Wales’ Digital Past
How many countries can claim to have heritage interpretation as a government priority? As far as I am aware the answer is just one – Wales.
Dave Penberthy, Head of Interpretation at Cadw, proudly boasted this claim on the opening day of the annual ‘Digital Past’ conference in Wales. He went on to explain how the subsequent pan-Wales interpretation plans have allowed a co-ordinated approach to interpretation that ignores municipal boundaries.
Cadw, which means ‘to keep’ (and not Come and do Wales!) could be an acronym for ‘Championing a Digital Wales’, with one important caveat: ‘how’ the project is delivered comes after the ‘who, what, why, where, when’. Something echoed throughout the event.
Some mobile experiences have been tainted because they have been technology, rather than content, led. Often this is the result of IT companies, with little or often no interpretation background, wowing potential clients with their latest offering. A similar principle can be applied to panels (although not the fault of IT companies!).
The Digital Past conference, run by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, showcases innovative digital technologies for data capture, interpretation and dissemination of heritage sites and artefacts.
Now in its fifth year, the conference was held in Monmouth, the world’s first Wikipedia town. Over 1000 QR codes adorn listed buildings, lamp posts, shop windows and museum cases across the town and link to multi-language-supported content – although interestingly, not Welsh!
Co-founder of the Monmouthpedia project was John Cummins. He also addressed 3D printing, which has already been deployed in several successful projects to support conservation, transport and engagement with collections. Take, for example, the work done by Loughborough University using 3D printing to help conserve the beautiful collections of the Forbidden City Palace Museum in Beijing. Such replicas could be sent to schools (pre-visit) or ordered by visitors as they peruse a museum collection. Printer costs have reduced dramatically and kit form versions are available for as little as £500.
John also touched on DIY 3D Modelling. With a digital camera, a computer and a piece of free software (such as www.123dapp.com) you can digitise artefacts and even buildings with excellent results.
At the other end of the cost spectrum 3Deep Media illustrated how their background in the gaming industry enabled them to bring the shipwrecks of Scapa Flow to life. For those who think that the idea of diving into cold and murky Scottish waters is a visitor experience too far, then the www.scapaflowwrecks.com website allows you to see this marine graveyard in all its glory, from a drier vantage point. Mike Postins went on to explain how a full immersive experience, using an X-box controller, allows you to ‘swim’ around each of the wrecks.
Another fascinating project that heavily borrows from the gaming world is the Lost city of Clonmacnoise app. Clever use of 3D rendering has allowed the recreation of the whole 9th century Irish city in a little over 50mb.
These were just some of the highlights of a very interesting conference where the importance of community involvement at all stages of an interpretative project were a key underlying sub-theme.