The objective of the interactive simulations of analog artifacts included in Shadow Plays is both demonstrative and interpretative: based as they are on specific case studies, the digital models show how the devices worked, including the optical principles on which they were based, and open up ways of understanding the psychological and social effects the devices had on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century viewers, whose own interpretations appear as text within the simulations. In short, the simulations complement the narrative argument set forth in Shadow Plays, adding in these instances a thought experiment to the visual experience.
The simulations can be viewed in isolation or encountered at specific junctures in the book. Freely interacting with the models, readers of Shadow Plays will be able to formulate their own critical assessment of the argument developed in each case study. Consistent with this goal, the simulations are designed to make readers aware that digital models can offer insight into the historical archive but cannot faithfully reproduce sensory experiences from the analog past. In other words, these digital models are conceived as virtual “remediations” of material objects from the historical archive, part of a comprehensive visual and cognitive reconstruction meant to enrich readers’ critical understanding of these experiences from a contemporary point of view and through the technological tools we have at our disposal. The 3D models of analog devices and optical spectacles thus underscore the central idea of Shadow Plays: in the conversion from analog to digital to immersive remediation, the feedback loop inherent in the techno-aesthetic principle of virtual realism is translated into a critical and pedagogical tenet.