Author Archives: Gudrun Bennett

3D Printing Display

The objects you can see here on display here have been made by our Digital Humanities staff members and interns. They illustrate the range of projects the lab has worked on since it opened in 2017 and demonstrates how we have harnessed the potential of 3D printing to bring objects from the past to life. Take a look at the display in the Digital Humanities Lab breakout space to learn more.

What is 3D printing? 3D printing is the process of creating a three dimensional object layer by layer using computer created design. In the Digital Humanities Lab we mainly print in PLA (Polylactic Acid) plastic and resin as these are well suited for creating high quality replicas.

3D printing is a extremely valuable tool for the digital humanities as it enables the recreation of historic objects that reflect the details and intricacies of the original artifact. 3D printing encourages accessibility as it means that we can handle and learn from the replicas without damaging the originals.

At the Digital Humanities Lab we use photogrammetry, which is the process of taking multiple overlapping photographs of an object. This creates a digital 3D model which can then be printed into a physical object.

Litho Print and Exeter Rock. The photograph of the DH Lab and resin model of the Exeter Rock demonstrates the range of models we can create using a variety of materials.

Blue Boy Statue. The model you can see on display is a replica of the original statues which were made to commemorate the rebuilding of St John’s Hospital School between 1859-60 which was set up as a charitable foundation. Students at the school were nicknamed the Blue Boys as the students wore blue caps and gowns. The original cast iron statues are now displayed in Exeter School Archives, The Maynard School, Princesshay shopping centre and Royal Albert Memorial Museum.

Pick up the Blue Boy to see the internal structure of the print as the model is created in layers where each layer forms a cross section that supports the next.

Wax Votive Offerings. Circa 15th Century. Following bomb damage to Exeter Cathedral in 1942, several medieval wax votive offerings were discovered behind a stone canopy. They comprised of: a horses head, feet, heads, hands, a foot in a pointed shoe and a complete female figure. As these objects are extremely fragile they are not on public display. The Digital Humanities Lab combined photogrammetry, 3D printing and wax casting to create replicas, thus enabling more people to explore the fascinating details of these rare historic items.

Early Christian Bread Stamps. Held in trust by the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, this double sided early Christian bread stamp has a monogram of Christ on one side and A O on the other which symbolises alpha and omega. This is thought to be used for stamping Eucharistic bread. Pick up the stamps to feel the difference between resin and PLA filament prints.

Granite boulders (AD 1000-1200). Granite boulders with late pre-Hispanic colonial, and sub-contemporary rock engravings from the archaeological site Pampa Chiza, located in the Atacama Desert, northernmost Chile. This site features over thirty engraved boulders with zoomorphic, anthropomorphic, geometric, and abstract figures. The high frequency of high mountain fauna such as rheas and camelids, combined with human figures rowing on sea rafts, and its unique location between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes mountains, highlight the dramatic contrasts of this desert landscape as a gateway between the sea and the high mountains. The granite boulders were captured in 3D via structure-from-motion photogrammetry and have been printed in resin.

Geographical Landscapes. Using aerial drone photography we can create 3D models of large landscapes and reduce the scale to create miniature replicas. These models reveal the surface texture and terrain of hill forts which are of archaeological significance. These are useful teaching tools for students as it enables them to learn about places that would otherwise be inaccessible.

Sound Waves. In the Digital Humanities Lab we work with audio and visual media, specialising in podcast production and recording oral history interviews. This experimental print was made as a teaching tool to visualise the sound waves and meter in poetry.

2D & 3D Photography Conference 2024

Between 29th – 31st May 2024 myself, Julia and Ellen had the privilege of attending the 2 & 3D Photography, Practice and Prophecies Conference held at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. The conference bought together photographers, restorers, conservators, archivists, data analysts and cultural heritage professionals from all around the world to learn new techniques and share ideas. The three days were packed full of fascinating lectures, hands on workshops, eye-opening roundtable discussions and networking opportunities. A diverse range of topics were explored from photometric stereo, best practices for storing metadata, colour management, integrating RTI and Photogrammetry, digitising museum collections and the impact of generative AI on the cultural heritage sector.

The Rijksmuseum’s impressive auditorium and mega screen.

I really enjoyed the conference as it was very exciting to hear about the wide range of projects and new techniques that are being developed across the world within the cultural heritage sector. As someone relatively new to the field of 2D and 3D digitisation I really appreciated the opportunity to learn from experts. One of the main themes that stood out to me throughout the conference was the importance of collaboration to solve problems as 3D digitisation can be particularly challenging.

What I will take away from the conference is a greater appreciation and understanding of the importance of digitising cultural heritage objects and sites in the current climate, before they are lost or destroyed by environmental damage. While it is important to digitise these historic items before they disappear, digitisation still needs to be done purposefully and meaningfully. Therefore, when digitising objects in my current practice I will be conscious of not simply reproducing an object but doing it in such a way that preserves its uniqueness while also enabling people to learn something new about it.

Ellen (Digital Humanities Intern) who attended the conference as part of research for her dissertation project says: “The conference opened many opportunities for me, especially as it allowed me to learn about cheaper and faster methods of digitisation whilst still producing high quality images.”

The presentation which stood out to me was by Kira Zumkley who explored the expert vs non expert perceptions of 3D digital models of museum objects. I thought this was fascinating as she highlighted that perceptions of 3D models are not always positive. Where 3D may have the initial wow factor of showcasing what digital techniques can achieve, these displays can often get lost in museum settings. Therefore, it is important to ensure digitisation is meaningful and purposeful to engage new audiences. I also really enjoyed Lieslore Tissen’s presentation on the perception and application of facsimiles in museums, especially his discussion of cultural sensitivity surrounding the reproduction of certain items. Ultimately, it is essential that digitisation is respectful of the cultural customs associated with the object and the community where they originate from.

On the final day of the conference, I attended two interactive workshops as part of the experience. In the workshop on visualising the interior and exterior of 3D objects we looked at how a combination of photogrammetry and CT scans creates a much more detailed model and more interactive experience for those viewing the object. I hope to incorporate this technique into my own work and research.

The Responsible XR workshop was exceptionally interesting as it mostly explored the possibility of recreating historical spaces and stories in digital spaces such as the metaverse. This raised lots of ethical discussion over what is appropriate to digitally reproduce, whether personal letters or documents should be included. It also raises the question of can we ever truly recreate a historical environment without risking the spread of misinformation or letting personal bias influence how we present history in the digital sphere. The conversation also extended to include the question of inclusivity, particularly to the extent to which virtual reality headsets could be adapted for older generations and whether some historical content is suitable for younger audiences while not discrediting how gamification can help make history more engaging.

This experience has provided me with many opportunities and ideas that previously I did not think were possible. I am looking forward to incorporating what I have learned into my dissertation research, and I cannot wait to get started!

Thank you so much to the University of Exeter Digital Humanities Lab, Technical Strategy and Operations and the University of Exeter Library for funding this inspiring experience.

To find out more about the conference, visit the online magazine here

Can you spot members of the DH team? Image by © Rijksmuseum 2024

Gudrun Bennett, Digital Humanities Technical Assistant