Tim Huang’s “The Time-Traveling Project” Celebrates Black History in Pittsburgh

Feb. 1, 2024

Art has always been an immersive visual experience, but a project led by Tim Huang (assistant professor, Department of Information Culture and Data Stewardship) has taken it to the next level.

“The Time Traveling Project” – which debuted during Homecoming Week 2023 - uses virtual reality (VR) headsets to provide senior residents in the Hill District with an immersive experience. The VR headsets use the photography of Teenie Harris (pictured to the right), known for his work documenting Pittsburgh’s African American communities during the 20th century. Since its debut, the “Time Traveling Project” has expanded in diversifying virtual experiences for Pittsburgh residents.

“We are in the process of developing a virtual representation of the Carnegie Museum of Art,” said Huang about his next VR project, co-led by Pat Healy (SCI ’24G). “This allows residents to virtually access and explore museum exhibitions, bringing the museum experience to a wider audience in the future.”

Huang and his team are also continuing to recreate cherished past experiences for Hill District residents, including a virtual reality depiction of the Crawford Grill. An acclaimed jazz club popular in the 1950s and 60s, the Crawford Grill holds beloved memories for many senior residents of the Hill District.

“These experiences are designed to resonate deeply with the community's collective memory,” explained Huang. “As the district undergoes urban transformation, there's a pressing need to capture and immortalize the memories of its older residents. These individuals embody the living history of the area’s vibrant culture, community spirit, and historical landmarks, like the Crawford Grill.”

The “Time Traveling Project” has made significant contributions to the preservation of Black and African American history. In a historically significant African American neighborhood like the Hill District, the project encapsulates historical landmarks, memories, and community culture to preserve the neighborhood’s rich heritage in an ever-changing city. The project is especially salient in celebrating Black History Month.

“The Time Traveling Project offers a dynamic and immersive way to experience historical moments and places significant to Black history. It aims to bring to life the stories and achievements of the Black community in Pittsburgh, providing a powerful tool for education, reflection, and celebration,” remarked Huang. “The project also aims to help bridge generational gaps, allowing younger generations to connect with their history in a deeply personal and engaging manner.”

Contributions to “The Time Traveling Project” are also made by fellow project lead Dmitriy Babichenko, clinical associate professor, and students from his class for the Digital Narrative and Interactive Design major.

Learn more about the project's debut here.

Photo: Unknown American, Charles “Teenie” Harris, holding camera and standing on sidewalk, ca. 1938, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, © Carnegie Museum of Art, Charles “Teenie” Harris Archive


--Alyssa Morales