February 2014 — Artifact of the Month

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Digital Model of the Perkins-Dennis Farm Barn:
Media Arts and African American Historical Archaeology


This 3D model of a 19th-century barn digitally visualizes some of the history under study at the Dennis Family Farm in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Created in Philadelphia by Drexel University undergraduate Zachary Stockmal, the digital model marks the beginning of an effort to interpret this historic property in an interactive, virtual, environment.

The Perkins-Dennis Farm was established in 1793 by Prince Perkins, a free African American. For over 200 years the property has been owned by the Perkins-Dennis Family. (A gallery of photographs of the property can be found here.) The Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust (http://thedennisfarm.org) is preserving the property which has been the focus of recent architecture, archaeological, and historical landscape studies. Planning is underway to develop the Dennis Farm as an educational and cultural site.

Zachary Stockmal photographs details of the Dennis Farm barn stone wall during the summer of 2013. (Photo by Justin Wu.)

Zachary Stockmal photographs details of the Dennis Farm barn stone wall during the summer of 2013. (Photo by Justin Wu.)

Stockmal undertook creation of this digital model during the summer of 2013, as part of his coursework in Drexel’s Pennoni Honors College Students Tackling Advanced Research (STAR) program. He worked under the guidance of Dr. Glen Muschio of Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts and Design.

In making the barn model, Stockmal used architectural renderings and a miniature model provided by John Milner Associates alongside historical photographs provided by Denise Dennis, the first child of the 8th generation of the Perkins-Dennis Family. Ms. Dennis is President and CEO of the Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust.

The 3D digital barn model is constructed in real-life scale and represents an important step towards offering an interactive historical interpretation of the Dennis Farm. As Stockmal explained during a Pennsylvania Archaeology Month presentation, the model can be implemented into a computer game program and, with the program’s engine, can be placed online as “a type of computer game” (e.g., as an interactive, virtual environment). Internet users could access the barn model online, and walk around within the model’s virtual structure.

Once a virtual Dennis Farm landscape is constructed, online users could experience a simulation of how the property looked overtime while the generations of the Perkins-Dennis family were living there. As Stockmal explains, “An experience like this can help introduce a whole new generation of historical enthusiasts to important parts of American culture and heritage that for a long time have gone unknown by many.”

Still photos of Stockmal’s barn model in rotation are presented below. Learn more about the Dennis Farm and its projects at the Dennis Farm Charitable Trust webpagesabout the TrustarticlesEvent Slideshowfarm house stabilization project. Stockmal and fellow STAR student Justin Wu discussed this project as part of the 2013 ‘A Day of Archaeology‘ project. Their contributions can be read at the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum webpages here and here.

dennis farm.

This text was adapted by Patrice L. Jeppson from a talk Zachary Stockmal presented in October 2013, at the Explore Philly’s Buried Past Archaeology Month celebration.