I have recently spent quite a bit of time watching, David Rumsey's inspirational keynote describing how digital technology and visualisation can aid the understanding and interpretation of historic maps; thus building new knowledge, not only of the maps, but about people, the societies they lived in and the prevailing culture and values of the time.
Using Google Earth overlays, historic fly-throughs, 30ft globes, and virtual worlds
this 40 min video is awesome, the screen capture above offers a flavour. Indeed it is one of the best uses of virtual worlds that I have come across in a long time.
The Creative Commons licensed Rumsey Map Collection accessed through the Luna Browser, is a good example of how digital technologies can refocus our interpretation of other cultural artefacts, for example, posters, photographs or moving images, in order to shed new light on our past and our present.
The idea of digitally synthesing of old and new is beginning to gain momentum, and there are projects, open to students and educators, including Hypercities which explores layers of time through city maps, or HistoryPin which crowdsources old photographs and superimposes them on Google Street View.
Even if mapping isn't your personal interest, digitised archives or artefacts can provide a stimulus for meaningful learning designs and contexts for all stages of learning. Applying digital tools to data we already have allows new interpretations and ways of using the data which makes this a very rich field for educators to explore using digital technologies.
And whilst at first glance, some of the artefacts and ideas from the past may seem absurd today; in context, they reveal the hidden codes for our future, which are gaining recognition amongst an emerging cohort of paleo-futurists, digital humanists, digital anthropologists and archaeologists who participate in innovative projects and networks. As Tom Seinfield from the Found History blog states:
"innovation in digital humanities frequently comes from the edges of the scholarly community rather than from its center—small institutions and even individual actors with few resources are able to make important innovations."
This is highly encouraging and it is certainly an area I plan to spend a lot more time studying and working in.