There is a certain thrill that comes with experiencing a real piece of history in a museum or library. The ability to see and sometimes interact with an object that is directly linked to the past provides a greater understanding than simply reading the narrative from a book. When it is not possible for a cultural institution to provide public access to artefacts they can now present 3D models or 3D representations of these artefacts. But do these representations provide the same connection as the authentic artefact? Are they as good as the real thing?
There are many advantages to 3D models and representations. Museums and other cultural institutions can make use of online 3D representations to showcase the artefacts that they have in exhibitions. These representations can be used to encourage visitors to visit the exhibitions to see the original artefact. If the real artefact cannot be put on show in the museum, a 3D model can be the next best thing. Digital representations can also be used to preserve the past where it may be difficult or even impossible to preserve the original. The use of digitised objects allows greater opportunity for public engagement with the past (Butcher, et al. 12). The use of these digitised objects is also a great asset to the education sector to enhance learning in schools. Children today are more comfortable with technology due to being surrounded by technology at home. The term ‘digital native’ may be somewhat far-fetched but these children are growing up in an age where technology is everywhere. Therefore, it only makes sense to bring this new technology into the classroom.
A case study was undertaken by researchers in a school in Utah where they found that the students engaged incredibly well with the digital objects; the 3D models and 3D representations on tablets (Butcher, et al. 13). However the concept of digitised objects enhancing learning in the classroom was not discussed in the report. It makes sense that children would be fascinated by new objects that they have not been exposed to before. It is possible that access to such digital materials would enhance learning but there are no studies to back this up. A similar study could be undertaken but perhaps with a goal to gauge how digitised objects may enhance learning in the classroom. With this information, it would then be clearer to see if indeed digitised objects do encourage more in depth learning and a greater understanding of the past.
While having a 3D representation of an artefact is a great benefit to a museum, library or school, it is not the same as the original. Stuart Jeffrey talks about this idea of “digital aura” and how this “aura” can change the way an object is received by the public (Jeffrey, 145). But how can an aura be measured? The meaning or connection a person receives from one object may not be the same as another. Is the digital representation a piece of creative work or simply a copy? I would argue that it depends who is interacting with the object; it is a personal preference. Some may be content with an accurate copy, being able to touch, examine and interact with the object. Others may prefer to experience the original object behind a glass in a museum. Personal or even societal preference is not something that can be easily gauged, it changes over time. Digitised objects are still a relatively new phenomenon and it may take the public some time to fully engage with the possibilities.
I believe that, in some contexts. digital representations are as good as the real artefact. They offer opportunities for further learning and engagement with the past. It may not be the same as interacting with the true artefact but it is certainly the next best thing.
Butcher, Kirsten, Madlyn Runburg, Michelle Hudson, “Using digitized objects to promote critical thinking and engagement in classrooms”, Library Hi Tech News, vol. 34, no. 7, 2017, pp. 12-15, https://doi.org/10.1108/LHTN-06-2017-0039. Accessed 31st Oct. 2017.
Jeffrey, Stuart, “Challenging Heritage Visualisation: Beauty, Aura and Democratisation”, Open Archaeology, vol. 1, no. 1, 2015, pp. 144-152, https://doi.org/10.1515/opar-2015-0008. Accessed 31st Oct. 2017.
Latour, Bruno, Adam, Lowe, “The Migration of the Aura or How to explore the original through its facsimiles”, Switching Codes: Thinking Through Digital Technology in the Humanities and the Arts, 2010, pp. 275-297, https://www.degruyter.com/downloadpdf/j/opar.2014.1.issue-1/opar-2015-0008/opar-2015-0008.pdf. Accessed 31st Oct. 2017.