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The Digital Montpelier Project

Between 2004 and 2009, James Madison's Montpelier underwent a restoration that returned the home and grounds of the fourth President to the period of his retirement (1817-1836). Unlike most presidential homes, Montpelier had undergone extensive changes. In the 140 years since Dolley Madison sold Montpelier in 1844, stucco was applied to the home's brick exterior, interior walls were moved, large additions were built and extensive changes were made to the landscape. Yet throughout all of these changes the core of the Madisons' home survived. To unravel Montpelier's construction history, an intensive investigation was undertaken in 2001 and demonstrated that the home that James Madison knew could be authentically restored. Based on this study, and nearly 20 years of experience attempting to present Montpelier's history to the visiting public, the Montpelier Foundation and the National Trust jointly determined that the home should be restored. The work was finished in 2009, revealing the historic exterior and interior of James Madison's Montpelier again after over 150 years. Significantly, the restored Montpelier now functions as a historic museum that allows the public to achieve a deeper understanding of Madison and his contributions by experiencing the home he helped design.

Through the restoration project, the Montpelier Foundation accumulated one of the largest digital archives of data relating to the restoration of a historic site ever assembled and one of the first to be entirely digital. The archive includes over 80,000 digital photos; scans of historic maps and photographs; over 1,000 digital measured drawings; tens of thousands of pages of text documents; over 100 gigabytes of cloud point data; and over 500 gigabytes of digital video. Because this collection was not easily accessible to the general public the Digital Montpelier Project was created to present the most important elements of the archive to the public. Using three-dimensional, real-time models, the Digital Montpelier Project allows visitors to explore all three Madison-era construction phases (ca. 1764, ca. 1797, and ca. 1812). The digitally restored ca. 1812 model reflects the house's current form while the ca. 1797 and ca. 1764 models were based on information collected during the restoration. Embedded throughout these models are links to slideshows that present the documentation that reveals how individual architectural elements were investigated and restored. The Digital Montpelier Project was funded by a Fellowship at Digital Humanities Centers grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project was undertaken as a collaboration between the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia and architectural historian Gardiner Hallock.

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