You can’t have virtual places

I am now, in note form, going to argue against so much of what I have written, and it may not be clear what I am trying to capture, but I guess that is what blogging is for.

Places in themselves don’t exist, we act as if they do, so they have an effect on us as if they virtually are substances, environments, spatial identities etc.

But really the notion of place is so vague and ephemeral and confusing that it is fascinating how we can be affected by the place (rather than directly what it is made from) as if virtually it was a causal power.

Now philosophers, Duns Scotus, Peirce, Bergson, Deleuze, etc, may have different notions of virtuality. So I will have to address that. But be that as it may, what is important here is if place itself is a kind of virtuality, then how can we have virtual places? That would be a virtually virtual collection of phenomena experienced as a phenomenon..

When we say virtual places we conflate 3D digital environments with “virtual place”, with the implication that it is also immersive. So we conflate the technological requirements (digital, 3D, persistent, quasi-interactive) with the experientially immersive (the successful experience of ‘being there’).


new article: A Comparison of Immersive Realities and Interaction Methods: Cultural Learning in Virtual Heritage

A Comparison of Immersive Realities and Interaction Methods: Cultural Learning in Virtual Heritage

by Mafkereseb Kassahun Bekele and Erik Champion

Open access article in Frontiers in Robotics and AI, 24 September 2019 |

In recent years, Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Virtuality (AV), and Mixed Reality (MxR) have become popular immersive reality technologies for cultural knowledge dissemination in Virtual Heritage (VH). These technologies have been utilized for enriching museums with a personalized visiting experience and digital content tailored to the historical and cultural context of the museums and heritage sites. Various interaction methods, such as sensor-based, device-based, tangible, collaborative, multimodal, and hybrid interaction methods, have also been employed by these immersive reality technologies to enable interaction with the virtual environments. However, the utilization of these technologies and interaction methods isn’t often supported by a guideline that can assist Cultural Heritage Professionals (CHP) to predetermine their relevance to attain the intended objectives of the VH applications. In this regard, our paper attempts to compare the existing immersive reality technologies and interaction methods against their potential to enhance cultural learning in VH applications. To objectify the comparison, three factors have been borrowed from existing scholarly arguments in the Cultural Heritage (CH) domain. These factors are the technology’s or the interaction method’s potential and/or demonstrated capability to: (1) establish a contextual relationship between users, virtual content, and cultural context, (2) allow collaboration between users, and (3) enable engagement with the cultural context in the virtual environments and the virtual environment itself. Following the comparison, we have also proposed a specific integration of collaborative and multimodal interaction methods into a Mixed Reality (MxR) scenario that can be applied to VH applications that aim at enhancing cultural learning in situ.

New UNESCO chair website

UNESCO Chair of Cultural Heritage and Visualisation news and projects will be listed at for the immediate future, and we hope to connect our prototype GIS+3D model website to that as well (when they work out access for me, hopefully soon).

Image by Professor Lisa French (RMIT). Dinner at ANU Canberra before meeting of Australian UNESCO Chairs: Erik Champion (Curtin), David Gibson (Curtin), Gary Bouma (Monash), Kerrie Wilson (QUT), Ana Filipa Vrdoljak (UTS), Lisa French, (RMIT), Imogen Bartlett (OPTUS), Gregory Andrews (Assistant Secretary, International Organizations Branch (DFAT)), Quentin Grafton (ANU), Ms. Sue Moore, (Secretary General of the Australian Commission for UNESCO).

UNESCO CHAIR Projects (September 2016-June 2019)

Mafkereseb Bekele (centre) winning a Young CAADRIA award


2019 Time-layered cultural map of Australia (Erik Champion and research assistant): 2018 ARC LIEF LE190100019  grant (hosted by Newcastle), $420,000 awarded GIS Programming and VR/MR mapping. URL:


2019 GIS AR and mapping (Curtin Institute for Computation grant) (Erik Champion, David McMeekin, Hafizur Rahaman). Linked Open Data for 3D Heritage ARC grants Moviemap Geolocated Datasets and XR-Makerspace, Workflow and Web Portfolio Platform Development), $30,263.88.


2018 PhD project (Ikrom Nishanbaev): 3D/GIS Semantic Web-3D repository and Website-interface for cultural heritage objects and associated paradata.


2019 MCASI grant (Hafizur Rahaman, Michelle Johnston): AR-triggered language guide (mobile device to recognise 3D objects, play associated sounds and display associated text helping a user to understand a language) $2000.


2018 Erik Champion With Research Fellow (Dr Hafizur Rahaman). Open source photogrammetry to 3D digital models to augmented and mixed reality.

Mafkereseb Bekele (centre) winning a Young CAADRIA award
Mafkereseb Bekele (centre) winning a Young CAADRIA 2019 award (Hafizur Rahaman L and Marc Schnabel R).


2017 PhD project (Mafkereseb Bekele): Collaborative Learning with Microsoft HoloLens (sites: WA Museum-Xantho steam engine and Duyfken)-, can augment scale and create interactive map-based historical journeys as well. Featured in papers at CAADRIA (best student paper: Mafkereseb Bekele) and Computer Applications in Archaeology (Erik Champion).



2018 Summer intern (Corbin Yap). Latest Unreal game engine ported to 4 stereo and non-stereo displays of Curtin HIVE VR centre.


2017 Software Engineering project (with co-mentor Dr Karen Miller) gesture-based interface to Minecraft and other game engines.

#CFP MCG’s Museums+Tech 2019 London

I don’t usually blogpost individual CFPs but this is due 17 June (UK time) and sounds excellent:

Call for papers now extended to 23:59 (London time) on 17 June 2019. Museums+Tech 2019 will be held at the British Library, London, on 18 October 2019.

Submit your proposal now

MCG’s Museums+Tech 2019: openness

Museums and other cultural organisations have long been encouraged to be more open, in multiple senses of the word. From a technology point of view, this idea often centres on sharing collections data, producing open source software and tools, and developing open standards – all of which could have far-reaching implications for user engagement, future collaborations, and long-term preservation. Looking more broadly, the word ‘openness’ also has more infrastructural implications, as it relates to themes of transparency about decisions and processes, as well as inclusion of a wider visitor community. It’s also important to question this notion of openness – when should organisations be more open, and why might openness not always be desirable? For this year’s conference we are keen to hear a variety of perspectives on what openness means to you and your organisations, with honest reflections on related projects, acknowledging challenges and potential solutions.

How can museums and other cultural organisations be more open in terms of their collections and processes, is openness always desirable, and what barriers might we have to overcome for truly open digital cultural heritage?

The MCG’s Museums+Tech 2019 conference seeks proposals for presentations addressing these issues. It’s time to celebrate good work, and share ideas for helping museums and other cultural institutions do better. We’re open to suggestions, but topics might include:

  • What does openness mean to you, in the context of museums and other cultural organisations?
  • How are organisations opening up their collections to a wider audience?
    • What technological and ethical considerations should be made?
    • Have you been involved in a project to reuse open data from one or more cultural organisations in a creative or innovative way?
  • How can organisations be open and transparent about their processes, both internally and externally?
  • What role can openness play in decolonising collections and engaging with sometimes difficult and dubious organisational histories?
  • Has openness within your organisation led to new projects or partnerships?
  • What impact can openness have on visitor/user engagement?
    • Can openness lead to greater inclusivity and diversity?
  • When should organisations prioritise the use of open technologies or standards, and how can they support our work now and into the future?
  • What are the potential barriers to openness and how might we address them?

The MCG’s annual conference attracts speakers and participants from some of the most innovative museums, agencies and university programmes in the world. We’re keen to hear from practitioners, researchers, funders, and those from related cultural heritage and technology sectors. All submitted papers will be reviewed by experts in the field.

The conference programme will include long and short presentations, and you can suggest a length to suit your topic in the proposal form. Short presentations are a great way for you to share useful ideas that others in the sector can try, or to present a provocation. Longer presentations let you provide a more detailed exploration of a topic or project.

Our audiences love our mixture of old and new voices. We have a great track record in presenting a diverse range of speakers, and we’ve started a profit-sharing scheme in acknowledgement of the resources required to attend and present at events. We can also provide some bursaries for speakers who would benefit from assistance with funds for travel, childcare etc. Please also read our Guidance for Speakers before submitting your proposal. Our events have a code of conduct designed to help everyone enjoy the event.

Submit your proposal now

Proposals deadline

This call for proposals closes at 23:59 (London time) on 17 June 2019. Our international Programme Committee will review proposals over the following weeks and you should hear from us in mid-late July. If you have any questions please email us at


Was this abstract defensible or too provocative?

Accepted with revisions to a digital humanities conference but I seem to have ruffled feathers, what say you to the premises?

A Challenge to the Designers of Virtual Places, Virtual Worlds: Where are the Humanities?
Virtual worlds are arguably under-represented in Digital Humanities conferences, even
though many MMORPGs are both types of virtual worlds and also visited by hundreds of
thousands if not millions.
Virtual worlds can stream in live data from real locations, link to local, national and
international archives, and now offer personalization, tracking, and links to social media.
I suggest the problem is the lack of interest in the humanities research community in virtual presence and an assumption that VR is technically beyond the grasp or income or interest of humanities classes and related research areas. Presence is typically measured in terms of realism, naturalism, spatial immersivity, or social presence. This is not enough, especially for presence.
For example, in 2003 and 2004 I programmed interaction for a Japanese-English Language Learning class run by Ms. Sachiyo Sekiguchi, (now at Meiji Gakuin University), at the University of Melbourne using Adobe Atmosphere, an Internet Explorer-based 3D virtual world with a built-in chat window. The Virtual Babel was a 3D Virtual Environment designed for “enhancing second language (L2) learning in the modern classroom.” I scripted methods for tracking conversations and key words between Japanese English-learning students and Australian Japanese-learning students.
My PhD project had also been developed in Adobe Atmosphere and months before my PhD was submitted, Adobe Atmosphere had closed down, 2 years in beta, toughly 6 months in the wild as a commercial product. It was certainly not the only 3D world building and browsing tool to bite the bullet, but it included features for learning and teaching which software which have only been sporadically improved on.
In 2010-2011 I supervised a masters project on Chinese Taoism, using a finger touch-screen interface to teach participants about the four great arts of Chinese Taoism through drawing, writing, painting and playing Go, empathetically. I believe that now, with masterpiece VR and Tilt brush, we have more advanced and immersively creative ways to spatially develop appreciation for different cultures. So, the interface is not the issue, I suspect the issue is marrying the potential of technology with the critical communication skills of the humanities, but not only in a writing medium, but also in a visual and aural medium.
I suggest that architecture and archaeology and GIS have become such estranged disciplines from the humanities, that the research questions and research potential of spatial environments are no longer clearly seen as humanities endeavors, and that development in Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality is so technical and equipmental, that it is too difficult for many humanities scholars to explore these immersive visualisation fields for themselves.
Perhaps some humanities scholars do not see many interesting questions that relate to
humanities in virtual reality, in cultural heritage visualisation.
I propose to demonstrate, in 10 or 20 minutes, a focused range of case studies, in game
engines and 360 panoramic software, humanities datasets and research questions that can be approached and studied (with interest) by humanities scholars. I propose, in particular, that the terms game, virtual reality, and virtual world are concepts of direct interest to the humanities, and that indeed humanities researchers have much to add to the exploration of these terms. I would especially point out that place is not the same as world, and world is not the same as game. In more clearly defining these terms, we may also see ways to help support local interaction and more global-scaled interaction (in other words, culturally and spatially immersive localization without completely severing connections to global data and networks).
But what is particularly needed is more research on culturally sensitive and spatially
intelligent writing interfaces, postural and body language tracking, culturally syntactical
space, environmental affordances supporting the perception of culturally bounded space, insufficient 3D model infrastructure, a lack of research on shared collaboration in mixed reality and how context and content changes with group interaction, and new ways of evaluating and developing the student experience of humanities research in digitally immersive spatial environments.