Category Archives: Tutorials

Toolkit for developing a community of digital history makers with your own GLAM Cyber Cafe’

Sometimes creating in the digital heritage space can feel lonely, if not thankless. It has always been challenging but it has been especially true in the COVID era. Virtual meetings have been a coping mechanism, but there’s nothing like being in the same room together while the ideas flow.  As we seek to find a way to connect with one another again, I thought I’d share some tips and models you can use to bring like-minded digital folks together where you are, whether it be virtual or in person. 

Active Meetups

I’ll start with a few models that are currently out there, and then go into the idea surrounding a model that I specifically developed.

  • Wiki Salon: Folks in the Wiki space are holding Wiki Salons. As of this writing they are mostly virtually through Zoom. These usually present a theme for creating or editing articles in Wikipedia and The Commons. Here’s an event listing from a New York group and a Philadelphia group. Here are general instructions on holding a Wiki meetup.
  • THATCamp: The Humanities and Technology Camp. This was inspired by the old BarCamp concept. Sadly, the organization behind THATCamp has died. However, the concept behind still exists on the old site.
  • CodeforAmerica is back and holding hybrid virtual/in-person meetings. This is the big one, that seeks out ways to make government work better through meaningful presentations of data and development of useful digital tools. They have a summit scheduled in May 2022. There are also regional groups in cities across the U.S., though most seem to be on hiatus.
  • Also in Philly, there’s a Maker’s Meetup that is about 3D printing+++ .
  • Other digital humanities groups on

The GLAM Café Concept

When I was volunteering for the Philly Digital Humanities group, I proposed the idea of the GLAM Café as a monthly coffeehouse-style event that would extend the organization’s good work and good will during the once-a-year THATCamp throughout the year. Its purpose more broadly was to afford digital heritage enthusiasts and professionals in the Philadelphia region a regular opportunity to connect, collaborate and learn from one another. We held it from 5-8 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month. The museum conference center I worked for provided the space, and snacks were sponsored. Though I moved to Miami in 2014, the GLAM Café continued for several years after.


Below you can find the checklists and considerations that I used to plan the GLAM Café. And you can check this Google Drive link to find logo and signage templates, as well as images from the events we coordinated in Philly.


  • Door Prizes & Swag: Stickers, pens, overstock from institution gift shops and publications.
  • Podcasts & Blog Posts featuring participant projects
  • DH “Angel”: A help desk at the meetup for helping to orient newcomers, or provide perspective to help people become unstuck with their projects.
  • “Theme Nights” For Archives, Archaeology, Historic Preservation, Etc., with a specialist guest from the field.

One Hour Before Event Start
Setup Digital Help Desk on non-GLAM Cafe Tuesdays. Send broadcast announcement

@Meetup Group Page

Use forum function for virtual white papers (and discussions)

Active Projects

Featured “Follow Tuesday” GLAMCafe’r: Profile on projector with project working on.

Materials to Order/Create

  • Branded paper coffee cups
  • Flyers: Promote/debut at museum events
  • Promo business & postcards, e.g. distributed @THATCamps
  • Name tags
  • Promo contest (win a travel mug by collecting 10 cards) 

“Connecting” Resources

  • Literature stand for digital humanities white papers (invite people to contribute their own)
  • Large screen with Wikipedia Project Page displayed
  • iPad with group set up (for folks to register, or add their project ideas)
  • iPad showing video on loop of GLAM topics
  • Name tags (with color code interest “tagging”?
  • Streaming chats/hangouts that talk about a case study
  • Power strips!
  • Loyalty card with an attached service prize 


  • Locate “set dressing”
  • Directional signs
  • Promotional material
  • Projection of logo on whiteboard
  • Create “nooks” with furniture and lighting
  • Soft music
  • Live tweet stream projected
  • Projects board
  • Coffee smell
  • Barista with espresso
  • iPad co-working stations 

Outcomes and Outputs

  • Poster/booklet/screen display of online projects people can “adopt.” Unassigned
  • Build audience advocates for digital and social media
  • Build a brain trust of digital leaders to strengthen digital initiatives Unassigned
  • Offer digital learning opportunities for staff


  • Confirm coffee and food with conference center
  • Confirm SPACE with the conference center
  • Set up coffee cart
  • Set up brainstorming tools around the space: whiteboards, easels with paper and markers

Primarily local, and select regional groups. These are folks with an interest in consistently using digital tools to communicate.

  • Area Museums
  • Wikipedia Groups
  • Area historical societies

Core Collaborators

DH community
GLAM Institutions
Area Wikipedians 

Example of Reporting and Metrics

(Sample report from Philly GLAM Café) 

At least 36 people attended, about half of whom were involved in PhillyDH. People interested in Wikipedia started arriving around 4.30, and mostly left by 7.00 or 7.30. PhillyDH people arrived between 5.00 and 6.30 and stayed until 8.00. PhillyDH held a breakout meeting from 6.00 to 8.00. There is overlap between the two groups, so having rolling times may work well.

The large round tables in the GLAM room worked well; we should have 4 or 5 of them next time instead of 3. The lounge-style seating was used somewhat in the beginning, but not once the groups broke apart. We may want to have some available. People rearranged the tables in the breakout room into a rough circle so that they could all see each other during their meeting. They may break into smaller working groups next time. The small rectangular tables are good there because they are easy to rearrange. The lighting was good.

Having a mix of sweet and protein in the snacks is important. The Greek yogurt was popular. Bagels with cream cheese would be a good choice as well. Cookies, danishes or biscotti are all good complements. All three drink options (coffee, tea, water) were used.

We should plan to accommodate those who come early. For the next GLAM Cafe, the PhillyDH breakout group plans to meet from 6.30 to 8.00, giving people time to attend the GLAM Cafe beforehand. There was a sense that the first meeting was largely a meet-and-greet, and that people would like the next meeting to be more work-oriented (focused on getting things done more than on talking).

Email Notification Format and language

Hi folks,

Beginning Nov. 12 we’ll have a regular opportunity to  connect, share and collaborate with digital heritage enthusiasts and professionals alike when the “GLAM Café” debuts at [PLACE]. The GLAM Café is a coffeehouse-style event brought to you in partnership with [GROUP]. Come by any time between 5-8 p.m. to join in. If you enjoy it, mark your calendar for future meetups on the second Tuesday of each month.

Why Should I Come?

Sometimes it’s easy to become so focused on our own institution and its immediate needs that we forget we’re all part of a larger community of Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (often referred to as GLAM institutions). Those working in this community are facing many of the same issues we do as a cultural heritage institution in the digital age. We all have unique experiences and perspectives that, when shared, can collectively lighten the load and make the path to digital success clearer.

What should I bring?

  • Bring your curiosity: You’ll have access to expertise ranging  from social media to web exhibits to Linked Open Data and beyond.
  • Bring your ideas: You can also find a project to participate in or potentially even a collaborator for your ideas.
  • Bring yourself!: The point of this meetup is to provide a time, space and support for making progress on GLAM-related digital projects that don’t seem to fit into your schedule otherwise. Feel free to just claim some sofa territory and work solo on that Wikipedia entry you always wanted to correct, or grab a white paper and read up on what others are working on.

Whether you want to socialize, study, or mercilessly hack some poor unsuspecting data set, please come enjoy coffee and snacks in a relaxed atmosphere. 

How can I participate?

If you’re looking to be part of a discussion group, you’ll have two breakaway opportunities at this event:

  1. A digital humanities discussion.
  2. An interest meeting for a planned Hack-a-thon that helps GLAM institutions open up their data for more impact.

To learn more about the folks you might meet at this event and to receive regular reminders of these events, visit the meetup group at the following link: [Insert Link Here]

And please share this announcement with anyone you think may be interested!

Many Hands Make Light Work

Hosting this event was one the most fulfilling things I did during my time in Philly. It made my day job easier by having creative people to bounce ideas and challenges off of. And it’s just so much easier to face those challenges with a community of like-minded people. This concept is very scalable, so I hope you’ll use these tools as a foundation and start your own!

If you know of any other active meetups that I missed, feel free to post them in the comments here.


A guide to my heritage Twitter Lists, developed over the past decade.

Twitter tells me I joined up more than 13 years ago. As much of a cesspool that Twitter can be, I’ve always found a way to get better use of it by creating “lists” and I’ve been a more active user of the lists function than I have been in blasting out content to the world. According to Twitter, a list is “a curated group of accounts. Create one or subscribe to a list created by others to streamline your timeline.” I thought I’d share some of the lists I’ve built covering the the various cultural fields that you can subscribe to, or just find like-minded people to connect with.

Note that people on these lists have other interests besides the topic they are listed for, so there is a variety of content you will find in each. Social media has more noise than ever, so be prepared to skim for the good stuff. Once you get there, Twitter will have a function that allows you to follow any of these lists. When talking about tech or digital, you can engage with any of these topics using the hashtag #digitalheritage.

So here’s the list of lists …

Archaeology: This is one of the first lists I began to curate because so many archaeologists were trying out social media ahead of other cultural institutions back in the day. With more than members, it has about a post and hour. Notable tweeters there: Shawn Graham, Archaeology News Network. Sample tweet from the feed:

Archives: This 60-person list covers numerous aspects of archival practice, including digital preservation. Includes NY Public Library Labs and Paige Roberts as well as several folks I knew in Philly–Michelle DiMeo of Science History Institute and Matt Shoemaker from Temple U. Updates a couple of times an hour on average. Example of one of the tweets there:

Built Heritage: The list primarily covers historic preservation. With more than 80 members, it normally has new posts several times an hour. Notables include National Trust for Historic Preservation, Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and many local historic preservation organizations. Engage with the hashtag #builtheritage. Here’s an example of a tweet there:

Conservation:  With close to 40 members, these folks are good about tweeting what they are working on, whether it’s paper, architectural, etc., etc. A few of the members there are AIC/FAIC, Berta Blasi and AIC-Art Conservation. Sample tweet:

Digital Humanities: There are 128 very active tweeters comprising this list, covering a lot of the fields in this post. They are largely involved in digital projects. Notables include Digital Heritage Innovation Lab, Historical Cats, Tracy Jentzsch and Sarah Stierch. Sample Tweet: 

Folklife: My master’s is in folklore and oral history, so couldn’t let this be unrepresented. It only has about 16 members though, so let me now if you have any suggestions for folks who might fill it out. Tweeters: Kaitlyn Kinney, TellHistory, Dale Jarvis. Example of a tweet there:

Geneaology: A group of about 50 genealogists and researchers. These folks really tweet about this topic as a passion! Includes people like Lisa Louise Cook, Elyse Doerflinger and Typical Tweet:

GLAM-Wiki: A list of people working in the GLAM-Wiki field, be they Wikipedians in residence, at any of the GLAM institutions, or just enthusiasts from the institutions themselves. Just a note, this is a very politically active group. Sample Tweet:

Heritage Influencers: Thought leaders in the heritage field who exemplify the spirit of new media. Some notables: Shawn Graham (probably half the tweets!), Nina Simon (naturally), Mar Dixon (naturally as well) and my old buddies, Past Horizons.

History: This list has 64 members and you’ll get a lot of straight history facts and “this day in” posts. Who you’ll see there include American History Association, HistoryHit podcast, and Chris Samuel. Frequent hashtags: #history #fineart #twitterstorians. Representative Tweet:

Museums: Museum Twitter accounts have traditionally been largely run by PR and marketing folks fulfilling an administrative agenda in a corporate voice. However, there’s innovation here and there and still useful and entertaining content to be found even from the traditional types. This list has about 160 members and features the MoMAs numerous house museums and Seb Chan. Hashtags to engage by: #tweetmuseums #musesocial and simply #museums combined with whatever word describes the type of museum you’re talking about. Very typical tweet:

Sites & Tourism: There are more than 60 people and organizations on this list dedicated to advancing the cultural heritage of specific sites. These are as likely to be advocacy organizations as superfan individuals dedicated to the protection and promotion of a place that holds special memories for them. Hashtags: #thisplacematters #WorldMonumentsWatch #FanPhotoFriday. Sample tweet:

Notable lists by others in the Twitterverse

Art Conservation 3.0 and Cultural Heritage Preservation by Dale Kronkright

Archaeology by Dr. Corilie Mills

Art Conservation by the good Mr. Richard McCoy

conservy/hist pres by the good Ms. Nancie Ravenel

Heritage/History people by Richard Salmon

Historytweeps by Nezka Pfiefer

Timelapse Toolkit for Cultural Sites: 9 Ideas + Tools

I like the symbolism of timelapses–snapshots of moments captured and contextualized. It kind of reflects how we view history. The understanding of little moments; piecing them together.

They’re effective for storytelling and relatively simple to produce too! If you’re ready to dip your toe into timelapse, here are some content ideas, as well as equipment to consider if you decide to try it out. A lot of the prime examples seem to be older, so please do comment if you’re aware of any other great use cases out there!

1. Growth of Plants

Living collections undergo changes during their lifecycle that people can’t stand around and perceive as happening. The range of sizes and displays can vary widely, and here is one of the most grandiose examples of this is the Corpse Flower, which only blooms every 7-10 years, from the Chicago Botanic Garden.

2. Conservation & Preservation Projects

The timelapse shows the restoration of the Great Hall at Chicago Union Station, including the 219-foot-long skylight that is at the center of the train station as well as the construction of a new high-performance skylight above the historic, 2,052-pane original.

3. Building & Construction Projects

Forget the Corpse Flower–if you’re looking for true scale, building projects are immense and can span a very great deal of time. Timelapse is the best option for capturing that journey. Here’s an example of the Gay Head Lighthouse being moved BY RAIL to protect it.

4. Participatory Art

Art&Seek and Art Conspiracy  invited the public to create the event’s first “Graffiti Wall.”  Attendees were invited to make their mark on a  chalkboard mural. This is a great concept for potentially showing the demographic range of your audiences. The event page also has some useful tips on how the timelapse was created.

5. Illustrating Science

Illustrating cause-and-effect is one area where timelapse photography excels. Rather than explaining the science or process in detail, sometimes the simplest and most engaging approach is to show it first. This video by the Canadian Conservation Institute shows silver tarnishing at an accelerated rate using an egg. See many more of their interesting timelapses at their YouTube Channel.

6. Decorating a Space

In one of the more captivating examples of timelapse I’ve seen, The Royal Pavilion Museums and Trust shows the decoration of multiple spaces, from start to show. If you’ve got to decorate for a holiday or special occasion anyway, why not share the effort? You might inspire someone.

7. Documenting Environmental Effects

In 2017, I had just started my new position at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens when Hurricane Irma paid Miami a visit. We’d just gotten a new Brinno timelapse camera and one of the security guards suggested we tether it to a balcony overlooking Biscayne Bay to see what happens. That was an inspired thought! Though Irma was not a direct hit on us, the storm surge produced enough fury to knock down pieces of the “Barge,” a breakwater/sculpture just outside the museum’s Main House. The Barge largely did its work to protect the Main House, but sustained some battle scars. Fortunately, we had just 3D documented it. This timelapse shows the fateful event that September day:

8. Exhibit Installations

You can create a timelapse effect using video as well. The example below was a first attempt at this concept, using snippets of video to show the phases of exhibit installation at a museum I worked at in Philadelphia.

9. Contemporary Art Projects

Going back to Vizcaya, here is a timelapse I took of a contemporary art project in which coverings are being sewn for the furniture akin to what would have been done by house staff members ahead of the summer months back when the house was built 100 years ago. The public was able to watch the work being done during the museum’s regular hours. The timelapse was used in an iPad kiosk at this location after the project was concluded.

Tools & Cameras

Capturing a timelapse is fairly simple if you have a sturdy camera and trip, and adequate light. Since audio is not an issue, it reduces a lot of complexity.

Brinno: This is a workhorse brand that I’ve used for years, and was used (along with a weatherproof housing) to document the hurricane event above. Keep in mind, if the the preview screen is on the back of your camera (as is the case with some of these models), it’s going to be awkward to see if you tether the camera to a post or building. But some use AA batteries, which can last for three months, so you’re really only limited by the size of the SD memory card you put in it.

GoPro: The GoPro’s ruggedness and small size make it ideal for this task. It has a built-in timelapse feature and captures super hi-res imagery. On the downside, the battery drains fast, and your ability to capture may be just hours rather than weeks.

DSLR: If you want really good quality with endless flexibility for settings, a DSLR camera is a viable option. You choose the battery size, the memory size and the resolution. Here’s a guide to using a camera you may already have.

Smart Phones: Most everyone has a smart phone these days, which has the timelapse feature built into the camera. Here are a couple of tutorials that provide detail on the functionality. Check here for iPhone and here for Android.

To button this up, here’s a video comparing the above methods.

Additional Resources

Cover image credit on Wikimedia Commons

Promote the Heritage of Your Community with Interactive Google Maps Tours

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

  1. Go to 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
  2. 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.
  3. You have a map that saves automatically to the Google cloud!

edit button

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!

save to map

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 (-).
  3. 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:

  1. Click the placemark. The info window will pop up.
  2. Choose Rich Text to type in your description text and use the “hyperlink” icon to add urls for related sites.
  3. 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:

  1. Open your map and click the Edit button.
  2. Choose Edit HTML.
  3. 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.
  4. Paste the snippet of code into the description field of your placemark, line or shape.
  5. Click OK to save your changes.

Google Maps Tours Placemark

Note: There is a bit of bugginess with Google Maps and embedding videos. Many folks have had the experience of the embed code for YouTube videos mysteriously disappear from their placemark info box.

Next Steps: Optimize with layers

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Go to your map.
  3. Click the placemark you wish to replace with an icon.
  4. When the info window opens up, click the paint bucket icon.
  5. 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.

Notable Use:
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.

A 3D Documentation primer for cultural and historic sites

In the last decade, 3D documentation has emerged as the pre-eminent technology to support heritage preservation around the world.

Organizations like UNESCO, the World Monuments Fund and Smithsonian actively participate in programs for 3D documentation of historic objects and sites.

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:

Ball State University Hybrid Design Technologies, Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts They have performed interesting projects on sculpture related to museum interpretation.

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.

UA CAST research strengths
The University of Arkansas CAST program has a wide variety of research strengths including capture, analysis, preservation and education.

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.”

Related Questions

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.

  1. 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.

Strategic Directions

To fully realize its value, a 3D documentation project should inform a broader systematic program of capture.

Learning Experiences

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.

Grant Opportunities

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:

Additional Platforms

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 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.

YouTube: 3D documentation efforts can be rendered as video products that can be published to its YouTube Channel. These videos can be simple “virtual tours” of objects. They could also be stories about the process of documentation. Some of the University of Florida’s renderings can be viewed on the Envision Heritage YouTube Channel.

3D Documentation Specialists

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:

  • Cross-platform
  • Open source
  • 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.

Supporting Documentation

The following documents will be helpful for partners assisting with 3D documentation projects

  • Strategic Plan
  • Historic Structures Reports
  • Blueprints
  • Cultural Landscape Plan
  • Related Archival Images

HABS/HAER/HALS Documentation

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.

Related Research

Bennett, Michael J. “Evaluating the Creation and Preservation Challenges of Photogrammetry-based 3D Models.”

Kronkright, Dale. “Applications for Digital Photogrammetric Methods of Preservation Documentation of Historic Homes.”

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