3D Modelling and Getting to ‘Know’ Your Artifacts

By saramnixon

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Trans-Canada Airlines/ Air Canada Flight Attendant Suitcase, 1961.

After spending so much time reading, thinking and sharing ideas about digital history and its possibilities for our Air Canada augmented reality project, yesterday the #hist5702x team got our first taste at actually doing digital history. We visited the Canada Science and Technology Museum to photograph the selected Air Canada artifacts for 3D modelling. Having practiced using the 123D Catch app, our class knew enough to take many detailed images of the object from all angles in order to build a complete three-dimensional model digitally. What strikes me about working with the artifacts in this way is that I able to ‘get to know’ my artifacts quite intimately. After doing extensive secondary research on the history of Trans-Canada Airlines and Air Canada and the experiences of flight attendants in the 1960s, it was exciting to actually handle the uniforms, gloves, caps and handbags of former flight attendants from this time period. Photographing and handling these objects not only connected me, as the historian, to the past the objects represented, to the materiality of physical objects themselves as well. I became more aware of the types of fabric used, the colours and how they have faded over time, the folds and creases that signify the objects’ wear, the signature marks of the designers and even the surprisingly small sizes of the uniforms and gloves. I began to physically and materially ‘know’ these objects.

The real challenge however, is reconstructing and presenting these objects three-dimensionally so that others can ‘get to know’ the artifacts as I have. As I have noted in other posts, this is where I see the value of digital history. The process in itself again allows the digital historian to further get to know the objects they are working with. As I uploaded the images I took to my laptop, I then had to edit and select the images I thought would best create a 3D model in 123D Catch. Of course, this took multiple tries. Still, my most successful attempt of a flight attendant suitcase was not complete model, the object is missing its back side! I am frustrated that I took so many images of this object and ended up with a 3D model with gaps and holes. I do not understand why!

And this is where I see the problem with digital technology and applications. There is no guarantee that the 3D models the #hist5702x team creates will actually work. Most of our first attempts to model the artifacts over the past day have not been successful. Digital applications can be unreliable and inconsistent, and this can be frustrating for historians who are so used to the comfort and safeness of traditional history writing. We cannot control digital technology like we can the papers we write. I am uncomfortable with this.

However, I have started to appreciate that working with these digital technologies also invites a lot of collaboration and sharing of ideas and methods among fellow digital historians. I have already had a few conversations with other #hist5702x friends sharing the issues we have encountered and discussing ways these can be fixed. Having these conversations has also invited me to get to know the objects from the Air Canada collection that my classmates are working with as well. These kinds of conversations do not necessarily happen in a class where we write traditional history papers. There is a lot more active learning here, and this is exciting! Furthermore, working through the problems we are encountering is just another way to get to know and understand the objects we are working with more intimately as digital historians.

Source: Sara