This is a guest post by Sahar Kazmi, a writer-editor in the Office of the Chief Communications Officer. It also appears in the March-April issue of the Library of Congress Magazine.
The Library boasts many ways history-lovers can immerse themselves with its treasures from afar. They can explore online collections, tune in to virtual lectures, discover extraordinary tales on our blogs.
Now, 2023 Innovator in Residence Jeffrey Yoo Warren is building another doorway to the past with his project, “Seeing Lost Enclaves: Relational Reconstructions of Erased Historic Neighborhoods of Color.”
Using 3D modeling techniques and insights from the collections, Yoo Warren is developing a virtual reconstruction of the once-bustling Chinatown district in Providence, Rhode Island. A vibrant enclave 100 years ago, the Chinatown of Providence largely has been erased from historical memory.
In his work with the Library, Yoo Warren will expand his research to include other early 20th-century Chinatowns in places such as New Orleans, Denver and Truckee, California.
Using the Library’s archival photos, newspapers, maps, film and audio recordings as well as work with local communities, Yoo Warren’s “relational reconstruction” process aims to make these places “visitable” again, if only virtually. He’ll also experiment with multisensory elements like virtual weather and soundscapes.
The full effect, he hopes, will give audiences a visceral — and maybe even deeply personal — feeling of walking into a forgotten reality.
Although his 3D visualization is centered on Chinatowns, Yoo Warren’s work also will produce a “relational reconstruction toolkit” to inspire the public to develop similar recovery efforts for other ancestral spaces. The toolkit will feature resources and tutorials on using the Library’s place-based materials to reclaim lost histories through immersive digital reconstructions.
As an artist and educator, Yoo Warren believes the historical erasure he’s addressing is not only a challenge of archival documentation but a matter of community meaning and loss. In creatively rebuilding the sights, sounds and emotion of lost spaces, his work will help the Library enrich the nation’s cultural memory and, with some technological help, construct another bridge between the records of the past and the potential of tomorrow.
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