Asee peer logo

Virtual Preservation: A Unique Applied Research Project In The Virgin Islands National Park

Download Paper |


2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Projects & Partnerships Result in Student Learning

Tagged Division

Engineering Technology

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1387.1 - 13.1387.10



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Karen Horton University of Maine-Orono

visit author page

Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Technology, University of Maine

visit author page


Constance Holden University of Maine at Augusta

visit author page

Associate Professor of Developmental Mathematics, University of Maine at Augusta

visit author page


Ken Wild National Park Service

visit author page

National Park Service Archeologist and Cultural Resource Manager, Virgin Islands National Park, St. John

visit author page

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Virtual Preservation: a Unique Applied Research Project in the Virgin Islands National Park Abstract

Since 2003 students and faculty members at the University of Maine (UM) have participated in a unique partnership with the National Park Service (NPS) in the Virgin Islands National Park (the Park) on St. John. The Park contains ruins of over five hundred buildings that captured and enslaved Africans were forced to build, live in, and work in during the Danish colonial era from the late seventeenth- to the mid-nineteenth century. The ruins are overgrown by the jungle and not accessible by roads, and funding for preservation of this unique cultural resource is limited. As a result, the teams from Maine have engaged in an applied research service-learning project to "virtually preserve" the site of a sugar and rum factory on Leinster Bay using computer-aided design and close-range photogrammetry techniques. The applied research objective is to develop techniques to obtain accurate computer models of preservation sites to allow scholars and the public to "see" the sites in a three-dimensional sense. The project has involved both classes and travel to the Park. During spring terms students enrolled in courses to learn the required skills: taking and processing digital images, close-range photogrammetry processing, developing geographic information systems (GIS), and developing computer-aided design (CAD) models. Students were required to learn independently and through hands-on experience as expected of life-long learners. During the spring breaks faculty members and student interns traveled to the Park to work with a multidisciplinary team to take and process digital image and survey data at the site. Team members included professionals, graduate interns, and undergraduate interns from fields ranging from archeology to spatial information science. The interns observed first hand important sites of the brutal history of the Caribbean, and recognized the importance of preserving this unique cultural heritage. Interns participated in presentations describing the work and its importance to members of the public visiting the Park. Upon returning to classes after the break, the students continued to process the data collected. The results of their work from this ongoing project are available to the public on a web site.

Project Objectives

This is one of the first endeavors, initiated by the University of Maine, to try and save historic structures in the Virgin Islands National Park through computer graphics. Each year identifiable historic structures such as slave quarters, gravesites, bake ovens, wells, warehouses and great houses are being reduced to a pile of rocks and mortar due to weather and plant overgrowth. Since the Park constitutes over half of the island of St. John plus Hassel Island it essentially preserves the remains of the most complete (not impacted by development) representation of the Danish Colonial Period and Post-emancipation Era. Within the park ninety-eight percent of the historic resources are overgrown by jungle in the backcountry. Many of these threatened sites are incorporated within the park’s seventeen National Register of Historic Places District and Site nominations and most of these structures are listed on the Park Service’s List of Classified Structures. It has not been economically feasible to physically preserve these hundreds of significant historic structures. However, the National Park Service is mandated by law to preserve significant cultural heritage sites for future generations. The Park needs to document these historic sites before more data is lost.

Horton, K., & Holden, C., & Wild, K. (2008, June), Virtual Preservation: A Unique Applied Research Project In The Virgin Islands National Park Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3270

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2008 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015