Choosing an interaction system for VR

There are a lot of components that go into developing a VR experience in Unity. A VR project uses most of the same elements as a 3D project, which are already work intensive, with the added challenge of integrating VR controllers. Fortunately, Unity is built to support 3D development and provides great infrastructure to support 3D modeling and physics. In terms of how work is divided up on the team, our artist Rachel is handling the modeling to make an immersive environment. David and I will take care of any physics that doesn’t come with Unity as well as any management systems needed to control the progression of the experience; for example, if you need a key to unlock a door, the software needs some way to keep track of that.

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Understanding agricultural history through site-based research

When the Uncle Sam Plantation project team headed to Baton Rouge and the Louisiana River Road plantations to do site-based research, the last thing we expected to contend with was severe winter weather. I viewed the trip as a chance to get a break from Iowa winter to immerse ourselves in the much-warmer environment of Louisiana and to see sugar plantations first hand. The average January high in Baton Rouge is 61 degrees, and the average low is 41, after all.

How cold was it? The fountain at Houmas Plantation provides a hint.

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Depicting the past and challenging identities

I feel so lucky to have been given the opportunity to travel to Louisiana over winter break. This was my first time in the state, and we saw and did so much. I learned a lot about how different people in the South portray slavery. This was essential, because it was one of the fundamental questions we needed to answer for our own digital project. Also we went to some pretty incredible restaurants- people who get to eat fish every single day have it real good.

You can’t go wrong with Catfish Perdu at The Chimes restaurant in Baton Rouge.

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Constructing history and interdisciplinary work

During our research trip to Louisiana, I was struck by the differences in narratives we heard at our tours to various sugar plantations. One tour was from the perspective of slaves. A different tour centered around the life of one owner on the plantation who opposed slavery. Unfortunately, one tour was solely about the plantation owners who lived in the manor and covered nothing about the harsh reality of slavery.

Reconstructed double-pen slave cabins at Oak Alley Plantation.
West facing facade of Houmas House Plantation.

Hearing all these different approaches gave our group good ideas for what we want to accomplish in our project as well as examples on what not to do. Additionally, the tours gave me more insight into how history is constructed. After experiencing the different tours, I realize that the story of Louisiana sugar plantations changes when you shift focuses between the different people who lived on the plantations. Continue reading “Constructing history and interdisciplinary work”

End of semester retrospective: Using Unity for digital humanities projects

Much like the first half of the semester, the second half of the semester did not go as I planned. I had intended to focus on building a tutorial space, with a particular focus on how participants could navigate virtual spaces. Instead, my semester turned out to have much more of a focus on editing code than doing the initial prototypes myself: David produced the entire first draft of the first tutorial room and I spent most of the semester tuning up the code so that it would scale well when we build the plantation experience. During this process, it occurred to me how similar it was to a writing/editing relationship in literature. Because I didn’t have to immediately worry about the creative side, I was free to direct my attention to streamlining the code and building an intuitive infrastructure. Most of what I took from this half of the semester relates to a few design heuristics about where and how to store the information we need to run the experience. Continue reading “End of semester retrospective: Using Unity for digital humanities projects”

Matters of immersion

For the fall semester, development of the Uncle Sam Plantation experience is somewhat limited, since we’re missing our 3D artist and historical expert. Without them, my development goals for the semester are to become familiar with the programming tools necessary to build the project (VRTK and Unity) and implement a tutorial room which we can insert before the main experience. If I have extra time, it would be nice to start implementing some mock ups for the whole experience. Unfortunately, I didn’t get as far I had hoped in the first half of the semester. Originally, I intended to have a simple prototype for a tutorial room before fall break, but spent most of my time so far getting an experience David built on Steam VR to work on Oculus and integrating our Unity projects with GitHub. However, I’ve learned a lot about designing in VR space and know what to focus on for the next half of the semester. Continue reading “Matters of immersion”

Instructional goal and supporting contexts

After carefully thinking about what we would like to do with the Uncle Sam Plantation simulation, the types of open educational resources that we would like to develop, and the manner in which these resources could potentially be used in a class, the dev team has come up with the following instructional goal and supporting contexts. The goal and contexts are, of course, not set in stone and will undoubtedly be modified and polished as work continues on the project. Continue reading “Instructional goal and supporting contexts”

Reference images for the sugarhouse

After looking through our secondary and primary sources, our team has decided to create a virtual reality experience of sugar production on the Uncle Sam Plantation, possibly during the 1860s or 1870s. I began research on the sugar making process and learned more in depth information such as how the cut sugarcane was fed into the sugarhouse’s machinery, which ground the cane into liquid. I also reviewed details about the boiling process, which took place in four kettles. I looked for images and photos of the sugarhouse machinery and floor plans. No doubt, the turning of wheels and rollers, the hissing and steam from the boiling process, and the sounds of the machinery grinding the cane will have engaging visual and sensory effects for our GCIEL team to incorporate in the project. Continue reading “Reference images for the sugarhouse”

Defining instructional goals in virtual reality

The Uncle Sam plantation project is beginning to gear up and, with the return of Sam Nakahira from archival research in the Louisiana State University special collections, we are presented with a mountain of archival material that needs to be assembled into a virtual reality experience. What does a receipt for $12 issued by J. Faivre, Piano Manufacturer, to Mrs. S. Fagot on 03 September 1859 for one month of piano rental say about life on the plantation?

To help focus our efforts, we have decided to focus on one aspect of plantation activity (e.g., sugar production) at a specific point in time (e.g., 1865). Despite limiting our focus in this manner, we are still left with a lot to consider, not the least of which is how to represent this all in a virtual reality environment. Continue reading “Defining instructional goals in virtual reality”

Summer research in Louisiana

Last week, I travelled to Louisiana State University from Grinnell to study the Uncle Sam Plantation Papers from their special collections library. It was first time in Louisiana and I was not expecting the humid weather. But I did not have to suffer too much as I spent most of my time in the Hilltop Memorial Library, where it was always nice and cool. The Hill library is so spacious and beautiful. Furthermore, the librarians and staff at the Library were all extremely helpful and friendly; it was easy to see they enjoyed their jobs and liked to see visitors come view the special collections. I had the best environment to work in. Continue reading “Summer research in Louisiana”