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Credit: Graham Fereday and Richard Webb, University of Exeter Digital Humanities Team.

A scanned 3D model of a censer from the Monastery of Mar Musa al-Habashi in Syria with early Christian iconography

New laboratories to preserve precious artefacts for the future

University of Exeter experts will be able to examine and preserve important historical objects thanks to a new £1.2m Digital Humanities research space.

The investment in the Digital Humanities laboratories will allow researchers to use high-tech equipment to find out more about our cultural heritage and creative past and share their discoveries with the public. The laboratory will confirm the University of Exeter’s position at the forefront of international research into historical and cultural artefacts.

In the space, researchers will have the opportunity to curate digital exhibitions, carry out 2D and 3D digitisation, and create professional quality video and audio recordings. They will be able to create digital facsimiles of the objects, allowing them to be handled and understood in a virtual space, protecting the original artefacts for future generations. Researchers will be able to carry out high-resolution photography of manuscripts and other visual materials, and to record podcasts and videos for broadcasting.

The laboratory, based in the Queen’s Building on the Streatham campus, is due to open in early 2017. Facilities include 3D digitisation labs to enable the capture of objects using 3D scanning and photogrammetry, a technique that involves taking multiple photographs of an object from a range of angles. Software is then used to identify common points on each of the photos, which are analysed to produce a 3D model. This has already proved invaluable for the study of fragile and fragmentary skulls from the Ipplepen field school archaeological dig, run by Exeter Archaeology in conjunction with the British Museum and local authorities.

Digital Humanities is increasingly important in all areas of humanities research, including history, archaeology, literatures and languages. It involves the capture, preservation and publication of primary sources and the collection and interpretation of a wide variety of data. The University of Exeter’s investment will allow new activities and training to take place, and ensure that Digital Humanities can be incorporated into undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and research.

University of Exeter researchers are using Digital Humanities methods in collaborative projects with The British Museum, Archives des Musées Nationaux in the Louvre, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Exeter Cathedral Archives, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter City Football Club, Exeter School and The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum.

Recent work includes the building of a repository of multi-lingual documents translating first-hand accounts of the First World War, a database that provides insight into how Soviet-era poets are viewed in Russia today. It also includes searchable database of works exhibited and rejected by the official art exhibition of the French Academy of Fine Arts, as well as a digital archive giving access to Aramaic incantation bowls that reveal new evidence of cultural and religious interaction in the 6th and 7th centuries A.D.

Professor James Clark, Associate Dean for Research in the College of Humanities, said: “University of Exeter researchers carry out world-leading studies in archaeology, history, languages, literature, the performing arts and religion and these facilities will enable them to apply the latest methods to make new discoveries.

“The labs will also be a space in which a rich variety of rare cultural artefacts may be seen at close hand – and better understood - by the wider public and there will be a rolling programme of of events and exhibitions.”

Date: 8 April 2016

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