April 13-17, 2010
Denver, Colorado, USA

Demonstrations: Description

Bringing The First World War To Second Life

Christopher Stephens, Oxford University, United Kingdom

The First World War Poetry Digital Archive and the Learning Technologies Group at the University have collaborated on an exciting new project in the 3D virtual world Second Life. The team believes this is the first time anything of its type has been done on Second Life.

Second Life is a three-dimensional virtual world where users can interact with each other through avatars (3D versions of themselves) called ‘residents’. These can travel the world, socialize, visit museums or attend events, concerts and lectures to name just a few activities.

This project has seen the Second Life environment modeled to simulate areas of the Western Front 1914-18. Into this environment a range of digitised archival materials from the major poets of the First World War (such as poetry manuscripts, letters and diaries), including Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg and Vera Brittain, along with contextual primary source materials have been imported. These materials have been supplemented with new interpretative content and a spectrum interactive tools and tutorials, streaming video and audio effects. All materials have been drawn from the University of Oxford’s First World War Poetry Digital Archive ( , launched in 2008 to mark the 90th anniversary of Armistice.

Visitors to the model are given a unique immersive experience where they can explore a training camp, dressing station, a trench network and No Man’s Land. The terrain is waterlogged and difficult to navigate, rife with rats and littered with poppies. Moving nearer to the front line the clamor of shell blasts and artillery fire becomes louder and louder.

As visitors explore the simulation, they can listen to the voices of veterans recounting their experiences of the War, watch original film footage from the time, and learn about life on the Western Front. Within this context they can encounter some of the most powerful poetry in English literature by handling the original manuscripts, turning the pages of the poet’s war diaries and letters, and listening to readings.

At the end the visitor is teleported out of the trenches to a teaching area. Here they are asked to consider the memory of the war, and to confront their own prejudices and stereotypes - was the war really all about trenches, mud, and rats, or are their other aspects to it that we now need to consider? Should it only be remembered as mass slaughter, a gross act of futility, or more a collective act of unparalleled heroism that ended ultimately in a victory for Britain and its allies?

By piloting the use of Second Life, the First World War Poetry Digital Archive is moving beyond the archival web site in an innovate way. More importantly it is showing how new technologies (virtual worlds) can be utilised to provide more interesting access to key archival materials for teaching, learning and research.

Demonstration: Demonstrations - 1 [Close Up]

Keywords: secondlife, virtualworlds, archive, simulation, history, literature