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Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Virtual Reconstruction Project

Partially supported by a NULab Seedling Grant.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Virtual Reconstruction Project intends to use virtual reality technology to cultivate a deeper understanding of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and its contemporaneous labor conditions. Envisioned as a pedagogical tool for K-12 students, virtual reality offers an immersive experience to help elucidate the factory’s spatial, material, and sensory dynamics that often remain obscured in histories of the fire.

Taking place in early 20th century New York City, the fire is considered one of the most deadly workplace incidents in American history. Immigrant and minority women were the primary laborers in early 20th century American garment factories and they were also the primary victims of this tragedy. This event is widely considered a catalyst of labor reform, spurring labor union activism and improved building safety standards. Given its historical significance for American labor standards, this project seeks to supplement pedagogical portrayals of the fire by using virtual reality technology to offer insight into the adverse and oppressive conditions of early 20th century factories; it is this project’s goal to clarify the sensory aspects of early 20th century factories and encourage students to empathize with the garment workers who occupied these spaces, including the victims of the fire.

This project is currently at a prototype stage, with a working model of one floor already completed. At this point, the ninth floor is freely explorable and features nine different points of interest that the user can query. The project exists as a Windows/Mac executable file that is keyboard navigable. Looking forward, we intend to expand the simulation to include all three affected floors (the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors) of the factory. All three floors will need to be prepared for virtual reality, including spatialized sound and cinematic fire. This will transform the reconstruction from a static portrayal of the space into an immersive experience that delves into the history of the fire as an event.

Principal Investigators
Liam MacLean, Graduate student, History; Benjamin Grey, Graduate student, History; Paul Martin, Graduate student, History; Fahim Rahman, Graduate student, History

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