Clarkson University and Arizona State University Professors Develop “Stories from the Circle” Augmented Reality App

April 27, 2023

A group of professors from Clarkson University and Arizona State University have developed an augmented reality (AR) app that exposes users to varied perspectives about how to remember Christopher Columbus in relation to the stories of Indigenous peoples, Italian Americans, and other communities in and around Syracuse, NY.

Stories from the Circle - A Monument in Extended Reality
Stories from the Circle - A Monument in Extended Reality

The app, called Stories from the Circle, was created by Assistant Professor of Animation at Arizona State University Alex M. Lee, who recently also taught at Clarkson, along with Chief Inclusion Officer and Title VI, IX, ADA / 504 Coordinator Jennifer Ball, Assistant Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences Rebecca Pelky, Associate Professor of Literature Lisa Propst, Coordinator of Indigenous Community Support & Outreach Phillip White-Cree, and Assistant Professor of Communication, Media and Design Eric York.

The project aims to promote civil discourse and mutual understanding through an augmented reality experience of a contested statue of Christopher Columbus in downtown Syracuse.

The Columbus statue in downtown Syracuse is a subject of significant controversy. In 2020, Mayor Ben Walsh announced plans to remove the statue, and the Columbus Monument Corporation launched a legal challenge. In 2022, the State Supreme Court ruled that the city could not remove the statue. The legal battle is ongoing.

Stories from the Circle foregrounds the power of digital arts and humanities to foster understanding of diverse points of view. Starting in 2020, the project team interviewed Syracuse residents about their perspectives and then geo-spatialized images and interview clips surrounding the statue using the Unity Augmented Reality platform to create a site-specific non-linear walking tour.

A user playing the app on a smartphone or tablet as they walk around the statue can hear fifteen Syracuse residents share their perspectives on the statue and the histories connected to the site. They can also see images of a white pine tree and a Haudenosaunee longhouse, reflecting how Haudenosaunee conceptions of peace and democracy shaped American and New York history. Reflections can be explored in any order, so none are prioritized above the others and the experience is shaped by the individual user.

The project is sponsored in part by a Humanities New York Vision Grant with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and in part by two Clarkson University Undergraduate Faculty Research Awards. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or Clarkson University.

The app is available free of charge on the Apple and Google Play app stores. To use the app, a person must be at the site of the statue.

For more information and a virtual tour of the project, visit storiesfromthecircle.org.

Clarkson University is a proven leader in technological education, research, innovation and sustainable economic development. With its main campus in Potsdam, N.Y., and additional graduate program and research facilities in the Capital Region and Hudson Valley, Clarkson faculty have a direct impact on more than 7,800 students annually through nationally recognized undergraduate and graduate STEM-designated degrees in engineering, business, science and health professions; executive education, industry-relevant credentials and K-12 STEM programs. Alumni earn salaries among the top 2% in the nation: one in five already leads in the c-suite. To learn more go to www.clarkson.edu.
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