, , , , , ,

As of today, the large majority of historical data has been processed and presented to the audience in the form of books and texts. History has been translated into a bunch of words. This way of approaching reality does not match the nature of human beings, who connect to the world primarily through their sense of vision. It often occurs that words are not able to carry every single piece of information related to an historical event. These are the reasons why it became necessary to introduce new ways of presenting history, such as 3D interacting objects. They are very powerful and intuitive tool, and have the potential to change the way we study history.

However, 3D modeling is a relatively new and emerging field. Consequently, many progresses have to be made, and many issues need to be resolved.

One first problem to overcome concerns lack of information [4]. In a 3D reconstruction of an object or place, the goal is to be as accurate as possible, so a lot of sourced information is necessary in the process. The good news is that the majority of historical data as some spatiotemporal information in it. The bad news is that much of this data is not useful for the purpose of digital humanists. Historical texts are often descriptive, and the spatiotemporal information are consequentely vague and uncertain. This results in lack of details and misinterpretation.

A second problem is about methodology [1]. 3D reconstruction is not only about the final model. No work can be considered a scholar resource if it is not annexed to a complete and transparent documentation on the process of creating it. Every researcher’s choice needs to be fully motivated. Such a detailed method requires standardized procedural rules. However, Digital humanists have just begun to deal with 3D reconstruction, and yet they have come up with nothing more some basic guidelines. Clearly, this is not enough: the scholars need to work in a framework that allows them to create data that could be easily modified by any other scholar in the world. Theoretically, it is possible to reproduce an historical object exactly. Such goal can be achieved only through a common framework where different scholars collaboratively add and refine data over and over again.

The concerns discussed about a standard methodology also extend to software [5]. Currently, there is no tool fully meeting the needs of digital humanists. As explained before, the goal is to create data-rich, detailed models. The softwares on the market are mostly commercial and have no academic purpose. On the other hand, the few open-source projects are extremely difficult to use, especially for scholars in the humanities. Therefore, a reference point has yet to be founded also in the field of software.

Furthermore, it is important not to forget what the final goal of digital humanists is. Digitize data is not sufficient; the scholars’ work has to be accessible for anybody, even outside the academic environment. Therefore, an important last step is to export the 3D model from the developing tool to a more popular and usable software. In this sense, much progress has been made, as there are several extension that allow users to visualize and interact with 3D objects directly in their web browser.

A tentative resolution of the methodology problem can be found in Valeria Vitale’s dissertation [1]. She pretends to standardize the documentation of a 3D object, making it “synthetic, instead of verbose”. She does so by proposing a detailed ontology. The main entries are description, interactions with the surrounding, and sources. This ontology also addresses the first problem by proposing six levels of certainty for the sources.

James Joel DataColtrain [2] addresses the problems about software. He discusses the development of an extension for the Unity Game Engine, called Scholarly 3D Toolkit (S3DT). This tool lets the user add notes and metadata to a 3D object. Similar efforts have been done by Unold and Lange [3]. However, the most interesting feature of S3DT is that it goes beyond 3D representation. So far, the subject of our discussion has been the representation of historical objects in three dimensions. However, history evolves in four dimension: space (3) plus time. When the user adds events and dates related to the object, the S3DT creates a timeline, equipped with a slider to control time position and markers corresponding to time sensitive events plotted in the scene. With the S3DT plugin for browser, the user is be able to visualize on the web the evolution of an historical object through time. In addition, the plugin lets the user annotate and perform advanced searches through the objects and their metadata.

Concluding, 3D representation could reveal to be a breakthrough for Digital Humanities. It has the potential to change radically the way we learn and look at history. Studying on textbooks does not even closely make the most of our skills. Humans are interactive; they are able to identify patterns in what they see. 3D and 4D representations take advantage of our predisposition to investigate what we see. It is easier to understand and memorize something when we experience it through our senses. Especially for kids, such technology could make of history a more interesting and fun subject. However, as we see, there are many obstacles to overcome before such technology can be integrated in everyday education.


[1] Vitale, Valeria; “An ontology for 3D visualisation of cultural heritage“, 2014

[2] DataColtrain, James Joel; “The Scholarly 3D Toolkit: Annotation, Publication, and Analysis of 3D Scenes alongside Imported Humanities Data“, 2014

[3] Unold, Martin; Lange, Felix; “Relating texts to 3D-information: A generic software environment for Spatial Humanities“, 2014

[4] Ó Murchú, Tomás; Lawless, Séamul; The Problem of Time and Space: The Difficulties in Visualising Spatiotemporal Change in Historical Data“, 2014

[5] Saldana, Marie; “An Integrated Approach to the Procedural Modeling of Ancient Cities and Buildings“, 2014