Week 11


This week, we talked about 3D modeling and visualization. Amy Jeffs discusses in her article “Digital 3D Modeling for the History of Art” the benefits and uses of 3D modeling as a tool for art historians. She focuses on three projects: the Digital Pilgrim Project, which used 3D modeling for medieval pilgrim souvenirs; Sofia Gans’ study of a medieval brass assemblage; and Robert Hawkins’ application to medieval stone bosses. I thought it was interesting that all three of her examples are Medieval art but when I think about who is the most comfortable with 3D projects (other than architectural historians which make 3D Modeling seem old hat), it does seem like classical and medieval scholars are doing more work proportionally to other areas. 

She doesn’t discuss reconstructing buildings, 3D modeling as an independent art form, or 3D printing. The potential of virtual 3D reproduction in generating new research questions and altering perspectives is highlighted. She also provides a basic understanding of 3D modeling, emphasizing photogrammetric methods and the creation of models from photographs. The process involves taking multiple photos of an object, generating a low-density point-cloud through software, converting it into a high-density point-cloud (lines connecting the dots to make a skeleton), and creating a mesh overlaid with texture and color from the photographs (like skin).

One of my favorite examples was the Digital Pilgrim Project that created 3D models of twelve medieval badges from the British Museum’s collection to shed light on the visual language of medieval Northwestern Europe. These badges, everyday objects with various emblems, including those of noble families or bawdy depictions, were designed to be worn and later sewn into manuscripts. Despite their significance, many were discarded and have degraded over time. The 3D models allow virtual handling and a level of scrutiny that isn’t possible with the original as a way to simulate the original owners’ experiences handling these objects. From a museum perspective, 3D modeling can be useful for creating intellectually rich archival records that can facilitate a variety of study and teaching methods. The models have been used in museum outreach, dissertations, seminars, lectures, online articles, and social media, garnering thousands of views. This project really how high-quality 3D models enhance the study and appreciation of objects that are challenging to display in galleries or are relatively unknown. Accessible reproduction of these artifacts through 3D modeling serves as a crucial first step in bringing them to the attention of scholars.

Jeffs concludes that 3D modeling as a stand in for works of art significantly enhances the field of art history for both teaching and research. The accessibility of building, viewing, and downloading 3D models with basic equipment provides art historians with the opportunity to integrate this technology into their everyday academic activities. Exemplified by the Digital Pilgrim and Hawkins projects, 3D modeling can totally transform access to artworks that resist effective display or conventional photography. The selected subjects, medieval badges and sculpted bosses, benefit from viewers’ freedom to choose multiple viewing angles, simulating a fluid pre-photographic viewing experience. 

Sarah Kenderdine, in her article, “Embodiment, Entanglement, and Immersion in Digital Cultural Heritage”, discusses the application and use of Interactive Immersive Virtual Environments (IIVE) in the context of digital archives. There has been a big shift in recent years in user interaction with databases, archives, and search engines from basic access to a more creative production, driven by the growth in participant culture through Web 2.0.

Several projects use alternative methods for exploring data in more immersive environments. The Living Web (2002) by Sommerer and Mignonneau, CloudBrowsing (2008–2009) by Lintermann et al., ECLOUD WW1 (2012) by Kenderdine and Shaw, and mARChive (2014) by Kenderdine all demonstrate innovative approaches to interactive and immersive data exploration.

These projects use diverse strategies, such as physically immersing users into live-streamed Internet data, creating spatial narratives in a panoramic screen, and using 3D projection environments to explore large-scale datasets. The focus is on providing users with an experiential and dynamic way to engage with digital archives, fostering creativity, exploration, and new meanings. Kenderdine also highlights the potential of IIVE in changing information retrieval into a more spatial experience, which encourages visual searching, and enhances the display and interpretation of metadata in cultural contexts. I like that Kenderdine is considering multiple facets of a space in her discussion of 3D spaces, like the environment and cultural influences that having digital access (rather than physically going) can help in the dispersion of knowledge. I would assume more archeologists aren’t claustrophobic (perhaps I’m projecting memories of Indiana Jones…) but having digital models of spaces that are physically uncomfortable to be in seems like a major benefit to many people, no jumping out of the way of a giant boulder required. 

In my 3D project, I wanted to get a scan of an old camera I have. It was such a fun memory finding it for $6 at a thrift store, but it mostly sits in its box as I figure out where to get film, how to shoot it, if it even works… Having a digital model was a way for me to get it out of its box more! Even if I never opened the box again, a version of it exists on my computer and for someone with a penchant for hoarding sentimental items, I feel more at peace in case my house burns down and I didn’t grab it. I was surprised how easy the process was, and it gave me a lot of confidence for larger institutions that have more money and people to digitize their collections. The back of the camera didn’t take with the modeling, and I couldn’t get it to be quite as sharp in SketchFab as it was in AgiSoft, but overall, I’m really pleased with how it turned out. 

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