Michelle Martin, a UA senior in physiology and Africana Studies, demonstrates the augmented-reality tour her study-abroad class created in Paris to patrons of the Playground Bar & Lounge.

Tom Beal

Continuing my tour of the "sciency" offerings in Tucson this week, provided by researchers at the University of Arizona.

Wednesday night was tough work: sipping a Czech Pilsener at the Playground Bar & Lounge, while watching an enthusiastic group of students "show and tell" about their summer tour of the Jazz Age haunts of African-American expatriate intellectuals in Paris.

The technology that UA professor Bryan Carter employs in his classes might not be considered cutting-edge over at Computer Sciences or Optical Sciences but it's a novel application in the mostly analog world of the College of Humanities.

Carter and his students brought the technology to a downtown bar Wednesday night, where patrons were given a taste of an augmented-reality tour of Paris in the Jazz Age, created by Carter's study-abroad class last summer.

"Walking the Spirit: Augmenting the Paris Experience" was part of the UA Confluencenter's "Show and Tell" series.

Carter, an assistant professor in the Africana Studies Department at the University of Arizona, called himself a "digital humanist professor," in introducing the class project.

He took a diverse group of 15 students to Paris, where they toured the book stores, cabarets and cafes frequented by the African-American writers, artists, musicians and performers who expatriated to France after World War I.

The students geo-tagged the images they took of the historic sites and then layered them with photos and video reports of contemporary Paris life and staged re-enactments of historical and imagined happenings. The students became actors, dramatizing an imagined conversation between poet Langston Hughes and novelist Richard Wright, or dancing in Jazz Age attire.

The augmented-reality images were left behind "in the cloud" for use by a Parisian tour company that specializes in bringing visitors to the historical sites.

Carter began using digital technology in his studies in 1996, during his graduate years at the University of Missouri-Columbia. His doctoral project included creation of "Virtual Harlem" — a tour of the African-American intellectual and artistic renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s in the New York borough of Harlem.

He added a corollary neighborhood in Paris — "Virtual Montmartre."

On Wednesday, a technical glitch — the lack of a Lightning-to-VGA cord — prevented the class from showing its final product on the multiple big screens above the bar at the Playground.

But it created an opportunity for the students to go table-to-table, showing off the digital product on the devices they used to create it — their individual mobile phones and tablets.

Michelle Martin displayed the layers she created for her project on the famous Shakespeare & Company English-language book store in Paris.

The trip was fun, she said, but she wished she had chosen Patricia Ogunmola's topic: Parisian food.

Ogunmola, who received her degree last year in linguistics and Africana studies, said she encountered many foods for the first time. "I loved escargot," she said. 

Contact reporter Tom Beal at tbeal@tucson.com or 573-4158.