Digital Project Reflection: Augmented Reality Poster Set


My understanding of Augmented Reality (AR) and its affordances has evolved as a direct result of this project and some of the excellent conversations we had during our class sessions. When I proposed an AR poster set earlier in the semester, I knew that AR could be used to deliver digital content that a user would not otherwise access through the physical, printed version of a poster set. While my work this semester has confirmed this understanding, it has also broadened my ideas about the type of digital content that AR is advantageously positioned to deliver.

In the early stages of my project, I was focused on adapting digital content from a USHMM online exhibition and designing an AR experience that could serve as a digital, English-language extension of the exhibition’s related poster set. Beyond this original intent, a survey of all available resources related to the poster set led me to explore AR as a tool for inclusive design and accessibility. The USHMM poster set I used is available in 10 languages, including English and Spanish. The availability of translated content presented an opportunity to experiment with another compelling affordance of AR: unobtrusively providing translated text for users who would prefer to experience interpretive content in a language other than English.



In the end, I did create a prototype version of an English-language extension for the poster set centered on the Nazi regime’s use of propaganda. The prototype uses image-recognition to connect users with contextualized primary source materials related to individual posters in the set. Through AR, users can examine digital surrogates of Nazi propaganda posters overlaid with contextualizing text that explains the techniques that Nazi propagandists used to communicate their message.

In creating the English-language extension prototype, I encountered a few minor problems when I added text overlays that I created using the graphics editor PIXLR Pro to an AR experience in HP Reveal Studio. Some text overlays would appear blurry and therefore illegible when an AR experience was triggered through the HP Reveal mobile phone app. Through a frustrating cycle of trial and error, I learned that any text overlays that I wanted to be legible in the HP Reveal AR output on a mobile device needed to be created using at least 50-point font.

I also created a prototype AR experience that overlays all text on the English-language posters with Spanish text. The process that I refined during this project can easily be used to create AR translation experiences for the 8 additional languages in which the poster set is already available.

I was fortunate to produce two functional prototypes at the draft stage of this project, and the demo videos that I created at that point in the process remain the best representation of the prototypes in action, short of filming actual users testing them (which I was excited that some of you were able to do during our in-class poster session).

This video is a screen recording of my phone screen as I used the HP Reveal app to scan printed posters and overlay digital images and English-language captions.
This video is a screen recording of my phone screen as I used the HP Reveal app to scan printed posters and overlay digital Spanish-language labels.

Evaluation Plan

As we learned from reading about IDEO’s iterative, human-centered design approach, involving users in the design process by engaging them in an ongoing dialogue, testing prototypes with them, and listening to and acting on their feedback will result in better, more effective products. In order to move beyond the prototypes I created for this project, I hope to engage USHMM visitors in an iterative, human-centered design process in the coming months.

Here is a PDF version of my evaluation plan:

Project Poster

Here is my project poster, which presents a succinct overview of the backround for this project, and my methods, prototypes, and ideas for future directions:

Digital Project Draft: Augmented Reality Poster Set

Since proposing to create an Augmented Reality (AR) experience to accompany a poster set produced by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, I’ve done a lot of thinking about what the medium of AR is uniquely positioned to accomplish. I’ve also been inspired by our class discussion about accessibility and inclusive design.

One key aspect of inclusive design is providing access to content in a variety of languages. The State of Deception poster set, which focuses on Nazi propaganda, is already available in 10 languages. Because AR allows you to layer labels (or other media) on top of existing content, I wanted to investigate how digital text translations in Spanish might be layered on top of printed English posters.

I used the browser-based HP Reveal Studio to create Spanish-language “overlays” for each printed English poster. Through image recognition, the HP Reveal phone app (available for Android and IOS) layers digital “overlays” onto an image. This video shows the results of that effort:

This video is a screen recording of my phone screen as I used the HP Reveal app to scan printed posters and overlay digital Spanish-language labels.

My original plan was to design an English-language AR extension for the existing poster set. To that end, I’ve also created a few examples showing how AR can be used to deliver additional digital content beyond what is already printed on a poster. Because Nazi propaganda is central to the poster set, I thought it would be interesting to pair digital images of propaganda posters with a relevant printed poster from the poster set, and contextualize those digital images with on-screen explanations of the techniques that Nazi propagandists used to communicate their message.

I have adapted content from online resources that USHMM has made available to classroom educators, as well as from the State of Deception online exhibition. The objective of this AR content is to provide broader context for how the Nazi regime used propaganda, and to encourage users to think critically about what propaganda is and how certain, common techniques are used to communicate propaganda messages. I also wanted to offer a different type of content that users would not otherwise access if they were only viewing the posters. Here’s a video of the 5 AR interactions I’ve created so far:

This video is a screen recording of my phone screen as I used the HP Reveal app to scan printed posters and overlay digital images and English-language captions.

You can download this file to examine each screen of AR content more closely:

What’s Next:

I’ve identified at least 5 additional pairings of printed posters + digital propaganda images, so I plan to create at least 5 more AR interactions.

I like the simplicity of the interactions and graphics I’ve already created, so I plan to continue refining the current visual style and functionality.

Because I’d like to complete a formative evaluation with Museum audiences for both the Spanish language AR experience and the English language AR extension, I will also create a testing plan and draft survey instrument as part of the final version of my project.

1066, Strategy, and Morale

1066 is a strategy game that mirrors conflict in war by placing players in control of an army engaged in a medieval battle. By taking turns with a computer or other players through each round of play, players must make decisions about the formation and actions of their own army as they attempt to defeat an enemy army.

The Units listed on the right have different battle capabilities.
Play begins by positioning Units into their starting formation. “Army Morale” is a dynamic stat that starts at 100.
The round icons represent different types of Units, and players can select commands for these Units to execute during each round of play.

1066 was produced in collaboration with a UK television channel to accompany a two-part historical documentary. Its explicit goal was to offer a standalone digital experience that could engage 10-16 year-olds and pique their interest in history. While its interface is relatively simple, the game has high production value, with evocative, atmospheric audio and beautiful animations that drive the game’s storytelling. Animations provide context for the game’s central conflict between the English, Normans, and Vikings over control of England, as well as depict the battlefield action that results from a player’s decisions during each round of play. Intense music and battlefield sound effects (including blood spattering and swords clashing) help create an immersive experience, while the armies exchange historically-informed verbal taunts to damage the enemy’s morale.

The importance that 1066 places on morale elevates it above other strategy war games that focus solely on the number of enemy combatants killed or damage wrought. In 1066, the battlefield commands that players execute are not the only important element in an army’s success. Players must be aware of their army’s morale in addition to the results of their own strategic decisions in maneuvering and deploying their troops with different capabilities. The detrimental effects of taunts hurled by the enemy army (as light-hearted, comical, or ridiculous as they might seem to contemporary audiences), make themselves increasingly apparent as an army’s morale stat decreases in response to both battlefield losses as well as protracted taunting from the enemy. In order to achieve success in 1066, a player must combine consistent taunting with savvy strategic choices.

Importantly, taunts and their effects on morale call attention to the fact that the troops engaged in these historic, medieval battles, while represented by icons on-screen, were human beings who had emotional responses to the action that was happening around them. While these emotional responses are only examined on a basic, surface level through the “Army Morale” stat on screen, they are nonetheless present for players to consider as they decide how to best deploy their army’s capabilities to defeat an enemy army.

1066 is an engaging game that places players in a decision-making role in a particular historical context. Because of this, it has the potential to serve as a gateway for young people to learn more about medieval history and battle strategy. However, it does not do very much to actually examine how a loss of morale can manifest itself on the battlefield among individuals; instead, it merely recognizes that, in addition to tactical and strategic decision-making, morale plays a role in warfare. Ultimately, the game could go further to connect young players to relevant historical resources and engage them in critical play. One possibility for critical play is encouraging players to think critically about timeless, universal themes around human, emotional responses to battlefield action, which could be a compelling extension for what is currently an “entertaining but hollow” experience.

These stats show the effects of the commands a player has executed throughout the game, but they ultimately don’t offer anything deeper.

Absences and Opportunities

Sheila Brennan’s 2012 talk “Getting to the Stuff: Digital Cultural Heritage Collections, Absence, and Memory” provides a thought-provoking look into the digital practices of history museums and makes a strong case for why history museums should be doing more to make their collections (specifically objects) accessible online. When it comes to historical research and interpretation, Brennan states, “Non-textual sources found in museums—and elsewhere—work to inform us of stories absent or obscured in textual records.” The potential to address archival and narrative silences should be motivation enough for museums to provide more open access to their collections. In Brennan’s view, however, there is also enormous potential for digitized collections to engage non-scholarly audiences in thinking critically about history. By not making their collections digitally accessible, museums not only “contribute to a perceived absence of sources” available for historical research and interpretation, they are also missing out on an opportunity to contextualize objects in a way that offers robust, educational insight into the historical process.

Brennan’s discussion of publicly addressing “the murkiness of historical interpretation,” as well as ways that museums might facilitate exploration (of different perspectives, of different lenses for interpreting evidence), immediately brought to mind an earlier course reading that laid out scholarly primitives for history. It made me wonder if there are any good models among existing online museum collections that engage users in examining the historical process (of selecting, synthesizing, arranging, and contextualizing sources to communicate an account of the past).

In analyzing the digital practices of museums, Brennan has been particularly interested in the “meaning-making” opportunities that museums provide online. For Brennan, meaning-making can happen through online access to collections, online exhibitions, resources for educators, and participatory initiatives (such as citizen history and transcription projects). What other ways, or through what other types of resources, might museum websites help users make meaning?

Ultimately, Brennan’s key question is: “Why not use the capacity of an online environment to share more objects and demonstrate the ways to answer historical questions using a variety of sources?”

Perhaps (hopefully) in 2019 we can move from questioning, “Why not…?” to “How might we…?”

On that note, I also wonder how different Brennan’s “State of History Museums” survey would look today. To what extent have institutions taken her recommendations around providing open access; promoting the importance of material culture; creating multi-layered, contextualized digital experiences around objects; and inviting outside stakeholders to contribute and participate in the process of creating and delivering historical content?

Have you seen any particularly strong examples of museum websites advancing this important work?

The Shelley-Godwin Archive

What is it?

The Shelley-Godwin Archive is a website that brings together “digital surrogates” of late 18th- and early 19th- century manuscripts by four members of the famed Shelley-Godwin family, who have been termed “England’s first family of writers.”


The Shelley-Godwin Archive is the result of a collaboration between the New York Public Library and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH). The project was funded by the NEH from 2011 through 2015; it is unclear whether the site continues to be updated as of early 2019.

The Shelley-Godwin Archive aggregates digitized versions of handwritten primary source documents held by the five institutions represented below. According to the Shelley-Godwin Archive “About” page, these five institutions “contain over 90% of all known relevant manuscripts.”

Select documents from these geographically-dispersed institutions are accessible to anyone who uses the Shelley-Godwin Archive site. However, it is unclear what proportion of each institution’s holdings by the four writers has been made available through the Shelley-Godwin Archive. This begs important questions about context raised by Kate Theimer in her “Digital Historiography and the Archives” talk:

  • Who assembled the archive?
  • What is the archive’s purpose?
  • What criteria did they use?
    • On what basis were items added to this collection?
    • Why were some items excluded?
    • To what extent is what’s being presented a subset of what’s available?

Some of these questions, particularly about who assembled the archive and the archive’s purpose, are answered on the “About” page. However, any researcher who is engaging with these digitized primary sources for scholarly purposes would have to do some digging about the criteria used to add or exclude items.


The site includes five main tabs: Home, About, Explore the Archive, Search, and Using the Archive.

A scrolling panel at the top of the archive’s Home page provides an immediate point of reference about the writers who are represented in the archive, as well as different versions of one of the archive’s most famous literary works, Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

The Home page also includes prominent links to a page that provides in-depth instructions for how to use the archive and “Featured Works.”

The Explore the Archive and Search pages provide three distinct ways of encountering primary sources from the archive:

  • By Work
  • By Manuscript
  • Search results returned by a user’s queries

The digitized primary sources included in the archive represent manuscripts for works of literature and political philosophy. It is likely that many of the site’s users have access to and are most familiar with the published version of these works. However, the order in which some of the manuscript materials appear in physical collections may differ from the published order.

Browsing the archive “By Work” allows a researcher to explore the pages of a manuscript in their published order.

Alternatively, browsing the archive “By Manuscript” allows a researcher to explore the pages of a manuscript in the physical order in which they appear in a collection.

The Search page has robust functionality for finding the sources that are most relevant to a user and refining a search. The archive’s Introductory Video helpfully uses the example of searching the term “lightning” to demonstrate how a researcher can find all of the instances of the word “lightning” that appear in the digitized primary sources, and then refine the search results by work, manuscript, and/or by author.

Examining Digitized Primary Sources

Once a user finds a work to examine more closely, they will see a webpage similar to the ones below that includes a source’s metadata, a source’s Transcription Status and Metadata Status, and one page of a primary source alongside a transcription of that page (if available).

Overall, the Shelley-Godwin Archive provides access to digital representations of valuable primary source documents that might otherwise be inaccessible to researchers across the globe. It has robust functionality for finding and examining sources, and provides useful, clear instructions for how to use the site’s features. The site also conveys some important contextual information about the Archive and the primary sources themselves. However, anyone using the archive for scholarly research should think critically along the lines of the questioning that Trevor Owens raises in “Digital Sources & Digital Archives: The Evidentiary Basis of Digital History” about how a primary source has been rendered digitally, how a researcher has encountered that source, and what is gained or lost in the process.