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 SketchFab.com 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: Archaeology for the Next Generation- 3D Printing and Public Archaeology in the Classroom

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 SketchFab.com for academic outreach with Creative Commons Attributions (CC-BY-NC-ND).  

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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 especially those who have been omitted from written record including the hundreds of enslaved men, women, and children at James Madison’s Montpelier.

My proposed digital project will be attached below.

Reading Responses for March 23rd (Brennan, Chan/Cope, Espenschied, and Lubar)

The assigned readings for this week mentioned some of the software and tools that we have been introduced to throughout this course. I found that the readings aligned with some aspects of my ongoing final project about the evolution of 3D printing in the classroom. We would learn this week that relics of the past are not just those that are on display inside of a museum. There was a collective sense of urgency to digitize “objects” in each reading.

The use of quotation marks for the word objects is because the definition “object” varies between authors. Sebastian Chan wrote about the collection of intangible objects such as “living systems” and the debate surrounding the @ symbol. Similarly, Dragan Espenschied examined intangible objects such as new media art and how it relates to digital culture. In contrast, Steven Lubar of Brown University dedicated a blog to the phenomenon in the museum world that presented random objects to Twitter. While three of the articles examined tools that have already been created, Sheila Brennan, makes a plead that history museums could greatly benefit from implementing digital tools and methodologies that have been used by colleagues throughout the world including Australia.

Brennan’s research into history museums revealed some areas in need of improvement such as limited online databases especially for researchers. These articles were all written nearly a decade ago which presents an opportunity for us to discuss the developments over the past decade especially since the emergence of the global pandemic in March 2020.

Questions for “Collecting the present: digital code and collections” by Sebastian Chan

  1.  Sebastian Chan stressed the importance of collecting ample context at the time of acquisition. Were there any elements listed by Chan that were enlightening? Were there any other elements that should have been included.
  2. Chan discussed that are institutions could possibly face legal ramifications when using objects that are not public domain. How thin is the line distinction between fine art and commercial work? Will this have an impact on digital historians in the future?

Questions for “Big Data, Little Narration” by Espenschied

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kau_EkTWG4Y
  1. What are the parallels between digital culture and social memory?
  2. There is an array of internet webpages that have been archived on rhizome.org. Espenschied shows that evolution of internet browsers has caused these websites to no longer be accessible. What resources are available for digital historians to prevent websites from expiring in the future?

Questions for “Getting to the Stuff: Digital Cultural Heritage Collections, Absence, and Memory” by Sheila Brennan*

  1. Will you use these collections if they become more widely accessible and available?
  2. Do you currently use, or have you used, museum objects and collections, in your research?
  3. How do you identify appropriate or possible museum collections to use in your research?
  4. Would you be more likely to use museum collections as primary sources for your research if you could find them easily online?
  5. Are you interested in gaining access to museum collections data for your own analysis, such as for text or data mining, topic modeling, visualizations? If yes, for what?

Questions for Museumbots: An Appreciation by Steven Lubar*

  1. What’s offered to, or available for, the museum? What seems, to the public, or to dealers in art and antiques, appropriate for a museum?
  2. What does a curator accept? What fits the collections, or the collecting plan, or upcoming exhibition needs? What can the museum afford? What does it have space for?
  3. What does a curator choose to display? And it’s not just the curator, of course: What does the conservator allow the curator to display? What fits in the space? What exhibits does the director approve? What could the museum raise funds for?
  4. What exhibits do I visit? What looks interesting on the museum map? What do other members of my group want to see? What has the museum PR department advertised?
  5. What catches my attention within that exhibition?

*Questions presented by author

Practicum: Audacity for Digital History Projects

Audio set-up

We have officially made it halfway through the semester! Last week’s proposal pitches highlighted our wide-ranging research interests. I was impressed to see some of the proposals included tools that had been introduced in previous practicums. There were a few proposals that plan on using audio and/or video elements so I am very eager to discuss an open-source audio software called Audacity.

Audacity is an audio editing program that is completely free and available to download on Windows, Mac, and Linux. This program does not have as many advanced features as other audio editing software since it is an open-source program. However, the features that are included are comparable and often exceed competitive software such as Adobe Audition. I was first introduced to Audacity while working in the Innovative Media department (The Workshop) at VCU Libraries. One of my job responsibilities was training students, staff, and faculty on how to operate the equipment and software in the audio studio, video studio, and makerspace. Most library patrons preferred using Audacity because it was much easier to produce high-quality projects in less time. Also, the program imports and exports audio files such as MP3 and WAV.

You can download the software onto your computer by visiting www.audacityteam.org

Audio recordings can be used on numerous types of digital history projects including oral history projects, field recordings, and podcasts. The results of an audio project are reliant on the audio quality, so it is important to select a high-quality microphone prior to recording any project. You can borrow microphones and other audiovisual equipment for research projects by visiting the lower level of Bender Library. The full list of AV equipment can be found here .

Note: It is very difficult, if not impossible to edit grainy audio recordings.

As mentioned previously, Audacity can import and export some of the most common audio types such as MP3 and WAV. If you plan to record your audio project using an iPhone, iPad, or other Apple device then you will need to download additional plugins since the file type associated with Apple devices is M4A.  Here’s a link to a quick tutorial on how to import M4A files. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDbUtcoeW10


Once you have uploaded your audio recordings then you can begin editing multiple audio files. If you are planning on recording a podcast, then using multiple audio files is a very common practice. The next time you listen to your favorite podcast, pay close attention to any music, or sounds that you hear other than the speaker(s). These sounds are usually much lower than the speaker. The intentional decision of adding background music or sound effects adds the illusion of depth. I learned about this technique when working with Virginia-based public radio producer, Kelley Libby on an NPR story. You can listen to the interview here. Kelley used a combination of field recording and studio recording to create this piece on the research that I had conducted at James Madison’s Montpelier.

https://www.npr.org/2017/03/28/521804754/a-woman-reconnects-with-her-ancestors-slave-past-at-james-madison-s-estate

While there can be more artistic control with podcasts that is not always the case with oral history projects. Many oral history projects are associated with academic or cultural institutions. In the assigned reading for this week’s class, Dr. Doug Boyd of the University of Kentucky noted the benefits of partnering with an archival institution when publishing an oral history project.

The University of Kentucky’s library has an extensive oral history collection which has interviews dating back to 1973. I have spent time exploring UK Libraries various databases including the Lonnie B. Nunn Center for Oral History collection.  During a trip to Kentucky in 2017, I met one of the oldest living relatives in my family named Alfonso Vance. Alfonso Vance served in World War II, and he was the oldest living nephew of my great grandmother. I spent an hour with Alfonso and his wife Juanita discussing various topics from his childhood in Henderson, Kentucky to his experiences of residing in Germany with his wife during the war. While I can still vividly recall the shared stories, they were not recorded. I had planned to return to Kentucky and bring my recording equipment the following summer, but it turned out that my first meeting with Alfonso Vance was also my last meeting because he passed away the following year.

When I revisited the UK Libraries website, I came across oral histories from 1980s of other natives of Henderson, Kentucky. The structure of these oral histories is very straightforward without any background audio or sound effects. UK Libraries has been able to preserve these audio files over the past few decades even though technology has drastically changed. Academic institutions are much better equipped to preserve recordings over time rather than individuals holding onto personal recordings.

I strongly encourage you to use Audacity for your digital history project, if you plan to create a podcast or oral history project. If you are using a computer or laptop with a built-in microphone, then you can record directly into the program. Otherwise, you will need to plug in an external audio device(s). Audacity allows you to easily switch between multiple external audio devices by clicking the drop-down menu next to the microphone icon (towards the top of the screen underneath the stop button). This is helpful for projects where each individual speaking has a separate microphone. You can see in the image above that there are two audio tracks listed. Audacity has the option of lowering or increasing the sound levels on each track until you achieve the ideal sound. Also, you can split and rearrange tracks easily with just a few clicks. I will provide a demonstration of how to use Audacity in class so if there any questions, please list them in the comments section.

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 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 SketchFab.com. 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:

link