Historical monuments, art galleries, museums, tend to have an issue for plenty of people that, realistically, is impossible to solve: they are too far away to travel to. Those pieces of art that we most wish to see are typically elsewhere in the world, usually on a different continent. And even if you want to visit Stonehenge and live in the UK, distance means that the trip must be more than a few hours drive. You must make a weekend of it, or a holiday. Most people will go their lives without seeing first-hand the historical objects and landmarks they most desire to, simply down to inconvenience.
It is primarily this problem that can be solved by virtual reality and digital access. Tours of cathedrals and castles can be uploaded to the internet as ‘360 tours’, and anyone with a phone or laptop can visit monuments worldwide. Two groups who are utilising that tool now are Google Arts and Culture, and English Heritage. Together they have worked to produce a collection of 29 walk-around online images, all giving access to a list of historical locations. A Cold War bunker in York, the J W Evans Silver Factory in Birmingham, Whitby Abbey, Dover Castle. An aerial view of Tintagel Castle in Cornwall is available, and each tour is presented alongside bites of information, as if you were on a true tour of the place.
With Google’s help, the images are obviously perfect, documentary-style shots of the varying locations. Taken from every angle, the tours allow access to the inside and out of places otherwise only accessible through bookings and travel. The aim, the head of English Heritage says, is to bring their historic works to a ‘global audience’, which is when the internet shows its best colours, catering to a global community. On the other hand, cynics, or more specifically, those who dread the thought of a guided tour of, say, Dover Castle, might equally dread a digitised version of the same. And in a virtual tour, there’s no escaping the tour guide and veering off to the unofficial track. Which means that, unfortunately, the entire project is ruined.