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VCU Archaeology

3D/DC 2015 and the Printed Past from the Virtual Curation Laboratory

by Bernard K. Means, Director

Last week, on April 29, 2015, I attended and participated in 3D/DC 2015, a public policy forum and demonstration organized by Public Knowledge, whose mission is to “promote freedom of expression, an open internet, and access to affordable communications tools and creative works. We work to shape policy on behalf of the public interest.” The day itself consisted of five panels held in a Congressional meeting room adjacent to the U.S. Capitol Visitor center.  These panels included: Distributed Manufacturing with 3D Printing; 3D Printing & Medical Technology; 3D Printing and Intellectual Property; Growing Small Business with 3D Printing; and Integrating 3D Printing in the Classroom.  U.S. Representative Mark Takano, 41st District of California, made the space available, and Public Knowledge’s Martyn Griffen help facilitate my involvement in the evening demonstration (and that of many others) that was held in the Rayburn Cafeteria. Representative Takano, the only member of Congress with a 3D printer in his office, leads the Congressional Maker Caucus and also introduced the “Integrating 3D Printing in the Classroom” panel.

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Overall, it was a great day, and all the panels made me realize the important role that “making” has in education and the future direction of our country.  As many of the panelists pointed out, 3D printing is simply a tool, but teaching people how to best use this tool, particularly in the conceptualization, implementation, and application of the objects that become 3D can greatly foster a STEAM mindset (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math). I particularly thought that the work of e-NABLE and the issues they addressed with creating upper limb prosthetics in a medical regulatory environment was particularly interesting–and a powerful application for the public good from 3D printing. I also was interested in the Intellectual Property panel, which focused on issues related to copying or replicating actual objects–particularly commercial products–on home-based printers.  What this panel did not discuss, and I myself did not think about until that evening, were issues that anthropologists and others wrestle with–questions about cultural appropriation (Ziff and Rao 1997).  Unlike most of the people presenting on 3D printing, my focus in the Virtual Curation Laboratory–and that of my students–is not on items that are born digital, e.g. imagined in the mind and then designed within a computer program–but rather with replicating unique archaeological findings.  Some of the artifacts that we have scanned and printed are replicas of the physical remains of disenfranchised people important to the history and heritage of this country, including American Indians subjected to displacement and genocide and Africans enslaved to labor in the fields and homes of wealthy white landowners.

Representative Takano opens the educational panel

Representative Takano opens the educational panel

Probably the panel most relevant to one of our major initiatives in the Virtual Curation Laboratory was the Integrating 3D Printing in the Classroom panel.  The presenters as part of this panel focused on how students become really engaged as the design their own projects, and how the design process teaches them about underlying scientific and mathematical principles.  Students also learn about the link between abstract design and actual application with 3D printing because, well, they can cheaply and inexpensively print their designed pieces and determine whether their designs will work in a real world setting.  I myself have seen how students are drawn to the 3D printing process, and want to learn the principles underlying how 3D printers work.  What the panelists did not consider was the use of 3D printed materials in the classroom, which is what we emphasize in the Virtual Curation Laboratory when we print plastic replicas of archaeological findings–artifictions that we create from artifacts.  I did have the opportunity to address the question of using 3D printed materials in the classroom to the panelists, and some of them then elaborated in the limited time left about the classroom use of printed educational material (mine was the last question possible before we had to move over to the Reyburn building to set up for the evening demonstration and reception).

James Tyrwhitt-Drake and I walking through the halls under the Congressional buildings.

James Tyrwhitt-Drake and I walking through the halls under the Congressional buildings.

As the last panel ended, those participating in the evening demonstration and reception assembled to follow Public Knowledge’s Martyn Griffen through the network of underground tunnels that connected the various Congressional buildings–literal corridors of power–to pick up the material we had dropped off in the morning, and to take it over to the Reyburn building’s Congressional cafeteria.  All of the participants in the evening demonstration moved quickly to set up our tables–I laid out printed replicas of artifacts and animal bones from sites around the region, having carefully selected artifacts from Jamestown, Poplar Forest, George Washington’s Ferry Farm that would highlight the potential of 3D printed materials to teach history, and animal bones from the Virginia Museum of Natural History, to emphasize the scientific aspects of archaeology.  I also set up one of our artifact-themed chess sets. And, all done, with not a moment to spare, as people quickly descended into the demonstration area–these people were very much engaged, and, before I knew it, I was packing up my artifictions at the end of a busy two hours.

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A successful event, although I regret having very limited time to see the amazing things that other people were doing at their tables.

Ctrowdsourced replica of Ben Franklin bust along with my own bust

Ctrowdsourced replica of Ben Franklin bust along with my own bust

Fortunately, we were all able to relax at a reception for participants in 3D/DC 2015 hosted at the Consumer Electronics Association Innovation House.  It was a lovely way to end the day, enjoying a cool evening on the rooftop deck.

bkm__2015-04-29 20.20.02

Reference Cited

Ziff, Bruce and Pratima V. Rao, editors
1991  Borrowed Power: Essays on Cultural Appropriation. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick.



3 thoughts on “3D/DC 2015 and the Printed Past from the Virtual Curation Laboratory

  1. Hello Bernard, Wow! it looks like you had a very interesting and busy experience at the 3D/DC meetings. I loved seeing your own bust in front of Ben Franklin’s. Wish we would have been there to see what other folks are doing in the 3D field. Not only you are a great teacher always looking for ideas how to engage the students but you have such a successful program. Congratulations and great Job!

    Posted by Patti DeBunch | May 8, 2015, 5:41 pm
  2. Reblogged this on Lily Does Archaeology.

    Posted by lilyklep | May 9, 2015, 5:57 am

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