Virtual Heritage Models: in Search of Meaningful Infrastructure

Above is title of book chapter being revised/reviewed for Ashgate’s Cultural Heritage Creative Tools and Archives (edited book).

At 7,799 words I hope I am not asked to revise upwards!

Alternative title: Preserving the Heritage Component of Virtual Heritage

Teaching virtual heritage through the careful inspection, contextualization and modification of 3D digital heritage models is still problematic. Models are hard to find, impossible to download and edit, in unusual, unwieldy or obsolete formats, and many are standalone 3D meshes with no accompanying metadata or information on how the data was acquired, how the models can be shared (and if they can be edited), and how accurate the scanning or modeling process was, or the scholarly documents, field reports, photographs and site plans that allowed the designers to extract enough information for their models. Where there are suitable models in standard formats that are available from repositories, such as in Europeana library portal, they are encased in PDF format and cannot be extended, altered or otherwise removed from the PDF. Part of the problem has been with the development of virtual heritage; part of the problem has been with a lack of necessary infrastructure. In this chapter I will suggest another way of looking at virtual heritage, and I will promote the concept of a scholarly ecosystem for virtual heritage where both the media assets involved and the communities (of scholars, shareholders and the general public) are all active participants in the development of digital heritage that is a part of living heritage.

—About 7000 words later —

Conclusion: A New Virtual Heritage Infrastructure

I hope I have been clear about three major points. I have argued that virtual heritage will not successful as digital heritage if it cannot even preserve its own models and it will not be effective if it cannot implement digital technologies great advantages: real-time reconfiguration to suit the learner, device and task at hand; individual personalization; increased sense of agency; automatic tracking and evaluation mechanisms; and filtered community feedback. My suggestion is to implement not so much a single file format but to agree upon a shared relationship between assets. For want of a better word, I have described the overall relationship of components of virtual heritage infrastructure as a scholarly ecosystem.

Secondly, in this new age of digital communication the 3D model must be recognized as a key scholarly resource (Di Benedetto et al., 2014). As a core part of a scholarly ecosystem the model should be traceable, it should link to previous works and to related scholarly information. I suggest that the model should be component-based so that parts can be directly linked and updated. Web models would be dynamically created at runtime. The model should be engaging so extensive playtesting and evaluation is required to ensure it actually does engage its intended audience. As part of a scholarly infrastructure, the 3D model format (and all related data formats) should be easy to find and reliable. It should not require huge files to download or it should at least provide users with enough information to decide whether and what to download. Metadata can also help record the completeness, measurement methodology and accuracy of the models and Linked Open Data can help connect these media assets in a sensible and useful way.

Thirdly, the community of scholars, students and the wider public should be involved and we must endeavour to meaningfully incorporate their understanding, feedback and participation, this is a core requirement of UNESCO World Heritage status. Community involvement is a must for scholars as well and so I suggest that the virtual heritage projects dynamically link to journals and refereed conference papers and to the list of tools and methods that were used in the project. A robust feedback system could help continually improve the system. Other shareholder issues such as varying levels of learning skills, and varying levels of knowledge required or cultural knowledge that needs to be hidden (privacy and ownership issues) should also be incorporated into the project.


One thought on “Virtual Heritage Models: in Search of Meaningful Infrastructure

  1. Very interesting and timely. I was also thinking similar idea while using terms like dialogic interaction, co-creation, discursive contents, inter-subjectivity and so on. However, you got the correct term ‘scholarly ecosystem’. I really appreciate this idea and the details you are thinking. Where I can get the book chapter?

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