Virtual Angkor wins American Historical Association Prize

22 October 2018

SensiLab’s virtual simulation of Angkor has been awarded the prestigious American Historical Associations’ (AHA) Roy Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History.

The Roy Rosenzweig Prize has been awarded to SensiLab’s Tom Chandler and Monash Faculty of Arts’ Adam Clulow recognising their rigorous engagement with technology and the practice of history to bring medieval Angkor to life.

Tom Chandler is thrilled the Visualising Angkor project has been recognised by the AHA and the Roy Rosenzweig Centre for History and New Media at George Mason University for the award.

“Adam and I are delighted and honoured to receive this award,” Tom said.

“It shows how cross-disciplinary collaborations bring about new methodologies and perspectives; I look forward to exploring future projects with my colleagues in the Faculty of Arts.”

Since 2009, Tom and his team have been researching simulations that draw upon recent archaeological discoveries to visualise the medieval capital of Angkor as living city.

The resulting virtual world draws upon a wide array of sources, from archaeological surveys through to historical accounts, epigraphy, art historical studies, photographic archives and botanical references.

Recent research endeavours include the drafting of a comprehensive virtual map of the entire capital, which once sprawled over an area roughly the same size as modern Los Angeles. The goal is to envisage Angkor as an operational metropolis of the 14th century, replete with glittering temples, dense wooden settlements and intersecting canals set amongst a mosaic of rice fields.

“The Virtual Angkor website merges teaching modules and virtual reality materials to augment traditional modes of history teaching, not replace them,” Tom said.

“The value of the VR scenes is to contextualise, engage and immerse students ahead of tutorials and discussion,” he said.

The website is specifically aimed at university level history students, not only in Australia but internationally and specifically the USA.

The creation of the website materials involved the expertise of PhD candidates Bernard Keo and Samuel Horewood from the Faculty of Arts, and 3D researchers Brent McKee and Mike Yeates from SensiLab. Expert advice was provided by archaeologist Martin Polkinghorne from Flinders University.

The Virtual Angkor website has subsequently been followed up with two curated exhibitions published on Google Arts & Culture.

The AHA offers annual prizes honouring exceptional books, distinguished teaching and mentoring in the classroom, public history, and other historical projects.

Since 1896, the Association has conferred over a thousand awards. This year’s finalists were selected from a field of over 1,500 entries by nearly 150 dedicated prize committee members. Awards will be presented at the 133rd annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois, on January 3–6, 2019.

Image (supplied) by Mike Yeates.

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