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Excavation results visualized in new lab

Archaeology professor used interactive visuals to present research on medieval monks’ lives

After spending years excavating the ruins of Notre Dame d’Ourscamp, a medieval French monastery, Sheila Bonde, professor of archaelogy and history of art and architecture, displayed visuals depicting the daily lives of medieval  monks in the new Patrick Ma Digital Scholarship Lab Thursday night.

Bonde’s lecture marked the beginning of the new center’s weekly series about education and technology.

Located on the first floor of the Rockefeller Library, the lab — which opened last fall — contains a large wall of touch-screen monitors and LED screens. According to the library’s website, the 12 panels form a 7 x 16 foot display that can show images and videos at a resolution of more than 24 megapixels.

In her talk, Bonde described her research on the monastery. She used the lab’s equipment to display online models. One animation showed the Ourscamp monks’ morning routine, in which red dots representing the monks moved from a bedroom to the chapel.

“In order to engage with the Middle Ages, we need to use data,” Bonde said. “Well, I have enormous data.”

After studying the monastery, Bonde constructed models of what the monastery likely looked like. “We’re using (geographic information systems) to make something visual which has only been described verbally,” Bonde said.

She used the new display to show high-definition visuals and text in different panels at the same time, while playing sound.

“If you want to view things at a high resolution for collaborative or comparative work, you need to see a lot of things simultaneously,” said Patrick Rashleigh, the lab’s data visualization coordinator.

The lab has touch-screen panels that can be connected with the large monitor so users can interact with both. Universtity Librarian Hariette Hemmasi said the library will also move other technologies to the lab, including a Microsoft Surface tablet.

Hemmasi said she hopes to make the lab a more popular campus resource. “We’re looking to communicate with faculty and students to see how to use this facility in specific ways,” she said.

“We want people to start using it, to start experimenting with it,” Rashleigh said. “It’s an open lab.”

Rashleigh was selected last fall to coordinate student and faculty use of the lab and to help with the upcoming student competition, Hackfest 2013. The contest challenges students to make creative use of the new facility, Rashleigh said.

In preparation for Hackfest, students are able to use the lab during the limited number of hours in which it is open to all students. The library will showcase student projects at a “Best of Hackfest 2013” event on Thursday, April 18, Rashleigh said.

In addition to hosting lectures and student research, the lab functions as a classroom, according to its website.

Two courses make use of the classroom regularly, Hemassi said. This semester, classes for AMST 2699: “Digital Storytelling” and ITAL 1400J: “The Many Faces of Casanova” are held there regularly.

Rashleigh said using the lab requires less technological knowledge than working with other digital visualization facilities on campus like the Center for Computation and Visualization’s CAVE, the 3-D environment in the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts. “Plugging in” at the Digital Scholarship Lab can be as easy as plugging in a monitor cord to a laptop, Rashleigh said.

He added this space stands out “when it becomes a collaborative space.”

“Seeing things as well as reading and hearing is a very important part of learning,” Hemmasi said. “We hope that students will really take advantage of the space.”


- Additional reporting by Steven Michael


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