Is the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project Good History?

When people responded to Dr. Graham’s tweet asking for their favourite digital history projects, many were submitting what appeared to be their own work. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this – when one of the major players in a field asks for contributions, it is somewhat expected that people would want that player to see their work. However, it does mean that many of these may or may not be that… accurate. Which I suppose is why we are being posed this question.

The Virtual Paul’s Cross Project (VPCP hereon out) caused quite a ruckus in our discussion for a variety of reasons. The first being that it’s similar to the Voices [?] project Dr. Graham has shown in class before, which had quite a negative effect on some members of the class due to the cacophony of noise it produces. So some members of the group had that bias.

On a positive note, VPCP does not attempt to assume many things, and when it does, it makes it clear. For example, one can choose between a variety of options in terms of how many people are in the square, as the team creating the installation were unable to find conclusive information as to how many people were in the square.

The issue our group debated was whether the project itself, ie. the audio, was truly accurate. The project seeks to recreate the experience of being in the square on that day, and we had much debate over whether the levels of the ambient noise, in particular, were true to life. Several of us argued that it was quite possibly that it is just incredibly difficult to digitally recreate a truly accurate human experience in that regard, as people in such situations will generally be able to tune the background noise out and focus on the sermon. This experience was not reflected very well in the project, as for the most part, one can barely her the sermon.

Having researched a bit more into the project, I still slightly agree that it is probably near impossible to truly recreate such complex human reactions. However, I now know that the difficulty hearing the sermon actually IS accurate. Beyond the main page, there are vast troves of information, explaining why certain choices were made in the project, such as the ambient noise in the background. It was much cited that unless one was standing directly in front of the puplit, it became incredibly difficult to hear what was being said. So our complaints that we could not hear are actually part of the experience.

Overall, I find VPCP to be good history. It presents a seemingly small concept, but in reality, creating it was a massive undertaking. Every single choice they made in regards to the project is backed up by various primary and secondary sources, and I feel comfortable in saying that they likely created a very accurate and immersive representation of what it would have been like to be in the square.

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