Digitizing Bull Street class allows desktop view inside asylum grounds

Published: May. 2, 2014 at 4:33 PM EDT|Updated: May. 12, 2014 at 4:22 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Thanks to a class of students at the University of South Carolina, you can get a look inside the Bull Street Asylum without having to set foot on its 180 acres.

Students in Dr. Lydia Brandt's class researched archives of the Department of Mental Health and other historical documents to create the Digitizing Bull Street web site.  Members of the university community, public and the Historic Columbia Foundation attended the class' final presentation Thursday.

"The students did research on many of the buildings that never had been researched before," said Brandt.

They gathered all of their findings into a digital humanities project that includes an interactive timeline, maps photos and student blogs.

"While their research at its heart is much of a traditional kind of practice of architectural history and social history, the implementation of it was a means to make it interactive for a much wider public," said Brandt.

"We've tried to go through the archives and bring things out that people normally don't get to see," said student Kim Campbell. "We've managed, we hope, to put that stuff out there so people can take a look for themselves."

"These buildings aren't understood as much as they could be," student Robert Olguin told the group.

Each student selected one building on the Bull Street site and told its story. They used the stories of the buildings to try to learn more about the thousands of people who lived and worked there over its history that spans two centuries.

"It's a really incredible place that is literally in the center of the city and kind of, in many respects, lies forgotten," said Campbell.

Because the students did not have access to patient records, they felt they didn't address well enough the more disturbing history of the property.

"A big challenge has been trying to present a narrative that's balanced, that hints at some of the things we recognized happened in those buildings that's very terrible social injustices," said Brandt.

"It's hard for the buildings to tell the darker story that happened at Bull Street," she said. "In many ways they tell a very positive story because they were built with good intentions. It's how things actually played out in them where things start to get a lot more complicated."

With the site in the planning stages of development, students had a sense of urgency to catalog and document what they found. They shared in their blog posts their opinions about how it should be developed.

"We have to think about there were people living and working here for literally, close to 200 years," said Campbell.

"It's really a cool area because it was a self-sustaining community," said Campbell. "It's literally a little village within a city, that, I mean, no one knows about it."

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