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Material prepared for the Edinburgh Science Festival 1999

To most of us the word "Panorama" conjures up images of wide open vistas, landscapes opening up at our feet as we view them from some vantage point. To people in the 19th century the word had a rather different connotation and the Panorama has a particular place in Man's continuing attempts to make more and more realistic records of the world around him.

The story starts with the cave painting, reaches state-of-the art with simulations at Disney or Universal Studios and ends with that ultimate device for virtual realities - the Star Trek holodeck. In between there have been two parallel threads of development - improving the nature of the recorded image and making that image more real by 'immersing' the viewer in the experience

The Barker Panorama was an early attempt to create 'immersive' images and because Robert Barker began his work in Edinburgh, copies of his panoramic paintings survive and are being given a new lease of life as a fascinating historical snapshot of Old Edinburgh. This work, begun in 1796 has echoes in work being carried out in the University in 1999.

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