Although scholars recognise the value of digital models for preserving, studying and disseminating cultural heritage, some scholars suggest that these models lack information that can only be obtained through real-world human-object interaction. This opens up a question about the significance of digital object representations in both research and education. Studies demonstrate, in fact, that we do think with objects and that interaction with things is critical when trying to make sense of their use.
Tactile perception of a real-life three dimensional object is usually an active experience involving information gathered from a variety of senses related to touch (such as texture and temperature) as well as movement and position of the hands and fingers during identification. Touch provides an understanding of shape, size, and weight, and it is through this sense that people develop an understanding of other properties such as density, all key properties for the exploration of artefacts. For example, the weight of an object can be critical for determining its function.
The past few years have seen a considerable number of projects incorporating 3D digital reproductions of artefacts in heritage and material culture studies and inside museums. Only a few have explored how people interact with these reproductions and negotiate the absence of authenticity (i.e. the absence of the real object); further, none of these studies compared people’s perception of the same artefacts in different media states, to see if reproductions of artefacts duplicate the cognitive feel of real objects. This comparison is essential to the definition of authenticity, since some scholars, such as Jean Baudrillard (1981), even reject the existence of an objective reality, claiming the inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality (i.e. hyperreality), especially in technologically advanced societies.
DIGIFACT aims to answer three specific research questions:
- How do people experience artefacts exhibited in a museum?
- How do 3D technologies help to overcome the lack or absence of tactile experience with authentic objects in a museum?
- How can 3D replicas be used to help improve visitor experience of authenticity and understanding?
In order to answer these questions, the core of this research will be data collection on how visitors experience the archaeological record in a museum through different media.
Key finds from the World Archaeology collections, made from a range of different materials, will be selected for 3D scanning, so that both scans and 3D printed replicas can be used for experimental work with visitors and focus groups representing a range of the museum’s different constituencies, such as tourists, local visitors, students and researchers, but also artists and makers who regularly work with the material in question.
In order to explore how people perceive museum artefacts through different media, the fellow will videotape volunteer participants at the MAA while they interact with selected artefacts through different forms of media, to see how the medium (e.g. tactile experience vs interaction with 3D virtual copies) influences the way people describe and understand objects:
Medium 1: Real-life Visual: participants will look at the objects located inside a display window, which is the most common experience that people have when visiting an archaeological museum.
Medium 2: 3D Virtual: participants will interact with the 3D copies of objects displayed on an Ipad.
Medium 3: 3D–printed Haptic: participants will touch copies of real-life objects made using 3D printers. The copies will be produced using a Stratasys 3D printer.
Medium 4: 3D Virtual Immersive: participants will interact with the 3D copies of objects displayed on Oculus Rift.
The primary motivation for videotaping people while they describe objects is to identify groups of spontaneous gestures that could be clearly correlated with linguistic information on the artefacts. According to studies of cognitive science, the close synchrony between gesture and speech indicates that the two are inseparable parts of a single thinking process. As a result, a combined study of gestures and speech will allow us to understand how people think with artefacts and their virtual copies.