The Practicality of Historical Virtual Reality

I had this blog post written out to post during our Hausman week, but I forgot to upload since I was preoccupied with writing the essay! My apologies!


In Riding the Trail of Tears, Hausman poses a difficult question to the novel’s readers about the practicality of historical virtual reality. The incorporation of VR into literature allows indigenous authors to root their work in the new territory of cyberspace. In these western frameworks, the landless territory of VR is a way to reconnect with land-based indigenous history and blur the boundaries between historical and modern, physical and virtual, and can even grow to become space of radical empathy that folds the boundaries between self and other. Historical VR can serve as an investigatory or analytic space, a continuation and amplification of colonial violence that allows users to “know” history in different and more completest ways, thus allowing us in the modern day to reflect and learn from the crimes of our past in order to promote tolerance in the future.

However, historical VR is not without its flaws. By characterizing real people and turning tragic events into a tourist attraction, we eliminate a sense of horror and realism despite experiencing the Trail firsthand. In trying to get closer to history, we actually distance ourselves from it. Where Hausman further complicates this issue is by taking the question of historical VR’s morality and reflecting outward at the readers themselves. We as readers see ourselves in the fictional tourists of Tallulah’s group 5709, enamoured with the concept of VR and its transformative abilities; yet because of our omniscient perspective of the novel as a whole, we are able to learn from the mistakes of characters in the novel itself and have a much more profound understanding of society’s past crimes against First Nations Peoples than if we ourselves had ridden the TREPP. Pretty meta huh?

So, what do you guys think? Is historical VR a good way to teach the youth of today about the tragedies of the past, or by trying to experience historical events firsthand do we undermine their significance?


One comment

  1. Well, no worries on the lateness of the post as I myself am late in commenting! 🙂

    I think the point in the second paragraph here about us being able to get a more “meta” perspective than the characters is important to the last question. Historical VR of the type we read about in Hausman would seem to be valuable *if* we could take that kind of distanced perspective on what we were experiencing and why we were doing it. Otherwise, it seems to me, it could be too easy to just treat it as some kind of either entertainment or novelty and not really reflect on it carefully enough. At least, that’s how it seems to me at the moment, thinking about your post.

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