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VCU Archaeology

Jedi Master of 3-D Printing: Creating Access Passes to the Past

by Bernard K. Means

The Virtual Curation Laboratory was established over four years ago with the intent not only of preserving the past through digital means–namely three-dimensional (3D) object scanning–but also making it more accessible.  3D digital models are a major “access pass” to the past, democratizing who–and how–people interact with humanity’s long cultural heritage.  Recently, we began working with the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) to develop accessible material for visually impaired individuals and any others who want to make a tactile connection to the past.  This is something that I have been interested in doing for some time; in fact, the week before I was contacted by Andy Talkov, VHS’s Vice President of Programs, I had managed to make an artifact plaque that had an embedded wig hair curler from George Washington’s Ferry Farm, raised lettering noting that this was a wig hair curler, and Braille text that reflected the writing.  What I did not know was whether this interpretative creation would be meaningful to a visually impaired person.

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Fortunately, Andy knew a young visually impaired woman, Kimmy Drudge, and we were able to ask her what she made of the wig hair curler with text, as well as what she thought a host of other objects.  This has been covered quite well in recent news stories, so I will direct you to the references section of this post.  I am particularly taken with Kimmy’s characterization of me as  “The Jedi Master of 3-D printing” (McNeill 2016).  I look forward to working with VHS as we develop more material from their collection for the visually impaired visitors to their museum, and to learning more from Kimmy as well.


Calos, Katherine
2016    VCU and Richmond museum use 3-D printing to help blind visitors ‘see’ history. Richmond Times-Dispatch, published on February 18, 2016. Electronic document, http://www.richmond.com/entertainment/arts-theater/article_56f970c8-c2be-52a3-b295-8c0accac5af4.html, accessed February 20, 2016.

Killgrove, Kristina
2016    21st Century Archaeology is Something Out of Sci-Fi. Forbes.com, posted February 19. Electronic document, http://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinakillgrove/2016/02/19/21st-century-archaeology-is-something-out-of-sci-fi/#659940fce65b, accessed February 20, 2016.

Machacek, Rachel
2016    Feeling History. VCU Across the Spectrum, posted February 19. Electronic document, http://www.spectrum.vcu.edu/insight/feeling-history/, accessed February 20, 2016.

McNeill, Brian
2016    3-D-printed artifacts — and George Washington’s signature — give the blind and visually impaired a chance to feel history at Richmond museum. VCU News, posted February 18. Electronic document, https://news.vcu.edu/article/3Dprinted_artifacts__and_George_Washingtons_signature__give_the, accessed February 20, 2016.

Scott, Clare
2016    3D Printing Allows Visually Impaired to Experience Museums in a New Way. 3DPrint.com, posted February 19. Electronic document, http://3dprint.com/120464/visually-impaired-museums/, accessed February 20, 2016.


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