Contact: jeffreyvadala @ gmail .com see also

As an anthropological archaeologist focusing on human-environmental relationships, I have wide-ranging talents in GIS mapping/analysis, Bayesian modeling, social network analysis, 3D interactive site reconstruction, and the analytical use of virtual reality headsets for spatial analysis.

The current research project that I am developing during my time as a Five College Digital Humanities and Blended Learning Fellow in Amherst Ma and Hampshire College (2017-2018), focuses on the environmental phenomena of time as a key element of human practice, knowledge, and ecologically inspired forms of social organization.

I have also set up Hampshire College’s first virtual reality lab where students can gain hands-on experience using virtual reality software and hardware for anthropology and archaeology projects. In my class title “Anthropologically Critiquing Reality” students are using virtual reality and 3d reconstructions of archaeological sites to critically and experientially represent ancient Maya and ancient Pompeiian ontological and metaphysical systems of thought.

Research Background

My 3D interactive computerized approach began in 2008 when I was working on my master’s degree. During this time, I began experimentally using 3D computer modeling technologies to analyze data gathered from the Preclassic Maya site of T’isil, located in Quintana Roo, Mexico. This research led to my MA thesis, titled “Three-Dimensional Analysis and the Recreation of a Preclassic T’isil: Experiential Use of Three Dimensions in Maya Archaeology.” In this thesis, I constructed a 3D interactive recreation of the ancient site of T’isil and virtually explored hundreds of architectural spaces. Using this technique, I could elucidate multiple relationships between architectural space, settlement patterns, and social organization.

I continued inter-disciplinary Mesoamerican research in my doctoral work at University of Florida, studying the material practices, identities, and social orders at the Preclassic Maya site of Cerro Maya (aka Cerros) in Belize. During this time, I had the opportunity to use the first developer’s edition of the Oculus Rift, a pioneering virtual reality headset. Using the headset, I could design and explore a more accurate, interactive, and immersive 3D virtual representation of the ancient Maya site of Cerro Maya, Belize. This interactive 3D virtual world was built using artifacts, maps, and data from the comprehensive Cerro Maya archaeological collection, now housed in the Florida Museum of Natural History. In 2013, the Wenner-Gren Foundation awarded me a dissertation research improvement-grant for the final stages of my dissertation research.

My dissertation titled “Assemblages of Ancient Maya Caching Events at Cerro Maya Belize: Assemblages of Actor Networks, Temporality and Social Fields in the Late Preclassic” incorporates virtual reality analytical methods, Bayesian statistical modeling methods, assemblage theory, social field theory, and actor-network analysis to analyze ritual caching practices. Combining a variety of new methods allowed me to chart the emergence of local history, political complexity and social subjectivities at Cerro Maya. My dissertation successfully defended in December 2016, contributes to understandings about the emergence of complex societies, while also offering a virtual reality model of social analysis that could be applied to a variety of humanities-related studies.

My publications cover topics such as virtual reality methodologies, historical landscape analysis, and the emergence of Maya hierarchy. The first of my publications, entitled “Astronomy, Landscape, and Ideological Transmissions at the Coastal Maya site of Cerros, Belize,” with Susan Milbrath as a co-author, explores how architecture monumentalized important seasonal events related to agricultural cycles. Additionally, I was also lead author on another recently published article, “Using Virtual Reality to Explore the Emergence of Astronomical Knowledge,” which employs virtual reality technology and a landscape approach to explore how architectural landscapes were fundamental to the generation of social knowledge at the site of Cerro Maya.

Teaching and Public Engagement Background

I was awarded my current postdoctoral fellowship because of my experience in digital archaeological approaches and my background in digital pedagogy. While conducting my research, I found that virtual reality environments could be powerful teaching tools. After creating an interactive application containing a virtual reality reconstruction of Cerro Maya, I introduced the tools, techniques, and site to my students in a general anthropology class at the University of Florida (UF). Inspired by the legendary educator John Dewey’s interactive approach to teaching, I developed a class project where students were required to explore the virtual reality reconstruction of the site while developing hypotheses regarding the social capacities of ancient architecture at Cerros. Helping students develop their own critical thinking and analytical voice, students were asked to create and prove hypotheses relating to the relationship between social hierarchy and the transformations of ritual architectural space. By providing an interactive and immersive learning space, students generated ideas and theories regarding the use of social space while actively retaining key anthropological lessons. This virtual-reality assignment dramatically increased student comprehension and retention of core class concepts. 

After gaining recognition from several local press outlets for using virtual reality with my students in 2014, I was chosen by my department to develop and teach a new course, Digital Anthropology, which was presented both online and in classroom lectures. The first of its kind at the University of Florida (UF), this cross-cutting four-field anthropology course explored new digital methodologies for social science research while investigating digital forms of culture. The online iteration of Digital Anthropology incorporates my fast-paced video production style alongside Microsoft’s hyper-media format of presentation (“Sway”) to convey course concepts in active and engaging ways. This class covers topics such as Deleuzian assemblage theory, Latour’s Actor-Network Theory, the materiality of digital culture, Donna Haraway’s cyborg theories, online identity, the emergence of online subcultures, social network analysis theories and methods, online social networks and the phenomenology of online virtual worlds.