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VARDIS/DSMP Summer Fellowship

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Through the generous support of the Rose O'Neill Literary House, rising Washington College sophomores Savannah Nies and Nyamekye Coles-Calloway were able to participate in a DSMP/VARDIS summer fellowship under the direction of Raven Bishop, who leads the Virtual/Augmented Reality Digital Imaging Studio (VARDIS) as part of her role as Assistant Director of Educational Technology at Washington College.

Nies and Coles-Calloway, both employed as Student Digital Imaging Consultants in VARDIS during the school year, play a critical role in the DSMP project, producing the 360 photographs that form the basis of the virtual tours DSMP produces in addition to 3D scanning, photographing and digitizing artifacts from local museums to include in the AR-enhanced exhibit materials created throughout the DSMP project. The work of these students during this fellowship served as a bridge between two DSMP collaborations--taking place at the close of the 2022-2023 partnership with Sumner Hall and the early stages of a collaboration with 2023-2024 partner, Kent Museum. Working with Sumner Hall stakeholders, Coles-Calloway and Nies photographed and created 3D models of objects related to local African American history to be incorporated as augmented reality content in a forthcoming exhibit. Working with Kent Museum, the students prepared the museum space for a photoshoot and then took 360 photos of the museum's exhibits to develop into a virtual tour in the coming months.

Beyond the production of digital deliverables, this fellowship created an opportunity for both students to delve deeper into local, regional and national history. During the two weeks of this fellowship Nies and Coles-Calloway had the opportunity to visit six Kent County, MD museums, many of which are current or previous DSMP partner museums. In addition, the group visited regional and national museums in Dover, DE and Washington, DC in order to contextualize local histories against the backdrop of regional and national narratives. Doing so helped both students develop an understanding and appreciation for our region's rich history and culture--laying a foundation for future work both of these rising sophomores will engage in through their work in VARDIS and as contributors to the myriad digital and print exhibits developed through the DSMP project.

Nies and Coles-Calloway kept daily journals throughout their fellowship experience and wrote a final reflection paper at the end of the fellowship. Excerpts of their writing are below.

DAY 1 - Visiting Past & Present DSMP Partner Museums

The team visited 2023-2024 DSMP museum partner, Kent Museum, to preview the collection they will be working with through the upcoming school year and to meet with to meet museum board members Joan and John Andersen to learn more about the museum's mission and vision.

"I have always been interested in history and museums since I was little and when I heard we will have hands-on experience the little kid in me could barely contain himself.On top of that we got to visit multiple museums some of which I have never seen before...I am from the city, so my expectation of the museums we were going to visit was Smithsonian-style museums...entering the fellowship I had one idea of what a museum is and how they are run. This fellowship really challenged this idea [and]...gave me an appreciation of the many styles of museums and how they vary from place to place."--NY Coles-Calloway

The team also visited 2022-2023 DSMP museum partner, Sumner Hall, meeting with museum stakeholders Candice Ringgold and Cheryl Hoopes. The students learned about the building's important history as an historic post-Civil War G.A.R. building and it's contemporary work in the community.

"My major takeaway is Chestertown played a significant role in American history. The two things that surprised me were Chestertown's involvement in American [history] and the rich black history in Chestertown."--NY Coles-Calloway

DAYS 2 & 3 - Making 3D Models

Students worked with Candice Ringgold of Sumner Hall to create 3D models of some objects in the museum's collection. The group was joined by professor Michelle Johnson of the Washington College Education Department who was interested in learning more about the process of creating these models.

"I learned that technology, as it expands each year, has a ton of potential to aid in the preservation of history--locally, nationally, and globally--as well as the education of local history...This idea became ever clearer to me as I learned softwares like Metashape, Blender, and Photoshop for photogrammetry and photo editing as well as technologies like the 360 cameras used to make our virtual tours for different museums and the CZUR scanners used for digitizing historical documents."--Savannah Nies

DAY 4 - Visiting Local and Regional Museums

The team visited the Delaware Agricultural Museum in Dover, DE. Visiting a regional museum with similar content to this year's museum partner museum, Kent Museum, prepared students for the exhibit preparation work they would do later in the week.

"I was a little surprised by the way that the agricultural museum had all these buildings in the back that weren't just for show and that we could actually walk around in; as well as by the way that one of the [museum staff] there was casually making nails and things in the fire in one of the buildings while people were walking through."--Savannah Nies

The team finished the day at another Kent County museum, the Massey Air Museum.

"The first thing I learned in this fellowship would be that smaller, local museums are just as important and valuable to preserving history as national museums."--Savannah Nies

DAY 5 - Researching Agricultural History

The first week of the fellowship concluded at the Bordley Historical Society. Coles-Calloway and Nies spent time researching and digitizing primary source materials related to Kent Museum's collection. This research will fuel not only these students' future DSMP work, but also provide valuable resources for future student groups' research and development of exhibit materials later in the year. The team also had the opportunity to meet with the Executive Director of the Historical Society, Patrick Jackson. Jackson is a Washington College alumnus who contributed to the DSMP project during his undergraduate studies.

"Everything has the potential to be history years in the future, no matter how mundane it may seem now. I was surprised by the amount of things that the Historical Society has on not only agriculture, but on many other topics too in their archives ... I was also surprised that there was so much to learn about from even just one source alone like the diaries [I worked with] because of how much content there actually was."--Savannah Nies

DAY 6 - Preparing for 360 Photography

Each year the DSMP project publishes a virtual tour of a Kent County museum. Through these virtual tours, visitors within and beyond Kent County can digitally "tour" the museum and learn more about the tangible and intangible histories it contains.

A significant amount of hands-on work goes in to creating these virtual tours. The work begins with preparing the museum space for 360 photography--this includes sweeping floors, dusting exhibits and, at times, arranging new displays.

The second week of the fellowship began with Bishop, Coles-Calloway and Nies doing the work of preparing for a 360 photo shoot of Kent Museum. The students gained a valuable hands-on learning experience in the museum as they prepared the space for the technological work to follow. Both students were able to interact with objects in the museum's collection in developing new displays of artifacts.

"My second big takeaway from this fellowship is the preparation that goes into running a museum and its upkeep.This started with when we cleaned the Kent Museum. It took a while and it was one of the smaller museums I’ve visited. I couldn’t imagine cleaning a museum the size of the Smithsonian... I felt satisfied after cleaning the Kent Museum [and] I could only imagine seeing an exhibit open that I worked on..."--NY Coles-Calloway

"I was surprised at how much we were able to get done in the amount of time we spent at the museum and how good a bit of cleaning up can make a place look. I was also surprised at the random new artifacts that we found as we rooted around to clean up everything, that was pretty cool."--Savannah Nies

DAY 7 - Visiting Smithsonian Museums in Washington, DC

One of the instructional goals of the DSMP project is to help students situate local history in the broader context of national history. One of the ways we accomplish this is taking students to visit Smithsonian National Museums in Washington D.C. which are thematically similar to our current local partner museum.

After spending time with this year's DSMP partner museum, fellowship students visited the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Both students were excited to see objects on display that were similar to the ones they had had hands-on interactions with earlier in the fellowship--for example, students noted that Kent Museum's collection includes a ballot box contemporaneous with the one on display at the Smithsonian museum and Nies was thrilled to note that the Smithsonian featured agricultural journals similar to those she worked with at the Bordley Historical center a few days prior to this visit.

"After going to large national museums in Washington D.C. I came back and realized that there were several artifacts at those museums that were also featured in some of the local museums, such as the Maryland voting box and old gas pump, both of which can be found at Kent Museum. This was very surprising to me, but made me appreciate the local museums even more than I previously did, considering the fact that they had national-museum-worthy artifacts in their collection."--Savannah Nies

"Not only do smaller museums also have a plethora of artifacts that tell the history of the local area, but they have artifacts that national museums might not feature at all. In fact, they may even have valuable pieces that are also in national museums, but that are open to the public to walk around and possibly even touch, unlike national museums. Generally, this taught me that history is far too complex to be completely confined to a few national museums, no matter how big they are."--Savannah Nies

Students also had the opportunity to visit the Lunder & Luce Centers at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Additionally, they had the opportunity to meet with Time-Based Media Specialist, Harvey Sandler, who graciously shared about his career and the exciting, highly collaborative nature of exhibit design.

[During] our visit with Harvey at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, we [learned about] him and other team members building an exhibit that was two years in the making. We [learned about] all the preparation that he and team were doing, building walls, painting, electronics, sound systems. I was shock when he said he had been working on this exhibit for two years.This sparked my interest helping build exhibits..."--NY Coles-Calloway

DAY 8 - Taking 360 Photographs of Kent Museum & Visiting a Past DSMP Partner Museum

The team returned to Kent Museum for a 360 photography session. Students learned to use a Ricoh Theta Z1 camera to take the photographs of the museum space that will later become the virtual tour of the museum.

"I learned that technology, as it expands each year, has a ton of potential to aid in the preservation of history, locally, nationally, and globally, as well as the education of local history...Furthermore, this technology has the potential to make history more accessible and introduce way more people to certain history which they didn’t previously know. This realization made me appreciate technology much more than I did before."--Savannah Nies

After departing the museum, the team visited the Worton Point Schoolhouse--2020-2022 DSMP museum partner, to deliver exhibit materials created by a previous group of DSMP students. While there, students had the opportunity to see DSMP exhibit banners and other student-designed materials on display at a local museum.

"I also learned that there is significant value in working with the community that you are a part of to help them with their projects. While this seems very obvious, I think that, when I haven’t engaged in a community project for a while, I forget how important and rewarding it is to get involved with local groups to make the community a better place. Working on partnerships within the local community connects you with people who know a lot about the town and things that have happened in the area in the past which have shaped the community of people living there...It made me want to work with people even more than I already had, and only refueled that fire of my love for being able to make people excited about a project"--Savannah Nies

DAY 9 - Digital Imaging Work @VARDIS

The team returned to VARDIS to begin the work of processing all of the digital imaging work the students had generated over the past several days. This work--including building a virtual tour from 360 photographs, developing and embedding 3D models of artifacts into exhibit panels and cataloguing scans of primary source documents for future student work will continue through the summer and the upcoming school year when the students return to VARDIS.

"Another takeaway is that the advancement of technology is helping digitally preserve historical artifacts. During this fellowship we made 3D models of historical artifacts using photogrammetry and built a virtual tour of the Kent Museum by taking 360 photos.This allowed us preserve history for years to come...This made me wonder what other technologies are available that can be used to preserve history. This peaked my curiosity of what new technologies will be out when I graduate and start working in museums and with artifacts. The skills I’ve learned from this fellowship I can used in future career in the history field. I now know how make 3D models using photogrammetry and make virtual tours using 360 camera all of which will make me stand out."--NY Coles Calloway

DAY 10 - Publishing a Fledgling Virtual Tour & Reflecting on Two Weeks in the Field

As the fellowship drew to a close, the fruits of Nies and Coles-Calloway's work began to take shape. 3D models of museum artifacts and a new virtual tour were in development, exhibit materials had been delivered to partner museums and newly-digitized primary source documents were ready for future students to learn from. Fellowship students took a moment to reflect upon their work over the eventful two weeks of their fellowship:

"Entering the fellowship, I had one idea of what a museum is and how they are run.This fellowship really challenged this idea...This fellowship gave me an appreciation of the many styles of museums and how they vary from place to place.This takeaway gave me a different perspective on museums and made me think about what kind of museum I would like to work in...In conclusion, my thoughts and expectations of museums have drastically changed. It has opened my mind up to new ways of thinking about style and the way museums are run and preparation that goes into museums."--NY Coles-Calloway

"I feel that this fellowship has not only helped me to grow, but has forced me to grow into a more well rounded person as a whole, and I will always feel that this was an extremely valuable and rewarding experience. Not only did I learn a ton more about XR technologies and history—two subjects I was previously not extremely well versed in—but this fellowship additionally reinforced my love for stepping out of my comfort zone and learning new things, even if they seem somewhat impossible at first. I really loved being able to explore the county I attend school in while meeting valuable members of the community who work tirelessly to preserve the history of the county in any way possible. I now am a firm believer in utilizing more advanced technologies to boost student engagement in learning, and to preserve history in more ways than one. I also think that, over these two weeks, I’ve gained a much deeper love for local museums, and I would love to look at more museums local to Kent Island [where I grew up] as well as across other counties in Maryland. Overall, I’ve come to understand how complex history is outside of the classroom and the national and global scope of things, and it makes me excited to keep learning new things and expanding my knowledge base about the place I’ve lived all my life. These important life lessons will continue to help me in other experiences, community and larger that I may take on in the future, and I know that this will only make me more interested in diving head-first into new things later on in school and my later career, whatever that may end up being."--Savannah Nies

The DSMP team would like to express our sincere gratitude to the Rose O'Neill Literary House for their support of this fellowship. Thank you for making this opportunity lead through learning possible for our students.

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