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Bringing the Upstairs Downstairs

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3-D Tours of May Stringer House Now Available

Bringing the upstairs downstairs – such a simple concept. For Hannah Thieryung and the May-Stringer House, it would prove to be anything but simple. It involved a months-long process that required the borrowing of a high-end three-dimensional scanner from the University of South Florida to document every inch of the historic site. Hannah utilized various sources ranging from preserved manuscripts to YouTube videos to compile tomes-worth of information into a comprehensive interactive database.

After receiving training from USF on how to use the device, the May-Stringer docent scanned the house in early October. Hannah then spent the next couple of months inputting all the “touchpoints” around the house. These data nodes enable visitors to watch or read more information on the selected point of interest with the tap of a finger.

After the touchscreen monitor arrived “two to three weeks ago,” Hannah noted that she took the time to set up the screen aesthetically and troubleshoot the remaining hiccups. Appropriately located in what was once Dr. Sheldon Stringer’s office, the touch-sensitive panel is affixed atop a white pedestal and adds a touch of the future to the historic house. The process culminated in the grand unveiling of the museum’s interactive display on April 5.

ABOVE: Docent Hannah Thieryung demonstrates how to use the touchscreen kiosk. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]
ABOVE: Docent Hannah Thieryung demonstrates how to use the touchscreen kiosk. [Photo by Austyn Szempruch]

“Friday, we had our little party for it. […] It was so fun. We had cake!” Hannah said. Fellow docent Mary Sheldon even set up a cover over the screen for the big reveal. The graduate student’s supervising professor from USF, Dr. Jennifer Knight, helped to debut the new technology to the attendees. The trio discussed how the project came to fruition and what it means for the museum moving forward. This was followed by a demonstration and an opportunity for other docents to practice with the slate firsthand. “We were hoping to make it a little less scary for everyone,” said Thieryung.

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Hannah even helped a gentleman named Stan navigate the virtual tour on Friday. While he was not wheelchair-bound, he did have other infirmities that prevented him from being able to ascend the house’s flights of stairs. Thanks to the grad student’s assistance, “[Stan] found it very easy to navigate,” said Sheldon. “He just kept swiping. He touched where he needed to.”

For those who were unable to catch the Sun’s story on the project last year, the archive would need to be accessible enough for all to use while serving as an adequate substitute for visitors who were too infirm to venture upstairs. Hannah did not want it to simply be a re-creation of the upper stories, though. She wanted it to be “special in its own way” so that those who already enjoyed touring the second and third floors could still come away satisfied with the experience.

So far, Hannah has scattered 50 touchpoints around the virtual model of the house. Though there are plenty more that could be added, Hannah feels the current number of touchpoints is reasonable. Too many more items to interact with could overwhelm virtual tourists, especially if they are not as familiar with the technology.

“It is really hard to determine what to include in this,” Hannah said. “We have dozens of docents who give slightly varied tours every single day. That is why we always recommend coming back more than once because everyone gives you a slightly different experience. So, it was kind of hard to determine what stories should make it in, what stories I can probably leave out, what little objects need their own touchpoints, what can be just covered in the broader bubble for the room.”

The Historical Association footed the $1,100 bill necessary to purchase the interactive kiosk. The display came about from a partnership with the local Velva-Darnell Electronics, while USF is paying the subscription fee for the Matterport virtual touring platform. The software that powers the panel, Matterport’s recurring costs have been pledged to be covered “indefinitely” by the university, according to Thieryung. The organization was originally looking to receive a grant for the funds but ultimately decided to pay for the device out of its own pocket since Hannah’s project was ready to take the next step.

Thieryung jokingly describes herself as a “chronic overachiever” and her hardworking nature is exemplified in the fact that she has already nearly completed her capstone project before the end of her first year of her master’s program at USF. These massive undertakings are meant to be completed towards the end of a student’s degree program and many of her classmates are still understandably early on in this academic endeavor.

Despite her progress, she still plans to continue to adjust and add where necessary to make the project and the tour as finely crafted as possible. The museum may one day feature recorded tours and digital exhibits as well. The young docent plans to present a paper on 19th-century Irish playwright Eva Gore-Booth over the summer, conduct oral histories in the fall, and continue working on bringing the upstairs of the May-Stringer House downstairs for all.

“It is like a new awakening for the younger people […] there is a new enthusiasm for it,” Sheldon said. “Those of us that have been around for a few years have seen a lot of this before, but as we get older, we just really appreciate having younger people stepping up and being interested in history, for one thing, and interested in May-Stringer and our other two buildings as well […]”

Dr. Jennifer Knight (left) and Hannah Thieryung (right) educate attendees on the details of the interactive display. [Photo by Mary Sheldon]
Dr. Jennifer Knight (left) and Hannah Thieryung (right) educate attendees on the details of the interactive display.
[Photo by Mary Sheldon]
Stan (left) relaxes outside the house while talking to other attendees. [Photo by Mary Sheldon]
Stan (left) relaxes outside the house while talking to other attendees. [Photo by Mary Sheldon]
Dr. Jennifer Knight at the celebration at the May-Stringer House. [Photo by Mary Sheldon]
Dr. Jennifer Knight at the celebration at the May-Stringer House. [Photo by Mary Sheldon]

Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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