This NEH Summer Institute for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities took place from June 17, 2013 – July 6, 2013. The three-week institute was hosted by the Center for Digital Initiatives (CDI) at Arkansas State University (ASU), Jonesboro campus in northeast Arkansas in the Mississippi Delta region, and the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies (CAST) at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (UAF), located in northwest Arkansas. The first two weeks of the institute were held at the CDI at Arkansas State University Jonesboro, AR campus. Participants then traveled as a group to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, AR for the last week of the institute.
This summer institute brought together twenty scholars working in the humanities who had research or teaching projects that would benefit from real-time visualization in a game engine, published as standalone applications, web players, or on mobile devices. In a three-week institute, participants were provided with a conceptual roadmap to the difficult but intellectually productive issues that surround the academic use of game engines, including the balance of immersion with accuracy and strategies for storytelling and graphical user interfaces (GUIs) in “serious” games while grounding institute participants in the intellectual issues that arise at the intersection of gaming and academic visualization. Participants also received hands-on training in the digital toolbox for creating game engine content, a basic workflow that they would be able to use in their own projects and bring back to their home institutions learning how to use a broad range of tools including Unity 3D, online multi-user virtual environments, Google SketchUp, Maya, as well as a broad range of open-source programs. No prior knowledge or experience in 3D modeling was assumed.
A unique feature of this institute was the incorporation of cultural content drawn from the Mississipi Delta region and ASU Heritage Sites that had been modeled by the CDI, including the Lakeport Plantation in Lake Village, the boyhood home of Johnny Cash in Dyess, the Hemingway-Pfeiffer house and studio in Piggott, and the Japanese-American internment camp in Rohwer. In bringing together an impressive group of lecturers who specialize in the use of 3D visualization and game engines as research tools in the digital humanities, the institute created an important resource in the form of a community of scholars—which allowed for future collaborations between individuals and universities. The institute focused on theoretical and practical applications of visualization tools, so participants received hands-on training in the digital toolbox for creating game engine content and a basic workflow that they would be able to use in their own projects and bring back to their home institutions.