This is a review of the Virtual Martin Luther King, Jr. (vMLK) Project, which provides "for the first time, using advanced digital and audio technology, ... an opportunity for scholars, students and citizens to experience and explore" MLK's unrecorded but "widely influential speech titled, 'A Creative Protest'" also "commonly known as the 'Fill Up the Jails' speech" (vMLK, /index). The project website includes the goal of the project, frameworks used in its implementation, ways to engage with the project, and pedagogical resources for communication and rhetoric courses. Specific ways to experience the project include sound, listening, virtual reality, simulation, and a historical experience that includes virtual documentaries among other multimodal artifacts.
Research conducted by Carmen Luke (2003), Mauren Walsh (2010), and Caroline M. L. Ho, Mark Evan Nelson, and Wolfgang Müeller-Wittig (2011), among others, relies on digital technologies like virtual reality to remediate studies of traditional texts and provide a more comprehensive understanding of knowledge making through multimodal composition approaches. Instructors are relying more and more on multimodal literacies, so this website acts as a simulacrum to the actual event. This review provides a gist of the project's contents including the pedagogical tools that it offers for students and instructors.
The vMLK Project is based on visual rhetoric research and stands at the intersection of Black history, rhetorical studies, and digital humanities. It is led by Dr. Victoria Gallagher, a professor of communication at North Carolina State University. Her research focuses primarily on rhetorical criticism of visual and material culture. Her vision and goal behind the vMLK Project is to extend scholarly conversations by describing the ways in which the project puts digital humanities into practice; how rhetorical theory guides the production of such digital humanities projects; and how the making of different digital projects can engage contemporary modes of civic life in provocative ways. The project gives its audiences an immersive experience of being present at Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1960 "Fill Up the Jails" speech delivered in Durham, N.C., of which no known recordings survive. Scholarship in rhetoric and composition has been emphasizing the role of visual rhetoric in digital writing environments for several decades (see, e.g., Hocks, 2003; Jones, 2015; Lanham, 1993). Interactive digital texts blend words and visuals and employ unique ways in which authors create appeal for different audiences. New technologies used to create such rhetorical works require new ways of looking at digital texts. The vMLK Project does exactly that with a combination of technologies like audio, video, virtual reality, and so on. This part of history that was lost has been brought back through a collaboration of digital experiences.
Although the vMLK Project is being displayed at various public venues, not everyone gets the opportunity to experience it. Thus, the vMLK Project website plays the role of delivering this experience to audiences across the world in a single click. The website does a great job of encapsulating the essence of the actual project using multimodal elements like audio, video, and plain-text content. The vMLK Project website can be accessed at https://vmlk.chass.ncsu.edu/. The website is also optimized for search engines. As of publication, the search query with the keyword "vMLK" brings this website as the first item in Google's search results. This and other information design concepts are covered in more detail in this review. The walkthrough of the entire website provides a quick look at the website describing its various aspects. This review acts not only as a summary of the website itself but also as an assessment of the rhetorical and usability aspects of the website and implications of the project.