Digital Heritage Technologies with Professor Andrew Johnston

Associate professor Andrew Johnston, also director of the University Of Virginia School Of Architecture’s Historic Preservation Program, emphasized the immense power of modern technology in relation to studying heritage and cultural landscapes. With UVA’s strength in the digital humanities, Johnston highlighted the cross disciplinary engagement with other members and groups within the university, including the Dean of the Libraries, John M. Unsworth, and the Scholar’s Lab and the Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities. The multiple technologies used to study buildings and landscapes, include digital scanning, the use of drones, photogrammetry, ground penetrating radars, virtual reality, and 3d printing. Not only has data quality been revolutionized due to these tools for data collection, but these tools are allowing for a reconstruction of what was once a physical reality in a very accurate manner. For instance, Johnston highlighted the potential in constructing a virtual reality, perhaps with different tools and disciplines like archaeology, in order to allow visitors to see and understand what may have existed in the past. While not returning to an original time, these tools are capable of leading to an understanding of the embedded histories within the landscape.

These digital tools can help us with thinking about the cultural landscapes, and the larger narratives and relationships that go beyond a building or structure. Johnston highlighted the ways in which the data could even be combined with other software like GIS, to begin to look at the larger landscapes and not just at the isolated buildings. Johnston’s project, the Birdwood Plantations, which he worked on with his students, focused on understanding the various elements of the site as a layered cultural landscape.  As well, the research focuses on a long history of the site, from early colonial occupations, through the construction of the grand manor house, the structures and workspaces associated with the enslaved population, and the subsequent decline of the plantation economy.  New technologies, combined with new research questions stemming in large part from the field of cultural landscape studies, enables the construction of more inclusive narratives. 

For more information on the historic preservation class projects, please visit: