Busy week (2) – Digital Heritage, External Engagement & Conservation workshop

Following our adventures at Knole I was back in Southampton for the night before heading off to a workshop organised by Dr. Kate Giles and Dr Gill Chitty, University of York. I was invited to present a 20 minute paper on the broad topic of my work using “digital heritage to present and enhance understanding of, and visitor experience at, heritage sites”. This sounded like an exciting but terrifying prospect and I wasn’t sure which element I should go for, the wonderful Kate Giles helped to clarify by stating that the workshop was interested in focussing on the potential and limitations of working with external partners. So in the end I decided to give an overview of my experience of a Collaborative Doctoral Award working with Trust.

The workshop took place at the Weald and Downland Museum, which I have visited many times over the course of my thesis. We were based in Crawley Hall, a beautiful a late 15th early 16th century first floor hall. Richard Harris gave a wonderful introduction to the building and the museum giving us a real insight to the workings of the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum and their wishes to further peoples understanding of rural life and landscape.

The day was split into three broad sessions Issues and approaches, Techniques and applications and working with partners.

Kate Giles started the day by introducing her work at the Guild Chapel in Stratford-upon-Avon, I really enjoyed her honest approach with her first encountering of digital visualisation technologies, the wish to highlight exactly how it would have looked according to one’s own research. This overtime develops into a wish to display different interpretations or presentations of the data, allowing viewers to engage with as much material as possible. This was followed by Daniel Mutibwa presenting on the Pararchive project. He gave us an insight to some amazing datasets that they are hoping to make available and a methodology for creating useful digital resources. Starting with an idea or something that is needed and then finding the right digital tool for the job.

The second session on Techniques and Applications I found really engaging. I had met Sarah Duffy briefly on Jersey last summer, and was very interested to see her present on the use of multiple digital techniques and finding the best technique for each job as it comes. Her work on public engagement in Sudan was fascinating.

Although I have worked closely with Gareth Beale on other things (Seeing, Thinking, Doing) and heard him discuss the British Memorial project it was wonderful hearing him discuss the overall aims and direction the project is going in. The same with Jude Jones and Nicole Beale on the use of RTI towards visual presentation. It was lovely to see a much more detailed paper on their project particularly following a mini project Jude and I are pursuing on a similar vane.

The final session focussing on working with partners began with a presentation from Pat Gibbs from the Centre for Christianity & Culture at University of York. He presented some wonderful digital heritage applications. I found his ideals about creating something that aims to engage with a visitor before, during and after their visit, extending the interest and experience of the space. I was up next and I hope I highlighted how wonderfully rewarding working closely with a large organisation can be but also how frustrating it can be trying to find out who your research is for. This is something I wish to discuss more in the coming months. Finally Stuart Eve from LP Archaeology, gave a depressing but informing discussion on the issues of pursuing digital engagements when working on developer funded sites. He put it in no uncertain terms and there simply isn’t enough money in the budget for commercial companies to produce digital output with legislation as it stands. For this to change there needs to be a change in the law forcing developers to encourage public engagement with the results of archaeological investigation which will allow companies to include this in their budget. I am definitely not informed enough on this area of engagement but Lorna Richardson has just finished her thesis on Digital Public Archaeology which Stuart suggests discusses this in detail, i’m looking forward to seeing her present at Digital Heritage 2014 next week.

A number of these papers I have seen presented in various guises, or read papers in before. But being able to actually discuss the issues we all encounter was very engaging and lay the ground for lots of future projects. I feel the small number of participants allowed a really informed discussion on the wonderful opportunities for these techniques but also highlighted what limitations currently stand in the way of allowing them to develop. I hope the conversations continue.

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