No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

By Lina

This week in everyone’s favourite #hist5702x our class focused on the implications of combining historical (and archeological) work with the digital world.  Namely, when we work with tools new to the traditional academe, what becomes of our work?

In class, we took at a look at the terms of service of a few of the apps we’re using for our Air Canada collection project through the Voyant text-mining tool.  This nifty visualizer made it clear that the more you pay for an app, the more control you retain over the products you make with it.  123D Catch, the free app which we are using to make our models, has a sliding scale of how much it “owns” your model.  Augment, who has generously donated space for which one would otherwise pay, doesn’t seem to be interested in retaining any rights over what we upload onto their app.  However, the mere ability to do this kind of 3D modelling in the name of history for free is astounding, considering what some of the authors in our readings this week have endured.

Following our three assigned readings chronologically, it’s plain to see the amount of work past practitioners of DH modelling have put into creating and justifying their projects.  In 2005, Peter Dawson and Richard Levy outlined the incredible innovation and expense that went into recreating a Thule Inuit whalebone house – combining 2D archeological records with 3D scans of a North Atlantic Right Whale skeleton from the New England Aquarium in Boston (the Glenbow Museum has a flash animation of what it may have looked like here).  In 2009, Robert Warden outlined the brave new world of heritage conservation that terrestrial laser scanning and photogrammetry has afforded – a brave new world where equipment doesn’t come on the cheap.  However, David Crandall and Noah Snavely outlined in their 2011 article how they were able to create maps and models from mining free, open photo-sharing websites like Flickr and Facebook.  For those of us (cough, me) familiar with iDevices, the idea of not being able to do this kind of work for free definitely makes you (cough, me) thank your (cough, my) lucky stars that we came to these kinds of technologies much later in the game than our academic predecessors.  (Cough.)

But as they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.  Although the software we are using for this project is free, the models and manuscript that come out of it may not be ours and ours alone.  Is this ok?  For our prototype, probably yes.  For future distribution of this kind of work in the museum?  This we don’t really know yet.

(It sure is fun though.)

This post originally appeared on The Recorded North