Lehua Matsumoto

Lehua Matsumoto is one of five Digital Humanities undergraduate fellows from the 2017-2018 academic year. At the time of the year-long fellowship, Lehua was a Senior at Amherst College.

Cycles of Reconciliation

Indigenous Landscape Knowledge in Virtual Reality

Lehua’s project, Cycles of Reconciliation, is an interactive virtual reality environment that introduces users to the natural world surrounding Amherst College and the Western Massachusetts area. Inspired Keith Basso’s book “Wisdom Sits in Places” which explores indigenous understandings of the natural landscape, Lehua worked with indigenous communities and literature specific to Western Massachusetts to represent indigenous knowledge regarding the plants that contextualize the area around Amherst College. Noting the general lack of understanding local Native American history, knowledge, and epistemology, Lehua’s project is designed to help people explore and create awareness of local indigenous ecological knowledge. Immersing users in accurately crafted virtual reality ecological zones with real plant species, animated wind and running water, this virtual reality experience will provide users an interactive showcase of plants and environmental characteristics in a manner designed to reflect indigenous non-western perspectives of the local landscape. Lehua demonstrated a demo version of her project at the Five College Digital Humanities Fellows Showcase on April 28th, 2018, at Smith College.

From a technical aspect, I’ve been using Unreal Engine to build my virtual environment and I’ve used SpeedTree to create some of the computer generated plants scattered throughout the environment. I’ve realized the difficulties of trying to make trees and plants look as organic as possible, but I think the contrast of computer generated plants next to videos of the plants in real life will help drive home the point that we often treat nature as we do everything else in our lives (i.e., computers), but the land is, in fact, more powerful and more complicated than we sometimes expect.