Visualizing the Past/Peopling the Past

CIS106 / ANTH 258

Fall Semester 2016

MWF 11am-noon

Dr. Norman Badler, Rachleff Professor of Computer and Information Science: badler@seas.upenn.edu

Dr. Clark Erickson, Professor of Anthropology and Curator, Penn Museum: cerickso@sas.upenn.edu

CIS 106/ANTH258 is a highly interdisciplinary course that approaches fundamental issues in both Anthropology and Computer Science fields from both inside each one as well as from outside using the perspective and context of the other.  For example, anthropology of ancient cultures is viewed through a computer science lens of

Conversely, computer science is viewed through the understanding and utilization of computer models

Students gain acquisition of fundamental computer programming and data analysis skills using the programming language Python.  They also learn to use modern 3D modeling tools (such as Audodesk Maya) and animation engines (such as Unity3D).   Students also experience an in-depth exposure to a particular ancient culture, such as the Inca, which must be understood through scholarly resources as well as popular media (e.g., National Geographic magazine articles or motion picture depictions). 

The course assignments include writing essays, in-class oral presentations with visual aids, programming labs, 3D model development, and a final project that exploits contemporary computational tools to explain and visualize culturally relevant questions, knowledge, or hypotheses.  Presentations by the instructors include relevant anthropological background materials and tutorials on the computational tools to be used, and the thought processes needed to connect the two.  The course material itself is broad and requires additional conceptual integration by the student.  To facilitate this process, the instructors will use the SEAS Open Learning Classroom for programming work, and will utilize resources in the Penn Museum to explore firsthand through Object-Based Learning how a gallery presents the past.  The course materials therefore include extensive original visual materials developed by Dr. Erickson and cutting-edge virtual reality and computer software developed by Dr. Badler's ViDi Center for Digital Visualization.