Displaying Culture and History

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Finding methods for collecting and processing data is not an issue that is exclusive to scientists. Those methods become relevant for any field longing to improve the quality and quantity of data they use, such as History. While this data might be processed automatically or semi-automatically, most of it will never be displayed to a larger public. While museums are part of the solution, digital objects become very promising.

The way information is displayed before the layman has to be thought about carefully, and this is a source of oodles of ideas and developments. We will focus here on ideas that have been enabled by recent technology advancement -3D representation and immersive techniques. Different approaches are studied here.

 

The first one is suggested in An ontology for 3D visualization of cultural heritage. It proposes a framework that would give more purpose to 3D visualization, so that the pursuit of aesthetics doesn’t outshine the issue of interaction with the audience and doesn’t hide the work that was made beforehand. This involves recurrent linking to sources and alternative interpretations.

The second one is the description in Developing a physical interactive space for innovative Digital Humanities exhibition of the Exhibition Facility for Digital Humanities. This facility has been developed to enhance interaction with the audience.

The final approach is through video games. The article How to make games more glam-orous : developing game prototypes for the museum and cultural heritage sector in India. Rendering cultural objects in a game is an excellent reason to develop specific gameplay and communication that can fully convey the narrative in those artefacts.

If anything, the main idea is to transcend aesthetics and bring out the work and the possible interactions that were often impossible.  Through a well thought array of screens, combining touch screens, 3D screens and regular screens, the Exhibition facility has succeeded in attracting visitors who feel novelty and appreciation. Notice that this facility supports analytic investigation, which means data can be displayed in a large scale, which helps visualization and research progress. This agrees with an important part of the ontology for 3D visualization, since it makes data (and possibly 3D data) searchable by both humans and machines, and connected to the sources. On the other hand, the facility focuses on immersion, which is exactly what the video-game Meghdoot is about.

Using a Kinect device and 3D modeling, the game allows the body to become a greater part of the way information is provided. Through embodiment, sight, hearing and storytelling,  one can experience parts of the Indian cultural heritage thanks to all the 3D rendered cultural artefacts that are part of the gameplay. In this fashion, this approach is almost in total contradiction with the proposed ontology of the first article. Indeed, this type or rendering would not allow comparison of several visualization choices and interpretations. Furthermore, linking the data to the sources –be them literary or historical- might prove challenging in such a video-game.

However, that doesn’t make the Meghdoot a failure in terms of cultural empowerment. Hands on interactions create a familiarization and a feeling of ownership towards digitally handled items.

In the end, we have seen very different interpretations of how data should be created and displayed to both scholars and laymen. The first one appears to focus more on metadata, and is a reminder of how valuable open-mindedness, documentation and links to sources are to 3D representations of cultural and historical data. Both the second and the third articles focus on how immersion is important to deliver relevant information, be it through the use of touch, sight, hearing, or even movement. This doesn’t mean the approaches are incompatible. Setting standards for a frame of work is a good initiative that can catalyze research, but those standards are not always necessary, especially when displaying information to the general public. The Exhibition facility seems to have been successful due to its heavy use of interactive screens, which are quite recent and are still impressive to some.  This means the approach can become obsolete as soon as the used technologies become so common they are not as impressive, but the idea of using immersion will probably remain relevant.

 

References

1. Vitale (2014). An ontology for 3D visualisation of cultural heritage. July 10 2014.(http://dharchive.org/paper/DH2014/Poster-742.xml).

2. Liu, Liao (2014). Developing a physical interactive space for innovative Digital Humanities exhibition. July 11 2014. (http://dharchive.org/paper/DH2014/Paper-835.xml).

3. Ray Murray(2014). How to make games more glam-orous : Developing game prototypes for the museum and cultural heritage sector in India. July 10 2014. (http://dharchive.org/paper/DH2014/Poster-441.xml).

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