World Languages Researchers Take 360-Degree Photography of Ancient Sites in Tunisia

The research team at the ruins in Dougga, Téboursouk, Tunisia.
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The research team at the ruins in Dougga, Téboursouk, Tunisia.

Continuing the U of A collaboration with the University of Manouba in Tunis, professors Curtis Maughan (digital humanities) and David Fredrick (classics, game design) of the Department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures and graduate student researchers Rachel Murray (comparative literature) and Mitchell Simpson (English) took 360-degree photographs of three historic sites in Tunisia: Dougga, Bulla Regia and Uthina.

These protected sites feature a remarkable mixture of Punic, Numidian, Roman and, in some cases, Amazigh structures, including theaters, baths, forums, temples, houses and the Uthina amphitheater.

To gain access and insight to the historic sites, the U of A team collaborated closely with faculty from the University of Manouba, including Mohamed Karim Azizi, professor of game development; Hosni Ajlani, professor of 3D animation; Ines Bouraoui, professor of architecture; and Skander Belhaj, director of the Higher Institute of Multimedia Arts.

Faculty and students prepare to take images of ruins in TunisiaThe fieldwork in Tunisia forms part of a larger project, "Mediterranean 360," which included 360-degree photography of sites in Sicily and exploratory visits to sites in Spain from June 16 to July 3. Captured with an Insta360 Pro 2 camera rig, the 360-degree photography will be used as the basis for producing interactive, accessible virtual tours and game-based applications to teach the cross-cultural history of the ancient and medieval Mediterranean.

Once the sites have been captured in their current condition by the 360-degree camera, spherical reconstruction drawings by a small team of artists can be layered on top of the 360-degree images to suggest how the site looked at a given historical moment. The 360-degree images and reconstruction drawings can then be imported into the game engine Unity3d, allowing the creation of interactive tours and game-based applications.

Working in collaborative teams, U of A graduate and undergraduate students will have a direct role in producing these applications, and thus "Mediterranean 360" is a significant example of HIPs (High-Impact Practices) at the U of A. The application located in Tunisia will foreground the combined expertise of students and faculty from both the U of A and the University of Manouba. Working with Ryan Calabretta-Sajder, David Fredrick has served as the creative director on similar projects in Italian that harness the Unity Game Engine to create immersive narratives with interactive mechanics set within 360-degree navigable environments.

Maughan, director of the World Languages and Digital Humanities Studio, looks forward to further growing the ongoing collaboration with the University of Manouba.

"Having worked with ISAMM since 2018, I am very excited to extend this collaboration to the University of Arkansas, where we share the vision to develop curriculum and pursue research projects that promote interdisciplinary and innovative engagement with world cultures and world languages," Maughan said. "As the only public higher education establishment in Tunis that grants degrees in game development and 3D animation, ISAMM continues to distinguish itself in North Africa by pioneering curricula and research initiatives in virtual, augmented and mixed reality — which is a research frontier of great interest to those passionate about the (digital) humanities at UA."

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