The Uncle Sam Plantation Project

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

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.

Turntable render of a double-pen slave cabin.

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

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. Christopher 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.

The Beowulf Mead Hall Project

Dr. Tim Arner, Associate Professor of English

Dr. Justin Thomas, Associate Professor of Scenic and Lighting Design and Chair of the Theatre and Dance Department

Continuing the work of The Grinnell Beowulf, a team of students will virtually reconstruct an Anglo-Saxon meadhall and village as 3D model and immersive environment. The team will base its model on archaeological excavations of Viking meadhalls and villages in Northern Europe as well as accounts from historical and poetic records from the early Middle Ages. The project will help modern readers of Anglo-Saxon poetry, especially Beowulf, to better understanding the civic and personal spaces that helped shape Anglo-Saxon social structures.

We hope to include visits to excavated and reconstructed villages Iceland, England, and Denmark, including Sutton Hoo, the Reykjavik Settlement Exhibition, Jarrow Hall, the Ribe Viking Center, and sites around the Danish town of Lejre, where archeologists have recently uncovered the remains of a Danish feasting hall some believe to have inspired Heorot, the meadhall in Beowulf.

Developing Cultural and Linguistic Competencies through Virtual Reality

Claire Frances, Senior Lecturer in French and Director of the Language Learning Center

Dr. Damian Kelty-Stephen, Assistant Professor of Psychology

Dr. Jonathan Larson, Associate Director of Off-Campus Study

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

To leverage immersive VR experiences for language learning and cultural awareness, we intend to create three open-source VR games with supporting instructional materials. These games will teach sustainability, conservation, and environmental protection within the linguistic and sociocultural contexts of France, Germany, and Spain. The project has five objectives: (1) build an interdisciplinary and inter-institutional community of experts who use VR for teaching within the humanities; (2) train students in VR game design within the humanities; (3) create immersive VR environments intended for language learning in French, German and Spanish; (4) design instructional approaches using VR environments for language learning and culture acquisition in order to to increase student motivation, intercultural competence, and preparation for study abroad, and (5) distribute open source code that can be used in creating VR experiences for teaching other languages and cultures.