Institute for Virtual and Augmented Reality for the Digital Humanities (VARDHI)

The final Symposium for the VARDHI Project took place at Duke in February 2020.


Duke University has received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for our Summer 2018 Institute for Advanced Topics in Digital Humanities, HT-256969 Virtual and Augmented Reality for the Digital Humanities Institute (VARDHI).


PI: VIctoria Szabo, Art, Art History & Visual Studies and Information Science + Studies
Co-PI: Philip Stern, History


VARDHI consists of a two-week summer institute for up to 12 participants to take place in Summer 2018 and to be focused on the application of VR and AR to humanities research, teaching and outreach. The program is co-sponsored by the Digital Humanities Initiative at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, the Wired! Lab for Digital Art History & Visual Culture, the Information Science + Studies Program, the History Department, and the Duke Immersive Virtual Environment (DiVE) in the Pratt School of Engineering. The focus is on developing virtual and augmented reality capacity amongst humanities researchers through a combination of critical and scientific readings and discussion, hands-on development workshops, informed critiques of existing projects, and group project implementation and reflection. It is also to intervene in the VR/AR scientific conversation from a humanistic perspective.  Throughout the workshop, participants will discuss best practices, optimal workflows, and strategies for collaboration. After the workshop the participants will communicate via a shared blog and social networking site. Workshop materials will be published online in the form of streaming videos, handouts, and exercises. In Year Two the instructional team will reconvene to finalize the formal white paper as well refine the online resources based on user feedback, participant contributions, and collective development of the field in the intervening period.

The program is designed for humanists who already demonstrate basic digital and/or computational skills in areas such as database design, image and time-based media editing, creative coding, HGIS, 3D modeling, data visualization and other areas, and who wish to expand their repertoire of available methods to include VR and AR.  The goals of the workshop are: 1) to provide opportunities for interactive digital annotation of real and virtual artifacts; 2) re-imagine archival interfaces by engaging space and time; 3) to imaginatively reconstruct and present past or hypothetical built structures within interactive environments; and 4) to articulate best practice, challenges, and opportunities these emergent forms offer to humanities scholarship. Because VARDHI is the first Institute devoted to the analysis and discussion of the intellectual value of VR & AR to be conducted by digital humanities scholars, it promises making a significant impact in a variety of fields. 

Research Questions:

What are some ways in which virtual reality and/or augmented reality can benefit humanities research through methods that differ from conventional humanities practices?  We wish to learn this through specific case study examples from various disciplines, and to abstract from these examples more generalized rubrics for creation and assessment.

How do the different levels of abstraction and interpretation necessary for any sort of visualization or other transformation affect the meaning produced by these systems? This question ties to data science practices, metadata content development, and principles of museum communication. We will consider these questions in pragmatic and critically-informed registers of inquiry.

What is the value of virtual reality and/or augmented reality to communication of such research?  What are the best practices for collaborating on such projects? We will learn from practitioners in the sciences who are doing this kind of work regularly, as well as consult with humanities scholars who have successfully participated in such projects.

How can virtual and augmented reality practitioners in the humanities learn from media arts practitioners and scientists engaging in these fields of inquiry and expression? How are creative uses of not only visual but also auditory, kinesthetic, and sensory modes of expression contributing to the production of new experiences and ideas? We will explore this by introducing these complementary channels of knowing into our VR/AR experience design.

How do we know such work is good/useful/important with both the context of VR/AR production and scholarly practice?  We will assess this by reviewing the literature in the field within the content of virtual and augmented reality as engineering disciplines as well as against the emerging standards for digital humanities scholarship that have been evolving over the last severa years thorugh scholarly organizations and other venues.

How can such projects be presented, published, and shared in ways that are consistent with the expectations for peer reviewed publications? We will examine the various publishing platforms available today and assess the gaps between what is possible there and what we need to achieve this goal.

What do the arts and humanities contribute to scientific discourse around virtual and augmented reality in terms of theories, aesthetics, politics, cultural impact and social effects? We will explore these questions through discussion of demonstration projects, exploration of critical readings, and through our own experiences designing and implementing projects throughout the workshop and over the course of the succeeding year. 


  • Year 1: 2 Week Summer Workshop
  • Year 2: 1 Week Follow-on Workshop

NOTE: Applications are Open! The deadline to apply is February 5, 2018. See here for more information and to apply.


Project Directors

Victoria Szabo, Associate Research Professor, Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies; Director of Graduate Studies, Computational Media, Arts & Cultures; Director of the Duke Digital Humanities Initiative and Co-Director of the PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge; Director of the Information Science + Studies Program,  Wired Lab for Digital Art History & Visual Culture member; Co-Director, Information, Society & Culture theme for Bass Connections (PI)

Philip Stern, Sally Dalton Robinson Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of History; Co-Director of the PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge, Duke University (Co-PI)


Paolo Borin, PhD Student,Department of Architecture and Arts, Università Iuav di Venezia

Hannah Jacobs, Digital Humanities Specialist, Wired Lab for Digital Art History & Visual Culture, Duke University

Regis Kopper, Assistant Research Professor, Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Director of the Duke Immersive Virtual Environment, Duke University

Sylvia K Miller, Program Coordinator, John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, Duke University

Cosimo Monteleone, Researcher, Dipartimento di Ingegneria Civile, Edile e Ambientale (ICEA), University of Padua

Mark Olson, Laverack Family Assistant Professor, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Co-Director of the Speculative Sensation Lab and Wired Lab member, Duke University

Edward Triplett, Lecturing Fellow, Art, Art History & Visual Studies and Wired Lab member, Duke University

David Zielinski, Research and Development Engineer, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University


Thanks to the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute

Deborah Jenson, Director

Christina Chia, Associate Director

Joseph McNicholas, Director of Research Opportunities

Pamela Montgomery, Business Manger


More Info

For updates on the program as it develops, subscribe here.



Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this Institute do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.