Virtual Vermilionville

This fall the director of our premiere cultural heritage site, Vermilionville, came to me with an interest in upgrading their inventory systems. As we sketched out various possible uses of such a database, from rich inventory management (by location, by type) to ticketing and tracking of work orders related to inventory, we began to realize that the rich documentation required of such an infrastructure could be used for an entirely different purpose: to create a virtual Vermilionville that would not only allow visitors to view the facility from afar — thus allowing one of the site’s principal users, area teachers, to perform previews and follow-ups with students — but also allow the facility to expand beyond its current scope, since it would be unbounded by its physical constraints: you can only do so much with so many acres containing only so many houses with so many objects. Curation and interpretation are not so limited on-line, where houses can, in a sense, be returned to their original place and curation be addressed by multiple layers with multiple access points. E.g., a classic Cajun house can be returned to its original location, virtually, with its bayou orientation and all its accompaniments no longer simply explained as context but now as full-fledged texts to be examined in and of themselves. Such a virtual facility expansion would also allow Vermilionville to address dimensions of history that it does not currently have room to house: the role of other ethnic groups in the construction of Cajun and Creole cultures, how the changing landscape has changed the social base for these cultures, what happened before as well as after the facility’s current focus on the late nineteenth century.

Our goal is to construct the best possible infrastructure that will allow Vermilionville to continue to “build out”. What we would like to offer up is a detailed description of the facility, its mission, our vision for this project, and our initial sketches of this information architecture in hopes of getting feedback on what we have missed and where we can contribute to the ongoing enterprise of finding the best possible mix of off-line/on-line curation. We hope that such an infrastructure will not only open the village up and out but also the data as well. E.g., We’d like to see Google Earth mashups and re-interpretations of artifacts in SketchUp as well as open up the facility so that visitors can layer their own stories onto the site — we want not only to reach a new generation but in doing so we want them to seek out the older generations and discover the latter’s stories and memories for themselves.