“Shadow Plays: Virtual Realities in an Analog World,” Brown Library’s Digital Publications Initiative’s Second Born-Digital Scholarly Monograph, Published by Stanford University Press

Providence, R.I. [Brown University] Brown University’s Center for Digital Scholarship, based at the University Library, announces the publication of the second born-digital scholarly monograph under the Digital Publications Initiative, a collaboration between the Library and the Dean of the Faculty. Shadow Plays: Virtual Realities in an Analog World, by Professor of Italian Studies Massimo Riva, explores popular forms of entertainment used in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to transport viewers to a new world, foreshadowing present-day virtual, augmented, and extended reality experiences (VR, AR, XR).

Published by Stanford University Press, Shadow Plays examines themes of virtual travel, social surveillance, and utopian imagination through six case histories and eight interactive simulations. “The digital format was ideal for my project, which traces a genealogy of virtual reality through analog technologies such as the cosmorama, the magic lantern, the moving panorama, and the stereoscope, all of which foreshadow our contemporary digital technologies,” said Professor Riva. “I look forward to using my digital monograph in the classroom this fall for a course on immersive experiences.” Shadow Plays is an open access publication; it is freely available to anyone, anywhere. According to Friederike Sundaram, Senior Editor for Digital Projects, “The Brown University Library’s dedication to moving interactive scholarship forward has made this collaboration enormously fruitful, and I cannot wait for the project to find its way onto the screens and minds of its readers. I have no doubt it will teach and inspire many.”

Screenshot from Shadow Plays

Brown is in the vanguard of supporting and promoting innovative faculty scholarship that opens up dynamic new possibilities beyond the boundaries of the traditional printed monograph. “With projects including Decameron Web in the 1990s and The Garibaldi Panorama & the Risorgimento in the 2000s, Professor Riva has been expanding the horizons of digital humanities scholarship throughout his career,” said Joukowsky Family University Librarian Joseph S. Meisel. “Shadow Plays brings his innovative contributions to a new level, demonstrating yet again the possibilities for developing and presenting research in the digital realm and extending its reach well beyond the academy. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how a topic such as the early modern history of virtual reality could be successfully explored in any other form.” The development of Shadow Plays was supported by the Mellon Foundation through the Digital Publications Initiative and the Office of the Vice President for Research at Brown University.

With oversight from Digital Scholarship Editor Allison Levy and drawing upon the expertise of the Center for Digital Scholarship, nine additional born-digital publications covering a range of humanistic fields are currently in various stages of development. One is forthcoming with MIT Press in August. An area of distinction for the Library and Brown, the Digital Publications Initiative, launched with the generous support of the Mellon Foundation, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, activates and guides intellectual exploration and creativity with faculty and other partners across campus. The Initiative also collaborates with publishers to help shape new systems of evaluation, peer review, and scholarly validation for born-digital scholarship. Brown University Library and MIT Press recently launched On Seeing, a book series committed to centering underrepresented perspectives in visual culture.  

Questions about the Library’s Digital Publications Initiative can be addressed to Allison Levy, Digital Scholarship Editor ([email protected]).