Every year, Black History Month has a theme – a sort of spotlight area of culture and civics. This year, the theme is Black Health and Wellness and ROSE has created a mobile-based AR experience that takes users into a virtual museum of Black contributions to medicine over the course of 300 years of American history, from 1721 to 2021.
“This exhibition reminds us that we cannot fully appreciate the advancements of the present or hope for the future if we do not honor what it took to get here,” a ROSE representative said in a release shared with ARPost. “It is a tribute to Black Americans’ brilliance, sacrifice, courage, and resolve displayed throughout history.”
Black History And Medicine AR Experience: A Museum in Your Living Room
This is an AR experience involving a virtual museum. How can that be?
The experience, called “Black History And Medicine: An Augmented Reality Experience”, utilizes an AR portal. When users open the experience on their mobile device, they are prompted to tap a location in their physical environment to place a “door.” Walking through this virtual door in their physical environment transports them into the virtual museum where they can move along a timeline of 30 medical milestones in Black American history.
One of the great things about this virtual museum is that it doesn’t take up physical space – even as an AR experience. On-screen navigation tools allow visitors to select specific eras of history to explore. This keeps the overall experience manageable in smaller physical areas, but it also makes it easier to go through the experience in multiple settings.
All of this is made possible through a collaboration between ROSE, a minority-owned New York-based digital agency focused on AR, and 8th Wall, WebAR development platform. The two XR companies had also come together before to create an AR experience centered around the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, which was an important setting for a number of major events in Black history leading up to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Exploring Black History in Medicine
Once a visitor starts their journey within a specific era, they can select discrete timeline entries to learn more about that event in Black history.
Rusty on your Black history and/or medical history? The first piece that visitors see when they approach the virtual museum is the exhibition description. This content primes visitors on both the importance of Black contributions to medicine and the disparity between white and Black Americans when it comes to access to care.
The timeline starts with the story of “Onesimus,” an enslaved person who introduced the concept of smallpox inoculation in 1721 – around 80 years before English doctor Edward Jenner “discovered” the concept.
Events on the timeline include the first African American to practice medicine, obtain a medical degree, obtain a medical degree in America, and serve as Surgeon General of the United States. The timeline also presents events in black medical history that influenced wider national politics including the Civil Rights Act and Affordable Care Act, which combatted racial discrimination in healthcare.
The experience wouldn’t be honest if it only focused on positive trends and events. Much of the progress made in the timeline needed to be made to combat injustices and these are also explored in the timeline. While the AR experience begins with Black contributions to the smallpox pandemic, it ends with vulnerabilities to the COVID-19 pandemic that Black Americans face today.
“It is essential to recognize that medical advancements have often come at the unjust cost of Black lives,” said the release. “When we think about the ways that Black people have transformed the medical space, we must also consider the injustices committed and encountered along the way.”
One View of One Angle
This museum-like AR experience explores the particular theme of Black History Month but in so doing, it reminds us of something bigger. While “Black history” is often presented as a self-contained field of study, any facet of that history is both one small part of Black history and one large part of our shared history.