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Pellissippi virtually reconstructs Bleak House

Like Ben Stiller’s security guard character in the 2006 movie “Night at the Museum,” you may soon find yourself all alone in the night, not in a cursed museum but in the darkened hallway of Bleak House, the Civil War mansion off Kingston Pike where Confederate sharpshooters took aim at Union troops during the Battle of Fort Sanders in 1863.

In this scenario, though, get spooked and you can change the dark to daylight with a click of the mouse.

Pellissippi State Technical Community College is currently reconstructing Bleak House, but not with brick and mortar and stones. A virtual builder is recreating the historic site online, in the virtual world of Second Life. The builder’s Second Life persona, or “avatar,” is Infiniti Mirihi.

Mirihi’s work is being overseen by Second Life avatar Aleister Memotech, who in real life is David Brown, an associate professor of Computer Science and Information Technology at Pellissippi State.

Launched in 2003, Second Life is a 3-D virtual world whose “residents” create their own, well, second life: they socialize and network; they buy real estate and build.

The virtual Bleak House, one of a growing number of developments on Pellissippi State’s Second Life “island,” is meant to help expose students to Civil War history as they discuss this year’s Common Academic Experience reading choice, “Sharpshooter,” by David Madden.

The story of a young Confederate sharpshooter inv-olved in the gun battle at Bleak House, the novel is being read by most entering Pellissippi State students to encourage discussion.

Mirihi, operating from her real residence in Massachusetts, is constructing a virtual replica of Bleak House with the help of photographs that David Brown and Ed Francisco, Pellissippi English professor and writer-in-residence, made of the mansion.

Through the Second Life portal, visitors will soon be able to tour the virtual Bleak House mansion, seeing for themselves where the real-life Confederate sharpshooters aimed their rifles through the tiny tower window, hitting and mortally wounding Union Gen. William Sanders.

“Second Life is the next ‘Web’ technology,” Brown said. “Something like this will become the next ‘Web.’ The Web has been two-dimensional. This migration to virtual worlds is moving us into three dimensions.”

Thanks to the support of Allen Edwards, Pellissippi State president, and the hands-on involvement of a team composed of faculty members Brown, Ron Bellamy, Donn King and Greg Walters and staff member Linda Randolph, the college is developing two virtual islands.

One is the permanent home of the campus, complete with treetop offices created by the team for Edwards. Part of the island is reserved for temporary buildings, and that’s where Bleak House and a Civil War battlefield are being constructed.

The other, less developed island is being used to evaluate a future gaming concentration, and that island will constantly change.

“I found a vibrant community exploring Second Life for its potential as an educational tool,” King said. “At that time, there were reportedly over 50 colleges and universities engaged in this quest. Now some sources say over 400 such institutions are in Second Life to some degree.”

Harvard University recently taught a law class on the site. The military and Homeland Security have reportedly used simulations on Second Life for training. Fire departments use a virtual town in Second Life to prepare their employees for real-world response.

“They’ll create a wreck and evaluate which way is the best way to get to it,” Brown said.

Meanwhile, the popularity and uses of Second Life continue to grow.

“For perspective, in April 2006 there were only 140,000 users worldwide,” King said. “By October 2006, that number hit one million, and then two million in December, exploding to the current level of over nine million.”

Anyone can log onto Second Life by visiting, setting up an account and downloading the software. You’ll then be able to create your own avatar.

To visit Pellissippi State’s Second Life community, search for “WindingRiver Campus.”

For more information about the educational uses of Second Life, call King at 865-694-6698 or visit


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