Evan Haley '24, Practice of Art concentrator, was awarded a Derian Internship in summer 2023 to work with Museumverse, a collaborative graduate student initiative that bridges technological expertise with humanistic understanding in transforming the museum experience. Museumverse is led by A&A graduate students Mengge Cao, Iheanyi Onwuegbucha, and Michael Zhang along with Shruti Sharma (electrical and computer engineering). “Evan Haley, along with Katie Accetta, conducted important field research at the Historical Society of Princeton. They also contributed significantly to the project by experimenting with new ways of visually conveying information in an immersive environment. The project benefited from the perspectives and new ideas that they brought to the team,” said Cao.
Haley shares his experience below...
Being at Home in Princeton
During my internship with the Being at Home in Princeton project, I was asked to critically examine the displacement of the predominantly African American community across the phases of the Palmer Square construction project to create a prototype model for an upcoming virtual exhibition. In this process, I aimed to recover and illuminate the stories of individuals and families who were displaced from Princeton due to urban renewal, gentrification, and other social and economic factors. Combining archival research, examination of oral histories, and immersive technologies (augmented reality and virtual reality), this project seeks to re-center these lost stories in the history of Princeton. Through a partnership with the Witherspoon-Jackson Historical and Cultural Society, the Being at Home in Princeton project will also highlight the ways in which some of these families maintained their connections to the Princeton community.
I aimed to recover and illuminate the stories of individuals and families who were displaced from Princeton due to urban renewal, gentrification, and other social and economic factors... to re-center these lost stories in the history of Princeton.
The first few weeks of my internship experience were spent combing through selected bibliographies prepared by Stephanie Schwartz, Curator of Collections and Research at HSP. These bibliographies included a wide array of materials related to the development of Palmer Square such as archival newspapers, municipal planning manuscripts, zoning maps, unemployment cards, original photo collections, and oral history collections. My internship partner, Katie Accetta, and I diligently combed through this bibliography to find the most topical information to reconstruct the narrative of how the residents of Baker Alley were displaced in favor of the construction of Palmer Square.
After dissecting the bibliographies and preliminarily selecting the most relevant material for this project, Katie and I took a walking tour of Palmer Square and the historic Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood created by the Witherspoon-Jackson Historical and Cultural Society (WJHCS) with two members of the Museumverse board, Mengge Cao and Michael Zhang. This visit served to fill in some missing gaps in the research we did at HSP, supplemented by insightful plaques set up in the area by the WJHCS. Furthermore, getting a sense of the site and the embodied physicality of imagining transit and commute in this space, what it would mean to displace residents, helped our team to form the design and flow of the prototype exhibition.
Going into this internship, the Museumverse team had already designed a preliminary version of the Being at Home in Princeton VR exhibition. After Katie and I had gone through the archives and sat with this history for a while, we were able to provide insight into how the transformation of Palmer Square occurred over the years and tweaked the flow of the exhibition experience to reflect this. As the plans for this digital exhibition look now, the home page is an aerial map of Palmer Square with interactable sites of interest on the construction of Palmer Square and the lives of the community members it affected. Entering these sites will take you to a unique VR room in which you can take a closer look at archival material or enter a 3D photo of what that site looks like today.