In Defense of the Virtual Reconstruction

Let me start by saying that I’m a huge proponent of 3-D modeling, the topic of Day Four of Building a Digital Portfolio. We started our morning by debating the value of semi-immersive virtual reconstructions, and I argued in support of them 100%. I have used SketchUp in my own research, not necessarily as a means of illustrating a space to my audience, but as a way of learning more about my topic (in this case a fifteenth-century Neapolitan funerary chapel, known as the Succorpo of San Gennaro) through digitally reconstructing it. Learning through building—one of the main values of SketchUp according to my supervisor at the University of Maryland’s Michelle Smith Collaboratory Quint Gregory. I noticed things through this process that I’m confident I never would have recognized by merely looking at photographs or standing in the physical space of the chapel.

SCALA_ARCHIVES_1039930018Workshop of Tommaso Malvito da Como, Succorpo of San Gennaro, Cathedral of Naples, 1497-1506. Image: Artstor.

I’m also a supporter of using 3-D models to reconstruct and preserve knowledge about rapidly deteriorating archeological sites. My first introduction to virtual reconstructions came in the summer of 2010 when I participated in the Restoring Ancient Stabiae Foundation’s archaeological dig at the Villa Arianna. Because of its recent excavation and the fact that it is not yet open to the public, the Villa Arianna (at least in 2010) was not in as poor a state as many other ancient villas on the Bay of Naples. The value and urgency of documenting every aspect of these places, as soon as humanly possible, was abundantly clear to me on my first day at Stabiae. The art and architecture of these buildings will not be around forever, and so much of the artwork has already been removed to museums that it can be extremely difficult even for the informed (non-specialist) art historian to appreciate and understand the sites they’re visiting. I think there is an enormous value in virtual reconstruction projects like: Rome Reborn or The Oplontis Project, and I imagine that the degree of material loss in one’s field influences one’s opinion on the significance of virtual reconstructions. If you’re studying lost, largely destroyed, or rapidly deteriorating artworks, the need to document and preserve those originals probably feels much more urgent than if your subject matter can be accessed and understood relatively easily by students and the general public.

That said, the conversation we had this morning about the importance of expressing uncertainty in a virtual model struck a chord with me. Participant Bethany Ferrell Rivello suggested that art historians take a conservationist approach to these types of projects, one that somehow reveals the degree of change the digital restorer has made from the original, as well as their degree of [un]certainty. Whether through color, transparency, or some other digital mediation, I would agree that the creators of digital models should make abundantly clear to their audiences which aspects of their reconstructions are based on strong documentary evidence, and which are scholarly conjecture. I think that we all win if we make honest, accurate virtual reconstructions publicly available in a way that serves the needs of multiple audiences.

Source: In Defense of the Virtual Reconstruction

Scalar and Omeka: First Impressions

After spending some time getting acquainted with Omeka and Scalar this afternoon, I’ve been thinking through how one might decide between the two platforms for a given project. A hunch that I have is that projects could use either platform, but that the ways that the interfaces operate will ultimately lead them to have distinct internal architectures, and similarly, will look differently, despite having similar content. After uploading a few test pages and items, it feels very much as if Omeka’s interface emphasizes individual items and options for their arrangement and display, whereas Scalar’s strength lies in the flexibility to create a context in which those same items may be related to each other in a variety of ways.

In terms the way my mind works, I feel most comfortable building a context and inserting things into it. However, in considering my mapping mini-project, it feels more intuitive to think of locations on the map as distinct items, which would indicate that an Omeka exhibition that uses the geolocation plugin would be one potential route for creating the map. I am reluctant to go “all in” however, in part because I dislike the aesthetic quality of google maps, and want to be able to do more than simply drop a few pins onto it. With regard to Scalar, it is still somewhat unclear what possibilities the interface might offer for this type of project.

Before developing my own project plan, it feels important to further articulate the unique attributes of each system and the form created by their unique interfaces. As a result, I’m thinking about building two sample projects in Scalar and Omeka using the same (small) data set as a way to further understand their nuances. Stay tuned!

Source: Scalar and Omeka: First Impressions

DoingDH, Day Four: Visualizing, Modelling, and Imagination

I am considering the question we asked ourselves today: just because we can 3D print art objects, should we? And for what purpose? I think these questions are just right.

So I Googled “purposes of 3D printing in art history” and got a number of reasonable hits: a quick-to-read entry on Skulpturhall and the MET’s Underground (as well as related articles) were among the first hits. Mostly pedagogical applications, as I would have guessed. Anything else?

Here’s an interesting one: “3D Scanning & Printing Brought in to Solve Centuries-Old Art History Mystery” – an attribution mystery case (possibly) solved by 3D printing technology. Very compelling (although I wonder if the marketing angle was too attractive to turn away from).

While I can’t argue with the latter application (and perhaps many more research applications out there), I have a thought on the former. I really like the idea of visualizing places…maybe. I loved peeking around building corners and stairwells in Digital Pompeii, but I wonder what I lost by having those images enter my mind. They are more accurate, of course, but the replacement of the imaginings that I have been developing since I took my first classics course as an undergraduate has come at a cost: I can’t unsee them, and I can’t unthink them. I like the idea of peeking, but when I do I am sorry for it.

So what will 3D printing do for the imagination of a child visiting a gallery and who is given a chance to touch a very cool 3D model, but also a very fake one? Will they remember the rougher edges, the light weight, the colour? Will they mistake that for the art? And will it be better than what they can imagine without interference? I don’t think so. Kids (and their parents) have wonderful imaginations; I’d hate to insert ideas into their heads and I don’t think we have to. That won’t inspire a future art historian.

I have a friend who will not allow her children to watch movies for which there is an equivalent book (I’m not as hard core, I make mine read the book first). According to her, whatever her kids imagine the character to look like, sound like, walk like (and even smell like, since we also talked about senses) is infinitely better than even the most slick film. It might not be as accurate but it will be better in a small but important way. I like visualizing, and modeling, and imagination. I don’t want to have to choose.

Source: DoingDH, Day Four: Visualizing, Modelling, and Imagination

Day Four: Modeling and Models

At a textile study day a few years ago, the discussion transitioned from technique to the functions of these textiles in late antiquity. They were not created as art objects, but as furnishing. Unlike how they were exhibited in museums, the textile would have been situated against a architectural backdrop, one with multiple textiles and objects within it. One professor remarked on a study that had looked at Byzantine icons under different light conditions, mimicking the candlelit environments they would have been originally viewed under. Someone had an idea, let’s dim the lights in the room. Suddenly, the splotchy coloring of the textile blended. The face gained a greater sense of dimensionality, and it morphed from a idiosyncratic textile fragment into a complex, nuanced composition, a testament to the skill of Late Antique weavers.  So much of our analysis of art is based on the conditions we view the object, but modeling allows us to manipulate how we experience art.

When we work directly with a piece of art, we have to privileged its conservation and preservation needs before our research. It’s impossible to see some objects out of their vitrines or flip through manuscripts numerous times. However, by digitally scanning object, we can think about them differently. At the most basic level, models allow for greater access and readability.  The Freer|Sackler’s digital model of the Cosmic Buddha sculpture allows for the intricate carvings that cover the sculpture to come to life. In the galleries, visitors routinely pass by the 6th century headless sculpture, but the model allows for the opportunity to enlarge these narrative scenes and heightens the contrast between the carvings.

Modeling also lets us think of the user of the object. What is actually visible when the object is in use? How could people interact with these buildings and objects? Acoustic studies let us think of buildings as inhabited spaces and as platforms. Light studies remind us that color is essentially a matter of lighting. We rarely think of buildings as single buildings, but as in dialogue with their environment and setting. However, plans and maps are only two-dimensional.

Modeling is a tool that allows us to ask more questions and better probe the historical context of objects. We can never reconstruct the past and all it’s intricacies. Nor do we want to replace the actual object with a model.  However, a model can function as an educational tool, a tactile and visual way to represent an object as an object and reduce the flattening inherent in two-dimensional representations and photographs.

 

 

 

 

Source: Day Four: Modeling and Models

Digital Art History at UMD: How We’re Doing and Where We Can Improve

Below is a guest blog post I wrote for the Michelle Smith Collaboratory of Visual Culture on the state of digital art history at U. Maryland.

Week one of the two-week Getty-funded digital art history institute organized by George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, Building a Digital Portfolio, has come to an end. Wow, what a week it has been! I have met an incredible group of emerging digital art historians and have been inspired daily by our instructors Sharon Leon and Shiela Brennan. This is the very first institute dedicated to training art history graduate students in digital methods, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate! It has been a truly invaluable experience. For those who are interested in a survey of digital art history methods and theoretical debates, the institute’s website and reading lists (with extras on Zotero) is a terrific resource. The Twitter #doingdah15 stream has also been a great live capture of the things we’ve been thinking through at the institute.

I wanted to contribute a post to the Collaboratory’s blog that was focused less on my individual experiences and more on how we’re doing as a department in terms of supporting the digital turn, and what else we might think about doing in the future. For my more personal reflections on Building a Digital Portfolio, I will link to posts on my new blog, made possible by the Getty Foundation and Reclaim Hosting.

In stepping back from the wider world of digital art history and turning to my home institution, I feel so fortunate for the resources we have at the University of Maryland and the Department of Art History and Archaeology. At the university level, we have MITH, which is nationally recognized as one of the top innovators in the digital humanities. (Just two days ago MITH received a $1.25 million Mellon grant for a project on African American Studies at UMD.) At the departmental level, we have the Digital Innovation Group in the Michelle Smith Collaboratory, which is a resource that my fellow participants at Building a Digital Portfolio have been excited to hear about. Some participants have talked about their individual advisors generally supporting their use of digital methods, but I haven’t heard anyone describe the level of support for digital methodologies that we enjoy in our department.

Before moving on to some things I think our department could improve on relative to the digital turn, I really have to brag about our faculty and the department as a whole. We offer paid positions for graduate students to explore emerging technologies for teaching and research. We have Quint Gregory, who is an invaluable resource for project planning, troubleshooting, and generally thinking through digital projects. We have the Michelle Smith Collaboratory, where students and faculty have access to software, equipment, and expertise to facilitate digital projects. We offer regular lectures and workshops throughout the semester that engage questions around digital art history and instruct interested participants in how to begin working with new tools. We even offered a week long series of digital art history workshops (Wading in DAH Waters) this past May. And there are many other exciting initiatives in the works. Our department’s embrace of digital art history, relative to what most art history departments are doing, is pretty mind-blowing to me. And I’m not writing this to get extra credit points from the faculty, but because I feel the need to publically admit that until this week I did not fully appreciate how unique the resources I have access to truly are. So thank you, Department of Art History and Archaeology.

With that said, there is always more that we could do. I have always wondered why, for example, we don’t collaborate more closely with MITH, or with other departments across campus. According to Lisa Spiro, one of the central values of digital art history is collaboration. While we certainly embrace collaborative work in the Michelle Smith Collaboratory (hence the name!), I think we could do a much better job of collaborating on digital projects with students and faculty in other departments. I know this is something Quint feels passionately about and works hard to improve, but I also want to go on record to say that if there is a student or faculty member in another department at UMD who wants to develop a digital project and does not, perhaps, have access to the resources we enjoy in the Art History department, I would be very happy to help! I think it would be really terrific if we could start a digital working group for students and faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences. We could meet in the Collaboratory just 2-3 times per semester, perhaps with the occasional short presentation of a project or new software, or maybe just as a dedicated place for people to talk through some of the projects they’re working on. The Collaboratory seems, to me, like a space that is very well situated to host this type of group, and I think it would yield very helpful results.

So cross-disciplinary collaboration at UMD is one thing, but on the much more basic level of digital hygiene I think we can all find some room for improvement. In our discussion on Day Two about how we find, store, and preserve information in the digital age, Sharon Leon or Sheila Brennan (I can’t remember who at this moment) pointed out that in the days of slide libraries, when a faculty member retired, their slide collection was typically inherited by their home institution. In this way, departments’ image collections continued to grow. Although the Collaboratory is constantly digitizing and archiving new images upon the request of faculty members, I wonder if there isn’t a better way that we could aggregate the collections of images that each of us already has hidden away on our computers.

I will admit that my own digital hygiene is pretty deplorable. The digital images I’ve produced for my own work are stored on my computer in a very haphazard way. My photographs are generally organized according to the particular research trip they resulted from, and there is practically no metadata associated with these photographs. Images I scanned from books tend to be in an even worse state. They are usually grouped in image folders within larger folders associated with the particular research project for which they were scanned. My system of organization has a fly by the seat of my pants feel to it. The organizing principle of my personal archives (if they can even be called that) is all about getting research papers written on time. I have obviously not thought carefully about preserving the digital traces of my work for others or myself to benefit from in the future.

Assuming that we can all stand to improve our digital hygiene to some degree, what should we do to remedy this problem? Perhaps the department (ie. the Collaboratory) should offer a workshop in the fall to discuss digital hygiene, and maybe we should also provide Shared Shelf accessibility for individual students and faculty to contribute their personal image collections to our institutional database. This would not only allow the department to benefit from everyone’s research, but we would benefit individually by creating another form of back-up for our materials. And of course, by writing ‘another’ form of back-up, I’m assuming that we all use an external hard-drive and/or cloud computing service to back-up our files; that’s a whole separate issue.

One final thought I have about our department after week one of digital art history training is that it would be great (and I think really important) if our Methods of Art History courses could begin to incorporate digital methodologies as part of the training that entering graduate students receive. Of course an entire class dedicated to digital art history would be the best way to train students to use and think critically about the different digital methods that exist, but even one day in the semester’s Methods course dedicated to introducing digital methods would be a great start!

Source: Digital Art History at UMD: How We’re Doing and Where We Can Improve

It’s All Too Much: Data Existentialism

What to do? What to do? The data-fied world is just overwhelming. Within the span of one class discussion on how to define data, an infinite amount of data was generated. For a moment, everything became data to me–I started to think about the number of individual fibers in each separate strand of polyester yarn in the carpet, I wondered what the most frequently used word would be of that conversation, I thought about the changes in frequencies and amplification of the sounds made by the lights, projectors, computers, microphones, and HVAC, I considered the rough demographic breakdown of the institute participants, and (of course) the breakdown of Mac versus PC users. Once I clambered out of this data rabbit hole, I fell into a deeper, messier one: what does all this data mean and why do I need to know any of it? And, based on the next four hours of class and what I’ve read, it seems my momentary, existentialist data-crisis is typical of how art historians and humanists experience the use of data in their respective fields.

The most difficult piece of the data problem to overcome might be accepting that the use of data does not guarantee empiricism (and that’s good for those of us who like to work with nearly unanswerable questions!). We have been duped by data: the huge breadth of information and the “tidy” organizing structure of a data set give an illusion of precision and definitiveness. However, I know from my experience working on client-facing budgets for a wedding and event company that it is easy to make an Excel document say whatever you want it to say. Data is easily abstracted and fictionalized.

Any aversion to incorporate the analysis of large data sets into humanities research for fear that it would take the wind out of a question, an object, or a subject can be assuaged by the fact that the inverse is also true: data can be collected and combined to a point at which it becomes meaningless. The majority of the data collected about us is never put to any use, and if it is there’s little guarantee that it leads to insight that tech companies, marketers, political parties, etc. can capitalize on. As an example: In the midst of a recent conversation with an insider at a prominent born-digital art website a woman from the group asked if he (the organization) could see how many times an image was shared, how many times a title was clicked, or how many times a user logged in. “Yes,” he said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “but at a certain point you realize that just because you have that information doesn’t mean it’s going to do you any good. We had to learn how to only assess the information that pertains to the company’s goals.” I’ve experienced the flutter of excitement over rows and rows of information in my own work only to realize that the data pertaining to my goal was incomplete and would need to be assessed the old fashioned way. All the leftover data just provided me some fun “facts”. And to briefly take this point outside the art world I’ll mention that the truths about data surplus come up regularly when I’m speaking to a certain crafty digital marketer that I know well.

My question–what to do?–is unanswered. I am no closer than I was a week ago to knowing what data I need to collect to answer my research questions. On the plus side, I feel liberated from certain confines about data and the uses of data analysis in my work and I can rest comfortably knowing that data has been a latent and lurking presence within much of art historical scholarship. And as an added benefit, I am grateful to know that OpenRefine will be there for me when I need to clean and organize all the data I am bound to generate from dabbling in the quantified (but often qualitative) humanities.

What does it all mean…?

Source: It’s All Too Much: Data Existentialism

Printed Material: What the 1960s Taught Us About 3D Printing

3D printer detritus.

As soon as we settled into the 3D printer room at the CHNM I began thinking about the material slithering through the black square bot in the corner. Based on the few other monochrome red or blue/clear figurines propped on the table, I trusted that the material was some type of plastic. This is a bit of a sore spot for me since every time I mention my research on art and plastic the first thing many people relate it to is 3D printing. Plastic has found a new and prominent place in conversations around dinner and seminar tables thanks to the “MakerBot Empire.”  The enthusiasm shared by many people today for odd and barely useful plastic objects rivals the unbridled consumption of and attention paid to all things plastic in the 1960s. It is not surprising then that what ultimately doused the flames of the 1960s plastic fervor threatens to do the same to the 3D plastic printing trend–namely the very real environmental and safety hazards, the plastic aesthetic growing stale, and the development of new technologies (often digital) that drew artists’, designers’, and companies’ attention away from material technology.

There are a few key differentiators between the plastic boom of the 1960s and what is happening now with 3D printing. For one thing, we (the general public) have learned to be skeptical of new technology, especially new materials and anything that can be traced back to a chemical company. The 3D printing industry is well aware that its consumers are skeptical of all things plastic and has taken measure to hedge against the negative connotations of plastic: the relatively early PR position held by the 3D printing industry that 3D printing is in fact a path to more sustainable future is alive and well. Environmentalism did not catch on in American culture until the early-1970s, years after many environmentally hazardous plastic materials were developed and improperly disposed of. The plastics used in 3D printing can often be recycled or are biodegradable.

A second, but related, differentiator is that the plastic materials used in 3D printing are under much tighter safety regulations than any plastic that was developed pre-OSHA (1971). While we were discussing the possible application of 3D printing in art history, I was looking over the Material Safety Data Sheets for PLA and ABS. Not that we should trust that the regulations guarantee that heating and extruding plastic in a minimally ventilated room is safe (there are definitely particles floating around in such rooms that I wouldn’t want to inhale on the regular), but at least we know that MakerBot is working to be transparent about their use of plastics and potential health issues.

One final difference is that there are simply not as many 3D printed objects or 3D printers in circulation. It seems to me that talk about 3D printing outweighs actual 3D printing. With pre-1970s plastics, prohibitively expensive objects were replicated in cheaper materials and produced for wide distribution. Until prohibitively expensive 3D printers are themselves “plasticized” and until the printing process speeds up significantly, the threat of being swallowed in a sea of plastic 3D printed tchotchkes and David replicas is low. I certainly don’t condone frivolous printing, but my greater concern is the culture of stuff, the need to own your own version of a singular object, that drives (in part) the development of printing technology.

This tangential rant on the history of plastic hopefully sheds a little light on the state of plastic in 3D printing. As it pertains to my own work (on plastic), until I reach a point where I cannot go forward without 3D printing, I will most likely avoid bringing more little plastic things into the world. Unless of course what I’m printing is made of chocolate.

 

A few useful and related articles:

http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=278099&dfpPParams=ind_186,industry_auto,industry_aero,industry_consumer,industry_machinery,industry_medical,kw_40,aid_278099&dfpLayout=blog

http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=277913

http://www.fastcoexist.com/3042711/fund-this/fixing-the-environmental-flaws-in-3d-printing-by-fixing-the-goo-they-3d-print-with

 

Source: Printed Material: What the 1960s Taught Us About 3D Printing

Modeling

During the “Building a Digital Portfolio” workshop today, we had a really interesting discussion about the various questions, challenges, and merits proffered by technologies in three-dimensional modeling used for art historical purposes. For the most part, our cohort seemed to appreciate the advantages of digital modeling and, while acknowledging that oftentimes decisions (i.e., inferences) have to be made in order to construct a complete model, came to a consensus that transparency in representing those ambiguities is important to the academic integrity of the reconstruction.

The differences in terminology used to describe the processes employed by documenters of contemporary art and documenters of “traditional” art, however, raised more questions for me than answers. It struck me that documenting contemporary art practices were referred to as “capturing”, while fleshing out the context for non-contemporary art was always discussed as “reconstructing”. The distinction reminded me of a recent article by Jas Elsner on architecture and ritual that hinted at the same problem in anthropological versus art historical/archaeological discourse: in studying ritual, anthropologists are able to actively witness and observe specific rituals taking place in their studied communities, yet archaeologists are compelled to infer how rituals were enacted. The difference is subtle, but I think it’s important, and I wonder if this points to fundamentally different methodologies and ways of approaching material that exist not only across disciplines, but across subfields within art history as well. I might argue that both methods rely on specific inferences and assumptions, but in different ways. The contemporary art historian is confronted with essentially the same problem as the contemporary historian (cf. Roy Rosenzweig’s 2003 article, “Scarcity or Abundance?”) in that they have the potential to document “everything”, and so must make assumptions and decisions about what content to include and essentially “curate” the evidence they have at hand. When I try to relate this to my own field (Classical Greek and Roman Art), however, I can’t help but be insanely jealous by that problem! Classical (or Egyptian, or Medieval/Byzantine, or Renaissance, etc., for that matter) art historians would give just about anything to have that kind of information at our disposal. So we are faced with a different set of problems that involve grafting our own imaginative interpretations on the material.

The solution, as we discussed in depth this morning, is to involve transparency at every step of the way when we digitally reconstruct an “original” contextual environment in which a work of art or architecture existed. Certainly the intellectual merits of this approach are clear enough (one only has to think of the ongoing controversy surrounding Arthur Evans’ modification of the frescoes at Knossos to understand the heated sensitivity of not clearly distinguishing between original and reconstruction). Yet I also can’t help but think that, somewhere along the way, we might do well to acknowledge that noting uncertainties and ambiguities in the evidence is also a kind of constructed hierarchy. Scholarship (and rightly so, given its general aims) privileges what the academic community decides is the “original context” and consistently tries to strip away contemporary bias from its interpretation. But the notion of an original context is an elusive one, and in pursuing that end we also tend to forget that these objects have valuable afterlives and that their functions in modern society are a significant part of their overall importance and value to humanity. The Archaic Greek statue of the Tyrannicides, for example, was intensely meaningful at various moments in Greek and Roman history, and to focus solely on the initial moment of construction glosses over the charge it carried and the import it accumulated throughout antiquity. As an art historian, I can definitely understand, appreciate, and support the goal of historicizing objects and substantiating evidence for the original context above all else, but I think that, in many ways, the way we decide what objects are worthy of digital reconstruction and what elements of that reconstruction we decide are important to preserve or infer, says as much about contemporary values we place on the artwork as it does about the intentions of the original creators.

We had the opportunity to play around with SketchUp this afternoon as well as witness the wonders of the 3-D printer, and I started thinking about how each would fit into my dissertation, which focuses on funerary architecture in Hellenistic Anatolia. I have started creating models of the major tombs in my dissertation using SketchUp, which seems to be the most logical way of presenting in a comprehensible format a series of monuments that are unusually designed and not really meant to be seen (could their interior design qualify as “ephemera”?); frankly, they’re pretty weird looking and difficult to describe with words and 2D plans. I do agree with my colleagues this afternoon who suggested that some restraint be placed on the sheer amount of plastic being generated from 3D printers – while it could be useful in some museum and classroom teaching contexts, I think that SketchUp more effectively demonstrates the architectural experience I want to convey through my research. With SketchUp, the virtual viewer can move through the space more realistically than if I tried to print a tiny model of my buildings using a 3D printer. I definitely think that there are advantages to using a program like SketchUp at least for studying architectural space, and the fact that it can be linked to GPS information in GoogleEarth – which would prompt further analysis of sightlines/viewshed, relationship to topographical features, etc. – is extremely valuable.

I’ll raise here a similar question that was posed in one of the chapters from Debates in the Digital Humanities (2013): do art historians who experiment with 3D printing technology need to explain themselves at this point and produce something truly innovative and useful? Or is there value solely in the process of experimentation?

Source: Modeling

Questioning the Ethics and Usefulness of 3-D Printing

Day Four of Building a Digital Portfolio was all about 3-D modeling, which made me a very happy art historian. I love 3-D models and actually really enjoy making them. As someone who studies centuries-old works of sculpture and architecture, the value of 3-D modeling is a no-brainer for me. I’ve built models in SketchUp, and I’m currently working on a project to digitize (3-dimensionally) all the works of African Sculpture in the permanent collection of The Art Gallery at the University of Maryland. But, until today, I had never seen a 3-D printer in action. I was giddy this afternoon when Sharon Leon and Shiela Brennan took us into the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. I was so excited to see where the magic happens for the Center and the Omeka team, and I was even more excited when I saw a MakerBot in the corner printing a miniature replica of the Taj Mahal! I could not wait to get my hands on one of those tiny models.

IMG_26083-D Printed Model of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s The Prince Imperial with his Dog Nero, 1912. Made available by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Printed at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.

Much to my surprise, my child-like wonder faded the second I picked up one of the 3-D printed objects. As Sheila led us through a discussion of what possible uses we could envision for these models, either in a museum or pedagogical setting, I turned one of the models around in my hands, wondering, “Am I missing something here?” The replicas we held this afternoon were all so impossibly lightweight and almost immaterial that I felt no connection to the original artwork whatsoever. I found the small ridges that result from the printing process to be distracting, and yet another distancing factor from the original.

What’s left over after the modeling and printing process has little more to do with the original artwork than its subject matter and composition. Through the 3-D printing process we lose the scale, texture, materiality, weight, temperature, and smell of the original object, as well as the general sense of a human imprint on that material. Aside from enabling vision-impaired persons to interact with art, what’s the point of 3-D printing copies of artworks?

Until today, I thought the ‘cool factor’ was the main reason someone might want to 3-D print a replica of an artwork. But are 3-D printed objects really cool? The process of making and printing these models is fascinating, but I don’t know if I agree any longer that the end result is cool, too. I mean, how long does anyone really want to keep a miniature plastic replica of Abraham Lincoln’s face? So my next and more pressing question becomes, what happens to all these 3-D printed replicas when people get bored of them? Aren’t we just creating a bunch more plastic junk to throw in a landfill? After some conversation with the Center’s Roberto Sanchez, who was operating the MakerBot, we learned that there are biodegradable plastic filaments for 3-D printers that are not much more expensive than the non-biodegradable ones. But I’m still not entirely convinced how long the objects take to fully degrade and how many 3-D printers are using these more environmentally friendly materials.

Some of the potential uses for 3-D modeling that fellow presenters suggested involved the virtual experimentation with various reconstructions of ancient sculpture, and also the virtual restoration and re-coloring of damaged sculptures. I think these are both terrific reasons to take advantage of 3-D modeling technologies, but I can’t see the reason, in either case, why it would be necessary to actually print a physical model of those digital renderings. Plastic replicas need not, and should not, be the inevitable end result of digital modeling. The computerized model is the part that really allows us to investigate and learn something new about an artwork in question.

Assuming that non-biodegradable 3-D printing materials continue to be used, I really wonder which is a bigger peril for humanity: risking the slightly accelerated degradation of selected artworks in order to allow museum-goers to physically interact with them, or accelerating the destruction of our planet by dumping plastic 3-D models into landfills? I know this is a radical stance, and museum conservators and art historians will probably ban me from the profession if they read this, but I think there are some real ethical questions around the use of 3-D printers that we need to grapple with. I’m not necessarily opposed to playing around with new digital art history projects just because they’re neat and because we can, but 3-D printers create actual physical objects that exist in the world. Art historians and museum professionals need to think much more critically about the purpose of 3-D printed objects, and if there might be a better and more sustainable way to accomplish the goals that 3-D printers try to achieve.

Source: Questioning the Ethics and Usefulness of 3-D Printing

Brief summary

Summarizing to the bone what we have done so far at DoingDH 2015 the following points seem to matter the most:

Building a digital presence and finding ways of publishing thoughts should become a priority and can be achieved in different ways and using different tools. For brief thoughts and questions twitter could be the right channel and could lead to meaningful discussions among geografically distant experts. This discussions can later be sorted out and preserved using Storify. For longer articles a blog format (like WordPress) allows you to formulate your ideas in a more complete manner and get them out there. Also medium.com is an alternative. For longer, more complex (maybe even crowd-sourced) projects a publication driven programm like Scalar can be a useful tool. It allows you, among other things, to create what could closely resemble a ‘traditional’ book.

To aid your own reaserch and for teaching purposes several programms come in handy. For creating digital collections and exhibits Omeka is a great tool. Personally I think I’ll try and build a collection of images of mosaics, a collection of medieval maps and a collection of other material relevant to my work and then try to combine the objects thematically or iconographically as separate exhibitions. My goal is  to use this tool to visually clearify if the ideas I now have about the relationships between different objects are  substantiated on a visual level. To tag pictures it might be of some use a programm like thinglink. I want to try and use it on pictures of a whole site (like the entire floor of the San Savino crypt that I have uploaded) and than tag into it the different iconographies so that I can have an overview of what is where, if I need one. This could become especially useful for bigger sites and also to always have a reference as to where different pictures where taken.

If you wish to recreate an object three-dimentionally you can do so digitally using a free programm like Sketchup. What is really useful is that you can find templates of real buildings already designed for you by others. This way you can have a look at a 3D rendering of (for ex.) the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin without having to actually spend 3 weeks drawing it. If you are really rich and wasteful you can also print it with a 3D printer.

In order to have access to this kind of digital tools, investing in some digital storage space becomes important. For that reason, one can look at a server space providers like Reclaim Hosting. Also with increase use of digital tools, it becomes even more important to think about secuirity, whether it is two factor authentication or different kinds of backups. To sort through all the different passwords a password vault can make the different and if you use more than one twitter account hootsuite.com might help you organize them all.

As for the files in themselves: PDF/VA is probably the best option for text, while .tif is the one you would want to use for pictures. Standard format for metadata is usually IPTC. How you name your files (also pictures) is important as well and you should take the time to rename them according to their content. You should also stucture your data, possibly using xcel. This way you can then import that data directly in Omeka using CSV Import, should you so wish. Also if your data is standardized (like in Omeka) it can later be used by other programms using an API (Application Programming Interface). Standard metadata structures are for instance Dublin core and VRA core. You should also decide and structure what kind of content you want to publish, keeping your audience clear in mind.

Now, if you are trying to search for data you should take advantage of the different kind of databases and websites already existing (see Digital Art History section following soon). But a google search can already be very fruitful if properly conducted (advanced search etc.). A reverse search using tineye might also come in handy to trace back an image to its original institution (for example). For textual material scholar.google.com could be a good resource. Once you have found a publication/article/book you’re interested in (for ex. on JSTOR or Amazon etc.) you can save its bibliographical information (as well as a screenshot and a link) using Zotero. This programm helps you sort through all your literature and allows you to write small notes about the different materials.

Well… I hope I haven’t missed much.

Looking forward to XCEL tomorrow… 0_0′

Source: Brief summary