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Augmented Reality is a Dream Come True for History Buffs

October 31, 2019

Are you one of those people who dream of going to France, not to take that cheesy picture with the Eiffel Tower, but to go up northwest of Paris to Omaha Beach, east to Verdun or Bastogne in Belgium, or head north to visit the Somme and other great battlefields from WW1 and WW2?

Or perhaps you are more interested in following the glorious footsteps of Napoleon’s Grande Armée starting from Paris, and going through Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Poland, and all the way into Moscow, recreate the army’s heartbreaking retreat and close your tour in none other than Waterloo, the scene of the infamous final battle.

Maybe you’re more into classical history and want to see where Hannibal crossed the Alps with his war elephants and see where King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans made their last stand in the Hot Gates of Greece. Since you’re already there, why not follow Alexander the Great’s steps as he made his way from Pellas all the way deep into India, conquering Persepolis and the Persian Empire along the way.

So you book a flight and arrive at what once was a decisive battlefield that changed the world forever only to realize that:

  1. You are dab in the middle of nowhere.

It’s even somewhat disappointing…

Most battlefields, whether ancient or not, have changed a lot over the years. Take Waterloo for example, just 5 years after the battle King William I of The Netherlands ordered the construction of a monument, the Lion’s Mound. Lion’s Mound is an artificial hill constructed using earth from the battlefield itself. This, of course, greatly altered the look and feel of this historical location.

This is true to all battlefields and historical locations around the world. Some alterations have been man made and some have been the result of natural processes such as tides changing, rivers drying out, and thick forests reclaiming their territory.

AR is Bringing Historical Sites Back to Life

Augmented reality (AR) apps like OVR are making it possible for people to visit historical sites, like the above mentioned battlefields, and experience them as they were. Your smartphone can now transport you straight into the middle of the action.

Just imagine you’re in Verdun exploring the trenches from WW1, as you walk through the mud you can easily pull up the Wikipedia articles for the Battle, look at the photos and videos from that specific trench, and get some orientation about where everything was in relation to your position. Using your phone’s GPS capabilities, the OVR app can point you towards the enemy line, where your command center would have been and where every division was posted.

OVR also makes it possible for you to see the battlefield through the eyes of a WW1 soldier who is wearing a gas mask, while an audio file plays war sounds, bring the scene to life. An on screen timer would show you how much longer you had to endure until the battle was over and you could also see what your odds of surviving looked like from where you stood.

Think about how much more exciting it would be to watch the beach from one of the German bunkers overlooking Omaha beach if you had the chance to actually see the allied ships coming towards the beach, exactly like it was on June 6th, 1944. Wherever you point your phone you can see the boats unloading troops right onto the beach, planes fighting overhead, and thousands of soldiers attacking your position.

You would also be able to pull up Wikipedia Articles about D-Day, the various vessels used, the tactics involved, and the troops that played a part during that day. Using GPS, OVR is able to show you a detailed map of where each division was in relation to you and how the assault progressed, you could even see the action developing in real time depending on where you stand and the time of day.

AR is transforming the way people experience and learn history; making it more exciting and educational at the same time. You can follow the action from your favorite general’s exact view and with the same information he had back then try to think about what you would have done in their place.

It isn’t too far fetched to think that if you do a thorough research you could even follow in the exact footsteps of an ancestor who participated in one such battle. All you would need is the OVR app and to know this person’s unit number; this would give you a better sense of understanding of what your relative might have experienced and gone through.

AR technology is enabling us to better understand history, providing us with a more accurate view of how events might have unfolded and their impact on people and communities. Not only can this make traveling more fun and insightful, but it can also revolutionize the way people teach and learn about history.