Making History: How Bethel Students Created 3D Models of Pandemic Artifacts

With cameras and a computer program, digital humanities students created three-dimensional memories of their experience living through COVID-19.

By Jenny Hudalla '15, lead communications specialist

June 17, 2021 | 9:45 a.m.

Digital humanities

Students develop manual photography skills as they capture hundreds of images of Associate Professor of History Charlie Goldberg, which will later be used to create a highly realistic, three-dimensional digital model.

In fall 2020, students in Bethel’s digital humanities program knew they were living through something historic. As the COVID-19 pandemic changed the lives of millions around the globe, students began to seek connection, catharsis, and purpose—and they found it in the work of a 3D modeling project, which helped them preserve their experiences for future generations.

“As historians, we know it can be easy to make sense of life in hindsight,” says Charlie Goldberg, associate professor of history and digital humanities coordinator. “But, when you’re in the midst of uncertainty, it can be hard to make sense of the mess. This project provided an opportunity for us to create a meaningful narrative from our pandemic experiences.”

Using photogrammetry—an artistic and scientific process that gathers visual data about an object—students digitally stitched together hundreds of images to create highly realistic, three-dimensional models of items that had become significant to them. The technique, which is used by organizations across the country for purposes as diverse as topographic mapping, crime scene reconstruction, and digital museum curation, helped students process their reality while producing valuable artifacts that will one day help others bring the past to life.

"As a philosophy major, I kept thinking about all of the ethical dilemmas we face: who gets PPE, masks, medical treatment, et cetera." —Emmy Mendez, digital humanities and philosophy major

"In lockdown, I recorded my first album." —Kiernan Tollefson, digital humanities and history major

"I chose this object to represent my experience because my friend and I started our very own sneaker/clothing buying and reselling buisness." —Brandon Barnaal, digital humanities, art, and graphic design major

"I have collected hubcaps for years, often spending my springs and summers searching roadside ditches and dilapidated junkyards. When everything closed for the pandemic, I had a surplus of time to search for these roadside relics." —Jesse Caldwell-Tautges, digital humanities and biblical and theological studies major

"My mom bought this statue when I was young, so it reminds me of my family. This helps to represent my COVID-19 experience because I spent most of my spring and summer in lockdown with my family." —Meraiah Latty, digital humanities, philsophy, and history major

"I was left without a job for awhile. This glove symbolizes all the hours a day I spent at the field as an escape from reality." —Zach Haala, digital humanities, software engineering, and computer science major

"These are my slippers from Mongolia that I got in 2018 while on my missional gap year before coming to Bethel. These slippers kept my feet warm in my basement bedroom, but also helped me to recall what God had done in that year...and what He would do in the future in these turbulent times." —Katie Friese, digital humanities and psychology major

The breadth and depth of students' work showcases one of the primary strengths of the digital humanities: its broad applicability to a variety of disciplines. Students in the program—who belong to majors as diverse as history, software engineering, psychology, business, art, biblical and theological studies, philosophy, graphic design, and media production—learn to fuse the search for knowledge about human culture with a greater understanding of digital-age skills. By bringing the expertise of their primary major into contact with other disciplines, Goldberg says, they develop the ability to innovate alongside peers from different backgrounds—and they become more compelling candidates to future employers.

“Projects like this one highlight what the humanities are great at doing, which is to think about the human experience and understand our fears, frustrations, and hopes in a more meaningful way,” Goldberg says. “Together, students learn to ask and answer questions that matter in every field, like, ‘What’s important about this life that we want to remember?’”

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