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: Soundwalk Ghost Tours in Georgetown

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

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https://explore.echoes.xyz/collections/uJcOi0Q0tydOyD1p

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.

Final Project: The South Bronx is Burning Historypin Tour

By: Sherrell Daley

For my final project, I created a tour using Historypin to explain the factors that led to arson in the South Bronx in the 1970’s. The tour shows how the community was affected by the fires and how the federal and state governments responded to the crises. Throughout the tour, I reference the New York Times’ archives and books about New York’s fiscal crisis as well. I pinned specific areas where the arson took place and relevant locations that explain different sections of the tour. For example, I pinned New York, New York when explaining the history of the South Bronx and pinned specific arson events to show how all of these events were connected to one another. 

These are the questions I answered when creating the tour:

  • What economic factors led to the arson? 
  • Why was the South Bronx more heavily impacted by the fires than other parts of the city?
  • Who benefited from the fires? 
  • How did the fires impact the South Bronx community and its residents?
  • How did the city and federal governments respond to the arson?

To answer these questions, I decided to research the factors that led to the fires in New York City, particularly in the South Bronx, in the first place. I researched New York City from the 1930s – 1960s to write the Introduction section of the tour. As previously mentioned, I referenced the New York Times’ archives of the reports of arson in the South Bronx along with books about the New York fiscal crisis to complete the project.  

Originally, I set out to create a story map exhibit showing the pattern between the distances to each fire station and the locations where arson was reported in the South Bronx. I was trying to find documents about the closures of fire departments in the South Bronx in the 1970s, but was unable to obtain the records. After talking to one of my classmates, I decided to focus on how the residents were affected by the fires and how it impacted the community at the time. Also, when first trying to create the exhibit on Storymaps it was really difficult to work with, so I decided to work with Historypin instead. Overall, Historypin was more user friendly, I felt more comfortable using it and I actually already had some experience working with it. 

Despite my rough start, I am very satisfied with how my project turned out. Historypin really helped me accomplish my goals for this project and even exceeded my expectations. This software was very easy to use and it allowed me to quickly make changes and add materials to the collection/tour. After this project, I will try to take a break from this topic and explore other areas in New York City’s history and the 1970s. I really enjoyed working on this project and gaining more experience making online exhibits. I hope I can make more of them in the future. 

I hope you enjoy the tour as much as I enjoyed making it!

Link to Tour – https://www.historypin.org/en/the-south-bronx-is-burning-2/geo/40.81767,-73.918426,11/bounds/40.654039,-74.066398,40.980898,-73.770454/paging/1/pin/1171547

Presentation Poster of the South Bronx is Burning Project
The Historypin Tour

Final Project: Topic Modeling Enslavement Narratives

I really enjoyed dabbling with MALLET this semester. To be completely honest, I may have bitten off more than I could chew – especially once Python slithered into the mix. While I learned much, I mostly realized that I still have so much to learn. Even with the most basic technical grasp, though, MALLET can be useful as a brainstorming tool in the early stages of a research project.

If I could restart this project from the beginning, I would narrow my scope considerably and focus on familiarizing myself with existing scholarship. There is so much cool research being done with MALLET and with enslavement narratives, and I have only begun to breach the surface. In terms of my technical understanding, I’m sure that reading more MALLET studies would have answered many of my questions. And regarding the history of slavery, I can only ever keep learning and growing. I ultimately would have benefitted from spending more time with that scholarship, and less time trying to revive my programming skills.

That said, I loved being able to write code for a history class. It was simple code, and it took me far, far longer than it should have, but I enjoyed every minute of it. While my history project may have been better off with more historiography and less technical practice, having up-to-date programming skills can only ever be a good thing in the long run.

My poster is presented below, and relevant files (including my final paper) have been uploaded to my GitHub. I look forward to continuing my work on this research in the future.

Presentation Poster for “Topic Modeling Enslavement Narratives”

– Jessica Shainker

The Rest of History (Podcast) | Final Project with Sam Burnett, from Site Contributor Lauren Pfeil

I don’t know that I’ve ever had a long-term project that I enjoyed as much as I have enjoyed creating a podcast for this class. The Rest of History, or TRoH, to our loyal fans, is a history podcast created for an audience that hasn’t seen much historical media created with them in mind, and for people who are interested in learning history through hearing stories told in a way that reaches them. Making this with Sam has been a very valuable experience for me as a public historian-in-training, and it has also been incredibly fun!

Sam and I were able to take a multifaceted approach to creating this podcast. Because, of course, we had the entire semester to come up with material, we weren’t on quite as much of a time crunch as podcasters who release new episodes every single week. Nevertheless, as complete rookies, we definitely benefitted from having a longer time in which we could ideate—and ideate we did. The basis of our podcast was, of course, the actual historical material. Sam and I think we are very entertaining on our own, but without a real premise and storyline in mind, we wouldn’t have had enough stand-up material or hilarious real-life moments to fill four entire recorded episodes. 

We divided and conquered when it came to our content. Our format demanded that each of us outline our respective “host” episodes separately; one of us would serve as the storyteller and one of us would be hearing the story for the first time. The commentator always went in completely blind, which was both a blessing and a curse. I couldn’t bounce ideas off of Sam or figure out how to word things quite the way I wanted to if I needed to get unstuck, but I also knew that I was going to be able to surprise and shock Sam with what I could think of ahead of time (often with hysterical results).

Recording a podcast was, of course, a time-intensive endeavor; across our trailer and four episodes, we recorded almost ten hours of raw material. We had originally envisioned our episodes being somewhat on the shorter side—perhaps 20-30 minutes each. Both of us definitely came very, very prepared to the recording sessions that we were responsible for hosting, so we had more than enough material to record and then to subsequently deal with. I think we both realize that that was probably for the best, though, because it certainly would have been disappointing if our episodes had less-than-satisfactory material. 

When it came to preparing our episodes to be made available digitally, we divided up the work again. My primary task was doing all of the audio editing and mixing for the episodes; this was something I was familiar with, because I have been participating in creating music for all of my life. Of course, podcasts differ from music in one key way; whereas a musical score is predictable and one should know exactly how long it should take to record, our podcast relied heavily on improvisation. Between our extended chats and wild tangents—plus the time when I knocked a full can of Dr. Pepper onto my off-white rug during a recording session—I had to edit out a TON of the raw material. In fact, for Episode 01: Fairies, Murder, and the Burning of Bridget Cleary, I took 2 hours and 43 minutes down to 1 hour and 11 minutes, meaning that I cut out over 56% of the raw material! 

As we continued on and got closer to making our podcast publicly available, Sam and I grew more and more comfortable at the mic, at webmaster-ing, in the editing suite (a.k.a my couch, with quiet snacks and over-the-ear headphones), and in our end product. We’ve had a couple of our friends tell us that they forget that it’s us when they listen and that they really believe that they’re listening to a professional podcast! Honestly, no comment could make me happier. This project has been an amazing experience filled with lots of laughs and pints of chocolate chip cookie dough, and it has resulted in a lot of my favorite moments from this school year. In all seriousness, I have told just about everyone I know about this podcast, because I am really, really passionate about what we have created together. 

All this to say, *Podcaster Voice* please subscribe to our show and leave us a five-star review, because it really does help more people discover the podcast. And of course, you can learn more about the show on our website, www.therestofhistorypod.weebly.com, where you can also find each episode’s show notes, and on our Instagram, @therestofhistorypod. 

Signing off—

Lauren

Lauren Pfeil is a graduate student at American University. A native of Des Moines, Iowa and a proud alumna of Butler University, she hopes to push the field of public history towards a more inclusive & accessible landscape.

Reach Lauren on Twitter: @lauren_pfeil
Reach Lauren via email: laurenspfeil@gmail.com