Perspective and the Past: Modeling Historical Representation from Camera Obscura to Virtual Reality

Abstract This article examines the concept of “perspective” as an embodied metaphor with ontological and epistemological implications for the modeling of historical understanding of contested pasts. The metaphors employed in modeling past reality shape how we make sense of the controversial past. In particular, I explore how perspectival metaphorical models conjure the notions of presence/proximity/engagement and absence/distance/detachment. To open this up, the paper juxtaposes two distinct models of seeing and knowing as sources of embodied metaphor: 1) static and distancing optical metaphors of cognition, and 2) a “post-cognitive” (i.e., enactive, embodied and dynamic) process of interaction. I argue that the shift towards the affective, experiential and immersive forms of engagement in historical representation is indicative of the growing importance of dynamic, embodied and interactive features in mediated models of the past. The paper concludes by discussing the implications of virtual reality as an emergent medium that offers a new way of modeling the past. Despite its novelty, however, virtual reality raises age-old questions about the dynamics of engagement and detachment in historical understanding.