Digital History

Getting Immersed In History with Virtual Reality


First published on August 24, 2019. Last updated on February 20, 2021.


  • Students will learn about various types of virtual reality such as animated and real life imagery, the challenges in developing VR experiences, and the tools to do so.

Virtual Reality is Literally 3D Printing Inside Out

Virtual Reality (VR) allows a user to view graphic content in three dimensions, and move about the graphics. Typically virtual reality provides stereographic capability, so the user feels depth perception. Oculus makes dedicated virtual reality goggles. Samsung makes a headset that can convert an Android phone into a VR headset.

VR can be even used on ordinary laptop, tablet and phone screens. Although the experience does not use stereoscopy to produce 3D effects, one can still explore in three dimensions. For example, see the below example.

Roman Theater in Petra, Jordan (credit: Sitoo, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Virtual reality scenes are most often one or more photographs or videos that have been manipulated or stitched together to form a continuous experience. Sometimes the images are computer generated. VR nearly always contains visual elements, but can be partially or entirely composed of sound or other sensual phenomena.

Although many VR scenes comprise actual images of places, some involve fabricated images. An example is the online 3D model of the Hidden Town 3D Christian David House and an expanded example of the same.

Other 3D Visualization Technologies


Holography uses photographs taken with laser light to create 3D images. It has existed since the 1960s. Strictly-speaking, this is not a digital technology because it can be done with chemical film. This technique is used to produce many of the “3D” stickers found on consumer products, labels or security tags.

Volumetric Projectors

Volumetric projectors offer the opposite experience from standard VR. You view a three-dimensional image from the outside. These projectors work by projecting one or more optical images onto a spinning blade or other surface to provide the illusion of volume.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (or AR) involves adding non-real elements over a real image displayed on a computer or device screen or from digital projectors. It could be silly facial features on photo-sharing software, or annotations or a vector direction field on an image of a historical site. Often modern forms of AR are interactive, so you can use them for analysis purposes.


Virtual reality can provide a person with a spatial experience of being somewhere real or imaginary. It can allow a person to explore that place as is they were physically there. However, most VR demonstrations are limited. They only allow a user to stand in one place, or to go through pre-determined paths. They also may be limited in time. If these are generated scenes, rather than from actual photographs or videos, then they may not be entirely accurate and the author might have chosen to render details in a according to their own agenda, priorities and preferences. Even when based upon actual images, the path or what is shown can reflect the agenda or biases of the author.

Further Reading


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