Does the Future have a Past? New-Old and Old-New Virtual Realities

Date and time

Wednesday 11 March 2020 1pm - 2pm


Professor Peter Otto
The University of Melbourne

Facebook’s purchase of Oculus-VR in 2014 is the latest in a series of events (enabled by the ménage à trois of technological innovation, entrepreneurial CEO, and hopeful consumer) that were each thought at the time to open a new era in VR, which would leave the past behind. In this seminar, Professor Peter Otto argues that the roles we have in shaping our digital futures can only be understood in relation to a cultural field that includes histories of our non-digital virtual realities.

Importantly, in the case of VR the ‘new’ has a very long history, which means that digital VR struggles to find its place within a world already cluttered with (arguably more sophisticated) digital and non-digital virtual realities.

In this Seminar, Professor Peter Otto will focus on three immersive/interactive environments:

  1. Thomas Hornor’s Colosseum (1829), centred on his ‘Panorama of London’, which was designed to enable immersants to live, for extended periods of time, in an alternative reality
  2. the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, designed by Kenzo Tange (opened 1955), centred on a deeply-disturbing panorama of Hiroshima in ruins
  3. ‘Teamlab Planets’, a sequence of linked, digitally-generated panoramic environments, which opened in Tokyo in 2019

This seminar is part of the Digital Studio’s 2020 Seminar Series – Seeing Double: The Multiple Worlds of Virtual Reality which is presented in partnership with the Enlightenment, Romanticism Contemporary Culture research unit.

Professor Peter Otto
Professor Peter Otto


Peter Otto is Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor of Literature at the University of Melbourne, Acting Head of the School of Culture and Communication, and Executive Director of the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Contemporary Culture research unit. His recent publications include Multiplying Worlds: Romanticism, Modernity, and the Emergence of Virtual Reality (OUP 2011); Innovations in Encompassing Large Scenes (Romantic Circles, 2013); and William Blake: 21st-Century Oxford Authors (OUP 2018). He is currently completing a book on ‘William Blake, Secularisation, and the History of Imagination’, while also working on a project, funded by the ARC, on ‘Architectures of Imagination: Bodies, Buildings, Fictions, and Worlds’.