Responding to Changes in the Archives: SCA AGM 2024 – Aisha Abdul Rahman

Pivoting for Access and Engagement: Leveraging Browser-Based VR in Libraries, Archives, and Museums

Introduction to Jim Beckwourth:
“Jim Beckwourth, an African American frontiersman, explorer, and fur trader, emerged as a significant figure in the American West during the 19th century. His journey from slavery to becoming a chief in the Crow Nation and discovering the Beckwourth Pass, which facilitated westward migration, illustrates a life filled with adventure, resilience, and a profound impact on American expansion and frontier history.”

“Beckwourth was born around 1800 into slavery. His father was a Virginia aristocrat and his mother a mixed-blood slave. At the age of ten, they moved to St. Louis. Given only four years of education, Beckwourth showed an aptitude for languages, becoming fluent in English and French, he could also understand Spanish.

Beckwourth’s father set his son up with a blacksmith apprenticeship. Yet Beckwourth’s destiny lay further west when he answered William Ashley’s call in 1822 for young, adventurous men to work in the fur trade for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Beckwourth’s father would then make sure his son was a free man, filing several deeds for his emancipation.”

Project Objectives: The primary goal of the “Journey Through the Life of Jim Beckwourth” virtual exhibit is to create an engaging, educational, and immersive experience that highlights the significant contributions and the remarkable life story of Jim Beckwourth, a key figure in American history. This project aims to bridge the gap between historical education and modern technology, providing a platform for diverse audiences—including K-12 and college students, educators, information professionals, researchers, and various organizations—to explore and interact with the past in a dynamic and accessible way.

Virtual Exhibit Overview: “Journey Through the Life of Jim Beckwourth”
Journey Through the Life of Jim Beckwourth” weaves together the story of a remarkable figure in American history with the broader tapestry of the 19th-century frontier. Through engaging with historical artifacts, immersive environments, and community contributions, visitors are invited to explore the complexities of the past and the indelible mark left by Jim Beckwourth on the American West. This virtual exhibit aims to inspire reflection, education, and a deeper appreciation for the diverse narratives that forge our collective history.

Through interactive elements like a 360-degree river environment, virtual timeline journeys, detailed 3D object showcases, and a community contribution wall, the exhibit seeks to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of the complexities of the American frontier, the cultural interactions of the era, and Beckwourth’s legacy. 

Additionally, the project aspires to inspire curiosity, encourage further research, and promote discussions about the multifaceted narratives that shape our collective history, making it a valuable educational resource for many users.

Beyond illuminating the life of Jim Beckwourth, this project also serves as an innovative extension of the physical exhibit at the Sojourner Truth African Heritage Museum. By leveraging the capabilities of the Spatial.io gaming and virtual reality platform, the exhibit not only increases accessibility for those unable to visit the museum in person but also enhances engagement through immersive, interactive experiences. 

This virtual space transcends geographical limitations, inviting a global audience to explore Beckwourth’s legacy in a novel and captivating way. The use of Spatial.io enables seamless integration of rich multimedia content, 3D object interaction, and community features, thereby offering a comprehensive and interactive educational journey. This approach aligns with the museum’s goals of broadening its reach and impact, providing an inclusive educational tool that caters to a diverse audience. The virtual exhibit stands as a testament to the museum’s commitment to innovative education, ensuring that the stories it houses are accessible, engaging, and relevant to all, thereby fostering a deeper connection with history through the benefits of modern technology.

Audience Engagement and Feedback

  • Engagement Overview:
    • Detail: During the unveiling of the virtual exhibit at the Association of California Archivist AGM, the audience was deeply engaged, asking insightful questions about the functionalities and educational potential of the platform.
    • Testimonials: “An excellent tool for education”

Technical and Collaborative Insights

  • Development Insights:
    • Spatial.io Features: Spatial.io was utilized to create an immersive, 3D environment and figures more accessible and engaging, such as the ability to interact with virtual objects or discuss the content together in real-time.
    • Learning Curve: The learning curve associated with using Spatial.io is minimal. The interface is straightforward without the need for 3D modeling experience unless you choose to use Unity.
  • Collaborations:
    • Sketch Fab for 3D Objects: Sketch Fab was used to curate FREE 3D models that enhance the visual appeal and educational value of the exhibit.
    • Envato Elements for Graphics: Envato Elements provides high-quality graphics that complement the educational content, making it visually engaging and informative.

Discover the immersive world of Jim Beckwourth and experience history like never before. Explore the exhibit today or contact me to discuss how we can bring similar innovations to your educational offerings.