Sandcastle: A Historical City-Builder for Humanities Scholars




A team of students will work with Duke’s Office of Information Technology and faculty from Art, Art History & Visual Studies to develop a 3D modeling toolkit called Sandcastle, using Houdini -- a visual programming and procedural modeling software that is most frequently used by the special effects industry. This toolkit will serve as an alternative to geographic information systems (GIS) whose primary method of analyzing historical maps is to geo-reference, or stretch them over modern base maps.

The Sandcastle toolkit will be used to translate 15th - 18th century maps and “views” of cities and towns into 3D environments that users can explore and study within the Unreal game engine. While GIS software like ArcGIS has been a very useful tool for digital humanities scholars in the past, the Sandcastle project acknowledges that GIS is too rigidly oriented toward comparison with the modern world, and that a more malleable mapping system is needed to visualize historical images that don’t conform to gridded Cartesian space or mathematical perspective.