Louis Kaplan and Melissa Shiff: From Ararat to Kimberley: Activating Imaginary Jewish Homelands with Augmented and Virtual Reality
1. Introductory Overview
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Whenever and wherever a virulent and viral form of anti-Semitism has occupied the public discourse in modern history, political efforts and ambitious plans have arisen to locate a haven and a homeland for such persecuted Jews somewhere on the globe. While the story of Theodore Herzl and the political success of Zionism is the most well-known narrative and well-rehearsed script, there were numerous other largely forgotten plans that did not seek a return of the Jews to their ancient abode in Israel in order to posit a Jewish home or refuge. It is from these effaced paths that our historical research and speculative creations begin as we activate imaginary Jewish homelands.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 This essay reviews the development, technical specifications, and results (both realized and in process) of two research-creation projects in the digital humanities that combine new media art practice with academic research and that incorporate the emergent technologies of augmented reality and virtual reality to stage counterfactual histories. It does this by exploring two plans for Jewish homelands that arose in response to specific moments in the history of religious persecution of Jews in modern times. In the first project Mapping Ararat (2011-2014), we created an augmented reality (AR) walking tour that takes visitors on an incredible journey that images and imagines what would have happened if Major Mordecai Noah had succeeded in his 1825 plan to transform Grand Island, New York into a “refuge for the Jews.” In our current phase entitled The Imaginary Homelands of I.N. Steinberg (2015-2021), we have shifted to virtual reality as the preferred technological medium in order explore Steinberg’s valiant attempts to find a refuge for persecuted Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in such far-flung places as Kimberley, Western Australia, Port Davey Tasmania, and the Saramacca district of Suriname against the backdrop of World War II and the Holocaust. We focus here on the so-called Kimberley scheme and how this charismatic Jewish leader almost succeeded in securing a homeland for Jewish refugees in this remote region. Tapping into Steinberg’s vast archive located at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, we are using these source materials to texture the 3-D architectural models of a virtual world constructed in the Unity gaming engine that one can navigate using various platforms.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 In contrast to the other essays featured in this collection, it is important to stress at the outset that Mapping Ararat and Imaginary Jewish Homelands are as much new media arts projects as historical research endeavors. This is underscored by the fact that both were awarded funding in the hybrid research-creation category by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). The role of the imagination and fantasy is crucial to these projects as they consider counterfactual scenarios (“what if’s”) in modern Jewish history. Another way of expressing our different focus and emphasis would be to say that instead of using the tools afforded by the digital humanities to archive various religious sites, we have built sites that were once proposed but that were never realized in actuality in order to stage alternative histories. The creation of an augmented reality walking tour using the software application Layar and the virtual reality tour based on the Unity gaming engine provide us with the new media tools necessary to construct contemporary digital objects at the crossroads of artmaking and humanistic inquiry.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The last decade has witnessed the rapid rise in museum-sponsored and independent artist projects that utilize augmented reality as a means to foster digital cultural heritage. This objective is certainly at the core of the two Jewish cultural memory projects that are discussed in this article. In “Apprehending the Past: Augmented Reality, Archives, and Cultural Memory,” Victoria Szabo offers a valuable review of this “confluence of digital technologies with cultural heritage initiatives” (2018, 372) and she assesses how and why mobile augmented reality applications have become the preferred technological means for such site-specific projects in light of their ability to provide “digitally delivered overlays or supplements to existing material environments” (373). These overlays can unlock a repressed historical past in a familiar landscape in a work such as Heidi Rae Cooley and Duncan Buell’s AR walking tour Ghosts from the Horseshoe (2012). This project is designed to expose the buried and repressed history of slave labor that went into the making of the University of South Carolina campus in Columbia and to promote a new habit of thinking. Cooley and Buell once referred to the Mapping Ararat project as “perhaps the closest analog to Ghosts” but she notes their major difference as follows: “Mapping Ararat thus imagines what might have been: Ghosts presents ‘what was’ but has been kept hidden” (2014, 208). However, there is an even more direct comparator in a self-professed digital humanities and cultural heritage project that uses augmented reality (and the Layar app) to activate counterfactual histories in exactly the same way as Mapping Ararat. This speculative application is to be found in the cutting-edge work of the Alaskan-based new media artist Nathan Shafer and his Dirigibles of Denali (2015-present). Shafer uses augmented reality to reimagine and reanimate the fantastic architectural plans for domed cities in and around Anchorage dating from the 1960’s and 1970’s that were approved but that were never realized. The result is the three site-specific and geo-located visions of Seward’s Success, Denali City, and Arctic Town.
2. Mapping Ararat
a. Site Specificity Goes Digital.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 In writing about Mapping Ararat: An Imaginary Jewish Homelands Project and its significance in the context of the digital humanities, Christopher Cantwell pointed out its capacity “not only to recreate lost religious landscapes, but also to imagine religious landscapes that never were.” The implementation of the emergent digital technology of augmented reality enables such a speculative enterprise. Mapping Ararat constructs an augmented reality walking tour that embeds 3D computer graphics modeled in the Maya and Rhino software programs into the everyday landscape at the very sites where Mordecai Noah plotted and projected his Jewish homeland on the banks of the Niagara River outside of Buffalo, New York. With smartphones in hand, visitors are able to divine, locate, and navigate architectural landmarks (e.g. synagogue) and potent symbols (e.g. flag) that are built to scale. These so-called assets are viewed on the screen of a mobile phone or a tablet device using the publicly available Layar application that relies on the use of geo-locational technology (GPS) to enable a site-specific mapping of Ararat with exact cartographic coordinates. These assets are not in the physical landscape; instead they are housed on a server and inserted into the landscape, so that this fictive Jewish homeland unfolds onscreen at these very sites. In this way, augmented reality moves site-specific installation art into the digital realm providing access to an imaginary dreamscape (as seen through the iPad or the iPhone) where counterfactual visions are superimposed over reality. In posing this parallel universe and mixed reality, Ararat’s electronic monuments conjure the Jewish phantoms that are still haunting the contemporary landscape of Grand Island, New York.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Our team takes the view that augmented reality is a fantastic and phantasmatic medium — one that opens up alternatives through which we encounter the ghosts and specters of things that might have been or that still might be yet to come. Here, the mobile camera phone functions not as a transparent window on the world or as a magic mirror reflection but rather as a spectral refraction that points to paths that were not taken but that haunt contemporary reality. The site-specific nature of the tour also resembles a treasure hunt as participants receive a map that marks the places where they must search for and find the augments. Each thumbnail-sized icon has been created from a birds-eye view render of the 3D Maya model.
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 The augmented reality walking tour consists of twenty-four visual attractions in total. Each point of interest has an accompanying audio file that provides the virtual tourist with historical information and flights of fancy about the particular sites mixing fact and fiction in a multi-layered soundscape that also serves a pedagogical function.
b. Historical Roots.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Who was this dreamer and schemer with a plan to settle the Jews on the border between the United States and Canada? To review the historical record, Major Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785-1851) was the most prominent American Jew of his era. This larger than life personality corresponded with four presidents and once held a diplomatic post as the Consul to the Kingdom of Tunis in North Africa during the administration of James Madison. Based in New York City for most of his career, he was a leading Tammany Hall politician, a successful playwright, a major newspaper publisher, and a visionary who was the first person to propose the creation of an autonomous Jewish homeland in modern times. He called it Ararat and he conceived it as “a City of Refuge for the Jews.” In choosing this particular name, the Major revealed his Biblical Noah complex. According to the Bible, Mount Ararat was the resting place for Noah’s Ark after the flood. Mordecai Noah thought that his new homeland could serve the same function for Jews around the world faced with Anti-Semitism and religious persecution. Thus, it is not surprising to learn that Noah’s initial Ararat proposal coincided with the so-called Hep-Hep Riots against German Jews that took place in the summer and fall of 1819. Furthermore, Secretary of State James Monroe himself recalled Noah from Tunis in 1815 when the diplomat was revealed to be Jewish, claiming that this would “form an obstacle to the exercise of [his] Consular function.” This act of religious discrimination constituting both a personal and professional slight had an impact on Noah and led him to seek Jewish political and cultural autonomy via the Ararat scheme.
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Grounded in a weighty piece of actual history, Mapping Ararat begins with the three hundred pounds cornerstone that Noah ordered from Cleveland, Ohio and that played a pivotal role in the Ararat Proclamation Ceremony that was held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Buffalo on September 15th 1825. It is the only relic remaining from Mordecai Noah’s ambitious endeavor to create a Jewish homeland on Grand Island and it is currently housed at the Buffalo History Museum where our team made a pilgrimage at the beginning of our research. But it was always our intention to mobilize this cornerstone taking it out of the confines of the museum and situating it as part of the interactive AR walking tour. During our archival research, we also discovered an illustration published in a book dated from 1841 that depicts the brick and wooden obelisk constructed to house the cornerstone as a mid-nineteenth century tourist attraction. This drawing was then rendered using the proprietary 3D modeling program Maya. While it is generally known for its 3-D computer animation capabilities, we are using it solely as a modeling application. After that, it was inserted into the landscape through a series of steps using the AR browser and software application Layar. Finally, with a smart phone in hand, a visitor sees the monument on Grand Island in its augmented reality form. In this way, Mapping Ararat restores the cornerstone and reanimates it for a touristic use in the digital era. Given that the Layar application allows for the taking of screenshots by the visitors in their encounters with the augments, this provides further opportunities for interactivity and the digital documentation of imagined spaces. In this particular screenshot, the photographer asks the tourist to pose in a way so that it seems “as if” he is reading the inscription on the Ararat cornerstone monument when he is actually looking at nothing at all. The result is a virtual photograph that serves as a visual enactment of what history looks like when it has been written in an alternative universe.
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 In developing the augmented reality walking tour, we were very fortunate to find another key historical artifact during our archival research. This one underscores the importance of the cartographic aspect of Mapping Ararat as is the case with many digital humanities projects. It is an old map of Grand Island that was published in David H. Burr’s Atlas of the State of New York in 1829. Burr’s Atlas provides colored plates for each of the fifty-six counties in New York and the map of Erie County (No. 50) includes Grand Island. In charting the island, Burr’s Atlas lists Arrarat — spelled with 3 r’s — as an actual geographical location. This map and its placement of Ararat on the northeast side of the Island was what enabled our team to root our imaginary Jewish homeland and augmented reality walking tour in a specific physical site. In other words, we are utilizing this area on the map as the location for our AR walking tour. This area is now known as Whitehaven and it is the current home of the Radisson Hotel Niagara Falls-Grand Island.
c. Jewish Paths Not Taken: Synagogue and Gravestones.
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Starting from these real historical artifacts, our project moves into more speculative realms to pose the counterfactual question — What if? How might the course of Jewish and American history turned out differently if Ararat had been able to survive and to thrive? Mapping Ararat exposes viewers to the contingencies of history by plotting a counterfactual history that plays out this “what if” scenario on the Ararat path not taken. In illuminating this alternative trajectory of modern Jewish history, we are recalling that history is a construct of competing political desires and wills which could have turned out quite differently and that it is written from the perspective of that which prevails. This premise was at the basis of the exhibition Where to? at the Israeli Museum of Digital Art in Holon, Israel in the spring of 2012 that featured Mapping Ararat prominently. The exhibition allowed artists and historians to tap into modern Jewish cultural memory and Israeli state archives in order to imagine possible roads not taken for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in light of the contested circumstances of the present. As a new media art practice, augmented reality and its overlaying of the imaginary onto real space offers the technological means to give a vision and a voice to a failed plan such as Noah’s Ararat. In this way, Mapping Ararat and its use of augmented reality can serve as a model for other digital art and humanities projects that seek to imagine (and experience) what might have been.
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Let us now focus on a few of the more successful electronic monuments that we have conjured on the AR walking tour in order to illustrate further the relevance of our project to the digital humanities in context of the study of religion. Like the other augments on the tour, this three-dimensional synagogue is built to scale so that one can navigate around it or even go “inside” this particular model when viewing it on one’s electronic device. It is important to point out here that Mapping Ararat is quite different from most academic uses of augmented reality that deal with the reenactment of events or the reconstruction of historic buildings that have a basis in things that actually existed. The work of digital humanities historian John Bonnett (2003) and the 3D virtual buildings project in Ottawa that taught students how to generate models of historic settlements through the use of 3D modelling software comes to mind as an early example of this trend in the Canadian context. Other more recent examples of historical modeling and reconstruction create AR tourist apps based on archaeological evidence. The many examples constructed by the 3D computer graphics company MOPTIL (Mobile Optical Illusions) serve as a case in point. MOPTIL’s apps have been specifically designed for Greek tourism at such world heritage sites as the Acropolis in Athens or the Knossos Palace in Crete.  In contrast, Mapping Ararat occupies a more hypothetical space given that it speculates and extrapolates from an actual proposal that never came to fruition. The construction of the Ararat synagogue augment offers a good case study of this mode of extrapolation in that it is based on actual architectural designs in upstate New York as well as synagogue designs in New York City from the same foundational period during the first half of the nineteenth century. Jumping to the present, one sees how the synagogue and the imaginary contours of Ararat contest the contemporary use of this particular site, for the Ararat synagogue has been sited at the edge of the eighteenth green of the River Oaks Golf Course in Grand Island. This means that worshippers have to watch out for flying golf balls if they want to go “inside” the virtual structure. This real-life hazard provides an excellent example of the surreal juxtapositions that can ensue when creating tourist attractions on this augmented reality walking tour. In this context, it should be mentioned that we have conducted successful on-site tours with different classes from the University at Buffalo. These guided experiences show the viability of AR walking tours as a pedagogical device that plays to the mobile technological habits of a generation of digital natives who have been raised on adventurous software applications and video games.
¶ 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Another fascinating juxtaposition with religious overtones involves the construction of the gravestone augments to remember Mordecai Noah and his family members. These have been inserted into the Whitehaven cemetery on Grand Island. This is a decidedly Christian cemetery at the epicenter of where Ararat would have been according to Burr’s Atlas. With this transplantation, we have repatriated Noah’s gravesite relocating it from the Shearith Israel Cemetery in New York to his imagined Jewish homeland of Ararat. In doing this, we also have converted an actual monument into an electronic monument (to recall the digital cultural theorist Gregory Ulmer’s formulation). In terms of its construction, the Noah augment copies the 1875 drawing of his actual tombstone made by the artist A.H. Nieto and thus it parallels the fabrication of the cornerstone monument.
¶ 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 In addition to the founder’s gravestone, there are two others of this type on the AR walking tour. These are the gravestone augments constructed for Noah’s wife Rebecca Jackson and for his youngest son Lionel. The tombstone for Lionel Noah poses questions related to religious faith and belonging and carry us further along the path of Ararat’s counterfactual history. These alternative possibilities are raised in the audio track on the walking tour as the narrative accompanying Lionel Noah’s gravestone moves between fact and fantasy. The text alludes to the genealogical fact that Lionel named his son Lionel Jr. in an act of Christian assimilation directly opposed to the Jewish practice of naming one’s children only after one’s deceased ancestors. Coincidentally, it turns out that Lionel Jr. repeated the same gesture in the next generation by naming his son Lionel Jr. too. In divining the Jewish ghosts of Grand Island, the placement of this tombstone in Ararat imagines an alternative history where Jewish naming practices would have foreclosed this possibility and would have led to a very different religious outcome and genealogical record.
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 The “homecoming” visit of one group of Lionel Noah’s descendants to Grand Island in 2014 captures the poignancy of our project. In this field trip to “Ararat”, Mordecai Noah’s great-great-great-great grandchildren (both of whom are Christian) pose in front of their ancestors’ virtual graves.
¶ 20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 In this speculative manner, Noah’s actual descendants occupy the space of contested memories and imagine an alternative history for themselves and for this place. Such an image raises the counterfactual question of “what if?” directly and it allows us to peer into the contingencies of history. One senses the affective power and potential cognitive dissonance involved in asking Noah’s descendants to embark on the Ararat augmented reality walking tour. Their uncanny presence on Grand Island raises the Jewish ancestral ghosts that might have been and that continue to haunt this place in the subjunctive mood.
3. Virtual Kimberley
a.Setting the Scene.
¶ 21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 In order to reimagine and recreate our next Jewish homeland, we recently traveled to a remote and scarcely populated region of Australia to recover a forgotten chapter in modern Jewish history that began when I. N. Steinberg landed at the port of Perth in May 1939. This indefatigable Jewish political leader arrived in Australia seeking a refuge for the persecuted Jews of Europe just four months before the outbreak of World War II and only three years before the implementation of the Final Solution of the Jewish question better known as the Holocaust. He would spend the next four years petitioning the Australian people across the entire continent to save European Jews from the Nazi terror. Since the inception of this phase of our project in spring 2015, we have focused on the Kimberley scheme that was Steinberg’s most sustained effort in Australia. Following in his footsteps on a recent field trip to the region, we were based in the town of Kununurra and in the vicinity of Lake Argyle (neither of which existed in his time). These places could only come into being as the result of the Ord River Diversion Dam — an irrigation and hydro-power scheme instituted some decades after the prescient Steinberg already envisioned it in 1939. This breathtaking landscape is a constructed one given that Lake Argyle is one of the largest man-made bodies of water in the world. The success of this fertile plain causes us to think that Steinberg’s vision of a Jewish settlement in the Kimberley was not so far-fetched. While Steinberg managed to get the provincial government of Western Australia to agree to his plan in principle rather quickly, his efforts to convince the federal government were put on hold when World War II broke out in the Pacific region. There was also opposition from nativists and anti-Semites who wanted to keep Australia’s borders closed to Jewish refugees at the time.
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 As his political organization’s name indicates, Steinberg’s ambition was to find “free land” anywhere on the globe. The Freelanders were not interested in following the Zionist path of restoring the Jewish homeland in the contested lands of the Middle East (Israel/Palestine). Instead, their political movement was known as territorialism and its advocates sought to carve out a niche for a Jewish settlement in a place where “the land should be uninhabited or sparsely populated so as to avoid competition with the native population.” In contrast to the Zionists, Steinberg did not seek a separate nation-state for the Jews, but rather a semi-autonomous colony where Jews would further their vibrant Yiddish culture while becoming Australian citizens. Shortly after his arrival, Steinberg headed to the Kimberley to meet with the Australian pastoralist and rancher, Michael P. Durack. Heavily in debt on account of a decade of poor beef-cattle prices in the 1930’s, Durack was looking to get rid of some of his vast lands and to make a deal with Steinberg for this territory covering an area of some seven million acres that extended across Western Australia and into the Northern Territory and that was equal to the size of Belgium.
¶ 23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Steinberg also was aware of the aboriginal questions raised by his settlement plan and the need for there to be peaceful co-existence in the region. However, we want to recall that Imaginary Jewish Homelands draws from an historical archive dated from 1939 to 1943 and therefore decades before the recognition of aboriginal land claims in Australia. While there is an absence of an aboriginal perspective or voices in the I.N. Steinberg archive, he was aware of the need for any potential Jewish settlement to acknowledge and respect aboriginal rights. As he insisted in one of the many memoranda on his proposal, “The rights of the aboriginals in the areas selected for Jewish settlement will be strictly upheld and every facility given them to raise their standard of living in accordance with the policy of the country.” Nevertheless, Steinberg’s plan remained an abstraction and he never got to the actual negotiation stage with the aboriginal people of Miriwoong Country whose lands were colonized by the British Empire and that were later settled by the Durack family. We also want to caution against the imposition of a contemporary post-colonialist perspective regarding these materials and the automatic assumption that the aboriginals of that day would have viewed the Jews as colonizers rather than as refugees with a just cause to settle in the Kimberley. This takes us back to a well-documented heroic historical incident when William Cooper who was the long-time leader of the Koori Australian Aborigines’ League protested the “cruel persecution of Jews in Germany” (Jontof-Hutter 2018) by the Nazis after he learned about Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass) that took place on 9-10 November 1938. About a month later, Cooper led a delegation walking ten kilometers to the German Embassy in Melbourne to submit the petition but he was refused admittance by the Counsel-General. This famous case study serves as an emblem of inter-racial dialogue and co-existence in its recognition of the shared suffering of Jews and aboriginals as victims of racial discrimination at the time. Finally, it should be noted that the absence of any aboriginal structures in Virtual Kimberley was a conscious decision that we made because our project seeks to imagine a Jewish refuge and refugee camp, but this in no way imagines or means that the aboriginal people would be absent from this massive landscape in the Kimberley. Indeed, we felt that any gesture of “speaking for the other” in this way could be deemed as a type of colonizing gesture.
b. From Historical Archive to Virtual World.
¶ 24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 We are developing a Virtual Reality (VR) world using the Unity gaming engine in order to envision what might have been. Virtual Kimberley constitutes an interactive environment that consists of ninety-three structures ranging from refugee tents to larger institutional buildings. The buildings are modelled in the architectural software program Rhino and textured in 3D Studio Max and Photoshop before they are imported into Unity. VR serves as the perfect medium for this project because it constitutes an imaginary dreamscape that allows for the creation of Steinberg’s unrealized visions for a Jewish homeland in the Kimberley region. But instead of texturing the digital models in our virtual world with images of bricks and mortar, we have photographed thousands of documents from the vast Steinberg collection as the source material to overlay the polygon meshes that comprise the buildings of this Imaginary Jewish Homeland. Converting texts into textures, the figure invoked here is one of paper houses for a failed Jewish Utopia evoking the fragility and flimsiness of a project “on paper” that never made it past this initial idealistic stage. In this way, the project moves from the historical archive to the virtual realm allowing the public to see and read the archive on the VR tour and thereby providing interactive access to this imaginary world. In this context, it should be mentioned that this project envisions a number of user experiences utilizing different formats all within the Unity gaming platform. These include a large format projection or a video wall or a head mounted display for a fully immersive experience using the HTC Vive, a virtual reality headset. Through the interactive use of the head mounted display, the user will encounter each building in full scale so that the texts on the exterior and interior walls will be massive and imposing. We are also planning a limited and more directed user-experience on our website which we plan to launch soon (www.imaginaryjewishhomelands.com).
¶ 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 There are three components to the virtual settlement in terms of the types of architectural structures. The first component is comprised of refugee tents as well as small houses that are fragile in nature. They are textured with newspaper clippings taken from actual articles published worldwide during the years when the Kimberley scheme was being considered. There is a conscious choice here to texture these models with a flimsy material punctured with gaps and holes. The tan colour and the weathered condition of the newspapers (that are unfortunately decomposing in the archive) mimics the look of an actual refugee tent. Their fragility is also used to connote the marginal status of the refugee whose dwellings are makeshift and temporary. The second component is comprised of about a dozen institutional buildings as we imagine the types of structures that such a community would have built. These include the I.N. Steinberg House, Barn, Newspaper Factory, Post Office, School, among others. These structures have been selected based on the types and classification of the documents and images that were found in the archive. As one example, let us turn to the building with the word “Memorandum” on its entrance.
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 The Freeland League Memoranda building in Virtual Kimberley is textured with the most important memoranda and other official documents from Steinberg’s time in Australia in pursuit of the Kimberley plan including memos sent to the Prime Ministers of the day (Robert Menzies and John Curtin). Finally, the third component of the virtual settlement is comprised of what looks to be a small subdivision of residential houses. They are more formed than those in the refugee colony with four walls supporting these structures but every so often one notices that there are gaps and unfinished aspects here as well. This grouping imagines that the refugees would have moved up economically over time as they “settled into” the new land and became Australian citizens (as Steinberg envisioned). To focus on just one of the many examples, the subdivision includes this orange house with English and Yiddish texts announcing a meeting of the Freeland League in New York on the subject “The People of Australia is Ready to Grant a Haven to the Jewish People” featuring guest speakers Sir Norman Angell (who was the winner of the 1933 Nobel Peace Prize) and the American philosopher Sidney Hook.
¶ 28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 The choices made with respect to the architectural styles used for most of the larger buildings are derived from the period of the international style and from functionalist architecture. We looked for buildings in this style to base our designs and these were often modified to meet our needs. For example, the town hall is based on the white functionalist building in Prague called the Manes Gallery that opened in 1930. Meanwhile, the Archive building is based on the Villa Roemer in Hamburg from 1928 designed by Karl Schneider. We are also speculating that Jewish architects who migrated from Germany and Eastern Europe to Tel Aviv (such as Erich Mendelsohn and Zeev Rechter) and who built the so-called White City of Bauhaus-inspired buildings there in the 1930’s and 1940’s would have emigrated to the Kimberley instead. Here we are imagining a counter-factual history – what if these architects had the chance to design Steinberg’s Jewish Utopia? The Melech Ravitch House [FIGURE 6] that honors the Jewish poet and adventurer who was the first to consider Australia as a possible place of Jewish refuge in 1933 is based on an unrealized Rechter building that has been modified. This structure houses the Kodak snapshots that Ravitch took on his epic journey as well as their captions and a few of his other writings on the subject.
¶ 30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 The project offers an additional dynamic feature that brings it into the world of information studies and library science. If you want to learn more about any document that has been used to texture a model, then you can mouse over it to call up its metadata. We refer to this indexical practice as spatial archiving. The practice of spatial archiving as a mode of information visualization links the historical documents that have been used to texture each model with the data about the document in our archive. Each entry contains such fields as type of document, author, date, source, and comments. In this way, we are deploying a three-dimensional and interactive means in order to display and reveal an archive that consists of two-dimensional documents and artifacts. There are 1271 entries in the current index of the project ranging from state memoranda to personal letters, from newspaper clippings to children’s drawings, from manuscripts to published pamphlets and essays, from period maps to the documentary photographs that Steinberg took on his initial expedition to the Durack lands in 1939. There are representative texts from a number of the languages that the polyglot Steinberg knew including English, German, and Yiddish. Every single document used to texture the models has a corresponding Hex color that is attached to it that allows for its retrieval via coding. While sometimes there are hundreds of documents used to texture one model (e.g., The Post Office), the smaller models such as the refugee tents rely on only one source document at times.
¶ 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 In terms of the user experience, one enters the virtual world from a birds-eye view where one is able to see all ninety-three models laid out in a grid-like pattern. The user then can click on any building and fly over to it for closer inspection and exploration. There are three other modes that are possible in the user experience – a ground view, an orbit view, and an inside view. In the orbit view, the buildings are isolated on a white background and one can zoom in and out using a track pad or mouse. This is also the level of experience where one can retrieve the metadata and engage in spatial archiving. Finally, the larger buildings are textured on the inside with different documents that are laid out in montage fashion through a series of rooms. By clicking on the space bar, one can proceed from room to room as well as to pivot so that one can look around inside these rooms (through the use of the arrow keys). The ability to traverse the virtual world relies on the writing of code in the C# computer programming language and this enables the user to control the models and to take them through their scripted actions and animations.
c. Transforming the Archive into a Diagram.
¶ 32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 In theoretical terms, it is also possible to think about this project and its traversal of a virtual world in terms of the shift from the “archive” to the “diagram” as theorized by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and more recently by the American film and literary scholar, Tom Conley. This is not surprising to learn when one considers the fact that Deleuze has been framed as the philosopher of the virtual. The key passage here is from Deleuze’s book on Foucault (1986) when he makes the following distinction. “The diagram is no longer an auditory or visual archive but a map, a cartography that is coextensive with the whole social field.” While the historical archive is fixed and static in the realm of being, the diagram constitutes a mobile space of becoming. As Conley puts it in a recent essay on “Deleuze and the Baroque Diagram”, “The archive deals with what was in the realm of the what is, while the diagram begins from what is to project what will be.” Moreover, the diagram is always in the realm of the cartographic – a mode between writing and drawing that seeks to be mapped. Thus, “the diagram is a map of possibility, of a devenir exceeding an ‘archive or historical repository of forms.”
¶ 33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 Our virtual world functions in a similar manner as it transforms the archive into the diagram and as it partakes of a desire to be mapped. Turning texts into textures, it animates and mobilizes the historical repository of forms that constitute the thousands of static documents in the Steinberg Archive at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Studies. As the user-participant traverses this virtual world and encounters its multiple pathways and its lines of flight, the archive is turned into a map of possibilities and trajectories. Furthermore, we have placed our virtual world on the orange part of the map (“Pastoral Map of North Australia and Kimberley”) that carves out the borders of Durack’s lands adding another cartographic dimension to the project.
¶ 35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 On the topographical level, this also has created a ground of rich earth tones that complement the fiery rock formations found in the Kimberley region. As Conley writes, “Mixing writing and drawing, the diagram is an intermediate shape between an object conceived and an object realized.” This is another way to situate virtual Kimberley as diagrammatic – mixing the voluminous writings in the Steinberg archive with the drawings comprised of computer graphics and 3-D architecture models that the user sets into motion by traversing the space and by mapping it. The result is this imaginary Jewish homeland – an intermediate shape between an object conceived (i.e., Steinberg’s Kimberley plan) and an object realized using the Unity gaming engine (virtual Kimberley).
¶ 36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 In his posthumously published draft entitled “The Actual and the Virtual,” Deleuze states, “Every actual [object] surrounds itself with a cloud of virtuals.” If the State of Israel constitutes the actualized event of Jewish national sovereignty, then Mapping Ararat (with its implementation of augmented reality) and Virtual Kimberley (with its implementation of virtual reality) provide us with a cloud of potentialities (and of unknowing) from which we can only speculate what history might have become.
¶ 41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 Cantwell, Christopher D. “Mapping Ararat: A New (To Me) Digital Project in the Study of Religion,” Religion in American History Blog (May 8, 2015). Webpage: http://usreligion.blogspot.ca/2015/05/mapping-ararat-new-to-me-digital.html.
¶ 42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 Cooley, Heidi Rae and Duncan A. Buell. “Ghosts of the Horseshoe, a Mobile Application: Fostering a New Habit of Thinking about the History of University of South Carolina’s Historic Horseshoe” in Samantha K. Hastings, Annual Review of Cultural Heritage Informatics (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014), 193-212.
¶ 46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 Jontof-Hutter, Ron. “Kristallnacht and the Righteous Australian Aboriginal William Cooper,” J-Wire, 9 November 2018. Website: http://www.jwire.com.au/kristallnacht-and-the-righteous-australian-aboriginal-william-cooper/.
¶ 48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 Lichty, Patrick and Nathan Shafer. “AR, Alaska and Augmenting the Circumpolar,” in Kevin Hamilton, ed., CAA Conference Edition 2016, Washington, DC, NMC/Media-N: Journal of the New Media Caucus. Website: http://median.newmediacaucus.org/caa-conference-edition-2016-washington-dc/ar-alaska.
¶ 53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 Shafer, Nathan. “Dirigibles of Denali: The Unbuilt Domed Cities of Alaska Reimagined with Augmented Reality.” Website: http://www.nshafer.com/dirigiblesofdenali/
¶ 55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 Szabo, Victoria. “Apprehending the Past: Augmented Reality, Archives, and Cultural Memory,” in Jentery Sayers, ed., The Routledge Companion to Media Studies and Digital Humanities (New York: Routledge, 2018), 372-383.
¶ 58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0  In this regard, our collaborative digital art and humanities project is akin to the work of other research-led practices in the visual arts such as those by Johanna Drucker (at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA) and Victoria Szabo (at the WiredLab! for Digital Art History & Visual Culture at Duke University). The augmented realty artist John Craig Freeman (Professor of New Media, Emerson College) was a collaborator on Mapping Ararat while Ultan Byrne (Lecturer in Architecture, University of Toronto) has been involved with both phases of Imaginary Jewish Homelands.
¶ 59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0  The Papers of Isaac Nachman Steinberg (RG 366) located at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research at the Center for Jewish History in New York consists of twenty-six linear feet of boxes and the Australian component is comprised of hundreds of folders.
¶ 60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0  Liron Efrat frames the similarity between these two projects in the section on “Counterfactual Histories” of her dissertation (in progress) on augmented reality art. Efrat writes, “In both projects, AR is used to digitally execute an already approved plan, which eventually did not materialize in physical space.” See “Welcome to The Thriving Field of the Real: The Aesthetics of Convergence and REALization in Augmented Reality,” Graduate Department of Art History, University of Toronto, Chapter 184.108.40.206.
¶ 61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0  Shafer has gone even further to enlist science fiction writers to compose stories “imagining a world were these cities had actually been built, and an alternate history of Alaska reflecting that reality.” See his on-line description “Dirigibles of Denali: The Unbuilt Domed Cities of Alaska Reimagined with Augmented Reality” (http://www.nshafer.com/dirigiblesofdenali/) and his collaborative on-line essay with Patrick Lichty (2016) on the links of this futuristic project to science fiction. “Looking at the Dirigibles project as a sort of alternate cultural data visualization of the near future might be an apt metaphor for the speculative fiction that the project is creating.”
¶ 62 Leave a comment on paragraph 62 0  Christopher D. Cantwell, “Mapping Ararat: A New (To Me) Digital Project in the Study of Religion,” Religion in American History (May 08, 2015). http://usreligion.blogspot.ca/2015/05/mapping-ararat-new-to-me-digital.html
¶ 63 Leave a comment on paragraph 63 0  This phrasing is found on the Ararat cornerstone that was revealed at the Proclamation ceremony that ironically took place at the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Buffalo on September 15, 1825. We discuss the significance of this relic further below.
¶ 64 Leave a comment on paragraph 64 0  Dated 15 April 1815, Monroe’s dispatch is cited in J. Robert Moskin, American Statecraft: The Story of the U.S. Foreign Service (New York: Macmillan, 2013), 100-101.
¶ 65 Leave a comment on paragraph 65 0  This text reads: “The monument erected by Major Noah is now standing. It is about 14 feet in height. The lower part is built of brick—the upper or pyramidal portion is of wood, and the whole painted white.” In John W. Barber and Henry Howe. Historical Collections of the State of New York (New York: S. Tuttle, 1841), 154.
¶ 67 Leave a comment on paragraph 67 0  This group exhibition featured Michael Blum, Ariella Azoulay, and Yael Bartana among others. The curatorial statement reads: “Through the exhibited works and the historical materials gathered for the exhibition, we suggest reintroducing these forgotten currents and ideas to the public discourse, bringing the ‘losers’ of history to the center of the stage, and once again presenting the question of Jewish existence as a current problem that remains unsolved.” In a political landscape full of anxieties about the sustainability of Zionism based in the holy land or critical of its abuses of power in relation to the Palestinian population, it is easy to see why the Mapping Ararat project would resonate in Israel among post-Zionists and others seeking political and aesthetic alternatives. Thus, the curators selected the Ararat virtual synagogue as the on-line banner for the entire exhibition. See Udi Edelman, Eyal Danon, and Ran Kasmy-Ilan, Where to?, The Israel Center for Digital Art (2012) at their website https://www.digitalartlab.org.il/.
¶ 68 Leave a comment on paragraph 68 0  The company began its operations in 2014 and the complete list of the seven archaeological sites for which they have produced AR tours can be found at the MOPTIL website http://moptil.com/sites/
¶ 70 Leave a comment on paragraph 70 0  This illustration is found in the exhibition catalog edited by Abraham Karp, Mordecai Manuel Noah: The First American Jew (New York: Yeshiva University Museum, 1987), 72.
¶ 71 Leave a comment on paragraph 71 0  “Memorandum prepared by the Freeland League for Jewish Territorial Colonization for the Consideration of the Delegates at the International Refugees Conference at Evian” (1938), 3. Papers of Isaac Nachman Steinberg (RG 366), YIVO Institute for Jewish History, Center for Jewish History, New York.
¶ 72 Leave a comment on paragraph 72 0  “Memorandum of Freeland League on the conditions which a large area of land in Australia should be granted for Jewish Colonization” (1940), 5. Papers of Isaac Nachman Steinberg (RG 366), YIVO Institute for Jewish History, Center for Jewish History, New York.
¶ 73 Leave a comment on paragraph 73 0  We also want to thank Jayne Josem, the Museum Director of the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne, for her valuable insights on William Cooper’s valiant protest against the Nazi regime.
¶ 75 Leave a comment on paragraph 75 0  Tom Conley, “The Strategist and the Stratigrapher,” in David N. Rodowick, ed., Afterimages of Gilles Deleuze’s Film Philosophy (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 196.
¶ 76 Leave a comment on paragraph 76 0 Tom Conley, “Deleuze and the Baroque Diagram,” in Angelika Zirker, Matthias Bauer, Olga Fischer, and Christina Ljungberg, eds., Dimensions of Iconicity (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2017), 153.
¶ 78 Leave a comment on paragraph 78 0  Gilles DeLeuze and Claire Parnet, “The Actual and the Virtual,” in Dialogues II, trans. Eliot Ross Albert (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 148. If every document housed in the Steinberg archive is to be viewed as an actual object, then Imaginary Jewish Homelands mobilizes their virtual potential whether in the Unity gaming engine, in the cloud, or on the web.