UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 06 Spring 17 Library
Fotini Kondyli
UVA Lubrary Research & Interdisciplinary Archaeology

You Will Never Think of Houses the Same Way

Last fall, students in Fotini Kondyli’s Household Archaeology class were greeted with a warning. “I told them that after taking this class, they would never think of houses the same way.” The students were given an assignment to research available case studies and find field data on various archaeological ancient and Medieval house sites, then tasked with reconstructing the homes using 3D modeling program called Sketchup. In the final phase of the project, the students visualized their home models into either virtual reality or 3D print formats. “When we talked about it in the middle of the semester,” Kondyli said, “they all said it was really true, that it was impossible for them to not pay attention to the way people place their furniture inside a room or the way they allocate certain roles and meanings in different spaces in the house.” The way the class came to this perspective change involved a combination of time-honored archeological strategies and through working with Arin Bennett, a Visualization Specialist at the UVA Library, and his colleague Ammon Shepherd of the Library Scholar’s Lab. “I really wanted to invite my students to think about the study of the past, and what is the impact of that study in our modern life?” Kondyli said. “And to be honest, our conversations provided a great way to bridge the past and present and learn more about my students. They talked a lot about their lives and their backgrounds and it really helped bond us as a team.” 

(Photo: Fotini Kondyli)

By combining traditional techniques with the cutting edge technology, she said, the students were treated to both sides of the academic and practical equation that makes up the field. “In archaeology, you have to read a lot of reports that have detailed descriptions of what was excavated. This is something that is crucial for the field and the discipline, and sometimes for the students, it can be challenging because it is so detailed and dense. So I wanted them to engage in a very meaningful way with the archaeological data but also to give them practical hands-on knowledge.” Each group presented their findings in a 3D model, then decided between proceeding with 3D printing or VR technology. The projects involved a lot of hard work, Kondyli said, but in the end, great rewards, as they presented to her and to their fellow students. “We could look and handle the models, take them apart and put them back together again. And the VR was just fantastic. I had to actually go into their virtual models to grade the projects. I walked along the houses, I opened doors – it was just great.” Being able to deliver experiences like this comes from having both the right technological resources and the right people at the library and Scholar’s Lab, who were so giving of their time with the students. In the end, she said, the learning went beyond the students. “What the students did had a huge impact on my own research. It was not just me teaching them. It was a two-way street.”

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