke’s (founded in 1751 to accommodate more people than could Bethlem), the desire to give patients privacy led to a lack of visitation by outside officials, leading to rampant abuse. From 1750-1850, provision for the insane through private, volunteer-based, and publicly-funded asylums attempted to improve the abusive conditions through establishing networks and more centralized systems of quality control through visitation. However, enforcement was inconsistent due to its local nature until the passing of the County Asylums Act. This Act and the national network it created were turning points in the push for asylum reform.


Smith, Leonard. ‘“The Keeper Himself Must be Kept’: Visitation and the Lunatic Asylum in England 1750-1850,” Clio Medica, Vol. 86 (2010): 199-222.

The Educational Value of Historically Authentic, Not Necessarily Accurate, Narratives

I agree with much of McCall and Chapman’s argument for the value of historically authentic narrative as an educational tool to explore how and why historical events happened. Narrative-based learning through such platforms as video games can assist the big picture gathered from s or the facts/context from historical texts, and combined can create a more complete picture. However, I think that there is there is still a bias against video games as an educational game. For example, if someone were to tell me about a historical event and cite a video game as their source, I would think it was unusual and that the information may not be as credible as if they had cited information from a traditional History class. However, that may also be indicative of my personal bias or a byproduct of many of the criticisms of historical video games.

Reading this article raised two questions that I as someone who has never played any of the games that the article references or encountered much of the video game industry struggle to discern the answers to: could critics’/people’s expectation for complete accuracy in video games responds to come from the immersive nature of these games (or video games in general) as compared to other forms of entertainment media? Does the target market of a given game alter the way that developers shape their narratives or how a player perceives historical events (e.g. stressing battles/conflict points for a war game vs. a less battle-oriented historical game?)?