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USF researchers create 3D models and virtual tours honoring the legacy of President Jimmy Carter

USF researchers traveled to Plains, GA, to document the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park. They were tasked with preserving the President’s boyhood farm and other places in his hometown.

People interested in visiting the hometown of former President Jimmy Carter can now do just that in the comfort of their own home.

That's thanks to the University of South Florida Center for Digital Heritage and Geospatial Information (CDHGI) team, previously known as the Digital Heritage and Humanities Collections.

They traveled to Georgia to document the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park, one of the newest parks in the National Park System.

The researchers were tasked by the NPS to digitally scan and preserve furniture items that the 39th president built himself. They also created virtual tours of his boyhood home, farm, and depot that served as his campaign headquarters in 1975. The house in Plains where Carter and his wife Rosalynn currently live will eventually be included in the tour as well.

Last month, the former president entered hospice care in his hometown.

Associate researcher and co-Director of USF CDHGI Lori Collins said her team made two week-long trips to the former president’s hometown of Plains when the project began in 2021, with the goal of archiving the history in a permanent way.

But Collins wasn’t sure if she’d have the chance to meet the former president and first lady, even though the group had to go through a rigorous security background check. She said they were told last minute on the last day of the trip that she’d be meeting the Carters.

“I got to give a presentation and show (them) the work that we had done," Collins said. "It was really incredible, because he's been sort of a lifetime hero for me.

“So to meet him in person and to actually engage with them about the technology and be able to show him his boyhood home in 3D was an incredible experience.”

Collins said the former president was "super inquisitive" about the technology they used.

“It kind of blew his mind to see (the renderings) in 3D I think,” Collins said. “And I thought it was really funny, because his first reaction to seeing his house, we were like that's the boyhood home, and he was like, 'That was so cold.' That was his memory, he remembered that house being just so cold in the winter.”

The team used a combination of cameras, light detection, and ranging laser techniques to create the 3D renderings and virtual tours. The tour of the boyhood farm also features narration from Carter.

“Also to archive them in a way that can be preserved in perpetuity, like within the Library of Congress,” Collins said. “And actually, USF — as part of the cooperation agreement — we're going to be creating a digital collection here as well.”

Collins and her husband/CDHGI co-Director Travis Doering, along with a team of 10 people, documented a multitude of furniture pieces either used or made by the former president and his family.

One especially exciting item was a podium Carter used while giving his presidential victory speech made from repurposed wood from a church.

“There's initials carved on it, and it's just your everyday kind of podium,” Collins said. “And there was a piece of gum up underneath it.”

She added most of the digital work and renderings occurred once the team got back to Tampa.

“The trick is to bring all that data back here and process it all right, and be able to use it both together and individually for different purposes,” Collins said.

USF CDHGI is now working towards creating a digital library at USF honoring Carter's legacy. They are working with the Park Service to create curriculum designs around the 3D collection for K-12 students and higher education.


Meghan Bowman is the WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for spring of 2023.