Time travel to experience Bristol’s migration history
Unless you’ve experienced migration yourself, there’s no way of knowing what it might really feel like – from negative experiences such as misunderstandings in language and local customs to the more positive experiences of kindness and solidarity. Until now.
A collaboration between the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) community groups and digital design specialists Splash & Ripple – also known as ‘Architects of Extraordinary Adventures’ – will soon lead to the development of a smartphone experience that can shed light on migration to the UK from the 1800s to today.
“The experience design for this project will harness digital technologies to place the audience in the position of a migrant arriving in a foreign land”
Combining immersive and interactive features, the app will offer a realistic insight into some of the timeless challenges faced by migrants on arrival in a new country, from dealing with a language barrier and finding suitable accommodation to navigating unfamiliar new surroundings.
A migrant’s story
The app is being delivered as part of a project that aims to explore and compare the experiences of present day migrants living in Bristol and those of their 19th-century predecessors.
Project leader Professor Steve Poole, Director of the Regional History Centre, says: “Like many migrants and refugees today, 19th century migrants to Bristol faced all kinds of difficulties and obstacles when they arrived – from getting into trouble with the law to hostility from local and more established communities, misunderstandings of language and custom, and difficulties securing safe accommodation.
“Some, on the other hand, will also have experienced acts of kindness and solidarity. What would it have been like to arrive? How might they have negotiated the streets and buildings of the city? What did it really feel like to them? Can we do anything today to enter their mental world, and, if we can, is it possible for historical experience to influence and complement our understanding of situations faced by migrants to Britain now, a century and a half later?
“We’re extremely excited to have the opportunity to develop ‘Empath’ as platform for storytelling further”
“The experience design for this project will harness digital technologies to place the audience in the position of a migrant arriving in a foreign land – this could be 19th century or present day, or even flitting between the two. Digital innovation, possibly using an app of some kind, can make immersive personal experiences easier to create. We want to use the popularity of history in the city to facilitate a more subjective engagement with past and present events and circumstances than would otherwise be possible. We want to go beyond sympathy into empathy.”
The possibilities for the project beyond the initial research and development phase include the potential for the app to be adopted by heritage sites across the UK, improving participants understanding around migration.
Professor Poole tells us: “Heritage organisations such as the National Trust and Historic Royal Palaces have shown a good deal of interest in developing more immersive, ‘realistic’ and emotional experiences for their visitors in recent years, and a number of innovative approaches have now been trialled by leading design companies like Splash & Ripple.
“However, little or no research has been carried out to assess what an empathic visitor engagement might require or the extent to which existing models have been successful.”
Rosie Poebright, Creative Director of Splash & Ripple, adds: “We’re extremely excited to have the opportunity to develop ‘Empath’ as platform for storytelling further, using the expertise of a range of academics from historians to psychologists. By the end of the project we’ll have a rigorously researched and tested prototype that creates an interactive and potentially transformative experience for our audience.”