In 2015, a team of local scholars and educators from a group called Atlanta Studies launched a mission dubbed “Unpacking Manuel’s.”
As Manual’s Tavern, the historic Poncey-Highland watering hole, neared a major renovation, historians and longtime patrons worried the decades of history adorning its walls was at risk of being lost or altered.
So, Georgia State University educators such as Ruth Dusseault, Brennan Collins, and others took it upon themselves to painstakingly chronicle the location of—and story behind—each and every artifact hanging in the bar.
Three years later, the fruits of their labor are still visible via high-definition maps of each of the beloved tavern’s walls. Visitors of the website can click through a history lesson of each dusty painting or pendant on a virtual tour of Manuel’s.
Now, a likeminded group, including people like Spencer Roberts, co-director of GSU’s Student Innovation Fellowship, has formed to tackle a similar challenge: mapping Oakland Cemetery.
This time around, however, the technology that researchers are using is bigger and badder—and so is the ground they’ll have to cover.
Georgia State University’s Student Innovation Fellowship, led by Collins, of Unpacking Manuel’s acclaim, recently partnered with Emory University to test their mettle at creating a three-dimensional model of the 48-acre graveyard, as well as every headstone and statue within it.
The two-school coalition also linked up with Atlanta-based creative studio Beam, which is lending its tech tools and expertise to help teachers and students document the past and present of the nearly 170-year-old cemetery.
Beam connected the research team with equipment like drones, rovers, and cameras galore to try to simplify the daunting task of immortalizing each and every crevasse or fracture the historic headstones have endured.
“Using a DJI Inspire 2 drone and DroneDeploy software, Beam’s Logan Riely captured over 12,000 images to create an orthographic scan of the 48-acre cemetery and surrounding 12 acres,” according to Beam’s project page.
On land, the team wheeled around a “Motion Impossible M-Series rover equipped with Phoenix Ranger Lidar system”—lidar is kind of like sonar, but with lasers instead of sounds—to make a map of Oakland Cemetery’s Jewish Flats section.
(The lidar system Beam’s using is accurate down to around a tenth of a centimeter at 100 meters away.)
This month, the Beam team is showing involved students how to use Canon SL2 cameras to “capture high detail scans of each stone and marker inside the Jewish Flats,” according to the site.
In addition to making 3-D renderings of the cemetery and its fixtures, the project entails an abundance of research by students from varying studies who will be digging into the backgrounds of each structure—just like they did with Unpacking Manuel’s.
The end result will be that every single Oakland headstone and statue will be immortalized as a 3-D rendering.
The project’s launch comes on the heels of another preservation effort at Oakland Cemetery.
Members of the Historic Oakland Foundation recently kicked off a fundraising drive, seeking $10,000 to help repair the cracked and crumbling tombstones at the cemetery.