Digital Project Proposal: Virtual Exhibition- Artifacts Unearthed by Descendants of Slavery

During the practicums in this course, we have already seen how to incorporate platforms such as HistoryPin, Voyant, and Omeka S into our digital history projects. I am in ongoing communication with AU librarian, Melissa Becher to explore other options for creating online exhibitions such as EdSpace. Currently, I am leaning towards using Omeka S for my digital project. I was very impressed by the features that Omeka offers especially since I would like to create an online exhibition that showcases the 3D scanned artifacts from James Madison’s Montpelier. There are numerous descendants of the enslaved community including myself that have found an array of artifacts during archaeological excavations.

The formation of professional organizations in the fields of history and anthropology date back to the nineteenth century. There has been an emergence of new specializations over the past two centuries. Some of these research areas represent demographics and subgroups that had been previously overlooked or misrepresented. Also, these subject areas have been able to amplify the voices of marginalized groups in a more effective manner than past teachings. Practitioners in both fields are actively incorporating public outreach into their research and using techniques that previously had not been used nor accepted throughout academia.

The success of emerging fields such as public history and public archaeology are noticeable at historical institutions such as James Madison’s Montpelier where descendants of the enslaved community work side-by-side with professional archaeologists, historians, preservationist, and curators to examine the lives of all who lived on the presidential plantation of the fourth President of the United States of America. The descendant community has played an instrumental role by contributing oral histories that had been passed down for several generations by their elders. Many of these oral histories have been confirmed by archaeological excavations, like the one on her explanation, and restoration projects.

Descendants have been participating in archaeological excavations over two decades. A quick search on Google led me to finding out about my family’s connection to the enslaved community at James Madison’s Montpelier. The results led me to an article published in The Daily Progress of Charlottesville, Virginia. This information was overwhelming since I was an undergraduate student studying Anthropology and very aware of the racial disparities in the field. However, I felt even more compelled to continue in my academic pursuit after participating in my first archaeological dig at James Madison’s Montpelier.

Many descendants over the years have participated in these archaeological excavations and uncovered relics of the past. The artifacts retrieved during these excavations are cataloged and added to the extensive archaeology collection. Only a small portion of artifacts can be viewed online which results in a limited viewing audience. Displaying these artifacts online in a virtual exhibition could have the ability to expeditiously increase the viewing audience.  The study of material culture of the enslaved community overlaps with many themes throughout U.S. History and would be an effective and tangible method to bring complex topics such as slavery into the classroom.

There are currently 61 artifacts that have been scanned by the Virtual Curation Laboratory.  The 3D rendered artifacts have been uploaded to This website allows users to download and print 3D models of artifacts. Also, the website allows you to view each artifact using a VR headset.

Since American University Library offers Omeka S, I would like to import some of the artifacts that are associated with the descendant community. Omeka has dedicated metadata fields which can be helpful for future researchers who are interested in learning more about the material culture associated with the enslaved community at James Madison’s Montpelier.

Artifacts can be viewed here:


One Reply to “Digital Project Proposal: Virtual Exhibition- Artifacts Unearthed by Descendants of Slavery”

  1. Michelle, I think this is so interesting and so important! I would love to hear more about your application of this project to a classroom setting. Is there a particular age group that you see this project best applying to? Ideally, how would you like educators to employ these 3D models? I can’t wait to see what you produce!

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