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Sharing the Preservation of the Past: One Object at a Time

by Bernard K. Means, Director

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Lauren Volkers shows our visitor Jeremy Barker editing of a digital model using RapidWorks.

As director of the Virtual Curation Laboratory, I am contacted at least once a week by someone interested in our efforts at preserving the past.  They find their way to me through coming across this blog site, our companion blog site at the Virtual Curation Museum, via posts by myself or my students on Facebook, or by finding information on our Department of Defense Legacy Project report on Academia.edu or the published version on the Society for Historical Archaeology web site. These contacts generally take one of two forms: 1) people have a NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner (usually one purchased by someone else in the past and then neglected); and, 2) someone wishing to set up there own virtual curation effort.  In either case, although we here in the Virtual Curation Laboratory have been preserving the past for only a little over two-and-a-half years, this is longer than many using our particular set up–and, of course, we have been very active on social media, which increases people’s awareness of our work.

Intern Sarah Perdue discusses how we animate objects for our web sites.

Intern Sarah Perdue discusses how we animate objects for our web sites.

I suppose I could view the people who contact me as competition, but I would rather view them as potential collaborators or at least as fellow preservationists sharing my passion for saving the past one object at a time.  After all, in our 2.5 years, we have scanned just over 1200 objects–a small amount of any museum’s collection, much less all the important objects across the planet that could benefit from virtual curation.

Bernard K. Means and Jeremy Barker discuss virtual curation and collaboration.

Bernard K. Means and Jeremy Barker discuss virtual curation and collaboration. Intern Vivian Hite in the background examines an artifact image to help with accurately painting a printed replica.

Maintaining a dialogue with individuals via cyberspace fits nicely with the theme of virtual collaboration we like to foster here in the Virtual Curation Laboratory. Still, virtual collaboration is not a complete substitute for face-to-face contact.  On Friday, March 28th, we were fortunate to have as our visitor Jeremy Barker, an Engineering Technology Specialist at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.  Jeremy is also using a NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner to record information on artifacts and wanted to examine our operation in the Virtual Curation Laboratory.  It was certainly very interesting to get a perspective from someone with an interest in history, but who was an engineer by vocation.  In our conversations, we realized that both of us had reached the same point–an interest in preserving the past–but from different directions.  Jeremy looked at how technology can be applied to preserving the past, and I looked at how preserving the past can benefit from technology.  Clearly, virtual curation offers a path to linking the so-called STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) disciplines with the humanities. We look forward to further discussions with Jeremy and others interested in sharing the preservation of the past…… one object at a time.