Public Release: 

Virtual Jamestown to expand into an Atlantic World Studies site

Virginia Tech

Blacksburg, Va., Oct. 23, 2002 -- If a teacher tells a classroom full of seventh graders that "x" number of people died of starvation and diseases in Colonial Jamestown, the students see a number. If the teacher takes the students online to Virtual Jamestown, where they can read "The sixt of August there died John Asbie of the bloudie Flixe. The ninth day died George Flowre of the swelling," and on and on, they get a grim picture of people being wasted away by strange diseases. At Virtual Jamestown, the students also can almost stand in the middle of the reconstructed fort and turn 360 degrees to see what it looked like from all angles.

Virtual Jamestown is a web site created by Crandall Shifflett, professor of history and director of graduate studies for Virginia Tech's Department of History. It is a digital research, teaching, and learning project that explores the legacies of the Jamestown settlement and "the Virginia experiment." It allows researchers and students to see actual court and other public documents, first-hand accounts of people such as indentured servants, pictures of the stowage of a British slave ship with slaves chained head to toe and side by side, sketches of the wedding of John Rolfe and Pocahontas, histories and a timeline of the events in the New world, and many other documents that give a vivid picture of life in Colonial Jamestown. As a work in progress, Virtual Jamestown aims to shape the national dialogue during the 400-year anniversary observance in 2007 of the founding of the Jamestown colony.

An award-winning site, Virtual Jamestown has garnered another grant for Shifflett, a $219,000 appropriation from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The award will allow Shifflett to expand the Virtual Jamestown site into an Atlantic World Studies site with surveys of archaeological objects in the Jamestown area and all on-line digital collections in Atlantic World Studies. The project will allow researchers and teachers to compare Jamestown to the Spanish, French, and Dutch colonization efforts and examine the origins of American culture, Shifflett said.

The Mellon award is a two-year planning grant to develop new partnerships and collaborations with the hope of establishing at Virginia Tech an Institute for the Study of the Atlantic World. Shifflett will travel to Europe to talk with archivists, directors of centers in humanities computing, and scholars in Atlantic World Studies. He will form a new partnership with scholars at the University of East Anglia, near London, which has a Virtual Norfolk project of 17th-century immigration and official documents, and with Virtual St. Augustine, a site in Florida spawned by an NEH teacher's seminar Shifflett co-directed with William Thomas, director of the Virginia Center for Digital History.

The Mellon Jamestown project involves collaborations with Colonial National Historical Park, Jamestown Rediscovery, and others involved in preparations for the 2007 observance of Jamestown's founding. "With the interest of the Mellon Foundation, the resources of the ongoing Virtual Jamestown project, and new partnerships with Atlantic World scholars and archivists in the Caribbean, Great Britain, and the United States, we have the opportunity to create a Virginia Tech center of national and international prominence in digital history and Atlantic World Studies," Shifflett said.

Besides being a research and teaching institute in its own right, the institute will provide programmatic support for the South Atlantic Humanities Center at Virginia Tech (SAHC@VT). SAHC@VT is the Virginia Tech branch of the South Atlantic Humanities Center, a partnership among Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities to preserve and study the South Atlantic region's colorful heritage while also promoting tourism and economic development of the area.

Virtual Jamestown has previously received a $205,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and was selected as a top humanities site for inclusion in the NEH EDSITEment Project featuring "the best of the humanities on the web." It can be seen at Shifflett hopes to secure funds in addition to the Mellon award for the Institute for the Study of the Atlantic World.

The purpose of the Mellon Foundation, according to its web site, is to "aid and promote such religious, charitable, scientific, literary, and educational purposes as may be in the furtherance of the public welfare or tend to promote the well-doing or well-being of mankind." It provides funding to "institutions in higher education; in cultural affairs and the performing arts; in population; in conservation and the environment; and in public affairs."


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