Virtual Paul’s Cross Project

Hi fellow NUDHLers,

I really regret not being able to attend today’s meeting, but I’m going to point you all to a sound-interested DH project completed recently by a former mentor of mine in the Department of English at North Carolina State University. Some of you may have heard of it already – it got around on Twitter this week a bit. Professor John Wall, who specializes in 17c lyric poetry (Donne, Herbert, &c) and early modern faith communities, was principal investigator in the collaborative effort that is the “Virtual Paul’s Cross Project.” For this project, which seeks to reconstruct digitally the physical and sonic space of Paul’s Churchyard in early modern London, Dr. Wall worked not only with humanities folks, but also with architects, sound engineers, linguistics scholars, and actors.

This project is, in important ways, an occasional one. At the center of this effort is the digital restaging of John Donne’s famous “Gunpowder Sermon,” originally delivered on November 5, 1622. In fact, Dr. Wall and his collaborators gathered on Monday at the brand-new Hunt Library (which deserves another post on this blog, honestly, for its famous “book bot” system) for both the 391st anniversary of this sermon’s delivery and the unveiling of the VPCP visual model, constructed by Joshua Stephens and rendered by Jordan Grey. A look through the images on the project’s website gives you a sense of the spatial environment of Paul’s Churchyard, which in Donne’s time was a vibrant and often chaotic center in which religious zealots, booksellers, dogs and cats, and curious Londoners of all stripes met and brushed shoulders. In building this model, these scholars collated a number of early modern drawings and engravings that gave them greater insight into the architectural peculiarities of the churchyard (such as the very distinct preaching station).

The soundscapes included in this project’s website are really fascinating as well – you can hear the simulated ambient sounds of the churchyard at different times of day (bells, dogs, carts, people), and with different sizes of crowds (such as one can see, for instance, in a painting by John Gipkin, 1616). You can also view the preaching station from different viewpoints and hear an actor reading Donne’s speech, taking into account the spatial elements of the churchyard, of course. As for design, the website gets too texty and scrolly at times in my view, and I wish that I could see the finished model more flexibly as I assume it was presented this past Monday. There is a video, of course, for now. At any rate, though, this project a great case of collaboration between scholars, historians, sound designers, actors, and architects, and it shows one way in which 3D modeling and sound studies can be fused with investigations into the religious and literary environment of Donne’s England. Check it out!

– Andrew Keener

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