Ruins for the Future: Materializing Memories of the 1896 Hurricane at Atsena Otie, Florida with Kenneth E. Sassaman

12:00 pm Monday, January 28th, 2019 in Marston Science Library Visualization Lab (MSL 136).

Eight months after this photograph was taken on Atsena Otie in January 1896, the Faber cedar mill and most of the houses of a community of 50 families were destroyed by the storm surge of a powerful hurricane (Florida Memory Project, image number RC03279).

How can virtual reality and other digital technologies be used to mobilize historical knowledge that we may find useful in mitigating the negative consequences of imagined futures? The 1896 hurricane that destroyed the Gulf coastal community of Atsena Otie and the cedar mill industry on which it depended is but a faint memory of those who dwell today in the shadow of the disaster. The same could be said of a prior hurricane (1842) in the consciousness of the entrepreneur who only 13 years later sited a cedar mill industry in a place of assured future disaster. We can consider a variety of explanations for the impotence of social memory, but we might also consider ways in which historical knowledge can be rendered multisensory: literary and visual, but also experiential and interactive. Virtual realities of past events enable not only sensory experience informed by historical resources (archives, archaeology, oral history), but also the play of time and space that enables comparison, pattern recognition, and generalization (an analytical tool).

This workshop is the first opportunity to introduce for discussion the plan for constructing a virtual reality of Atsena Otie, the 1896 event that “ruined” it, as well as the preconditions and consequences of its vulnerability to disaster. In keeping with the Grand Challenge of the Imagineering and the Technosphere group, discussion should focus on the question: How have technologies shaped our lives, and how can we draw on them to meet 21st century challenges on a planetary scale? In the case of Atsena Otie, we will consider how the cedar mill industry predisposed the area to disaster and how modern, digital technology can be used to mobilize historical knowledge about this disaster for reducing the risks of future hurricanes.

Kenneth E. Sassaman is the Hyatt and Cici Brown Professor of Florida Archaeology and a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Florida. He is a specialist in the areas of the Archaic and Woodland periods of the American Southeast, technological change, and community patterning.

This event is free and open to the public.

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