While the Virtual Martin Luther King (vMLK) Project mainly focuses on documenting and recovering the history of MLK's "Fill Up the Jails" speech and providing pedagogical tools for teaching social studies and rhetoric, it also provides video walkthroughs of the virtual reality experience available to audiences who are able to witness the vMLK project in person. The website content is in the form of text, audio, and video, which cannot completely make up for the immersive, virtual reality experience created by the in-person experience. This section of the review, however, covers the analysis of the textual content. The visual analysis page covers analysis of the multimedia content.
One of the limitations of using historical resources in teaching is the need to help students understand the historical context in which events happened. The vMLK project covers history that took place in the state of North Carolina during the Civil Rights era. For readers unfamiliar with that history, the creators provide a brief history of MLK's speech, making it relevant to audiences engaging with it for the first time. The landing page provides more information about the event, foregrounding the research motivation. On June 23, 1957, Reverend Douglas Moore, the pastor of Asbury Temple United Methodist Church in Durham, organized a protest at the Royal Ice Cream Company. Three years later, when college students in and around Greensboro, N.C., began their sit-in at the Woolworth lunch counter, Rev. Moore invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to the White Rock Baptist Church in Durham to deliver a speech endorsing sit-ins and other direct nonviolent social actions. The events that led to the speech and the speech itself—titled "A Creative Protest" but often referred to as the "Fill Up the Jails" speech—are significant in the history of the movement. The speech is the most important aspect of the event which is displayed in multiple ways on the website.
The website can be navigated through the menu as well as several hyperlinks embedded within its pages. The page titled "Historical Experience" provides an overview of all the ways in which the original speech can be experienced through important artifacts like multiple documentaries, multimedia archives, and a historical timeline of the speech. These artifacts are displayed for the audience to view and experience, speaking to the locality of the speech and informing a narrative of how the speech served as a response to a particular rhetorical problem. On other pages of the website, images and records are displayed of audiences experiencing the immersive project in person (described in more detail below). This helps audiences imagine the potential of virtual reality (VR) environments for such historical events.
There are multiple ways of experiencing the vMLK project. Unlike the embodied experience created by the VR project itself, the website can provide only a limited demonstration of the experience. To help users of the website understand the experience better, it provides detailed articulations of those VR experiences with corresponding videos and images, which may be particularly useful for students who may not be able to experience the in-person VR project. The descriptions can also be useful to audiences who are revisiting the project through the website. Most of the information that they might have missed in their project visit can be recovered from the details shared on the website. Experience descriptions help in analysis by comparing and contrasting purposes of different experiences.
The project takes into account the real experience of placing oneself in various locations in the church where the speech took place. The experience and quality of reception differs based on where the receptor is located. The audience experiencing the actual project can move around the room, and the ones wearing VR headsets can click to move to various locations of the church to experience the change in sound levels. To emulate that experience for website users, the website provides descriptions of each type of experience (i.e., from the front row, the balcony, and the pulpit) and the effect it has on the audience. The commonality between all experiences as described by the website is the location-based feature. The website states,
the collective sound experience, the listening experiences and the gaming and VR experiences all demonstrate the location-based function of sound by focusing attention on how the sound of King's voice (as re-created by Mr. Blanks) and of the congregation (the people who gathered for the re-creation event) function to immerse visitors/audiences in the experience of the speech. (/listening)
The differences between the experiences as described in the content are as follows:
These differences highlight the value added by each of the digital tools used for the project.
Although the website describes uses of the different digital technologies, it does not address the need to utilize all the methods. What would happen if one of the experiences was absent? The project has been presented with few digital tools, which could affect the comprehensive embodiment experience. Does audience perception about the project differ with fewer experiences? Do all audiences commit to experiencing each of the presentations? This information hasn't been provided on the website. It would be interesting to hear from audiences about their intentions and experiences while navigating the project.
The website offers a great alternative framework that can be used for teaching by communication instructors. Currently the website offers resources for a public speaking class and is being used by some instructors at North Carolina State University (NCSU).
The COM 110 class is an introductory foundational course for public speaking skills at NCSU. The course requirements expect students to develop a persuasive speech for an activist movement that intersects with race and justice. Through different experiences, the vMLK website provides students with the means to conduct analysis and observe critical details of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech, which helps them build one of their own. The resources of the site enable beginner-level students to study methods for identification of audience, role of language systems, modes of persuasion, and so on, especially for genres like social movements.
Although the site does not mention this explicitly, I think this project can be used for teaching other courses as well. For example, undergraduates in the Communication Department at NCSU choose from three paths of study: Communication Media; Interpersonal, Organizational and Rhetorical Communication; and Public Relations. This project can help them enhance their knowledge of communication theory, rhetoric, and practice. As well, the course for English majors with a concentration in language, writing, and rhetoric at NCSU trains students to work with the essential tools of writing, communication, presentation, and persuasion. This project is an ideal pedagogical tool for students who want to develop their skills in professional communication and creative writing using digital media.
"Digital humanities is a fast-evolving field, shared across academic disciplines and cultural institutions, interested in the digitization of humanities materials, digital methods for research, and the critical study of new media" (NCSU, n.d.). In the vMLK project, a model of the church has been created using digital tools. The goal is to provide a narrative that includes the space of the room. The website demonstrates the ways in which audiences see and hear the speech from different locations, distances, and perspectives. The visual and aural model transforms with the changes that the audience makes. Students of digital humanities (DH) can learn from this project by capitalizing on the multimodal elements of composition for purposes of restoration and embodiment commonly used in DH classes.