Within the walls of York Gaol: Memory, Place and the Immersive Museum

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Archaeology

Abstract

The work proposed here is a collaboration between York Museums Trust (YMT) and an interdisciplinary team of researchers based at the University of York's EPSRC funded Digital Creativity Labs that seeks to address the major challenges to implementation of immersive experiences for engagement with cultural heritage. We will design and implement an experimental mobile Virtual Reality (VR) experience for YMT-run York Castle Museum that blends immersive, collaborative and place-based storytelling with physical experiences of objects and built space.

Objects held by museums have the capacity to play an integral role in the formation of personal and communal identity. Through the objects in their care, regional social history museums help visitors to connect meaningfully to the experiences of past people and to develop greater attachments to place by means of personal reflection. Using a research-through-design methodology we will develop a VR experience to enrich and guide group explorations of the 18th Century York Castle Prison which is now YMT-managed York Castle Museum. The experimental exploration will reflect new curatorial priorities of York Castle Museum by finding ways to weave issues of contemporary social relevance including debt and detention into the interpretation of the prison. The VR experience will tell stories of the impact of debt on the lives of past York residents; an issue of great contemporary resonance. It will focus on relatable stories of everyday people evidenced in the archives and collections of YMT and not currently presented within existing interpretation at the Castle Museum.

Using VR, imagined memories of past residents of York prison based on existing archival research will be staged within the prison space. Flexible narrative structures will enable a single story to be explored and revealed through a variety of pathways through the space. Inspired by highly successful experiments during the development of VikingVR (http://www.york.ac.uk/vikingvr), the narrative structure of the VR will encourage people to share VR masks and to engage with and explore the prison space and objects around them, transforming the prison into a collaborative and highly social, mixed reality experience.

The design, implementation and evaluation of this proof of concept will enable the research team to begin to develop responses to three underlying research problems which are of relevance across the creative industries:

1) Underdeveloped narrative media for VR. The development of engaging narrative forms for VR has represented one of the main obstacles to the widespread acceptance of VR as a medium and has delayed its integration into the fabric of exhibition design.

2) Hardware does not exist to deploy these technologies within a museum setting. Current technologies are not robust enough for unattended or fully integrated museum use. They are not designed to offer the kinds of social, collaborative experiences which people expect and which museums want to deliver.

3) Inadequate curatorial strategies for VR. VR is a distinct medium with very specific affordances. Integrating this technology into the museum experience represents a major challenge which, if addressed could revolutionise the delivery of storytelling in a museum context.

The VR experience will be co-designed by a team of archaeology, digital heritage, interaction design and technology, and human computer interaction researchers working with museum staff and community representatives already engaged in the redevelopment of the Castle Museum. The proposed work will inform the ongoing development process for the Castle Museum, with the VR experience acting as a prototype for fully realised permanent digital immersive installations as part of the redevelopment of Castle Museum between 2018 and 2022. We will also use this research as an opportunity to build our collaboration and to further examine priorities for future funded research.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?

This research will have an impact in three major areas:

1. Museums & cultural heritage sector: This project will benefit museum curators, educators, and conservators by enabling experimentation with current strategies for digital commissioning and provide a new approach to digital resource creation that enables cultural and arts organisations to move beyond the constraints of exhibition-led research and development. The research will benefit galleries, museums, archives and libraries with collections by examining how higher education institutions can enable experimentation in the use of digital technologies by working with partners in cultural organisations. This can lead to innovation in service delivery and improve capacity within the sector to take part in commissioning of digital resources.

2. Residents of and visitors to York & the general public: The outputs will be of direct benefit to visitors and residents of York. This work will enable visitors to engage in a highly personal way with the past of the city and to provide insights into the complex links between our own lives and those of people in the past. By providing cutting-edge digital technology experiences via the museum visit, the relevance of heritage in a tourism context is improved. In addition to this, raising awareness of the heritage environment amongst local residents can contribute positively to shaping the urban landscape.

3. Creative industries and Digital media SMEs: Several digital-led arts and culture focused SMEs have emerged in recent years in the City of York, and there is therefore an emerging capacity to design digital resources for this sector. Current methodologies for tendering for digital work make implementation of experiences that are embedded into exhibitions problematic as digital resources tend to be designed away from the main exhibition plan. Our work will champion new forms of collaborative development which involve museum and design stakeholders throughout the project.

How will they benefit from this research?

1. We will improve access to digital technologies within the cultural heritage sector and create future opportunities for engagement with immersive technologies by: a) building digital skill regionally. We will foster an environment for a regional specialist network for digital resource creation. b) We will work with partners (including YMT community panel, creative industries SMEs, Guild of Media Arts, and Museum Development Yorkshire) to develop guidance on forming successful collaborative digital creativity projects, c) developing new curatorial strategies with digital. The work will be of great value to the creative and research sectors as an opportunity to develop new forms of media and technology for VR.

2. We will enable new experiences of heritage for visitors to YMT museums by: a) embedding YMT collections into city life. We will bring collections out of storage and tell stories about aspects of the history of the city that will enable people not currently engaging with cultural activities to relate personal situations to experiences in the past. This will be part of planned redevelopment work for the Castle Museum, b) building relationships between museum interpretation, community needs, and urban planning. We will work with the YMT community panel on prototype creation and evaluation.

3. We will support the development of new ways for creative industries to work with the cultural heritage sector by developing new strategies for digital commissioning. We will work with SMEs to identify design implications (theoretical and practical) and major challenges for digital commissioning. We will work with regional arts and culture organisations and SMEs throughout this project in order to plan their involvement in future funded research projects in this theme (see Pathways to Impact for more information).

Publications

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Schofield G (2018) Viking VR

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/R008701/1 01/01/2018 10/04/2018 £59,389
AH/R008701/2 Transfer AH/R008701/1 11/04/2018 30/11/2018 £46,135
 
Title Hidden Worlds 
Description Hidden worlds was was a site specific installation for York Castle Museum prison cells which was installed during four events (1st October 2018, 2nd November, 14th November and 30th November 2018). Using tablet based AR and SLAM tracking the devices recognised the room's geometry in real time and superimposed 2D animation and 3D scenes onto features in the room replacing doors, windows and furniture with digital content. This technique was used to tell stories based on imagined episodes from prisoners' lives outside of the prison. The experiences were narrative and objects appeared and vanished with text and sound providing narrative interpretation. Visitors were able to trigger three of these narrative scenes including (1) a weavers loom appearing at full scale in the centre of the room which transformed into a cloth labarynth which visitors could navigate (2) the deck of a merchantman ship around which users could walk, activating specific information relating to transatlantic trade and transportation of prisoners (3) a pub in which users could overhear coversations and piece together a story, different conversations becoming clearer or fainter depending on where the user was stood. The installation was experienced by approximately 300 people during the four events. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The installation was derived from a process of co-production with staff at York Museums Trust and researchers in Human Computer Interaction from the University of York and Researchers in Digital Heritage from the University of Glasgow. The design process has transformed the way in which York Museums Trust: (a) designs and develops and uses digital and immersive installations - Based on the success of this installation and its twin project 'Whispering Graffiti' York Museums Trust have committed to developing further experimental immersive installations as part of their capital development programme to re-develop the museum between now and 2022. This will involve partners from this project but also digital SMEs from Yorks creative sector. Experimental development and deployment has led directly to this high level of institutional buy-in. (b) works with regional partners to develop immersive installations at smaller regional museums. As part of the follow on funding for the Within the Walls of York Gaol project York Museums Trust have committed £21,000 to supporting the development of immersive prototypes at other museums in the Museums Development Yorkshire region. When combined, these impacts demonstrate the substantial impact that this project has had upon the digital economy of Yorkshire and York Museums Trust's role within that sector. 
 
Title Whispering Graffiti 
Description Whispering Graffitti was a site specific installation for York Castle Museum prison cells which was installed during four events (1st October 2018, 2nd November, 14th November and 30th November 2018). The installation used a bespoke VR handset with a torch attached to look for carved graffiti left by prisoners in an 18th prison cell. The VR handsets were tracked by VR beacons in the room and when a piece of graffiti was illuminated a sound would be triggered enabling the graffiti to 'whisper' to the people in the room. The sounds triggered ranged from prisoners voices through to curatorial/art historical interpretations of the carvings. The installation was experienced by approximately 300 people during the four events. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The installation was derived from a process of co-production with staff at York Museums Trust and researchers in Human Computer Interaction from the University of York and Researchers in Digital Heritage from the University of Glasgow. The design process has transformed the way in which York Museums Trust: (a) designs and develops and uses digital and immersive installations - Based on the success of this installation and its twin project 'Hidden Worlds' York Museums Trust have committed to developing further experimental immersive installations as part of their capital development programme to re-develop the museum between now and 2022. This will involve partners from this project but also digital SMEs from Yorks creative sector. Experimental development and deployment has led directly to this high level of institutional buy-in. (b) works with regional partners to develop immersive installations at smaller regional museums. As part of the follow on funding for the Within the Walls of York Gaol project York Museums Trust have committed £21,000 to supporting the development of immersive prototypes at other museums in the Museums Development Yorkshire region. When combined, these impacts demonstrate the substantial impact that this project has had upon the digital economy of Yorkshire and York Museums Trust's role within that sector. 
 
Description 1) Improved understanding of use of mixed reality technologies for curatorial/interpretive practice in museums. Our research has provided much needed insight into the value of mixed reality technologies for curation and exhibition design at regional and local museums. We have examined the impact of these technologies from the perspective of museum practitioners and audiences and forthcoming publication will substantially improve understandings within practitioner and academic contexts. Our is some of the first research to apply rigorous processes of ethnographic research with experimental design in this setting. The value of our work is demonstrated by ongoing commitments by York Museums Trust and Museums Development Yorkshire to integrating our work into their ongoing practice. This has taken the form of ongoing commitments to collaborate but also financial commitments with YMT making more than £20,000 of direct and indirect contributions to our ongoing research.

2) New models for University-Museum-Industry collaboration which address acute challenges in the museums and universities sector. organisational skills defecits within museums coupled with a scarcity of time and money across the sector mean that opportunities for skills sharing and collaborative design are often limited within museum based collaborative digital projects. Our research has successfully addressed this issue by developing new modes of collaborative practice which scaffold the design process and allow museum partners, regardless of their level of digital specialism, to participate in and even lead the design of digital media. Our design techniques have the capacity to have a transformative impact across the museum sector, particularly at the regional and local level. We have been funded by the AHRC to conduct a follow-on project to develop our methodology into a 'Smart Commissioning Toolkit' for regional and local museums. We will build and test this toolkit with a network of museum partners across the original study region (Yorkshire and the Northeast of England) and will also test its application at outdoor heritage sites through an emerging partnership with National Trust for Scotland.

3) Sustainable improvements in museums practice in the research locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Our work has emphasised technological innovation and innovations in collaborative practice but we have also emphasised individual and organisational skills development. Part of our strategy for developing innovative modes of university-museum-industry collaboration was to ensure that we worked as a unified cross-organisational research team and that through shared decision making we also shared knowledge and skills. This mentality of knowledge and skills sharing has extended beyond the project partners and has led to the expansion of our research team to include a network of small local museums via our follow-on project. We have also advised nationally and internationally on the development of similar projects including installations at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh World Heritage Site and at Slemani Museum in Iraq via the 'Archaeological Practice and Heritage Protection in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq' project (https://culturalheritageprotection.org).
Exploitation Route Our research is under active development within academic and non-adcademic contexts. The results of the project will be published in a long paper combined with the results of the award winning VikingVR project during 2019. AHRC follow-on funding enabled us to expand the impact of our research across a network of local museums via Museums Development Yorkshire. The follow-on project will build a 'Smart Commissioning Toolkit ' which will be used by York Museums Trust in the future to assist local museums in developing more effective digital installations. This will contribute directly to their work as an Arts Council England Portfolio Organisation.

Beyond the follow-on funding the project is also under active development as a research project in collaboration with National Trust for Scotland. Our research will be used to inform the development of a collaborative project investigating the use of immersive and interactive media to interpret outdoor heritage sites across Scotland. This project will substantially extend academic and sectoral understandings of the utility and value of immersive experiences for curating and interpreting outdoor heritage sites as well as considering how digital media can be used to manage issues such as unsustainable tourism, and access to heritage by disadvantaged groups.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.dinarproject.net
 
Description The impact of our research has been substantial at local, regional, national and international levels. The primary impact of our research has been upon the work of York Museums Trust. In their letter of support for our successful application for AHRC follow-on funding for impact and engagement York Museums Trust stated that the model of commissioning, codesign and co-production developed within this project is "a true enabler for innovation and transformational museum experiences". They went onto state that the project "has developed new modes of collaboration, codesign and co-production that the museum, heritage and creative sectors badly need." These quotes demonstrate the impact which our work has had upon the daily business of York Museums Trust but also that our research has continued to build and continued to extend its impact into the museum heritage and creative sectors more broadly. This potential has been fulfilled through our follow-on project Digital Creativity for Regional Museums in which we are collaborating with a series of museums across the Yorkshire region to (a) develop innovative immersive experiences (b) build skills and digital capacity in small museums and (c) design a 'Smart Commissioning Toolkit' to enable museums to participate meaningfully in the design, development and installation of cutting edge digital installations . Through this toolkit (to be administered by York Museums Trust and Museums Development Yorkshire after the conclusion of the project) we will achieve lasting and sustainable change in the region. A version of the toolkit will be made available online for museums nationally and internationally to use. The development and adaptation of this toolkit for users in other parts of the UK or other parts of the world was not included in the AHRC Follow-On fudning but we have been able to use our shared expertise (developed via our AHRC projects) to work with a diverse range of partners to support the development of immersive experiences at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh World Heritage Site and at Slemani Museum in Iraq via the 'Archaeological Practice and Heritage Protection in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq' project (https://culturalheritageprotection.org). These national and global impacts demonstrate that this research has delivered a set of resources which were much needed within the Heritage sector. Further to this, the toolkits and design methodologies which we have developed are underpinned by expertise in (a) the design of immersive experiences by collaborative teams of researchers and practitioners operating at a local level and (b) the development of innovative and creative modes of collaboration which enable participation in the development of cutting-edge digital experiences by the greatest possible constituency of stakeholders. This expertise is extremely valuable and only exists as a result of AHRC research funding for Within the Walls of York Gaol and the follow on project Digital Creativity for Regional Museums. Our Smart Commissioning toolkit will enable long term sustainable impact to be achieved within the museum sector as YMT and other partners continue to use and adapt it. As well as achieving sustainable impact matching and (through international and national initiatives) exceeding the original goals of the project, we are also expanding the research into new areas through a major new collaboration with National Trust for Scotland. This partnership will examine how our research to this point can be used as a basis for the development of new techniques for the interpretation and management of outdoor heritage sites. This work will extend expertise around the co-design immersive experiences into new areas by engaging with large national heritage organisations and examining the use of digital media within a landscape context. This research has the potential to address significant national and global challenges around the impact of unsustainable tourism and the inaccessibility of heritage to disadvantaged people.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description PGT/PhD training at University of Glasgow and University of York
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact The work has formed the basis of a PGT Archaeology course at the University of Glasgow called 'Digital Pasts: Interactive Media and Games for Archaeology and Heritage'. This course uses skills development activities developed during the project to train archaeology and heritage students to deploy user centred design practice to design digital media experiences. This will enhance the levels of design skill in the heritage sector and help to ensure more effective digital commissioning practice and better links between the heritage and creative economies of Scotland and beyond.
 
Description AHRC Immersive Experiences - Follow on Funding
Amount £39,999 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/S010483/1 
Organisation Research Councils UK (RCUK) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2019 
End 07/2019
 
Description Follow-on Funding Highlight in Immersive Experiences
Amount £39,999 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/S010483/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2019 
End 07/2019
 
Description Royal Society Edinburgh Networking Grant
Amount £9,545 (GBP)
Organisation Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) 
Sector Learned Society
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 12/2019
 
Description University of Glasgow - National Trust for Scotland 
Organisation National Trust for Scotland
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution A collaboration with the National Trust for Scotland arose out the of the WWYG project. Our events and subsequent presentation of the results caused National Trust for Scotland to contact us to suggest pursuing future research at cultural heritage sites in Scotland. As yet, the contrubution of the team to this collaboration has been the creation of the installations and presentations that catalysed the collaboration and the development of research grant applications which will, if successful, fund future research in this area.
Collaborator Contribution National Trust for Scotland have organised site visits and have contributed to the authorship of grant applications which are to be submitted in spring 2019.
Impact RSE Networking Grant (successful - commenced 01/2019) AHRC grant application (to be submitted Spring 2019)
Start Year 2018
 
Description Beyond Kirkgate (Hack Event at York Museums Trust) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Beyond Kirkgate was a 'hack event' co-organised by Masinton, Hook, Schofield (University of York), Beale, Smith (University of Glasgow), Langwick and Wilkins (York Museums Trust). The event was attended by 30 practitioners and researchers from a range of sectors including: artists, teachers, curators, writers and university researchers (incl. archaeology, theatre studies, computer science, fine art & electronics). The event was sponsored by this grant and by additional finaancial and in kind support from York Museums Trust. The event had three purposes: (a) to disseminate the expertise developed by the research team in the development of immersive media for a museums and heritage setting and (b) to develop ideas for this project and future project (c) to build collaborations in the commercial and third sector through which to pursue further projects in the future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://digitalcreativity.ac.uk/events/beyond-kirkgate-immersive-storytelling-and-future-museum-exper...
 
Description Design Workshop with York Museums Trust - 27th February 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A day-long workshop, brainstorming ideas for future exhibition design as part of the redevelopment programme for the city centre of York, in particular the York Castle Museum and surrounding environs. Staff and volunteers from York Museums Trust, including curatorial staff, education team, programming staff, redevelopment project team, interpretation team.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description In museum testing and evaluation (York Castle Museum) - 30th November 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Two days were spent in York Castle Museum enabling visitors to the museum to use and provide feedback on the immersive experiences.

Visitors were encouraged to use the interventions as part of their visit to the museum.

Staff and volunteers also took part, trying out the immersive experiences and leaving feedback. Staff from other cultural heritage institutions in the city of York were also invited to participate.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://twitter.com/nicoleebeale/status/1068444529265704962
 
Description Private view - Evaluation event for practitioners at York Castle Museum - 2nd November 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A special invitation only private view of the working prototypes from the project was held at York Castle Museum. Several project participants attended, as well as postgraduate students from relevant courses (including Theatre Film and Television, Archaeology, Human Computer Interaction, and User Experience Design) from the University of York. The event saw over 70 participants engage with the site, artefacts and associated immersive experiences and provide feedback as part of the design process.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Speaker and demonstration at Continue showcase, part of York Mediale 2018 - 1st October 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The team demoed prototypes for artefact interaction at the Continue Showcase event as part of the York Mediale 2018. This event was funded by the Arts Council England, Creative England, and PlatformShift+, a Creative Europe Project.

Event description:

Discover how to reach new audiences in new ways with Continue 2018. Leading practitioners in cross artform projects unite to exchange secrets and perspectives at the bleeding edge of multimedia storytelling and narrative.

Brought to you by The British Games Institute (BGI), Pilot Theatre and York Mediale, this ambitious two-day melting pot of ideas features industry heavy-weight speakers from the cultural and gaming sectors, open discussion and candid sharing, a micro-game jam and exclusive project demos from immersive tech to theatre.

Meet the Experts

One-to-One business surgeries with Creative Enterprise will also be on offer during the two days of Continue 2018. Follow the link below to find out more and book your free slot. Advanced booking recommended as places are limited.

Play the Future

Join Digital Creativity Labs and the Department of Theatre, Film and TV at the University of York as they bring their latest inventions, experiments and creative works to Continue 2018.

Leading researchers in games and interactive media will share their completed projects and works-in-progress to inspire you to explore innovation at the intersection of application of games, storytelling, eSports, broadcast and the rich space where they converge.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://yorkmediale.com/events/continue
 
Description YorNight: Demonstrations at University of York public engagement event - 17th November 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Team members designed a portable version of the immersive experiences for use at YorNight, an annual evening organised by the University of York where research showcase research findings to the general public.

Event details:

Prepare for a journey of discovery as we explore the fascinating world of research at York Researchers' Night (YorNight) 2018.

Through talks and fun activities for all ages, find out about the diverse research being carried out in our city, and its power to influence and transform our daily lives. Held on Saturday 17 November and hosted by the University of York, YorNight offers a warm welcome at the historic King's Manor and the Yorkshire Museum. All events are FREE and no booking is needed.

Come along and listen to the graffiti scratched into the walls of York Gaol by prisoners 200 years ago. Use your ears and a 'magic wand' to find hidden pictures and learn the stories of some of the inmates held in the prisons at York Castle during the 1700s and 1800s. Whispering Graffiti is part of 'Within the Walls of York Gaol', a collaborative research project between York Museums Trust, the University of York and the University of Glasgow to develop new forms of interactive media for museums.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/events/yornight/2018/activities/whispering-graffiti/