In 2018 Valentina DeNardis, PhD, worked with two Villanova students to rebuild the Athenian acropolis in virtual reality for the Villanova Immersive Studies CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment)—and it was then that the director of Classical Studies fell in love with bringing the classics to life in this new way.
Dr. DeNardis wanted to give her students the same opportunity, and Minecraft: Education Edition proved to be the perfect tool. For the uninitiated: Minecraft is a video game in which players create 3D worlds from block-shaped units.
“It’s a lot like building with LEGOs, but in a 3D virtual space,” Dr. DeNardis explains. Soon she had students in her undergraduate Roman Archaeology class reconstructing the Colosseum, the Roman Curia, the Pantheon and other ancient monuments in digital form.
Inspired by this success, Dr. DeNardis invited students in her intermediate-level Latin class to build digital scenes from Virgil’s Aeneid. They also dissect grammar and puzzle out the Latin of the class epic line by line, but Dr. DeNardis doesn’t want her students to miss the forest for the trees: “I want students to experience the world of the poem,” she says.
Experienced Minecrafters in the class helped novices as they worked out perspective, color palette and complexity. Classics minor Brandon Hornlein ’22 CLAS loved the project. “It was an interesting way of visualizing it,” he says. “You can watch movies or see illustrations, but being forced to visualize things for yourself in that limited space makes you think about it in a different way.”
Dr. DeNardis sees the blending of humanities studies and digital technology as essential to the future of Classics. “In addition to the fun we’ve had, there’s an enormous value in the virtual preservation of ancient buildings and culture,” she says. “At any time, these fragile structures could disappear. My dream is that we may soon have digital versions of monuments and art that we can experience in every class.”
At any time, these fragile structures could disappear. My dream is that we may soon have digital versions of monuments and art that we can experience in every class.”
Valentina DeNardis, PhD, director, Classical Studies