In this dissertation, I build discussions around the use of digital technologies in association with art and art historical contexts to ask greater cultural heritage questions regarding humanity’s relationship with digital technology. My work reflects on the emergence of digital humanities as a field in response to the experimentation and incorporation of digital methods, with an emphasis on extended reality (XR) technologies, for conducting humanities research in relation to arts and culture-based organizations. I investigate the advantages and disadvantages digital tools bring to the field of Art History today. In particular, the project focuses on modes of publishing, display, and information-capture in museums and archives that illustrate a break from “traditional” models. In doing so, I argue that digital modalities provide a distinctly different paradigm for epistemologies of art and culture. Extending previous research in museum studies and media studies, I address a selection of the latest technological interventions within museum and cultural heritage contexts that operate within a spectrum of immersive modalities and use extended reality technologies. The dissertation brings together many humanities disciplines to investigate how sharing XR within a museum both disrupts and complements the time-tested benefits of object-centered methods of display, representation, and education.
The phase “virtual actualities” within the title of the dissertation signals changes in practice that are being brought about as digital technologies, and particularly XR, become incorporated into fields of arts and culture. “Actualities” connote the practical matters associated with producing, presenting, and preserving digitally immersive materials in the contexts of gallery, library, archive, and museum (GLAM) organizations. “Reality” in turn is reserved for the qualities perceived when discussing the characteristics that define 3D and XR production. At the fore in addressing new topics in museum practices and by conducting new experimentation through the application of immersive technologies, this dissertation can offer new information for digital art history, cultural heritage, and museum studies. The aggregation of examples throughout the dissertation aims to provide a survey of the field of XR in its current state within GLAM settings in order to offer insight and guidance for future development and implementation.