I find the readings to revolve around these three main topics: Mediation, hierarchy, and authorship.
What is currently presented in the humanities derives from reasoned evidence and argument (Bonde, Houston, p. 4), but we can not avoid the fact that the appearance of what we present will be characterized by a certain visual quality. The inability to escape a visual quality will intrinsically frame our visualization within a certain time period (our contemporary digital representation era) which seems to devalue the efforts carried out in order to make the representation itself. One way to solve this problem could be to render the visualization in a way which is as close as possible to the actual object while avoiding the digital outlook of colors, beveled surface, glossy patterns and sharp geometry.
Naturally, we must ask ourselves what does the actual object really look like? A series of accurate hypothesis might arrive at different answers (claims) to this question. In fact, Favro says “the greater the quest for realism in digital reconstructions, greater is the incorporation of hypothetical features” (Favro, ”Se non e’ vero e’ ben trovato”, p. 274). The quest for veracity in appearance, subconsciously, if not consciously, equates with newness (…) crisp quality of the image results in blurring temporal specificity and valuation of buildings and cities as living things while a painting or a photograph reflects the building with its time properties (even if mediated by the painter or by the camera) (Favro, ib., p. 273).
In his essay “The World on a Flat Surface: Maps from the Archeology of Greece and Beyond“ Christopher L. Witmore affirms that “we are so accustomed to a system of representation where accuracy rests upon a faithful and detailed relationship to the things shown”. But then he warns: “Accuracy can only be assessed in the light of the purposes for which the representation is intended” (in Bonde, Houston, p. 132-133). Therefore, it is better to think of archeological work as a fundamentally transforming mediation or translation, work done in the spaces between past and present (Shanks, Webmoor in Bonde, Houston, p. 96). A representation is simply a claim (Houston, p. 35). In conclusion, can we consider the claim as “the view from nowhere” and study the representation consciously based on a bias?
Here is a link to another example of 3-D technology used on an archeological site in Rome: Palazzo Valentini. Remains of two Roman domus are in the basement of a building built in the sixteenth century, which has been in use ever since. The integration between ruins and 3-D projections with sound makes the visitor’s experience quite unique for a place that is several feet underground with no natural light. The status of conservation of certain mosaics and floors also helps! The difference between what is there (as original artifact) and the augmented reality is made very clear. Nonetheless it doesn’t diminish the importance of the original, but it certainly re-activates the history.
The question of who can give voice, where and for whom, and who can listen and reply is still in place (Shanks, Webmoor in Bonde, Houston, p. 107). The “view from nowhere” remains the goal, but is it applicable? Shanks and Webmoor affirm that such a conception of knowledge is very difficult to get to work (p. 95), but getting it to work might not be the goal. The idea that truth is a passive-copy of what is “really” (mind-independently, discourse-independently) “there” has collapsed under the critic of Kant, Wittgenstein, and other philosophers, even if it continues to have a deep hold on our thinking (Hilary Putnam cited by Shanks and Webmoor, ib., . p. 95) and methodology.
For instance, to doubt that representation is a valid form of research and teaching, it means ignoring the effectiveness of its benefits in terms of immediacy, interactions, active response and sensorial cognition, and furthermore it means avoiding the potential of analyzing a subject via a non-linear narrative. As Janet Murray and Tom Taylor have noted, virtual reality offers the possibility to generate narratives with tactile, olfactory and auditory information (Bonnet); it becomes possible to consider the fourth dimension. Trained to document hard evidence, archeologists (but also other humanists) do not have a scholarly apparatus with which to evaluate smells, sounds, or haptic responses, nor to access ancient moods and memories (Favro, in Bonde, Houston, p. 154). Popular technology (whose use some archeologists as well as some humanists seem to be reluctant) came to be valued for their capacity to augment the human senses and inscribe what they registered at the boundaries of human perception (Shanks, Webmoor in Bonde, Houston, p. 96). Bonnet also speaks of documents that are visual, as opposed to textual. I found this crucial. The visual aspect of these representations, not only for teaching purposes, but for research purposes, must be given attention. Images as well as other forms of knowledge can spur non-linear narratives more effectively than text. From his experiment, Bonnett says that his students learned four main lessons:
1) Evidence is subject to misinterpretation (which goes back to mediation, but it is also important for non-linear narrative). The initial interpretation of a document may not always match the intent of the original author, Bonnet continues.
2) Evidence is incomplete (which again links back to the “hypothetical features” Favro talks about).
3) Scenarios in which there is an absence of evidence gains importance. Bonnet further emphasizes that they nevertheless go on to produce fully-formed representations of the past. They do so by applying an accepted solution, namely informing their audience of the problem, and making an informed guess as to the probable content of the gap, based on a reading of the historical context of the time.
4) More information can be garnered when an item of evidence is interpolated with other source material. The final product is then never really “final” (which implies a discussion over authorship and a debate over hierarchy: who implements the work?)
The aim is to help students realize an important concept about historical representations, namely that they are models, models that are imperfect representations of the objects they purport to represent. (Bonnet)
I think 3-D immersive representation or simply 3-D modeling are great teaching tools. Teachers should have the opportunity to use them and engage the students through them. At the same time, students should also have the opportunity to interact (actively) with this tool. I think a possible dangerous consequence of students using the 3-D technology passively (by re-enacting the same looping video over and over, for example) will devaluate the tool itself which will be perceived as just gaming. On this regard Bonnet says VectorWorks, a complex CAD (computer aided drawing) modeling package, takes two to four weeks of sustained effort to master prior to beginning an independent project. For many of his students, it was not a price they were willing to pay, since they desired a more immediate return for their effort. For participating history instructors, the software was also a source of concern, the cost in time learning the software outweighed the value gained from the exercise. For the present they have an instruction program that is better suited for a fourth year university seminar than a high school class.
I would then propose to divide the class in two parts: history methodology where the 3-D technology is taught; and history where the 3-D product is used as a learning device. Regardless, I would not use the 3-D technology without allowing students an opportunity for active engagement, otherwise the tool will just reinforce hierarchy and diminish the research purposes and learning potential.
In his conclusion, Bonnet reads: “historians should appropriate conventions derived from popular culture, like François Rabelais, and specifically the convention that distributes authorship of a virtual space”. In fact, “the presentation and evaluation of findings are likewise becoming more mobile as the fixed, individually-authored reconstruction and accompanying monograph is replaced by an evolving, collaboratively-created digital knowledge platform.” (Favro, in Bonde, Houston, p. 166) Even when the work is final and we visualize a map, a timeline, or a 3-D immersive video, our product can still be improved by enriching content, layers and options and brought to another level of research. It remains open.
Overall, I think using 3-D technology for teaching or more importantly, for research purposes, can provide fodder for new methodology. Only by using it, by exploiting its potential and by cooperating with technicians, graphic designers and software programmers will a product be developed that will serve and foster our research and maybe discover new paradigm(s).