Christen Mucher

Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellow in the Humanities

20102011 Forum on Virtuality

Christen Mucher


Virtual Pasts: Technologies of Reconstruction and the Modern Human Sciences

From the Madrid “dinosaur” of 1795 to the mock-up Mexican temples at the 1867 Paris Exposition, from Frances Lee’s 1940s “Nutshell Studies” to CGI simulations on CSI and Bones, modern processes of reconstruction offer a certain virtual proximity to the supposed actuality of the past. Yet, while a replica’s materiality makes claims to authenticity and accuracy, technologies of modeling often rely on ideal, imagination, and pastiche—resulting, for example, in “dinosaurs” that resemble elephants or fantasy passed off as museum artifacts. My project examines the ways in which the modern human sciences—specifically history, archaeology, and forensic anthropology—have used technologies of the virtual to bridge the gap between past and present, while at the same time challenging the line between actuality and virtuality.