by Bernard K. Means, Director
Of late, I seem to be involved in public archaeology and outreach events related to the Virtual Curation Laboratory (VCL)’s efforts to preserve the past on at least a monthly basis–and no two are ever the same. I’m not quite sure what types or levels of engagement I or my students will encounter when we interact with what is broadly characterized as the “public.” At the recent Archeological Society of Virginia annual meeting, the VCL was set up in a venue with what should have been a receptive audience, but the number of people coming into the exhibits room was low throughout the meeting. Just this past week, VCL interns past and present gave research poster presentations at the 20th Annual Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of World Studies Research Conference on their work with virtual curation, and all did fabulously–but again, only a few fellow students and faculty came to see the posters, as Rebecca Bowman recounts here. These two events were good experiences for the VCU students, but, still, having more interaction with the “public” certainly would have been helped hone my students’ abilities to engage the different audiences that make up the “public.”
Saturday, November 22, I was at the Virginia War Memorial, participating in their event that featured a number of individuals devoted to military miniatures. The VCL has been partnering with the Virginia War Memorial the last few months to help move some of their collections into digital formats, including a large number of military miniatures (including this one), as well as some unique items, such as this World War II Japanese porcelain hand grenade. This partnership was facilitated by VCU senior History major Chelsea Miller, who is currently in my Introduction to Archaeology course, and made possible by Jesse Smith, the Curator at the Virginia War Memorial, where Chelsea is currently an intern.
Chelsea was on hand to assist me on Saturday, and we set up one of our two tables with our NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner. We scanned an Egyptian Arab miniature and a monument associated with Napolean’s Egyptian adventures.
The laser scanning certainly attracted the attention of many of the 200 or so visitors to the event, but, as always, the show was stolen by our 3D printed replicas. Knowing that our 3D printer could not print our 3D scanned miniatures to as high a resolution as the original miniatures, I chose to replicate them in a clear plastic as a way of catching attention–which they certainly did. These included five miniatures from the Virginia War Memorial’s collections, one World War I doughboy from Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, and a Vietnam-era soldier toy soldier recovered archaeologically from George Washington’s Ferry Farm. We also had on hand the aforementioned porcelain hand grenade (in glow-in-the-dark), and artifacts from our partnerships with Rediscovery Jamestown and the Virginia Museum of Natural History. The stream of visitors was constant, and I would have been overwhelmed if not for Chelsea’s invaluable assistance.
While I was not sure how virtual curation would be received at a military miniatures show, this was one of the best events the VCL has participated in this year in terms of engaging the public. This alone made the Saturday event a success from the perspective of the VCL.
But, the highlight of the day, and actually one of the year, for me was meeting 94-year-old Russell L. Scott, a World War II veteran who volunteers at the Virginia War Memorial. Russell was a tail gunner on a B-25 Mitchell bomber during the war, and was shot down over Italy in 1944. As he escaped the bomber, he sat briefly on the tail, but parachuted to safety, only to be captured by the German army. He became a prisoner of war until he was liberated in May 1945, as he recounts here and as is recounted here. The Virginia War Memorial has a detailed replica of a B-25 Mitchell bomber that they will display soon, and Jesse Smith as an aside noted that if would be interesting if they could display a miniature of Russell on the bomber’s tail.
Fortunately, I had brought along our Sense 3D scanner. To say I was honored and humbled to 3D scan Russell is an understatement–and he was a very good-natured subject. I look forward to creating an accurately scaled replica of Russell to help honor his service. This replica of Russell will be placed on the tail of the B-25 Mitchell bomber replica.
To the archaeologist wondering whether to participate in public outreach at a non-traditional event, take a chance. You never know how rewarding and enriching the experience might be.