Presenting an Ongoing Augmented Reality App Project (Booth 1)

Jonathan Amakawa, Fitchburg State University, USA

Does an historical site lose its significance or become less worthy of interpretation if there are no surviving buildings? Can visual and multisensory representations give meaning to a bare landscape? An ongoing project at the New Philadelphia National Historic site seeks to address these questions through an Augmented Reality App. Serious game designer and Assistant Professor in Game Design at Fitchburg State University, Jon Amakawa is working with the the United States National Park Service’s Network to Freedom Program and the Illinois State Museum to create an App that allows visitors to walk through New Philadelphia, view reconstructed historical buildings placed in their original locations and learn about the history of a lost 19th Century American frontier community.

The story of New Philadelphia and its founder Free Frank McWorter is powerful, even biblical, in its narrative arc—encompassing major themes in US history including slavery, the Underground Railroad and settlement of the American West. In short, New Philadelphia is historically significant as the first town in the US to be founded by an African American. Over the course of the mid-19th century, New Philadelphia grew modestly in size peaking around 1870, however, the town was eventually abandoned and reverted to farmland.

The App uses signs located at specific points within the site’s visitor path to accurately place historical structures. When visitors view a sign through their mobile device, the App overlays 3D reconstructions of houses onto the current landscape. These historical artifacts are carefully reconstructed based on a collaboration between the App’s designer and Archeologists from the State Museum. Visitors also hear audio narration and sound effects which serve to recontextualize the existing landscape. As of December 2014, the App has reconstructed half of the town and is in a testing phase. The designer plans to release the first version of the App to site visitors by June 2015.

In June, I was interviewed by a reporter from the Quincy Herald Whig for a newspaper article on the project. The link for the article is below.