The Uncle Sam Plantation Project

Dr. Sarah Purcell, L.F. Parker Professor of History

Dr. David Neville, Project Lead for the Grinnell College Immersive Experiences Lab (GCIEL)

Project Research Blog:

The Uncle Sam (Constancia) Plantation was a 19th-century sugar plantation located near Convent in St. James Parish, Louisiana. Constructed between 1829 and 1843, the Uncle Sam Plantation was once one of the most intact and architecturally-unified plantation complexes in the Southeastern United States and a prime example of Greek Revival-style architecture. Before the plantation complex was razed in 1940 to make room for a river levee, floor plans and elevations of the buildings were produced by the Historic American Buildings Survey. The GCIEL will develop 3D models based on these floor plans and elevations to create an immersive 3D/VR experience that will virtually recreate the spaces of the plantation complex and tell the forgotten histories of the people who lived there.

Video introducing the Uncle Sam Plantation Project and how 3D models are developed from archival materials. Future project development will include Autodesk 3ds Max and Unity platforms in the workflow.

Team members working on the Uncle Sam Plantation Project will take a 2-credit guided reading with Drs. Purcell and Neville in a topic related to the project in Fall Semester 2017 and conduct site-based research in Louisiana during Winter Break 2018.  Sites to be visited include Whitney Plantation, Evergreen Plantation, Oak Alley Plantation, the site of the former Uncle Sam Plantation, Houmas House Plantation and Gardens, the River Road African American Museum, the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail, Baton Rouge, and the Hill Memorial Library Special Collections at Louisiana State University to view the Uncle Sam Plantation Papers collection.

Meaning in Movement Project

Dr. Damian Kelty-Stephen, Assistant Professor of Psychology

Christopher Bell (’18) and Stephan Cernek (’18), Grinnell College students

Damian’s lab has been studying full-body motion capture in visually-guided actions (e.g., aimed tossing to a target), and his lab’s new project with GCIEL is going to begin integrating the full-body motion capture with the digitized virtual environment to capture not just how the body moves but a digital trace of how the body extends into the space of a task environment.

Stephan Cernek throws a  projectile in a data-rich virtual environment: Location data of the projectile and headset in 3D space are dumped into a flat data file for later analysis. The motion capture suit records every nuance of body posture

It’s possible to make small changes to available visual information in a non-VR lab space, but the immersive aspect of VR will allow Damian’s lab to manipulate specifically the “ambient arrays” implicated by research in the tradition of James Gibson’s ecological psychology. Beginning with a sparse environment, they will be building gradually more texture into these environments and exploring how bodily movement and immersive displays reshapes spatial perception.

The Mathematical Museum

Dr. Chris French, Professor and Department Chair of Mathematics and Statistics

The Mathematical Museum is envisioned to be a virtual reality learning environment, with individual rooms each dedicated to illustrating a mathematical idea for which a virtual environment would be particularly well-suited. For example, a room might be dedicated to 4-dimensional polytopes, like the hypercube or the 4-dimensional analogue of a tetrahedron (a pentatope).

Simple animation of a pentatope projected into 3D. The trouble here is that the 3D pentatope is then projected into 2D on the computer screen, hence no depth perception, and the viewer also has no control of the animation as it is non-interactive.

We can understand 3-dimensional objects through 2-dimensional pictures or graphs that can be manipulated and transformed with a computer algebra system. Thus, 4-dimensional objects might be more accessible in a virtual 3-dimensional space. Over time, rooms in the museum could be grouped into wings devoted to geometry, algebra, topology, mathematical physics, and the history of mathematical instruments.