Now Hear Then: Stockport heritage Study Using Augmented Reality as a Research Tool

By Suzie Cloves, Postgraduate Researcher, Department of History, Politics and Philosophy, Manchester Metropolitan University

It may seem obvious that heritage must affect how we feel about places, but we’re only just starting to learn about how and why it does so. What’s more, research in this area has tended to focus on physical heritage such as buildings and monuments. Perhaps this is because it’s relatively easy to ask people to consider themselves in relation to physical objects in their landscape. However, the stories and memories that we attach to places may play a valuable role, maybe even if they’re not physically landmarked. We wanted to learn how a place’s non-physical heritage affects people’s attitudes to that place. To do this, we needed a way to put heritage such as oral histories, memories and music into landscapes so that people could interact with it.

In 2022, we piloted geolocated sound as a method for introducing non-physical heritage into the physical world. If you’ve ever used satnav, you’re already familiar with geolocated sound – an audio file is attached to a GPS location, and triggered when the listener arrives at that location. We’re using a tool called SonicMaps, which lets us draw shapes on the landscape and attach our own sounds to them. Our array of drawn sounds can then either be activated on location as an augmented reality layer upon the physical landscape, or remotely using an avatar (like Google Streetview but with sounds instead of photos). Our pilot project tells the story of the campaign to create Platt Fields park, and it’s still live if you’d like to play with it – just click here to get going. We’ve put instructions below in case you get stuck!

Now we’re using SonicMaps to create more augmented realities in Edgeley, Stockport, which has a really interesting mix of physical heritage and stories attached to places. The tricky part is finding stories where there isn’t a landmark to tell us that they’re there! We’re working with the North West Sound Archive and Stockport Libraries to find archive oral histories, but we’re also recording new ones with the present-day community. We’d love your help – for more information please see the call for participants (below). From hat-making to The Hatters and from Alex Park to the Alex pub, we’re certain that people will have valuable stories about places in Edgeley with special meaning.

Instructions for using sonic map Open this link and wait a moment for the website to decide where you are. You’ll see a button which says “Open” at the bottom of the page. Click that and the sonic map will load. It’s designed to be used either like an augmented reality trail on your phone in Platt Fields, or remotely from home. If you’re in the park (you’ll want headphones) you just need to open the link and move to where the sounds are, and they’ll activate automatically. If you’d rather activate it remotely, once you’ve opened the map click the little person icon in the bottom left and use it to activate the sound areas.


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