Virtual tours offer unique look at Virginia’s centuries-old slave dwellings

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A Virginia-based company has partnered with Google to offer people around the world a unique perspective at history they wouldn’t otherwise have the ability to see.

Thanks to a grant, Virginia Humanities — a non-profit based in Charlottesville — has created 360-degree virtual tours of slave dwellings across the state, including Church Hill in Richmond.

“Part of this project is to make sure people understand how prevalent and geographically dispersed the institution of slavery was, including in cities like Richmond,” Director of Encyclopedia Virginia Peter Hedlund explained.

Hedlund said that many of these sites are located on private property and thus not accessible to the public. But thanks to the virtual tour, anyone can now see inside.

“Oftentimes, people aren’t able to travel to these sites,” Justin Reid, Virginia Humanities director of African American studies, said. “So no matter where you are in Virginia, whether it’s in a classroom or at home, you’re able to see and get a sense of where some of these historic spaces are located.”

Here’s how it works:

“We take 360-degree photographs at every six to eight feet, and there’s a little arrow that appears on the screen and you move forward in the space as if you’re literally walking through those places,” Hedlund explained.

There are now roughly a dozen sites published on the Encyclopedia Virginia website.

“A lot of the story of Virginia has been told from the perspective of the large plantation houses,” Hedlund said. “We were trying to make sure that emphasis and attention was placed on the enslaved laborers who helped make those big houses and the lifestyle for the people who lived in them.”

“We want to ensure that more people see themselves reflected in the spaces that are being preserved.” — Justin Reid, Director of African American Programs

Reid believes the tours could offer some perspective into the ongoing controversy regarding how Virginia memorializes its past.

“Right now in Virginia, we’re having a lot of conversations about the way we’re memorializing the past,” Reid said. We’re talking about historic structures, monuments, memorials.”

Want to explore the virtual tours yourself? Visit the Encyclopedia Virginia website and look for ‘Virtual Tours’ at the top of the screen. You can also find them in the Google Maps app.

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