For me, appreciating the heritage of a site is being able to understand the context of its location and where it fits in with its history. It makes you want to experience that site and imagine yourself a part of history. A good guidebook strives for this kind of understanding. You can do the same pretty easily online mapping programs like Google Maps, with a lot more functionality. I’ll show you how using a Google Maps Tours I created for the Cane River region of Louisiana, where I grew up.
Admittedly, this is a lot of fun to create but you’ll get the most out of the product by giving some thought to the goals you are trying to accomplish. What do you want this map to do for you and your heritage resources?
An online map can have a lot of really good uses: to drive heritage tourism, coordinate volunteers, and even illustrate a grant proposal. But each of those reasons require slightly different elements and you do not want to overwhelm your visitors with information they don’t need. Once your goals are set, here’s how you get started with the basics:
Step 1: Creating the Map
Go to https://www.google.com/maps/ and sign in using your login from any Google service (gmail, etc). Get Started by clicking the red plus button in the lower right corner
Give your map a title and description. The title should be a simple description of the site or collective area. Provide one or two sentences in the description that briefly state your area’s claim to fame. You’ll want to include a couple of external links that provide current authoritative information about the area you’re promoting.
You have a map that saves automatically to the Google cloud!
Where possible, provide a link that includes contact information for touring your sites. If the site is private or otherwise not accessible to the public, note that as well.
Step 2 : Add Your Sites
As soon as your map is named, add several 5-10 placemarks to it right away by using the search field to find relevant locations. This will give you momentum for keeping the project going and spark interest from potential audiences and collaborators. If you have an address, just type it into the search box and click “search maps.” When the location comes up (and do check to make sure it’s correct on the map) click “Add to map …” and select your map from the dropdown menu. Press the Save button, and your first item is created!
That’s the easy way. Often heritage sites in remote areas do not have exact titles, addresses or even discernible zip codes (it happens!). If that’s the case, you’re going to have to locate it using the “Satellite” view in Google Maps. You’ve probably already used this function to find your own house. To enter Satellite view, just click on the button in the top right hand corner of your map. It may take a few moments to load.
Once you are in satellite view, it’s time to engage in a spy mission to spot your site.
Go to the map you’ve saved and click the Edit button. Then simply click and hold on the map to move it in the direction you want to go.
When you’re in the general area of where you know your resources is, use the slider bar on the right hand side of your map to zoom in (+) or zoom out (-).
Grab the placemarker icon (looks like and upside-down teardrop) at the top and drop it on to your site. This will give your site GPS coordinates and place it on your map.
Step 3: Collaborate!
Increase the effectiveness of your map by adding collaborators, which is as simple as clicking the “Collaborate” link at the top of your maps and entering e-mail address of the best folks for the job. Start with a small group of people you trust and explain why your map is important as well as why you are asking them to collaborate on it. In my case, folks from my group have not only added important sites I didn’t know about, but also alerted me to sensitive sites (such as those with active archaeological excavations) where public attention might interfere.
Step 4: Blogify Your Text
Folks don’t want to read a treatise about your site within the context of an online map. Shoot for brief, descriptive and compelling narrative storytelling. In the short term, a couple of sentences is just fine.
By default the descriptions of your map items are in plain text. The rich text method offers ways to hyperlink text as in a word processing program. With your map still in edit mode, do this:
Click the placemark. The info window will pop up.
Choose Rich Text to type in your description text and use the “hyperlink” icon to add urls for related sites.
After your text is in place, click the Done button. Remember, you can always go back and edit or add more later.
Step 5: Embedding Photos and Videos
With your placemarks and written description of your sites, you’ve done the bulk of the work to accomplish your goals. Now for the polish — those little elements that will captivate your end users. This starts with that bedrock principle of social media: embedding.
Assuming you have photos and videos on sites like YouTube and Flickr, here’s how to embed your media in each placemark description:
Open your map and click the Edit button.
Choose Edit HTML.
Find the video you want on YouTube or Google Video. Copy the snippet of code that lets you embed the video into a website or blog.
Paste the snippet of code into the description field of your placemark, line or shape.
Another way to get your videos into the appropriate spot (besides HTML) is to use the Video layer. The Video Layer uses the geocoding in your video and will show up after you input an item’s coordinates into the video settings. The video will pop up as an icon when someone clicks the “More …” button on the map and selects “Video.” This also works with photos and Wikipedia entries! Be aware that this could take several days to show up on your map.
Make Your Map a Heritage Icon
Instead of using the default placemark, you can use icons to jazz up the look of your map or to differentiate types of resources at-a-glance. I used a plantation home, a church, a gravemarker and an old building icon (among others) in the Cane River Map. Here’s how you do it:
Find or make icons that best fits your categories and upload them to a photosharing site like Flickr or Google Drive (which is more integrated. It can be put anywhere the image has a url.
Go to your map.
Click the placemark you wish to replace with an icon.
When the info window opens up, click the paint bucket icon.
Click “More icons,” then “Custom Icons” and paste the url for the icon you wish to use. The icon will always show up in “My Icons” from now on.
The U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation has famously used Google Maps Tours to visually document its Save America’s Treasures, Preserve America and National Heritage Area sites (see its “Historic Sites” map here. While maps on this scale can be overwhelming, they do make the case that historic sites are alive and well, and in likely in your neighborhood.
That’s all there is to it! Now you can embed your map into a web page, or share a link to it through e-mail and social media services. Here’s a preview of the Cane River Heritage Map I created. It’s a work in progress, but it’s a great way to help folks experience these heritage resources both virtually and in person.
For me, enjoying a museum visit has always required a leap of imagination. After all, a glass case or a room barrier inherently separates you from objects. Interpretive animations as short-form video are one way to get a visitor into a state where they can better understand the context is which a space, object or event “lived” its historical purpose due to its interaction with humans.
I experimented with this concept as part of a partnership with University of the Arts in Philadelphia and my colleague, Michal Meyer. Abstracting the object or story with animation really helped focus on imaginative storytelling and more effective interpretation.
Here is a playlist of animations produced as part of this partnership.
Some are definitely better than others, but they increased in quality as we refined the process. One challenge related to this experience (where we were working with a class) is that there is much work in getting the students up to speed on the meaning of the content and desired outcomes for audiences. These were also semester-long projects for an animation class, so they are several months in production. Some animations were never quite finished.
Overall, I think they turned out wonderfully. My personal favorite is an animation of an old alchemical painting the organization had, which explained what was going on through the eyes of a creature featured in it. Here’s a preview to the high-resolution source image for that from Wikimedia Commons (click for original):
I saw that painting almost every workday for three years. It captured my imagination all on its own, and was a no-brainer for this project. To give these project some extra attention, we “premiered” these as part of a live webcast that featured a graphic novelist and a comic book historian.
I looked for examples of interpretive animations produced by other cultural institutions, and they are hard to find. If you know of something out there, please link to it in the comments. Of course, there are many examples of object-inspired animated GIFs being used throughout social media, but that’s another post.
Interestingly, my involvement in this book came about because of social media. Voices of the Past had been going a couple of years, when I got a message out of the blue via Linkedin. Milena Dobreva said she was co-editing a book on user studies in digital libraries and asked if I would write a chapter on social media engagement.
Though I have been fortunate to write material for a few edited volumes, this would be my first international publication (the publisher, Facet, is out of the U.K.). I was intimidated by the stature of the other chapter authors on this project, and that I was the only American. So much so, that at one point I tried to persuade Milena to go with another author I knew to be very experienced in digital libraries and archives. Here’s how she replied:
“Many thanks for this suggestion. I am inclined to ask you once again to contribute because from what I have seen from your work you would bring quite a fresh point of view and I see this as a good potential input which I would really really appreciate.”
With those words, any doubts about my suitability to the task vanished. It was still a grueling process to get the chapter written, but incredibly rewarding. In addition to surveying the applications of social media to the digital library landscape, I got to talk to fascinating people innovating their field at institutions like the following:
Library of Congress, sharing their digital images through The Commons.
Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, building social media savvy among cultural institutions in Scotland.
Many of the connections for the case studies were crowdsourced through social media. For all the agonizing, and more so because of it, this ranks among my favorite career experiences. It brought home every message I had been preaching about social media: you can leverage it to find your voice, engagement in it will lead to unexpected opportunities, and the connections you make will strengthen your faith in yourself and others.
The book was well received, (see its reviews here, here, and at Amazon) and though social media platforms have evolved, the bedrock concepts about how digital libraries should work from a user perspective are evergreen. I know that it has been used as a text in classrooms, a well deserved result of the hard work of the editors. I am grateful they gave me a chance to help shape it.
I’ve worked the past 13 years as an advocate for strategic digital initiatives at cultural institutions. Much of that time has been spent building buy-in, seeking resources, and working to keep the tech functioning. Oh yes … and building in time to see “what’s next,” then repeating the process. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to take a moment in gratitude when an idea takes root. Thanks to Knight Foundation, this is one of those moments.
The project combines many of the interests I and many of my Vizcaya colleagues share–historic preservation/conservation, technology, and helping audiences internalize the interpretation of heritage resources. That extends to Vizcaya’s leadership team, which has been incredibly supportive of this holistic approach to 3D documentation.
We’ve got a very talented partner team on the project as well. The University of Florida Historic Preservation Program captures our 3D documentation, including both photogrammetry and laser scanning. Our technology partner will unlock ways to adapt UF’s point clouds into kiosk-based and virtual reality products. Additionally, Florida International University’s Miami Beach Urban Studios will be strategizing the development of 3D prints based UF’s laser scanning/photogrammetry.
It’s an exciting time to work in this field. Five years ago, the tech was not mature enough to attempt this concept. Now, we’re confident that we’ll create a model that can other cultural sites can replicate. We’ll be documenting our progress in a GitHub site. While this concept was always an intention, the Knight Foundation’s entry into the museums and technology space advances our efforts by years.
If you’re interested in learning more about 3D documentation, here is a primer to get you started.
Cathy Byrd of Fresh Art International recently interviewed my colleagues about digital initiatives at Vizcaya. Hear what they had to say at the SoundCloud embed below:
One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways we can all preserve our heritage is through oral histories. Who doesn’t like to have a conversation with an interesting person? Oral histories require just a little time and some inexpensive recording equipment. And you can start right now.
Whether you’re looking to interview a family member or someone you’ve never met, there are a few rules of thumb to prepare for your journey. So take out a pad and pen. Sketching the outline for your oral history project will only take about 15 minutes if you follow these steps.
Plan your project around specific people and topics that engage you. Talking to grandpa because “somebody needs to do it” won’t result in an enjoyable experience–or useful information–for anyone involved. Genuine interest will show through and your interviewees (a.k.a. informants) will respond to it with trust and historical gems you never saw coming.
You can start by listing five people from your community that most fascinate you. These can even be people who have passed, so long as you can still talk to folks who knew them well. What period of their history most excites you?
Going with the goal of just getting grandpa’s life story won’t be enough to sustain your interest in a series of interviews over time. Write a simple one-sentence mission statement for your project. This statement will give you clarity about what you want to achieve.
For example, the mission for my college thesis was to “record the traditions and folkways specific to the mill-centered communities of north Louisiana’s piney woods.” While this was still a broad topic covering many generations of people (including some of my family) it still defined a unique time, place and group of people.
Now use your mission statement to break down the project into about five elements based on historical events (from personal to international), social viewpoints, work knowledge, etc. This will give you topics for scheduling follow-up interviews. It will also help you build a project timeline, including the all-important end date.
Remember, you aren’t the only person making a commitment in the process of recording an oral history. The people you’re interviewing are being kind enough to take time out of their lives and reveal deeply personal information. Take out your calendar and identify a regular time each week to work on the project. Even if it’s just one hour, make sure it’s an hour you can commit to as you would an important work task. Look for times when your routines make an interview convenient for you and your informant.
With your mission, list of interviewees and schedule in hand, head to your local library or archives and begin your research. You don’t need to go in-depth here, but you need to have some general historical context about the time and place you are interested in.
The world is full of historical accounts, whether it be courthouse records, meeting minutes or news archives. While these documents shape history, they rarely capture the true context of how we as humans have shaped our civilization. An oral history project will do that for you–and the community you share it with–in a very meaningful way.
Here’s a form I put together to help plan oral history projects. Feel free to download and begin your journey today.
This past week, I had the privilege of co-leading a interpretation workshop focused on technology with Stacey Kutish, digital interpretive strategist at Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia. There were about 30 attendees from gardens and related cultural sites. I’m sharing the slide deck with speaker notes, which includes the following topics we covered:
Tools and Techniques
What Makes Good Digital Content
Thanks to everyone who came out to this introductory workshop. Related material:
More recently, the technology has evolved to impact digital interpretation as well. Advances in preservation technologies are aligning with those in interpretive tech, so bridging the two to create virtual experiences and kiosks is finally beginning to be possible. This post will describe two common 3D documentation approaches and related resources for institutions considering leveraging this technology.
What is Laser Scanning?
Laser scanning enables a large quantity of three-dimensional measurements to be collected quickly. Laser scanners are devices that can be placed on land or on aircraft such as planes and drones. The scanners measures distance by systematically illuminating a target with a laser light, and recording that data. The point cloud is the raw product of a survey. It contains a large number of coordinates that detail every aspect of a surface, measured in microns. There are 25,400 microns in one inch. These points form the skeleton over which a skin can be rendered to create a recognizable 3D model.
Laser data is collected into proprietary systems, so the data will require messaging before it can be exported in a useful and shareable product. It can also be affected by environmental factors like humidity. Attention must also be paid to how the scans are registered. Though individual scans may be really accurate, the finished model can have a lot of error due to the registration process. Be sure to evaluate the implications of these factors, as well as the scale of your project when examining the appropriateness of this technology.
What is Photogrammetry?
Photogrammetry works by taking many images of a scene from different locations using standard digital cameras (there are even smartphone apps) and then processing them through programs to determine the exact location from which these photos were taken. When the positions of the camera are known, specialty software looks for common points in two or more photos to determine where objects exists in 3D space. It can still produce a very detailed virtual model. The technology is useful on a small scale, to document objects or fragments of architectural detail on buildings. It can be used for more frequent visual detection of deterioration for at-risk heritage resources, at lower costs than laser scanning.
In terms of accuracy, photogrammetry can give repeatable measurable results well in the sub-mm range, with reports of repeatable measurements in the 5 100ths of a mm. Photogrammetry has an advantage over laser scanning in terms of archiving because archiving image sets is well understood.
As with laser scanning, the quality of a product of photogrammetry is determined by how correctly it was shot and processed. A good looking model can still have a lot of error.
What questions can 3D documentation answer?
Laser scanning, supported with photogrammetry, can provide critical insight into a site’s built heritage that cannot be accomplished as efficiently by any other means. These include the following:
How quickly a feature is changing. Laser scanning can contribute to a detailed record where a feature, structure or site might be lost or changed forever. Is the architectural detail on the barge measurably fading at a faster rate than that of the main house or the garden mound? Laser scanning can help predict the rate of deterioration, and inform conservation priorities.
How one feature in the landscape relates to another. What is the proportion of an institution’s grounds to its built structures? Based on the contour of the landscape, how will sea level rise affect the estate over time? Laser scanning can help inform study of the overall cultural landscape–how it was fashioned and how it compares to the surrounding landscape. It can also uncover previously unnoticed archaeological features in a landscape covered in vegetation or woodland.
The size of a structure. Laser scanning provides pinpoint accuracy regarding dimensions of objects and structures. This can be useful in planning for preservation projects by contributing to a record before renovation of a structure or landscape.
Improve accessibility. For tall structures, a frieze, tiling, or other architectural detail may not be entirely visible from ground level. For others, environmental barriers may block access. Often, objects in museums are blocked from close inspection and certainly from touching. A 3D scan can replicate the proportions and form on an object for access on digital platforms.
Aid expert understanding. Because of the detail it is able to capture, elements of an object or structure can be enlarged and examined on a virtually unlimited scale.
Improve engagement with the general public. Models produced as a result of scanning can be incorporated into interpretive kiosks and digital tour apps for mobile devices, allowing the public to manipulate, enlarge and examine objects from all sides. This can further enrich their connection to the site/objects and allow them to share their experiences through the web.
Replication. An accurate model is useful for producing a replica for display, or as a replacement in a restoration scheme. This could be useful in milling replacement replicas of the peacocks for the marine garden or sculpture on the barge that is at risk due to climate. Models can also be used by educational departments to 3D print objects as part of a handling collection.
Universities with 3D Documentation Programs
University Partners are highly aware of the grant landscape for laser scanning projects and are willing to collaborate on funding proposals. They also have excellent reputations for understanding how this technology can be applied to the entire range of cultural heritage documentation, preservation and interpretation.
In turn, universities benefit from a partnership with your institution because their students will have access to a living laboratory of historic structures, objects and landscapes to capture and evaluate. Here are a few universities that are capable of 3D documentation projects:
The University of Arkansas Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies describes its approach as “strongly multi-disciplinary and global in scope with current active research efforts throughout North America, South America, the Middle and Near East, and Europe.” The program is funded through grant projects.
Oregon State University Pacific Slope Archaeological Laboratory focuses on archaeological assets. Their site lists rates for services and provides interesting online video about the applications of their work.
The University of Michigan 3D Lab provides 3D capture and printing as part of its processes. They can assist with all phases of projects including planning, design and development.
In 2012, the University of Florida Historic Preservation Program launched the Envision Heritage initiative with the mission of exploring how new and emerging technologies can be utilized to document, conserve, and interpret historic sites.
The University of South Florida Alliance for Integrated Spatial Technologies (AIST) is a Research and Education Support Unit in the School of Geosciences, College of Arts and Sciences, at the University of South Florida. Its research interest is “preserving and protecting the world’s cultural and natural heritage through education and global engagement.”
Q: How will I be able to access and use the file?
A: You could use Autodesk Recap (subscription; $300/yr – Smithsonian uses this) to access the actual point cloud and MeshLab (open source) for solid models, or Rhino3D ($1,000 for a license). The partnering institutions are willing to work out a plan to offer training to staff on the use of these technologies as well. This will empower the organization to make better use of the data and learn to capture small-scale scans for predictive conservation modeling.
How large might the file(s) be?
A: File sizes vary by the scale of the object and resolution. Estimates regarding the point cloud for the are about 15 GB. A solid model would be more than 100 GB depending upon the level of detail. Video animations can be 1GB or more depending on length. These are large, but still manageable sizes to store and access.
Q: How often would scanning need to be done to track preservation/conservation issues?
A: This will take time to determine. Laser scanning and photogrammetry could be used to focus on specific, collectively decided target areas and not record the entire structure each time. That would decrease time in field, processing, and cost. Of course, time intervals would depend on what we are monitoring for, and would be informed through a regular visual analysis by the conservation team, including observed rate of deterioration due to cyclical tides, storm events, etc.
Q: Can we use the resulting animated graphic in 360 photo tours?
A: The partner institution can provide the point cloud or solid surface file in a number of different formats. 360 tour vendors could integrate a 3D model so that it can be opened within the tour as a web-poi. For an off-line version (kiosk version) it may be possible to have a normal poi (point of interest) featuring still angles of the 3D barge that could be scrolled through giving the appearance of it rotating 360 degrees. Regal 360 could also just come out and photograph on top of the barge, but that still leaves the water side undocumented.
Q: Who owns the product(s)?
A: The point cloud, solid model and video animations should be specified as the sole property of your institution. A partnership should be structured so that the documentation partner would seek permission if they sought to publish anything regarding the work they did at your site.
To fully realize its value, a 3D documentation project should inform a broader systematic program of capture.
Universities that teach 3D documentation skills and execute related projects internationally can be valuable partners. This expertise can be leveraged for knowledge among staff, and provide learning experiences for university students and the general public.
Staff Workshop: A partner institution could provide an on-site workshop for relevant staff on photogrammetry. Staff would be instructed in the significance of 3D documentation, how to perform it, and how to use it to inform their work. This would include targeted documentation training that would allow staff to see differences between the images they capture, and those resulting from an initial high-resolution scan.
Community Day: Your institution could hold a community event to introduce local audiences (including students) to the technology and how the institution is using it. The event would showcase commitment to preservation while enabling the public to see heritage resources in ways (both micro and macro) that were previously impossible. This event could include the following:
a presentation by the site and its partner institution to present preliminary data
A demonstration of the documentation technologies.
3D printing of objects based laser scans that the public can touch and examine.
University Classes: University partners participating in 3D documentation could involve their students in the project. With an ongoing program of 3D digital scanning, a historic site could become a living laboratory for these students, providing a diverse array of architectural and environmental elements to round out their experience.
A university partner is particularly useful in identifying and acquiring grants for 3D documentation projects. The following granting agencies have expressed past interest in funding such projects:
3D objects can be rendered in formats suitable to a wide variety of digital platforms, including the following:
Mobile Apps: For institutions investigating app development for enhancing the visitor experience. 3D models could be judiciously integrated into such an app, giving visitors the opportunity to manipulate select objects as part of a larger virtual tour. Additionally, USF AIST has student developers within its program that could potentially create a custom experience centered around 3D objects.
Sketchfab: Many institutions worldwide publish the renderings from their project portfolios to Sketchfab. Sketchfab is a leading online repository for publishing 3D and virtual reality content. It integrates with all major 3D creation tools and publishing platforms. Files can be uploaded in almost any 3D format, directly on sketchfab.com or using an exporter. Once models are on Sketchfab, descriptive text can be added and the resulting image can be embedded on any web page and are sharable on social media.
SCENE Webshare Cloud: SCENE WebShare Cloud is a cloud-based hosting solution from FARO that allows easy and secure sharing of scan data worldwide. It offers the ability to can see the renderings of structures or objects on an interactive map. It offers a the ability to include very detailed information, including measured distances, GPS coordinates, project descriptions. Though engaging for a general audience, it is most useful in working with contractors or managing entities. The degree to which it can zoom from estate map to details on architectural features also makes it a powerful computer-based solution to understand and analyze complex on-site conditions, including conservation issues. The base package for SCENE Webshare Cloud is $990, which includes 50GB storage.
Cultural Heritage Imaging (CHI) is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to advancing the state of the art of digital capture and documentation of the world’s cultural, historic, and artistic treasures. One of its goals is to create robust, low-cost imaging tools to document cultural heritage. It is noted for unique approaches to 3D documentation, its commitment to training people in these technologies, and its willingness to use social media as an outreach tool.
CyArk was founded in 2003 to ensure heritage sites are available to future generations, while making them uniquely accessible today. CyArk operates internationally as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization with the mission of using new technologies to create a free, 3D online library of the world’s cultural heritage sites before they are lost to natural disasters, destroyed by human aggression or ravaged by the passage of time. CyArk tends to focus on high-profile projects, supported by large grants.
3D Data Exchange
The ASTM E57 Committee on 3D Imaging Systems Sub-committee on Data Interoperability (E57.04) has developed an open standard for 3D imaging system data exchange. Working with partners to follow this standard is important to make maximum use of 3D products. The standard’s goals include the following:
Easy to use API, designed for common use cases
The E57 File Format for 3D Imaging Data Exchange is capable of storing point cloud data from laser scanners and other 3D imaging systems, as well as associated 2D imagery and core metadata.
The following documents will be helpful for partners assisting with 3D documentation projects
Historic Structures Reports
Cultural Landscape Plan
Related Archival Images
Participation in National Park Service Heritage Documentation Programs (HDP) would complement, inform and strengthen a built heritage site’s own 3D documentation efforts. In particular, a documentation project as part of the the Historic American Building Survey (HABS), or Historic American Landscape Survey (HALS) are options for documenting in this way. Much of the work of HABS is done by student teams during the summer, or as part of college-credit classwork. An institution could sponsor a student team in partnership with a university with an architecture program.
The measured drawings, photographs and reports produced from these programs are archived by the Library of Congress and made accessible through their online database. Efforts are being made now to connect HABS documentation to 3D documentation point clouds.