Experiencing immersion from antiquity to modernity

Scene from Shakespeare's The Tempest by Hogarth; circa 1735.
Scene from Shakespeare’s The Tempest by Hogarth; circa 1735.
Australia has a rich history of world-leading researchers of the ancient world, its languages, literature, thought, history, art and civilisations. The Trendall Lecture celebrates this long tradition and reminds us of the deep and continuing relevance of the ancient world and late antiquity to modern life. We are delighted to partner each year with the Australasian Society for Classical Studies Conference (ASCS) to host the Trendall Lecture.

2024 Trendall Lecture

Experiencing immersion from antiquity to modernity


Immersive experiences are big business within today’s creative economy and range from cutting-edge interactive museum experiences and theatrical performances, through to the forms of immersivity facilitated through virtual (VR), augmented (AR), and mixed (XR) reality technologies. Yet the idea of immersion is not new; painting, sculpture, and theatre have all been discussed historically in terms of illusion, realism, and immersion, and textual critics in antiquity also described literature’s ability to create the sensation that a reader or listener was present at the event being described as well.

This lecture explored how the most innovative forms of immersive experience today can be thought of as a return to, or a refashioning of, a very old fascination with immersion. Dr Cole introduced examples from ancient literature that we can consider to facilitate immersion, and explored how this background offers a new way of approaching contemporary immersive experiences. By putting immersion, ancient and modern, into dialogue, we learn something about the benefits, and even dangers of this type of aesthetic experience, and reach towards an understanding of why they are again attracting so much attention.

About Dr Emma Cole

Dr Emma Cole is a classicist and a theatre and performance studies scholar, a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and the Royal Historical Society. Her expertise lies in the performance of Greek tragedy in contemporary theatre, particularly in experimental, immersive, and postdramatic adaptations of tragic texts.
Dr Cole was an academic consultant with immersive theatre company, Punchdrunk, and worked on the productions Kabeiroi (2017) and The Burnt City (2022-23).

Acknowledgement of Country

The Australian Academy of the Humanities recognises Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of this land, and their continuous connection to country, community and culture.