Th Future of the Virtual Past

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Th Future of the Virtual Past

December 9 @ 8:00 am December 10 @ 5:00 pm EET

Among the enduring challenges in art and architectural history is the reconstruction of the
physical form, experience, and context of artworks and buildings in the historic past. Over time, sculpture, paintings, and furnishings have been altered and dislodged from their original locations; the uses and meanings that once animated them have evolved; and the architecture and urban environments that contain them have been radically transformed by additions and demolitions. The shift towards understanding the context, experience and reception of artefacts and buildings in art historical research places ever greater emphasis on recovering the ‘original’, ‘intended’ state of a monument, as well as its subsequent transformations and shifts in meaning. The expanding field of Digital Art History will play a key part in realizing these trends, not only in the presentation or visualization of data but ideally as a tool for generating new research findings that transcend the limits of conventional academic work. Practices of mapping and modelling, in particular, are facilitating a richer understanding of the spatial relationships between artworks, buildings and urban contexts, and a substantial reassessment of diachronic change at different spatial scales. Aided by the rapid development in computational tools, the dissemination of software and hardware, and shifts in institutional and funding priorities, an array of collaborative projects and research groups are now established in the field. But fragmentation, especially in the choice of digital methodologies and data architecture, risks preventing or diluting the paradigm shift promised by pilot projects and ever-more widely available digital tools. The capacity of visualizations to convey paradata, both in terms of original source material and interpretative processes, hinders their utility as research platforms. To gain widespread acceptance, visualizations must be able to articulate the same nuances of doubt, uncertainty and hypothesis that we associate with a traditional academic article, supported by footnotes and other accepted forms of scholarly apparatus, and sealed by the gold-standard of peer review. This workshop will bring together leading projects in the field from the UK and German
research areas, together with other specialists from the US, Italy and Eastern Europe, to achieve a critical mass amongst DAH modelling and mapping projects in the Medieval and Early Modern periods. Our key aim is to establish a network, or consortium, of projects working in different areas but with shared challenges. The network will provide a framework for advancing shared methodologies and protocols, developing best practice and offering a degree of peer review currently lacking in the field. The need for shared standards in the visualization of cultural heritage has long been recognized – attempts to establish them date back to the London Charter (2006) and Seville Principles (2011) – but practice remains diverse and uncoordinated. The challenge is now becoming more urgent, as the emergence of data ontologies like CIDOCCRM open new opportunities for projects to communicate with one another, but only if they are conceived and built with this potential in mind from the bottom up. There is a strong rationale for our focus on art and architecture of the Medieval and Early
Modern eras: periods particularly fruitful for such interdisciplinary inquiry. Unlike artifacts from antiquity, physical remains from the Middle Ages and Early Modern period are often attended by a sizeable documentary corpus. Digital methods of documentation, reconstruction, and analysis can thus be enriched by textual tools of philology and archival study. Accordingly, we will interrogate the degree to which new technologies may work in tandem with traditional humanistic interpretation and method to reconstruct not only the physical state of historical artifacts and spaces, but also their iconography and ritual uses. Among the issues that our workshop will address are the analysis and visualization of incomplete or uncertain data; the clash between linear narratives and the expanding possibilities of network analysis; the understanding of lost architectural structures and their function; and critical approaches to patternization. In particular, we aim to address and encompass a number of emerging methodologies for the viewing and annotation of 3D models, for example Historical BIM and prototype IIIF-3D viewers, and to assess current approaches to the integration of 2D geo-data and 3D visualization. The workshop will be led by Cambridge and the Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max-Planck Institut für Kunstgeschichte. The Hertziana hosts a number of significant digital humanities projects, including the ‘Mapping Sacred Spaces’ project with La Sapienza University of Rome. Cambridge participants will include digital specialists from Cambridge Digital Humanities (CDH), the Fitzwilliam Museum, as well as the team from the Florence 4D mapping and modelling project, a collaboration between the University of Exeter and Cambridge. Beyond establishing a network, an important goal of this event is to sow the seed for future collaborations at a deeper level. And in a still-emerging field, in which the standards are still evolving, it would offer the chance to build an international network for sharing best practices.


Event schedule:
Part I: Online Workshop, 9-10 December 2021
To be held virtually, 2 x 1.5 hour Zoom calls.
Participants to present short 10-15 minute presentations, outlining their thoughts on the
conference themes. Presentations can reflect on current methodologies, signal best practice,
highlight challenges, or present recent project work. The conference consciously brings
together humanities scholars and digital humanists with data and modelling specialists.
Presentations may deal with either technical or humanities challenges.
Thursday 9 December
15.00-16.30 Cyprus time
14.00-15.30 German/Italian time
13.00-14.30 UK time
08.00-09.30 US Eastern Standard Time
Friday 10 December
16.30-18.00 Cyprus time
15.30-17.00 German/Italian time
14.30-16.00 UK time
09.30-11.00 US Eastern Standard Time
The virtual workshop will help us to define the themes for the main conference…


Part II: Conference and Planning Meeting, 27-28 June 2022
The in-person meeting will take place in Cambridge over two days 27-28 June, hosted by Jesus
College, St John’s College and the Faculty of Architecture and History of Art. The public
conference on Monday 27 June will be held in the Frankopan Hall at Jesus College. A closed
planning meeting will follow at St John’s College on Tuesday 28 June. All travel costs for
participants are covered and three nights of accommodation in Cambridge are provided for
participants travelling from outside the UK.

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