160 Trustee Rd, Rochester, NY 14642


Chronicling Harriett: Afrofuturist Museology through Immersive Technology 

Dr. Synatra Smith is a cultural anthropologist exploring extended reality (XR) and other digital tools to enhance special collections and archival records featuring African American art, history, and culture with the specific intention of documenting workflows that can be shared with students, cultural heritage workers, and scholars interested in building digital projects without relying on a large budget or team. She sits at the intersection of researcher; gallery, library, archives, and museum (GLAM) professional; and digital humanities practitioner. Storytelling and narrative-building are central to that experience and her goal is to identify ways to engage target user communities throughout the life of these projects through more inclusive means that integrate feedback loops and myriad learning styles.

Extrapolating from the title of Balogun Ojetade’s 2015 novel The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman: Freedonia, this Afrofuturist reimagining of Harriett’s Bookshop, a Black woman-owned bookstore in Philadelphia, renders the space as an interactive VR environment to highlight works by Black artists in the Philadelphia Museum of Art alongside often ephemeral public artworks by Black artists in Philadelphia. This discussion seeks to situate this project within and beyond Ojetade’s terrain of Black retrofuturism through a discussion of the needs of Black memory institutions and the impact of immersive technologies to mediate capacity issues and reach new audiences through a speculative lens. 

During this presentation, she will discuss the needs of Black museums regarding digital/virtual content coupled with the challenges presented by limited staff and resources, the role of speculation in interpreting Black history, and the manner in which technological intervention through digital fabrication/exhibit design using free and low-cost tools can address capacity issues, audience engagement, and recruiting emerging museum professionals. This speaks to the question of relevance and the role of Black extended reality professionals in mitigating harm as digital tools increasingly permeate our lives. 

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The Voices of XR speaker series is made possible by Kathy McMorran Murray and the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Traineeship (NRT) program as part of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Training in the Science, Technology, and Applications of Augmented and Virtual Reality at the University of Rochester (#1922591).

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