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.

I was incredibly challenged by one of the plantations we visited. This plantation challenged me, because we were invited there and given a tour by the person responsible for historical interpretation of the site himself. And what a tour it was! He managed to completely disregard the entire population of enslaved people. The house was full of slave master trinkets and objects, and the house was not set up in a historical context at all. It was very upsetting and sickening, but I think it was a crucial part of our trip. It put into words the fear that I had about the project- how do I, as a white person, create an immersive experience of the Uncle Sam plantation in the mid- to late-1800’s.

Oak Alley Plantation was one of the plantation sites that did a better job of interpreting a difficult past and providing historical context.
Student dev team members take measurements in a recreated slave cabin at Oak Alley Plantation.

I expected this trip to challenge my identity of being white in the modern setting, and help me reckon with the atrocities of the past. This plantation definitely led me to that conclusion, but the path that I took getting there was much different than I originally expected. As a white woman in the American context, it is necessary to recognize my privilege, and it was particularly important in that space. Thankfully, the other museums and plantations we visited were much less offensive and actually historically correct. I was able to sketch many of the buildings and structures, and I am so excited to transform those sketches into VR spaces!

Overall, I enjoyed the trip immensely. We went to many museums, plantations, and even the hotel hot tub!

Author: Rachel Swoap

Rachel Swoap (’19) is the 3D Artist for the Uncle Sam Plantation project. A double major in Computer Science and Studio Art, Rachel was the Graphic Designer for an artificial intelligence tutoring game and has created websites, with a focus on user experience (UX), for a company in Boston. She is quite passionate about Art and Computer Science, and plans on exploring both fields more in the future.

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