Derek Ham

Assistant Professor for NC State University

Derek Ham, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design and Affiliate Assistant Research Professor of Architecture at North Carolina State’s College of Design. His research interest spans the areas of game based learning, algorithmic thinking, and digital fabrication/making. He completed his doctoral work in Design Computation from MIT and holds a Master’s in Architecture from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. In his research, he continues to investigate both virtual reality (VR) and augmented realty (AR) technology to find ways these tools can expand the way we teach and learn.
Dr. Ham is a scholarship winner of the Oculus Launch Pad Program (run by Facebook Inc.) for his upcoming VR project  I Am A Man developed for the Oculus Rift.  The I Am A Man VR experience  is set to the historic events of the Civil Rights. Users will witness the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Worker’s Strike and the events leading to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The project is set to be on permanent display at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis TN later this year to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. King.

Talk Description:

VR For Historical Narratives

In this talk we will look at the way virtual reality (VR) has impacted the digital humanities by pushing the limits on what immersive environments might deliver in the future of historical imagery. VR For Historical Narratives presents a process of storytelling that is immensely collaborative presenting opportunities of collaboration between designers, historians, computer scientist, artist, and humanities scholars. The vMLK Project, a VR project that recreated a speech by Martin Luther King Jr., is a recent example of this proposed collaboration. Another forthcoming project by Derek Ham, PhD, the “I Am A Man VR Experience,” places users in the center of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Worker’s Strike and allows one to see events leading to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. This project, will be on exhibit at the National Civil Rights Museum in 2018 for the 50th Celebration of the Sanitation Strike and Dr. King’s death. The proposed research endeavors will build on this high level of scholarship and help establish new standards for the usage of immersive imagery in revisiting historical spaces, objects, and events. The process involves communicating historical research with new computational design techniques.

VR technologies are bringing to the forefront new questions surrounding the semiotics of sacred objects and spaces. Never before have forms of representation (both digital or analog) been able to capture the essence of the physical world in the ways we can now achieve with immersive technology. VR moves beyond iconography, (the physical resemblance of what something stands for), and far beyond symbolism, (a sign of conventional abstraction). When designed properly, VR can provide transformative embodied experiences. VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive are not just used for games and workplace simulations. Early experiments by Ham and others have shown that VR can explore historical moments, spaces, and objects through rich narratives that engage the user. Immersive engagement with historical moments helps establish empathy in the minds of the viewers. With VR, we have the ability to present multiple points of view where users are able to watch events unfold and participate as alternative actors in the space. The user of the VR experience can begin to ask new questions with this media. They can begin to wonder what the “other person” was thinking during these events.