Modeling and Mapping Historic Sites and Events

Friday April 8th and Saturday April 9th, 2016

Founders Room | Lovett Hall (Entrance B/1st Floor)  | Rice University Campus

This conference is free and open to the public. Registration, however, is required.

With support from Rice University's Scientia Institute's De Lange Conference Endowment and organized by a diverse campus cohort representing the humanities, social sciences, engineering, architecture, and the library, this 'small' conference serves to incubate a multi-disciplinary and broadly humanistic collaboration among interested tech innovators, visiting scholars, faculty and students, who can together explore, critique, and experience 3D simulation and geo-mapping projects.



Farès el-Dahdah, Professor of the Humanities
Michelle Depenbrock, Program and Events Coordinator, Scientia Institute and De Lange Conferences
Jeff Fleisher, Associate Professor of Anthropology 
John Hopkins, Assistant Professor of Art History and Classical Studies 
Alida Metcalf, Harris Masterson Jr., Professor of History 
Linda Neagley, Associate Professor of Art History 
Jan Odegard, Exec. Director Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology 
Albert Pope, Gus Sessions Wortham Professor of Architecture 
Lisa Spiro, Exec. Director Digital Scholarship Services
Alex Tarr, A.W. Mellon Postodoctoral Fellow in Spatial Humanities 
Rick Wilson, Scientia Institute Director




1:00 pm | Opening Remarks

1:15 pm | Edward Triplett -  Visualizing Security, Surveillance, and Architectural Partitioning on Medieval Iberia’s Frontier [bio]

2:15 pm | Theoharis Theoharis - Modelling Erosion and Reassembling Fragmented Virtual Stone Objects: the PRESIOUS Experience​ [bio]

3:15 pm | Filipe Castro - Virtual Reality and the Interpretation of Shipwrecks [bio]



9:00 am | Laura Wexler and Lauren Tilton - Photogrammar Project [bio]

10:00 am | David Heyman - Data-Centric Design in Interactive Maps [bio]

11:00 am | Rob Nelson - The Historical Atlas in the Twenty-First Century [bio]



1:30 pm | Kathy Weimer - Introduction to the ADHO GeoHumanities Special Interest Group  [bio]


1:45 pm | S. Wright Kennedy - The New Orleans Mortality Project: Building Nineteenth-century Mortality Terrains with Historical GIS and Digital Workflows  [bio]


2:15 pm | Alex Tarr - A Digital People's Guide: Towards Collaborative Cultural Landscape Studies  [bio]


2:45 pm | Farès el-Dahdah - Elements of imagineRio [bio]


3:15 pm | Alida Metcalf - The Next Step: Using imagineRio for Teaching and Research  [bio]


3:45 pm | Roundtable Discussion



Filipe Castro | Texas A&M University 
Bio: Professor of Anthropology at Texas A&M University, Frederick R. Mayer Fellow, and Director of the Ship Reconstructing Laboratory. He finished his civil engineering degree in 1984 (Technical University of Lisbon), and a post graduation in recuperation of old buildings and monuments in 1986 (Lisbon Fine Arts School), and worked as a civil engineer until the early 1990s, when he moved into management, working for the Portuguese government and completing an MBA in 1994 (Portuguese Catholic University). In 1995 he became manager at Centro Nacional de Arqueologia Náutica e Subaquática (CNANS), the Portuguese state agency for nautical archaeology. This work eventually lead him to leave his managing career in 1998 and enroll in the Nautical Archaeology Program at Texas A&M University, where he finished his PhD in 2001 and started his teaching career. He received “Outstanding Professor or Researcher” status from the US State Department in 2005, was tenured in 2009, and granted full professorship in 2012.

Presentation: Although it is impossible to predict the future, computer graphics are revolutionizing many aspects of our lives, and placing a lot of opportunities for the development of maritime archaeology. Excavating, recording, interpreting, and sharing information is increasingly easier and cheaper, and although they are generally invisible for the general public, virtual reality can help archaeologists use shipwrecks as the subject of public, didactic, critical, or community archaeology projects. The so-called economic globalization presents, however, important challenges that must be considered. Inequality and the weakening of the nation states pose problems to the funding of large scale projects and the input of rich patrons poses a serious risk for academic freedom. This talk attempts to present some of the opportunities and threats faced by archaeologists today and in the near future.

Link: Ship Reconstruction Lab


Farès el-Dahdah | Rice University
 Farès el-Dahdah is Professor of the Humanities and Director of the Humanities Research Center (HRC). He received his B.A. and B.F.A from the Rhode Island School of Design and his M.A.U.D. and D.Des. from Harvard University's Graduate School of Design. El-Dahdah was a visiting scholar at the Canadian Center for Architecture and Harvard University's David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. With the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, he is currently leading a John E. Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures titled, Platforms of Knowledge in a Wide Web of Worlds: Production, Participation, and Politics. His current research focuses on the creation of spatial and visual databases that describe places over time, as they once existed and as once imagined.

Link: imagineRio


David Heyman | Axis Maps 
Bio: Founder and Managing Director of Axis Maps. He has a BA from Middlebury College and worked as a GIS analyst for cities from rural Vermont to New York City before coming to Madison where he earned his MS at the University of Wisconsin in Cartography. Although a trained cartographer, he now spends his time running the day-to-day operations of Axis Maps, from strategic planning to managing individual projects, working with clients to coordinate Axis Maps' work. David has been interviewed for articles on the new generation of mapping in the Guardian and Washington Post as well as been a featured guest on radio programs including NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook and KCBS radio in San Francisco.

Presentation: This talk will examine the design process for interactive cartography and how the nature of the data being mapped shapes the cartographic and user-interface design. It will focus primarily on historic data and use examples from Axis Maps’ recent work in the field. We’ll look at the competing forces that impact design, from the intended audience to internal constraints and look at how the design process can be applied to the data itself. Finally, we’ll look at how these concepts can be applied to situations where the data is unknown, incomplete, or uncertain.

Link: Axis Maps


S. Wright Kennedy | Rice University
Bio: S. Wright Kennedy is a doctoral candidate in the History Department at Rice University. His primary areas of interest are urban spatial history and nineteenth-century U.S. health and economics. While earning his master’s degree in geography from California State University, Long Beach, he specialized in geographic information sciences and spatial analysis. His master’s thesis used historical geographic information systems (HGIS) to uncover the spatial origins and spreading patterns of the 1878 yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, Tennessee.  From 2012 to 2015 he served as the project manager for the imagineRio project at Rice University. Currently he is the principal investigator on the New Orleans Mortality Project.

Presentation: This presentation explains the approaches and methods of the New Orleans Mortality Project and discusses the development of digital workflows for the project. The New Orleans Mortality Project focuses on New Orleans in the Gilded Age (1877-1910) to examine how health, environment, and socioeconomics impact urban and community development. This project uses Historical GIS (HGIS) to identify and analyze the spatial and temporal patterns of disease and socioeconomics at the individual, neighborhood, and community levels. The HGIS is based on historical fire insurance maps and an individual mortality dataset, which is being built from approximately 200,000 scanned mortality records. To facilitate accurate and efficient database creation by a team of undergraduate students, this project has developed scalable workflows that are deployable across a wide variety of spatial and quantitative humanities projects.


Alida Metcalf | Rice University
Bio: Alida C. Metcalf is Harris Masterson, Jr. Professor of History and Chair of the History Department at Rice University. She received the B.A. from Smith College (1976) and the Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin (1983). She is the author of Family and Frontier in Colonial Brazil (1992; 2005), Go-betweens and the Colonization of Brazil (2005) and, with Eve M. Duffy, The Return of Hans Staden: A Go-between in the Atlantic World (2012). Her current research focuses on cartographers of the sixteenth-century Atlantic world and the social and architectural history of Rio de Janeiro.

Link: imagineRio


Rob Nelson | University of Richmond
Bio: Robert K. Nelson is director of the Digital Scholarship Lab and affiliated faculty in the American Studies Program at the University of Richmond. He has authored, directed, or edited digital humanities projects such as “Mining the Dispatch,” an enhanced edition of the Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, and “Redlining Richmond.” He writes and teaches on antislavery and slavery in the nineteenth-century United States.

Presentation: In the introduction to one of the great historical atlases of the twentieth century, the geographer John K. Wright proposed that "the ideal historical atlas might well be a collection of motion-picture maps, if these could be displayed on the pages of a book without the paraphernalia of projector, reel, and screen.” Nearly a century later tablets and laptops have allowed us to dispense with this paraphernalia and opened up exciting new opportunities to reimagine what an historical atlas might be. This presentation will showcase American Panorama, an in-progress historical atlas of US history, highlighting some of the possibilities digital historical maps offer to engage both broad audiences and scholars alike.

Link: American Panorama: An Atlas of American History


Alex Tarr | Rice University
Bio: Tarr studies the production and representation of urban space/place, emphasizing how subjects claim rights to the city. His dissertation, Have Your City and Eat It Too: Los Angeles and the Urban Food Renaissance examined the historical and contemporary role of food in reimagining futures for Los Angeles. Currently, he is developing a digital platform for the “People’s Guide” project – a distributed collaboration amongst scholars and activists to recover counter historical-geographies of cities. In addition, he is co-authoring, “A People’s Guide to the SF Bay Area,” with Rachel Brahinksy (USF). His research and teaching at Rice addresses the use of web-cartography in the study of urban spaces.

Presentation: A People's Guide to Los Angeles (Pulido, Barraclough, Cheng 2012) initiated a call to realign cultural landscape studies with the study of power and place, in forms accessible beyond the academy. This presentation will lay out how we are simultaneously expanding into a book series and into an online, collectively produced set of maps and guides to the lost, overlooked and misunderstood stories of people's place-making in cities.


Theoharis Theoharis  | Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Bio: D.Phil. in computer graphics and parallel processing from the University of Oxford, U.K. in 1988. He served as a research fellow at the University of Cambridge, visiting Professor at the University of Houston and Professor at the University of Athens, Greece and NTNU, Norway. His main research interests lie in Visual Computing and specifically in Reconstruction, 3D Object Retrieval and Biometrics. He is the author of a number of textbooks, including “Graphics and Visualization: principles and algorithms”. He coordinates the PRESIOUS EU project that relates to the application of Visual Computing techniques in Cultural Heritage

Presentation:  Modeling the process of stone erosion is useful for predicting the future state of cultural heritage objects. Modeling stone erosion is a difficult task due to the large number of parameters involved, as well as the large timeframe over which the effects of erosion are observable. Weather, pollution, freeze-thaw and salt are just some of the parameters that affect this process, in both physical and chemical ways. Little research has been carried out in this field. PRESIOUS performed both non-intrusive measurements on actual cultural heritage monuments as well as accelerated erosion experiments on sample slabs. Many physical and chemical measurement modalities were employed to collect data across erosion cycles. A simple erosion simulator that takes into account some of the many parameters was produced.
Fragmented 3D Object Reassembly and Completion. The problem of object restoration from eroded fragments, where large parts could be missing, is of high relevance in archaeology. Manual restoration is possible and common in practice but it is a tedious and error-prone process, which does not scale well. PRESIOUS has developed algorithms for the automatic reassembly of cultural heritage objects from digitized 3D fragments. Missing parts can often be completed using symmetries. The methods have been evaluated with real cultural heritage datasets.

Link: PRESIOUS Project


Edward Triplett  | Duke University
Bio: Ed Triplett is a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) postdoctoral fellow in data curation for visual studies who is working cooperatively with the Duke University Library and the Wired! Lab. In 2015 he received his PhD in the history of art and architecture from the University of Virginia. His dissertation – titled A Wall of the Faithful: Spatial Analysis of Medieval Iberia’s Religious Frontier – utilized a combination of GIS and 3D modeling techniques to discover new spatial patterns in the history of the Christian Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula during the 12th through 14thcenturies. At the architectural scale, Ed’s research has primarily focused on the partitioning of space and vision in the fortress-monasteries constructed by Christian military-religious orders. At the landscape scale, his work has utilized viewshed and cost-distance analysis to map the spheres of influence projected from hundreds of hilltop castles on Iberia’s shifting Christian-Muslim frontier. His current position allows him to continue applying cultural heritage visualization techniques to new digital projects while also developing an actionable plan to curate and preserve a host of unique visualization projects created at Duke University.

PresentationLike most borders, the frontier between Christianity and Islam in medieval Iberia was a fluid space with rival spheres of influence overlapping and merging in complex patterns. Despite the great deal of effort that has been spent emphasizing cultural exchange and hybridity between rival cultures in modern scholarship, the visual representation of the frontier remains the width of a single wavy line. This talk focuses on remotely sited frontier fortifications that stood over the landscape during the most volatile centuries of the Christian reconquest. GIS toolsets – including viewshed, cost-distance and network analysis – will help reveal how these castles managed to surveil and secure vast areas of rural space. This time-enabled database will also illustrate the true volatility and permeability of the frontier during the mid-12th through mid-14th centuries. The talk will conclude by drilling down to an architectural scale to discuss how 3D modeling and viewshed analysis can be combined to visualize the apparent contradictory purposes of the 14th century frontier fortress-monastery of Montesa. Throughout the talk, Christian Iberia’s military-religious orders will feature prominently as the most influential frontier institution in the wide rural space of the Reconquista.

Link: Research on 3D Modeling


Kathy Weimer | Rice University / Texas A&M
Bio: Kathy is a librarian at Fondren Library, where she is Head of the Kelley Center for Government Information, Data and Geospatial Services. She has over 20 years experience in libraries, with much of that time working with maps and geospatial information. She is co-editor of the Journal of Map and Geography Libraries and is pursuing a Doctorate in Geography at Texas A&M University. She co-founded the ADHO GeoHumanities SIG and serves as its co-chair.

Presentation: The GeoHumanities SIG is a multi-disciplinary, international group which focuses on spatial, spatio-temporal and placial perspectives in the digital humanities. The group, founded in 2013, facilitates communication and inspiration regarding tools, projects and events supporting maps, mapping, GIS and geospatial awareness in digital humanities.

Link: GeoHumanities


Laura Wexler  | Yale University 
BioProfessor of American Studies, Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Director of The Photographic Memory Workshop, and a coordinator of the Public Humanities Program at Yale University. A historian of race, gender and photography, she is a scholar and theorist of visual culture, including graphic memoir.

Lauren TiltonYale University 

PresentationPhotogrammar is a web-based platform for organizing, searching, and visualizing the 170,000 photographs from 1935 to 1945 created by the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information (FSA-OWI). During this presentation, we will tell the story of how Photogrammar came to be, describe how it was built, and explore it uses and implications for current research.

Link: Photogrammar Project


Map & Directions

The conference will take place in the Founders Room at Lovett Hall on the campus of Rice University

Parking: There is some parking available south of Founders Circle on Friday and Saturday, as well as North of Founders Circle on Saturday only.

Transit: Lovett Hall is a 5-10 (0.3 mile) walk from the Hermann Park / Rice University stop on the METRORail Redline