Penn State’s Historic Campus Modeling Project, which “aims to enhance Penn Staters’ sense of place and University history,” looks promising:

“University Libraries provided us with digitized fire insurance maps from 1922 as well as a large collection of historic building images,” Klippel said. “So we’ve been using these resources to model buildings that, to some extent, don’t exist anymore.”

A few notable historic buildings the team has modeled include the former Women’s Building (which stood close to the location of Burrowes Building), the original Old Main building and a former version of Old Botany Building complete with an attached greenhouse.

“It’s just amazing how drastically campus has changed over the last 100 years,” Klippel said. “With this virtual reality technology, people can go back in time and experience campus as it once was.” …

Although the project is still undergoing preparations for broader use, the team hopes that in the near future it can be used to educate users on campus’ past while providing context to its present and future.

There’s a historical perspective that to understand the present you have to first understand the past, but it can be really hard to imagine it,” said Mark Simpson, a geography doctoral candidate working on the project. “So being able to see what was here before in virtual reality is really helpful.

For Klippel, one of the greatest benefits of virtual reality is its ability to illustrate these environmental changes beyond the constraints of human imagination.

“I think our imagination is limited when it comes to trying to visualize things that are no longer there,” Klippel said. “So while imagining how campus looked without the Millennium Science Complex is almost impossible nowadays, virtual reality is a way to bring these past environments back to life.”

We created The Nittany Valley Society to foster a spirit of community across time, and we created Nittany Valley Press to make more of our history and heritage accessible to regular people. Learning about initiatives like this historic campus modeling project is validation for what we believe: that special places need to continually fire the imagination of its newest people through encounter with its past.

If there’s “something in the water” at special places like Penn State, and distinctive regions like the Nittany Valley, there’s a key lesson that’s often overlooked: you need to actually drink the water.