Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

History project preserves Mudd

<ast winter, students in “Hacking the Humanities,” a history class, began a project to digitally preserve Mudd before its destruction this summer to make room for the new science complex.

“Mudd is part of our student experience, but it won’t always be a part of the student experience,” said Brittany Johnson ’18, who worked on the project with Keller Flint-Blanchard ’17, Martin Hoffman ’19 and Lydia Symchych ’18.  

“We were thinking of things like Gridley, where it’s a part of Carleton’s history, but it’s gone,” said Johnson. “We, as Carleton students today, don’t have the same connection to Gridley that our alumni do. So why not try to forestall some of that by preserving Mudd?”

The project is currently hosted on a website organized by Visiting Professor of History Austin Mason, who taught “Hacking the Humanities.”

“The project in this iteration of the class was a great opportunity to take a building and work on some of the things we’ve done in previous iterations of the class,” said Mason.

The previous two classes focused on re-creating buildings that were part of Carleton’s history––many of which no longer exist––through 3-D models and other reconstruction methods.

This preservation is a part of digital humanities work, which focuses on the application of computing power and digital tools to solve humanities-based problems.

However, due to time constraints, 3-D modeling was not a focus of the foursome’s reconstruction efforts.

“Originally, we were going to try to recreate the interior of Mudd, but we couldn’t quite get our floor plans to match up with the model we had,” said Johnson. “We had to focus on other parts instead.”

Johnson’s primary focus on the project involved using photogrammetry to recreate the Edwards mineral collection.

“I would take anywhere from 70 to 140 pictures of a rock, rotating it, doing all of these angles, and then, I would run it through this program to build a 3-D model of it to be hosted on the website,” she explained. “A Mudd without rocks is kind of like a book without pages, you know.”

The group’s project also includes a “photosphere” component and testimonials of professors and students who work in Mudd.

“We put together these panoramic ribbons of spaces and rooms inside of Mudd, so you’ll be able to virtually stand inside the rooms and look around later when it’s destroyed,” Johnson said.

“The testimonials were everything. We asked questions like, ‘What are your favorite memories in Mudd?’ and ‘What’s the coolest thing you’ve found in Mudd?’”

Hoffman believes that including quotes from professors and students inside Mudd was crucial. “Mudd is an important building to a lot of people, and it felt right to preserve it in a way that incorporates those people’s memories,” he said.

Although each element is included on the project website, the group would like to merge them into a more cohesive digital recreation of Mudd. “The project is definitely still in flux,” said Hoffman. “Ideally, the final product would be a complete digital tour of the building sprinkled with commentary from the people who used it.”

Johnson agreed. “Our final hope for the project is that you can open up a testimonial, you can see someone talk about a certain room, and then, you can click on a link that brings you to that room. You can explore a panorama of it, see some detail within the panorama that’s interesting, click on it, maybe see a 3-D object,” she explained.

“You can experience all the parts in the way you want to experience them,” said Johnson. “You can read all the testimonials or you can just look at the objects. It’s really up to you as the user of the website to approach it as a multimedia exhibit, almost as if it were in a museum.”

Due to the potential she sees in the project, Johnson was frustrated with the short timeframe available. “We did complete the assignment, but certainly, we do not have a complete picture of Mudd,” she said.

Mason also cited Carleton’s term schedule as a limitation for digital humanities projects in general. “Right now, with the way this class is structured, with Carleton’s short nine-and-a-half week terms, it’s difficult to give students the training they need and have them mount a successful project,” he said.

Johnson hopes to continue working on the project in the future.

“I would love to do more 3-D models. I would love to have more panoramic images,” she said.

“The problem is, we only have so much more time. The goal is to get as much done as we can now, for collecting data, and then polish it up later, I think. The most time-sensitive piece is not the website, but is Mudd itself. There’s already pieces going into storage and getting taken out.”

In part due to its urgency, Mason is excited about this project. “This project, I think, has legs and would have really a lot of interest and stakeholders on campus that would really like to see it developed further.”

The limitations of historical methods in general, however, continue to constrain the project in the students’ eyes.

“It’s hard to capture the moment, the community, the culture. It’s hard to capture what exactly it meant to stand in a space,” said Johnson. “But what we can do is preserve pieces of it so that people can come back later and at least imagine it or interpret it, in their own way.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *