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VCU Archaeology

Richard III Knew Nothing about Virtual Curation

by Bernard K. Means, director

Charlotte Newman of English Heritage holds the enlarged replica of the Masonic pipe from George Washington's Ferry Farm.

Charlotte Newman of English Heritage holds the enlarged replica of the Masonic pipe from George Washington’s Ferry Farm.

Last month I had the opportunity to present a paper entitled “From the Tangible to the Intangible: Virtual Curation of America’s Historic Past” at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA), which was held at the University of Leicester, United Kingdom.  I was invited to be part of the session Transforming Narratives and Globalizing Access: Curation, Conservation and Social Engagement organized by Emily Williams and Suzanne Findlen Hood, both of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.  My paper focused on the efforts of the Virtual Curation Laboratory over the last year or so to scan artifacts from important locations throughout the eastern U.S. and

literally put a dynamic spin on the past and move beyond the study of static representations using 3D artifact scanning technology. Virtual curation of artifacts—the creation of intangible digital models from tangible artifacts—has clear benefits to opening up America’s historic past in ways never before possible.

Or, at least that’s how I began the paper.  The paper was well received and I certainly was gratified to find out that some of the more technology-focused members of the SHA were aware of our work–thanks largely to social media via this blog and those of the students working so diligently in the Virtual Curation Laboratory.  I also brought along a selection of plastic replicas that we have generated here in the Virtual Curation Laboratory and these certainly attracted a fair amount of attention, especially the very large version of the Masonic smoking pipe that may have belonged to George Washington, and that was recovered at George Washington’s Boyhood Home in Fredericksurg, Virginia.  As I discussed in my paper, I could not bring the actual pipe with me, but certainly could bring along digital versions and replicas made from the digital versions, regular or “super”-sized.  Virtual curation is certainly a way to make American’s past accessible to a more global audience in a way that does not threaten the tangible heritage itself.

Oh, and while in Leicester, I took advantage of the opportunity to visit the newly discovered location of Richard III’s grave site.



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