DHSS majors participate in a wide range of interdisciplinary research in their project-based courses and in their senior capstones. In project-based courses, students have created a 3D virtual reconstruction of a nineteenth century asylum; curated onsite and online exhibits using documents and artifacts from the RIT archives; transcribed and tagged rare pre-Civil War Friendship albums to make them searchable; and created a game based on a fictional “Steampunk” version of Rochester in 1921. In senior capstone projects, students have pursued their own research interests, including constructing a digital history project that documents the history of the transgender community in Rochester through oral history interviews and archival research.
Friendship Album Project
Students in Tamar Carroll’s History of the Family in the U.S. course collaborated with the Library Company of Philadelphia to develop content for a web exhibit about the rare Friendship Albums in their collection. The Friendship Albums are collections of original writing and paintings gathered and circulated by free African American women before the Civil War. Relatives, friends and fellow abolitionists contributed poems, prose, and watercolor paintings to these albums, sometimes calling for political reforms and other times consoling the owner of the album upon the loss of a child or other loved one. The albums thus crossed public and private spheres, demonstrated the education and achievements of middle-class free blacks in Philadelphia and other Northern cities, and helped to create and sustain networks of abolitionists across the Northeast.
RIT students worked in pairs to transcribe pages of the friendship albums, and to apply keyword "tags" to assist researchers in finding specific pages of interest. Students concluded the project by creating their own contributions to a modern-day Friendship Album. Some of their reflections on the meaning and legacy of the Friendship Albums will be featured on the Library Company's website and blog http://lcpalbumproject.org/
Shaun Foster, Assistant Professor of Design at RIT, created an interactive, 3D version of the Casey Friendship Album, allowing viewers to turn the pages and to zoom in and enlarge the images.
The Steampunk Rochester is an interdisciplinary project that brings students together to work on a large-scale narrative that is rooted in local history and spans the disciplines of Creative Writing, Visual Culture, and Game Design and Development. The project lasts a full academic year, with the first iteration completed in 2014-2015. It is currently in the midst of its second iteration during the academic year 2015-2016. A handful of students enrolled in both fall and spring semesters, making it a year-long project for them.
In the first semester, students in Creative Writing and Visual Culture in the College of Liberal Arts use a wiki to collaboratively construct a fictional version of Rochester in 1921, historically accurate in terms of its politics and social pressures, yet infused with the speculative element of retro-futurism in the form of steampunk technology. Using the structural principles of role-playing games (RPGs), each wiki entry has a combination of quantitative and qualitative information that creates both internal consistency and a rich possibility for storytelling. Just as RPG sourcebooks provide players a wealth of information to draw upon in their campaigns, students populate their fictions with people, places, and things drawn from the wiki, all of which were created by their peers.
In the second semester, Game Design and Development students mine the wiki entries and fiction to create a playable game. They spend several weeks in high-level design discussions, doing additional historical research and brainstorming to springboard into a design. After working in several small groups, the 2015 group created a point-and-click adventure game in which the player selects a playable character: either a white Russian man of ducal descent; a “Nellie Bly”-inspired woman journalist; or a “wrong side of the tracks” Irish photographer with a steam-driven prosthetic arm. These characters navigate different factions comprised of the Mafia, Suffragette Movement and a fictional “Church of Light” religious group to investigate the source, and effects, of Rochester’s mysterious glowing water.
The Stories They Tell: Curating Online & Onsite Exhibitions
During Fall 2015, students enrolled in Professor Juilee Decker’s Cultural Informatics (MUSE 359) worked with RIT’s Archivist, Becky Simmons, and Associate Archivist, Jody Sidlauskas, to curate an exhibition focusing on personal histories of RIT. Over five weeks, students examined the collections first-hand in the archives, selected items to include in the exhibition, The Stories They Tell 2, wrote exhibit labels, installed the works in the onsite exhibition, and prepared an online exhibition using Drupal CMS.
In addition to Cultural Informatics, several other courses in Museum Studies offer the opportunity for students interested in the digital humanities and social sciences to develop skills in critical curation. Students learn to develop, organize, manage, and enhance content through the addition of thoughtful, researched commentary as well as dissemination of such multimedia efforts.
Buffalo State Insane Asylum: A Purposeful Recovery
The Project, Buffalo State insane Asylum: A Purposeful Recovery, was a year-long effort to render what is now called the Richardson Olmsted Complex in 3D design animation. Six students collaborated with Professors Lisa Hermsen and Shaun Foster to recover the original architecture of H.H. Richardson and the landscape architecture of Frederick Law Olmsted, as it would have appeared in approximately 1895. This project was an effort to recover and conserve digitally a state of the art asylum built after the famous "Kirkbride Model," which sought to ease mental and psychological distress via architectural reform. The asylum, a national landmark, is now being repurposed as a boutique hotel, making its digital preservation especially significant.
Students showed their work on the floor of the fieldhouse during Imagine RIT (http://www.rit.edu/imagine/). Visitors contributed their own memories of this building and learned much about its significance for the history of mental health. In future semesters, the project will be expanded to include an interactive live environment in which the public will be introduced to asylum reform through primary sources while experiencing an atmospheric and experimental gameplay.
Trans Rochester Speaks
From 2014-2016, RIT student Ben Eshleman conducted archival research and oral history interviews to document the history of the transgender community in Rochester, New York. With his faculty advisor, Dr. Tamar Carroll, Eshleman coordinated an interdisciplinary team of students from Photography, New Media Design, and New Media Interactive Design to develop this digital history project which features curated audio clips from the interviews along with photographs and primary source documents. The team also designed an exhibit about the history of the transgender community in Rochester that was featured at Imagine RIT. Eshelman’s interviews, the photographs, and related primary documents have all been donated to the RIT archives, where they are available to other researchers.