visualization / modeling

Lisa Snyder (discusses the growing availability of Virtual Reality technology and its potential or use within the digital humanities. VR can refer to a wide range of technologies but generally allows users to explore 3D models of various spaces or objects. It seems that VR technology could be particularly useful in modeling architecture or 3-Dimensional historical sites. 

I found Snyder’s exploration of the reconstruction model of Santiago de Compostela from UCLA particularly illuminating of the potential of VR technology. Santiago de Compostela is a Romanesque style cathedral finished in 1211. It has been a popular pilgrimage destination throughout history and houses many important relics. 

The project was originally started to supplement an undergraduate course at UCLA on medieval pilgrimages. Funny enough, John Dagenais did not get the reaction he had anticipated or hoped for from his students when providing them the opportunity to explore this cathedral in a VR space. This unexpected outcome changed the direction and purpose of the project towards a study on process. 

Many of the DH projects we have viewed or read about in this course seem to place a lot of emphasis on process. It seems important to many scholars to create a guide for future scholars in the DH. 

John Dagenais worked among a team of technologists, scholars, and students. Although his students did not seem excited about the final project of the model, through the project Dagenais saw the importance of incorporating students into the reconstruction process. This project highlights another large theme from this course and DH at large: the need for collaboration. The reconstruction process was possible with help from both historians and architectural students that were able to create the actual models, as well as many other collaborators. The process of creation, which included making 3D models from textual references, images, and 2D drawings, brought up many questions and revealed many insights along the way. For example, “The process of constructing the virtual cathedral from excavation or theoretical reconstruction drawing brought to light a number of questions and issues regarding the accuracy of the archeological drawings” (Snyder 412). This led to multiple iterations of the model where researchers had to reconfigure the model to be more accurate despite inaccuracies in the resources they used as references. There are discussions of placing an installation revised model within the cathedral itself in order to reach audiences beyond the university setting. 

The reaction (or lack thereof) from Dagenais’ students is worth contemplation. Are general audiences excited about VR experiences of architecture or other 3D spaces they would otherwise not be able to experience? It seems as if there are many relevant benefits of 3D modeling in scholarship – the process of modeling brings up research questions and the final product allows scholars to deeply analyze 3D spaces they are not geographically near. The benefits and potential for DH VR projects on the general public are more ambiguous and potentially varied. 

The use of VR within museum exhibits is becoming increasingly popular. I wonder about public perceptions of VR technology within museums – do people like it? Is it enhancing viewing experiences? I think that digital technology has a lot of potential for enhancing museum experiences but also has a lot of potential to be implemented without intention and benefit. I will be curious to see how VR develops as a museum tool and the public reception of this tool within museum spaces. 

Mapping Gothic France | Columbia University 

This modeling project shows a map of France (and also England) with markers of locations of gothic cathedrals throughout the regions. The map is interactive, meaning users can click on the icon (+) and see the name and a photo of the cathedral. This project is very successful – it works well, is easy to navigate both visibly and physically, and is backed by a large amount of scholarship and visual resources. 

For many of the cathedrals, users are able to do a VR tour of the space suggesting a large amount of time and money that went into extensive 3D modeling for this project. This project is a great example of a successful project in DH both for scholarship and general audience, especially with access to a wealth of resources.

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