Investigative Curation through Augmented Reality

The Augmented Archives Project

Teaching and learning with primary resources through Augmented Reality technology. 

Imagine walking into a space filled with unknown objects. The walls are covered with photographs. Artifacts are sitting in cases on display. Rare books are under a Lucite cover, and while you yearn to turn the pages of the book to see what follows, it is sadly locked under the case, stuck on pages 233-234. If only these objects could come to life and tell their stories!

This is the central problem that archives and special collections libraries face in their efforts to engage visitors and students with the objects in their collections. In an increasingly technological world, how do we leverage emerging technologies to connect viewers with the historic objects in our collections? This is the problem we are seeking to address through our project, Augmented Archives, at Washington College.

The Augmented Archives Project is an initiative designed to leverage emerging technologies to increase access to and engagement with primary source materials in Washington College’s Archives & Special Collections. The project was originally made possible by a SANDBOX grant.

Fueled by student research, the Augmented Archives Project presents an opportunity for students to curate exhibits of historic artifacts and significant objects. These exhibits come to life using augmented reality technology to make rare documents, fragile artifacts and curator commentary videos accessible to exhibit visitors. 

The Augmented Archives Project is a collaboration between the Washington College Archives and Washington College’s Academic Technology Department—marrying the primary source materials in our Special Collections with the technological and instructional resources in Academic Technology.

In spring of 2018, we are moving our project into a new phase. This next phase will have two components: developing new prototypes that explore AR authoring beyond end-user applications and constructing a resource website to share best practices for incorporating AR into primary source instruction. We are actively exploring ways to solve the sustainability problems institutions face in using end-user platforms to create AR content. Stay tuned as we update our progress.



Student views AR content
Student views AR content

Student views AR content
Student views AR content

Students photograph rare books
Students photograph rare books

Student views AR content
Student views AR content


Project Timeline

Overview of the Augmented Archives Project to date:

Summer/Fall 2015 

Research & Development 

Assessed different AR platforms, taught student Archives Assistants how to utilize the technology and solve challenges

Spring 2016

Exhibit Prototyping


Created prototypes of AR exhibits with student Archives Assistants

Fall 2016

Voices From the Grave 1.0


Students curate personal exhibits as part of the instructional sequence of their First Year Seminar course, Voices From the Grave

Spring 2017

Breakout Session at ACRL conference


Presented project at the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) conference

Summer 2017

Washington’s Secret History 2.0


Incoming freshmen co-curated an AR-enhanced exhibit

Fall 2017

Voices From the Grave 2.0


Students curated personal exhibits as part of the instructional sequence of their First Year Seminar course, Voices From the Grave

Spring 2018

Instructional Sessions


Presented Augmented Archives as a case-study for the study of history in other faculty members’ courses

Summer 2018



Developed PocketMuseum App Prototype in preparation for ILiADS 2018.

Spring 2016 



Wrote grant to collaborate to explore AR in special collections - awarded SANDBOX grant

Summer 2016  

Washington’s Secret History 1.0


Incoming freshmen co-curated an AR-enhanced exhibit; first Augmented Archives student-curated exhibit

Fall 2016

Archives Fair at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History


Shared project with representatives from multiple archives and special collections institutions

Summer 2017

Talking Portraits of Washington College


Incoming freshmen participated in an AR scavenger hunt, scanning paintings and portraits hanging throughout campus which “come to life” and share their connections to the college

Summer/Fall 2017

Augmented Archives SANDBOX Exhibit


The results of student work from previous projects and our own work became part of the culminating exhibit for our SANDBOX grant. The exhibit was held in the campus art gallery.

Presented curator’s lecture attended by faculty, administrator and community stakeholders at exhibit opening

Fall 2017

Archives Fair at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History


Shared project with representatives from multiple archives and special collections institutions, hosted break-out session about the project

Summer 2018

Library Go!


Wrote chapter 6 in Augmented & Virtual Reality in Libraries published by Rowman and Littlefield 

Heather Calloway gives sudents a tour of the college archives
The team presents our work at the Smithsonan Musum of American History during the 2017 Archives Fair
A student curator situates a display case for the exhibit
Patrons view the exibit

Summer 2018


Attended the Institute for Liberal Arts Digital Scholarship (ILiADS) to accelerate PocketMuseum

Fall 2018

Impact Award

Awarded a 2018 Campus Technology Impact Award in the category of Education Futurists

Fall 2018

NDSA Innovation Award

Awarded a 2018 National Digital Stewardship Alliance Innovation Award in the category of Future Steward

What's Next? 

In spring of 2018, we moved our project into a new phase. In this phase we are actively exploring ways to solve the sustainability problems institutions face in using end-user platforms to create AR content and constructing a resources to share best practices for incorporating AR into primary source instruction.  PocketMuseum was developed as a product of this new exploration. We are currently seeking opportunities to move PocketMuseum beyond its prototype stage into an application to deploy across learning environments bringing world-class museums and collections directly to learners wherever they are. Stay tuned as we update our progress. 

Watch a brief documentary about the benefits of augmented reality and investigative curation in a project-based learning experience.  This film outlines the Washington's Secret History preorientation program in which in-coming freshmen took on the role of curators, envisioning and implementing an AR-enhanced exhibit.  

Washington' Secret Histoy Logo

About the technology...

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) allows designers to overlay digital content on real-world objects.  When viewed through a digital device (smartphone, tablet, etc.) the digital content becomes visible, giving the illusion that the digital and corporeal objects share the same physical space.  


Augmented Reality differs from Virtual Reality (VR) in that with VR the viewer is taken out of their present reality and whisked away to another "reality"; for instance, the viewer puts on the headset and is taken to the Great Pyramids or an undersea environment. With AR, the viewer remains in the present reality and digital content becomes a part of that reality, thus augmenting it.  

End-user AR

After testing multiple platforms, we concluded that Aurasma best met all of the criteria we were seeking in an AR platform. Its drag-and-drop authoring interface is intuitive for students as creators of augmented reality content and its mobile app interface is intuitive for visitors to interact with. It works across iOS and Android devices (both phones and tablets). The Aurasma app is free to download and its authoring platform, Aurasma Studio, is also free.

Aurasma, a subsidiary of Hewlett Packard, transitioned to HP Reveal--a rebranded version of the app and authoring platform.  The transition to HP reveal occurred in late 2017 and is ongoing. 


Speaking the Lingo

Each AR platform has its own set of vocabulary to describe components of its functionality. In this project we use the following platform-specific vocabulary when discussing the creation of AR content using Aurasma (now HP Reveal):


Aura- the visual augmented reality (AR) experience produced when connecting digital assets like videos and web pages to a real world image or object which Aurasma can recognize. The key components of an Aura are a Trigger Image and an Overlay (the digital element that is launched on [a] mobile device when the Aurasma viewfinder recognizes a Trigger Image). Auras can include multiple Overlays, and those Overlays can have various commands attached to them. Auras are created in Aurasma Studio and viewed with the Aurasma App.


Trigger Image- the physical real world images or objects Aurasma recognizes in order to deliver an AR experience to a mobile device. Strong Trigger Images insure the Aura will activate smoothly and the Overlays will track well. Qualities for strong Trigger Images are:

-Tonal variation and contrast

-Unique shapes and forms

-Lots of detail across the entire image

The physical real world objects that trigger an Aura must be photographed and imported into Aurasma Studio in the following format:

-JPEG or PNG file

-Less than 500,000 pixels in size (width x height)


Overlay- the digital content that is launched on the screen of a mobile device when the Aurasma recognizes a Trigger Image. Overlays can include videos, images, 3D scenes, web pages or any combination thereof. Overlays can appear individually or as part of a group (multiple Overlays and sequenced Auras). Actions can be added to each Overlay to direct a user's interaction with the Overlay. Each Aura can have up to fifty Overlays attached to it. The placement, sequencing and interaction with Overlay content is designed in Aurasma Studio.


Aurasma Studio- the online workspace used for creating Auras. Users create an Aurasma account to upload and access Trigger Image and Overlay assets and to design and publish Auras that can be viewed with the Aurasma App.


Aurasma App- the mobile device application used for viewing and interacting with Auras. The Aurasma app is free app which can be downloaded onto iPhones and iPads, and Android phones and tablets version 4.0 and above. In the free version of the app, viewers log in to the Aurasma App and "follow" other users' accounts to view those users' Auras. 

Meet The Team

Faith Stahl '19

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Faith is a Washington College Presidential Fellow and Archives Assistant who began working in the Washington College Archives after

participating in an Augmented Archives sub-program, “Washington’s Secret History.” A History major and Art History minor, she has contributed to the Washington College Archives by creating a database of digital portraits found on campus and organizing alumni files from the

1800s. She leads the digitization of artifacts for the next phase of the Augmented Archives project.

Olivia Diaz


Olivia is a Washington College Student Archives Assistant. She is an American Studies major with an eye for organizing information and

curating artifacts. She gained related curatorial experience as an

exhibition intern at the National Constitution Center. will serve as our historical research coordinator. She leads the cataloging and

organization of the digitized content produced through this project and

is charged with curating the resource website.

Sarah Graff '18

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Sarah is a recent graduate of Washington College with a degree in History, and a minor in Theatre; and has been the student lead in the Augmented Archives Project since its inception. The former Head

Archives Assistant at Washington College, she has experience in

reference, research, preservation, digitization, appraisal and deaccession.

Sarah serves as a digital research consultant, based on her expertise

with converting rare objects and ephemera into digital formats.

Be in Touch

We want to hear from you!

Heather Calloway Ed.D. |

Raven Bishop NBCT |

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Raven Bishop NBCT

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Raven is an Instructional Technologist at Washington College and National Board Certified Visual Arts Educator with over 10 years of experience in project-based curriculum and instructional design. She is

our resident AR expert and has a strong background in graphic design and multimedia production. She guides the pedagogical considerations of the project. She also serves as the principle developer of the PocketMuseum app prototype and oversees the creation of the resource website.

Heather Calloway Ed.D.

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Heather is the Executive Director of University Collections at Indiana University and the former Archives and Special Collections Librarian at Washington College. She has17 years of archival and museum experience with a focus on preservation and exhibition of material culture artifacts. She guides our primary source research instruction with best practices in archival research and curation both in the classroom and in individual research.


We've Come a Long Way

What began as an instructional experiment has become a significant research area for our team as we explore the utility of this emerging technology in museum/special collections and classroom instruction.


We have been able to share our work through writing chapter 6 in the book Augmented and Virtual Reality in Libraries (2018, Rowman & Littlefield), as well as presenting our work at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and the Association of College and Research Libraries as well as here with our colleagues and community here at Washington College. We were recently accepted to ILiADS--Institute for Liberal Arts Digital Scholarship--in which we will receive specialized support in moving this initiative forward to its next iteration.  We were honored to be the recipients of a 2018 Campus Technology Impact Award and a 2018 NDSA Future Steward Innovation Award. 

ACRL 2017 Conference Logo
2016 Archives Fair Poster
2017 Archives Fair Poster
Front cover of Augmented and Virtual Reality in Lbraries book

Bishop, R. and Calloway, H. (2018). Augmented archives: engaging students in archives and special collections through augmented reality technology. (p. 93-111) In Augmented and virtual reality in libraries. London. Rowman and Littlefield. 


2018 Innovation Awards

2018 Impact Awards Logo

Fall 2018 Washington College Magazine  

Published on Nov 15, 2018  


Ongoing Research:
Sustainability for Small Institutions as Early Adopters of Emerging Technologies

After an extensive review of end-user AR authoring platforms, we selected Aurasma as our platform of choice for the first phase of this project.  We selected this platform because it was cost effective (free), easy to use, and supported across multiple smartphone devices (iOS & Android). 

Though end-user AR authoring platforms are attractive for the reasons listed above, they are problematic because institutions using them to create AR content are at the mercy of the longevity and decision-making of the platforms' parent companies.  Essentially, when you are working with an emerging technology, things change.  This can be challenging for small institutions that invest a lot of time, energy and financial resources into creating AR content only to have the platform that hosts that content to implement dramatic changes, or worse--cease to exist entirely. 

In our instance, Aurasma (a subsidiary of Hewlett Packard) has recently announced that it will be rebranded as HP Reveal.  Though we expect that the functionality of the app and web-based authoring studio to remain the same, a rebranding of the app will result in our having to re-produce several of the print materials associated with this project and re-work instructional videos and materials for the exhibit and courses that use this technology.  This has opened our eyes to significant issues of sustainability in working with AR and has brought to our attention the need to explore the possibility of creating our own application that will not be as vulnerable to the business shifts of a third party platform. 

We are currently in the process of exploring the development of a home-grown AR application and/or the development of a "survival guide" of sustainability strategies for institutions who are early-adopters of emerging technologies to help preserve the significant work it takes to develop thoughtfully designed AR content and instructional sequences.  

View from WCPocketMuseum Prototype
View from WCPocketMuseum Prototype
View from WCPocketMuseum Prototype
View from WCPocketMuseum Prototype

Above: View from our prototype app -- PocketMuseum by Washington College.  The app launches a virtual exhibit that a viewer can experience by quite literally walking through the virtual gallery. Viewers can look at items in virtual cases and watch curator commentary videos on a virtual television screen.