Memories and Simulations: The Battle of Mount Street Bridge

24 Jan

As we become more technologically advanced it is only logical that the next step historians take is to manipulate these tools for our advantage to better understand how events may have occurred spatially. Contested Memories: The Battle of Mount Street Bridge does just that. It works with gaming platform Unity to enable users to navigate the recreated city of Dublin freely, as it would have appeared in 1916. This is reminiscent of games like Second Life, only without character development or the opportunity to move from world to world.

The Battle of Mount Street Bridge examines the 1916 fight between the Irish and British known as Easter Rising. 17 Irish volunteer fighters were astonishingly able to keep roughly 1,700 British soldiers from advancing into the town center for over 6 hours before losing the battle. Despite the loss, the men who bravely fought encouraged others to continue the fight for Irish independence elsewhere. The Irish state even traces its origins to the Easter Rising.[1]

Contested Memories relied on professionals that specialized in weapons, architecture, history, ballistics, and virtual reality specialists to create a realistic portrayal of the April 16, 1916 event. These specialists were used to determine pertinent information like the types of weapons used, the paths of the bullets, and how the buildings would have looked and been located to understand how the fight would have occurred.[2]

There are current debates among historians and ballistic experts that question the true number of British soldiers listed as wounded or dead. [3] Inconsistent information was reported by witnesses on both sides of the conflict. This simulation could be especially useful in determining the truth, or as close to it as possible, in other disputed wartime scenarios. The ability to view an event spatially and temporally gives historians the ability to play out multiple scenarios to determine how an event occurred in real time.

This site used two main sources throughout the simulation, the Bureau of Military History and the Military Archives, which has digitized searchable documents, news clippings, witness statements, and pension records.[4] These sources included contradictory and fragmentary evidence, from census records, military documents, letters, and pensions records, which allows historians to conduct their own research via digitized sources. Contested Memories enables testing of different hypotheses, such as calculating how accurate shots would have been for volunteers with no prior gun experience and how quickly they would be able to reload a gun, to determine as closely as possible, how key events truly played out on that fateful day.[5]

Although the website does not allow individuals to input new leads or conclusions directly into site, they are able to mark ‘placards’ once they have entered the virtual recreation.[6] These placards enable users to note the coordinates of specific areas that may hold evidence of how/if the Irish were able to wound and kill as many British as claimed. This also permits users to test conflicting theories, as recorded in witness statements.

The inclusion of conflicting sources opens a plethora of possibilities to recreate for the 1916 events. Similar programs would do much to enhance and advance historian’s knowledge of conflicts that might have differing reports or sources available. As there is no way to completely prove or disprove witness testimony, this simulation offers some possible conclusions, but not a definite answer. This type of technology would be useful play out different scenarios of inconsistent and flawed memories.

The website allows users to choose between two distinct virtual realities. The first gives the user access to freely wander the area of the conflict, to gauge the distance and get the overall lay of the land before the battle began. It also allows users to read biographical information of the volunteers, officers, weapons, and buildings involved in the conflict. The second virtual reality simulation is more complex, permitting users to place themselves in the midst of the 1916 events using first or third person point of view.[7] This virtual reality offers additional options, including the ability to chat with others in the simulation and mark placards.

As I am not too familiar with computer programs I will keep my criticisms short. From a quick internet search I found that Unity offers a higher visual quality when compared to competing brands and is faster and runs more smoothly in complex and detailed games.[8] However, to enter the virtual worlds I first had to download Unity Web player. Once downloaded, the web player was slow to load and often froze my computer. I would suggest only stepping into the virtual world once you have closed all other open programs to reduce the chance of freezing. Even once ‘joined’ in the virtual world the screen would often go blank or not load correctly. Due to this, I would suggest relocating to a platform that does not create issues with loading when people are trying to manipulate the system with new data. I believe it would be beneficial to include a space for open dialogue, outside of the simulation, to allow users to discuss different scenarios before attempting their recreation and risking a computer freeze. This could also potentially lead to more collaboration between conclusions and theories tested.

[1] “Easter 1916,” accessed 23 January 2017 http://virtualworlds.etc.ucla.edu/?p=224

[2] Ibid.,

[3] Ibid.,

[4] “Contested Memories: The Battle of Mount Street Bridge- Methodology,” accessed 23 January 2017 http://mountstreet1916.ie/revision-methodology/

[5] Ibid.,

[6] “Contested Memory: The Battle of Mount Street Bridge- 3D World,” accessed 23 January 2017 http://mountstreet1916.ie/3d-world/

[7] “Contested Memories: The Battle of Mount Street Bridge”, accessed 23 January 2017 https://www.maynoothuniversity.ie/news-events/contested-memories-battle-mount-street-bridge

[8] “Why build a web game using Unity, rather than Flash, Shockwave, or some other web player plug-in?” accessed 23 January 2017 http://answers.unity3d.com/questions/10608/why-build-a-web-game-using-unity-rather-than-flash.html

 

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