by Frank Roberts, Intern, Virtual Curation Laboratory
Growing up in Northern Virginia, it is easy to take for granted the availability and immediacy of institutions aimed at providing a window into our collective past. Attending a public school two hours outside of Washington D.C. meant that my teachers were able to exploit the numerous, culturally rich attractions available for free to the public. Walking into these museums was like being dropped into the glossy photos of our textbooks. As children, we were able to leave behind the abstractions of the classroom and surround ourselves with the physicality of the lived world.
I cherish the memories of my first fieldtrip to the National Museum of Natural History, and the way I felt standing before the Giant Ground Sloth exhibit. The sheer size of the long dead beast shook my imagination in a way that made me realize the world was immensely mysterious and worth exploring to the fullest. I would not have felt the same had it merely been a flat image. I needed to experience its dimensions alongside mine to really grasp that this monster once existed.
Working in the Virtual Curation Lab, I often come into contact with relics of the past. While the objects themselves never breathed, their creators were individuals with unique fears, passions, and insights. When I hold their work in my hands, I can’t help feeling small the same way I did beneath the bones of the Giant Ground Sloth. I think of the age of the earth and the countless lives that have shared its hospitality. The resilience of these artifacts to the weathering of time is a reminder that our bodies are not permanent, but our creations may live on. It is truly humbling, and a lesson worth spreading. Luckily, 3D printing and scanning technology can deliver this experience to a more widespread demographic than ever before.