Final Project: Archaeology for the Next Generation- 3D Printing and Public Archaeology in the Classroom (video)

For my final project, I set out to design a digital exhibition that features the material culture unearthed and interpreted by the descendants of the enslaved families at James Madison’s Montpelier. The reason that I selected the home of the nation’s fourth president was because I have collaborated with the archaeology and historic preservation departments over the past decade since uncovering my ancestral ties to this historical institution. I embarked on my first archaeological excavation at the presidential estate in Summer 2012 during an excavation expedition led by Dr. Matt Reeves. The experience was inspiring and shifted the trajectory of my academic and professional career. My hopes are that this digital exhibition will inspire the next generation of archaeologists, historians, and museum professionals.

Originally, I published the proposal for this digital project on February 16, 2022. While conducting initial research for this digital project, there was an article published in The Washington Post on March 25, 2022. The article stated that board members of the Montpelier Foundation had blocked structural parity between the board and the Montpelier Descendants Committee. Descendants including myself have played an imperative role in contributing to the archaeological and historical research at James Madison’s Montpelier.

The proposed digital exhibition highlights five artifacts including an iron key, clothing thimble, toy clay marble, wooden pig toy, and a brick with a finger impression. I was able to create a working proof of concept for my digital history project while this struggle for structural parity continues. There are elements discussed in my proposal that could not be achieved due to the current climate at Montpelier and without proper permissions.

When I decided to implement 3D objects into the digital exhibition, it was because of the need to make history education more accessible. However, throughout researching this topic, I learned that other institutions such as the Smithsonian Institution use 3D technology to showcase their immense collections to a global audience. The Smithsonian states on their website that their collection has over 155 million unique artifacts and specimens with only 1% of their collections actively on display.

In comparison, Montpelier has over 1 million artifacts in their archaeological collection with less than 1% of their collection clearly displayed for visitors. The only 3D scanned artifacts that are accessible online are those scanned by the Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University. James Madison’s Montpelier collaborated with the Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University to 3D scan artifacts from the vast archaeological collection at Montpelier. While some of the artifacts are on display for visitors, a digital exhibition that features the material culture unearthed and interpreted by the descendant community would expand the reach of the archaeological collection to a larger audience while providing a wealth of data for researchers and family historians. These 3D objects that were scanned by the Virtual Curation Laboratory have been uploaded to for academic outreach with Creative Commons Attributions (CC-BY-NC-ND).  

The past 35 days since the board’s decision have been extremely difficult to witness as a descendant of the enslaved community at James Madison’s Montpelier. Especially, once I learned that two staff members who are deeply admired by the descendant community were fired and other respected staff were suspended without cause. Their firing has caused increased concerns from the descendant community and professionals throughout the digital humanities. Also, there are concerns of how the archaeological collection will be maintained in the future when staff with the most familiarity of these collections are faced with employment uncertainty.

My proposed digital project requires the collaboration between staff and descendants. This partnership has been created and maintained for over two decades and these times of uncertainty stress the importance of the digitization of historical objects. The artifacts associated with individuals who have been omitted from written record including the hundreds of enslaved men, women, and children at James Madison’s Montpelier are especially at risk. The time is now to preserve and share the artifacts with a global audience.

My proposed digital project is attached below.

Final Project: Soundwalk Ghost Tours in Georgetown

Hello! Here is a QR code and link to my project.


I am very excited to present to you my project, Soundwalk Ghost Tour: Georgetown. This project is a digital tour that combined authentic historical research with digital tools to create an enjoyable and immersive learning experience. I developed the idea for this project when thinking about the concepts of audioscapes and local history. I was inspired by the digital tools HistoryPin and Audacity to develop a tour that used geolocation software paired with audio clips on local history. Some of the goals I had for this project were:

  1. Use real people and stories from the D.C./Georgetown area to promote interest in local history
  2. Discuss the gentrification of Georgetown and Georgetown’s history as a black community
  3. Pull in relevant local history to underpin the ghost narratives
  4. Make a tour that is easy to navigate and accessible
  5. Produce narration that is instructional and engaging

I began my project by looking at historical newspapers talking about accidents, deaths, or murders in Georgetown. I tried to pick stories that could give me an entry point with which I could discuss the history of the city. I picked four stories: the Georgetown Wife Murder, the Accidental Streetcar Death, the Horrible Accident at the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and Mary Pinchot Meyer’s murder. For the Georgetown Wife Murder, I discussed Georgetown’s past as a black community, gentrification, and trauma after slavery. In the Accidental Street Car Death, I gave a brief history of streetcars in D.C. For the Horrible Accident at the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, I explained the most basic functions of a lock and what the C&O canal was used for (However, I do wish I had mentioned the Canal building craze of the 19th century). Mary Pinchot Meyer’s story was the only stop where I did not discuss some type of academic history. This is possibly because her death was only sixty years ago. I considered discussing violence against women, but I think that might have been too dark for the ghost tour.

I created a persona to narrate my script. I thought that this would help with the storytelling aspect of the tour. I also tried to make it seem like the narrator was actually giving the tour in person. I think that this helps make it more immersive. As a narrator, I give written and spoken directions to assist with navigation.

One thing I learned from this project is how difficult it is to create a ghost tour using real historical research. Some of my stops are quite a distance from each other (though never more than 15 minutes). I think this creates problems because walking these distances can be straining especially for those who have problems with mobility. Another thing I learned was how to edit audio files. Because there is a lot of science and engineering involved in audio software, I found audio editing to be very complex. One major frustration for me was that pretty much all of the tour apps have a pay wall. The app I used had the smallest pay wall, but it was still limiting. There really is no perfect audio tour resource out there that is free.

As far as local history, I learned a lot about the history of Georgetown as a black community. I did not know that many freed enslaved people moved to Georgetown after emancipation. Also, I learned that many of these emancipated people built homes in alleyways and that later the city demolished them. The history of D.C.’s streetcars and the C&O canal were two other topics I had no background in before this project (I did not even know there was a canal in Georgetown).

If I had more time, I would work to refine this project in a few different ways. First, I would make an addition to the script talking about the canal building boom. Next, I would include music and maybe sound effects (this was apart of my original plan, but I had to scrap it). I also never walked the tour myself, and I think beta testing the tour would help me work out any issues with the directions or function of the tour software.

Despite these opportunities for development, I still think that the project I produced is a great way to combine digital tools with local history. I could definitely see potential in the continuation of a project like this especially if audio tour apps become more popular and have fewer pay walls.