James Oronoco Dexter

Historical Archaeology New Technologies and Community

Glen Muschio –
A Day of Archaeology, 2014

As an associate professor of Digital Media at Drexel University and as a cultural anthropologist my interests focus on using digital technologies to explore issues relating to cultural heritage. I work with digital media students, Philadelphia area archaeologists, operators of historic sites and archaeologists, historians and museum curators at Independence National Historical Park (INHP) to produce 3D digital models of historical artifacts, structures and sites. Several of the 3D house models are visualizations based on archaeological evidence and historical documents. One such model is the James Oronoco Dexter House.
Dexter House original model

The archaeological remains of the house were discovered during excavations conducted in 2001-2003 in association with the construction of the National Constitution Center on INHP grounds. The Dexter House is of considerable historic interest, it was occupied in the 1790’s by James Oronoco Dexter, a manumitted slave active in Philadelphia’s emerging African American community. The house was used as a meeting place for discussions relating to the founding of the African Episcopal Church of St Thomas. Historical records document meetings attended by Absalom Jones, the church’s founder and the first ordained African American priest in the Episcopal Church. Other attendees included prominent Philadelphia African Americans and Euro Americans.
Dexter House front and rear

Over the years the 3D model of the Dexter House has developed in consultation with archaeologists and other experts. Each iteration of the model seeks to refine its historic accuracy. The first version was produced in 2005. Helpful critiques led to a 2007 refinement of the exterior house model. In 2012 models of the house interior were produced and the model was placed in a game engine enabling explorers to navigate around the exterior and the first floor interior of the house.
Dexter model Large room

Historically appropriate virtual furnishings were added. Also added were virtual ceramic artifacts produced from 3D scans of artifacts excavated at the archaeological site and believed to be associated with Dexter’s occupation of the house.
James Dexter Model

Last night the latest iteration of the model was shown to members of the Philadelphia Archaeological Forum (PAF) and demonstrated in the Oculus Rift, a head mounted 3D immersive display system enabling wearers to virtually stroll around the exterior and interior of the house.
Matt and Chester demo prep
We also discussed plans to produce 3D interior models of the 2nd floor and garret. PAF members provided feedback on preliminary models. The long-range plan is to produce a 3D interactive environment in which visitors to the site can discuss 18th century views on race, religion and class as well as their 21st century legacies and consequences. Today I am reviewing notes from last night’s meeting.

PAF tour

Glen Muschio, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Antionette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design
Drexel University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA)