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Title: Fate amenable to change : a technical and social history of Virtual Reality in the United States of America, from 1965 to 2005
Author: Bowman, Tobias
ISNI:       0000 0004 7653 8333
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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Virtual Reality (VR) technology lacks a clear definition, unique application, or history, leading to difficulties in identifying primary source materials. This thesis establishes a workable definition of VR, incorporating it into cross-disciplinary methodologies to reveal and arrange newly-uncovered sources into a narrative, spanning 1965-2005. This narrative will hopefully encourage crystallisation around the proposed definition, providing value to developers and historians of technology. Combining online database sampling, stacked surveys of diverse materials, and interviews, the author situates VR within a broader context of 20th and 21st century American social history. By integrating methodologies from Contemporary History, Economics, and Sociology, the newly-established definition is tested via the narrative, which is itself supported by new-found primary materials. That historical narrative assesses the impact of missing social and technical 'standards' in VR's tumultuous past, with implications for both historians and designers of VR, as well as other modern technologies. The results suggest that, since the mid-1980s, exaggerated capabilities and science fiction applications, extolled by both developers and media writers, far outstripped technical reality (unbeknownst to consumers), forming reverse salients on the research and innovation crucial to any modern technological system's viability. The period spanning the mid-1960s to mid-1980s witnessed much more limited research, centred around identifying valuable applications concurrently with system development, and long before the release of products. This earlier, more cautious period was demonstrably more successful because its VR applications, such as medical training and virtual design, persisted through the 'VR Winter' of the late 1990s when later 'VRs' did not. Thus, the definition provided is useful for reliably identifying new source materials through the database sampling and analytics methodology, developed therein, which is valuable to historians of VR.
Supervisor: Iliffe, Robert Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History of Science and Technology ; History of Technolgy ; Social Science ; Linguistics ; Social History ; Science and Technology Studies ; History ; History of Science