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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Ways of Seeing the English Domestic Interior: Workshop 3

Through my supervisor Graeme I have become involved with the Ways of Seeing the English Domestic Interior, 1500-1700: the case of decorative textiles research network. I attended the first workshop in Southampton which introduced everyone to the network and began to explore how we can apply computing techniques to further explore how we might enhance our understanding of how the domestic interior was experienced in early modern England. (This might sound a bit familiar…)

On the 19th March I attended the third workshop. The aim of the day was to explore how eyetracking technology can be exploited towards the understanding of visitor experience of 17th century painted cloths at Owlpen Manor in Gloucestershire.

Owlpen Manor, Gloucestershire.

Owlpen Manor, Gloucestershire.

The day began with two groups of volunteers being “wired up” to the eyetracking hardware. The first thing to consider and why we can undertake this kind of experiment is that the eye does not work in the way we think it does. Eyes do not pan smoothly like in a film instead move in a series of small jerks. They actively only focus clearly on a very small area at the centre of the eye. The best way to think about it is that they essentially create lots of static images that focus on a small area. This means you are never too aware about exactly where you are looking and you can’t try and think too much about where your looking and don’t understand so the effect of wearing the headset is not to great.

Example of how someone is wired up the eyetracking equipment

Example of how someone is wired up the eyetracking equipment

How the eye captures information

How the eye captures information

The first of these groups was a group of undergraduate and masters students while the second comprised of *experts* from the research network. The intention was to explore the effects of expertise on the way people are viewing the interiors of the room and the effect of knowledge. Each person was individually wired up to the equipment and given time to get use to wearing it. Then they were taken to the Great Chamber (Queen Margaret’s Room) here their responses to the room were recorded a number of times. The first observation was recorded to observe the difference between the two groups of volunteers. Each individual was then provided with more information about the room and the wall painting and sent back into the room with the intention to observe which areas were focussed on in more detail or not.

Queen Margeret's Room

Queen Margeret’s Room

Some preliminary results saw a huge difference in the way an expert was looking at the room as opposed to the student they were compared with. Students tended to move their gaze to try and take in everything whereas the expert took much more time paying close attention to the painted cloths.

The day then turned to a series of talks by people involved with the project, firstly with an outline of the project to date. This was followed by a talk on Owlpen Manor and specifically the Painted Cloths displayed in the Queen Margaret room which we observed during the eyetracking experiment. The painted cloths are thought to be the only complete example of a decorative scene of interior decoration of this form the scene details the biblical story of Joseph. They were a cheaper substitute for tapestries before the introduction of wall papers and were produced by guilds until around 1502 and were considered out dated by the 17th century. Although no longer in situ they represent a complete scene and only are missing the bottom border when in the 1960s they were moved from a different bedroom during a cleaning at the same time. This move has been questioned as to whether the move would have affected the story at all? Whether areas of the border would have an effect or whether they are placed into a different order or were designed for the original space. The talk also touched on whether the effect of the cloth on walling affected the experience of the space if they had been painted with the same scenes with some discussion on the acoustical effects on the space.

This led into a discussion of the direction the research network wishes to go in. In September 12th and 13th there will be a conference presenting the results of the research network. The papers from the conference are to be published in a Textiles journal, should be consider publishing more widely? Especially considering the number of methods used. We discussed the achievements of the network so far. Feel that with a range of specialities have allowed an engagement with objects and spaces that has not been possible until now. Highlighted that there are different kinds of viewing and the type of space or display affects the interaction with the objects or textiles. Particularly in reference to this was the assessment of the critical eye. We do not just look with our eyes but want to manipulate the objects in the space they are in or change the lighting conditions. In reference to this context is very important to link the space and object when considering them in their historical context and how they were experience in the past. For example the lighting conditions at Owlpen Manor were very different and had a different effect on the viewers to examining objects at the Ashmolean. As such when we are considering the experience of an object we need to respond to how we think about the narrative associated with these objects or spaces.

Following the conference it was unanimous that the research network did not want to be downgraded but hoped it would continue in one way or another, maybe setting up a research project. Consider moving forward into looking more at how the computer techniques that have been demonstrated could further the work. There was a bit of a struggle considering whether we could apply them appropriately there is a lot of archaeological theory associated with how visualisation technology can be applied to explore these issues and whether we can examine the experience of those examining/ creating these items when they were created. Whereas the heritage professionals wished to apply the technologies as a technique for reverse designing for museums and engagement impact in schools. Consider more how people are engaging with objects today and allowing greater access to collections. Consider if these techniques can be used to track engagement with real vs. non real objects. With a focus from the Shakespeare Birthplace staff suggesting it would be interesting to examine audience perception of performance props costume etc.

I found it really interesting to engage with people who did not have such a background in computing and survey. They were very interested in engaging with new technologies in the same way as I am working in for my thesis but without the background understanding of visualisation and archaeological theory. Whereas I had not thought so much about the cultural heritage applications. It was a really interesting day and I am hoping to become more involved with the network over the coming months.