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This wiki space contains archival documentation of Project Bamboo, April 2008 - March 2013.

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Sharing Research with Students

Collection Date: April 10, 2009
Scholar #1 Info: (if more than one scholar's process is described, copy this set for each scholar)

  • Name: Whitney Davis
  • Email:
  • Title: Professor of Art History
  • Institution/Organization: UC Berkeley
  • Field of Study/Creative Endeavor: History & Theory of Ancient & Modern Art

Collector Info (can be the same as "Scholar" above):

  • Name: Connor Riley
  • Email:
  • Title: Graduate Student Researcher, School of Information
  • Institution/Organization: University of California, Berkeley

Notes on Methodology:

The collectors recorded this interview; delineated various workflows discussed in the interview and wrote them using quotes from the interview. These were then reviewed and edited by the interviewee before being posted.


The scope section is provided by the collector, with input from the scholar(s), and attempts to estimate the scope of the group that performs the processes described: How broadly do the practices described in this narrative apply to others in same field, in related fields, etc?

  1. In the opinion of the scholar, who participates in the process the story describes?
    (e.g. "just this scholar", "many people in the scholar's field of inquiry", "all academics", etc.)
  2. What is this process intended to accomplish for the scholar?
  3. Who is the intended audience of the processes described?
  4. Is this the only process the scholar uses to accomplish his/her goals?
  5. What "shared services" would help transform the story into something of more benefit for the scholar or his/her audience?  What process or processes in the story could be automated?


Please provide some keywords that will allow us to group or cluster related stories--or aspects of stories.

1. Was this story collected for a particular Bamboo working group?  If so, please include, as keywords, the appropriate group(s).

  • Education
  • Institutional Support
  • Scholarly Networking
  • Shared Services
  • Scholarly Narratives
  • Tools and Content Partners

2. Suggested keywords: Does this narrative contain elements that could be mapped to these keywords?  If so, please indicate which ones and briefly describe the mapping.  Add any additional keywords in #3. (These are global keywords from this page keywords)

3. Please list additional keywords here:


Much of my current research is in using 2D and 3D imaging technology to recreate historical artworks or archaeological sites and the experience of seeing these sites in a historical context. In particular, advanced photogrammetric digital photography (which often depends on returning to the original works and sites to secure images) enables reconstructions, static or animated, that embed complete metric information, or enable metrical reconstructions. These can be correlated with original metrological, proportional, optical-geometric, or other algorithms that were used (historians believe) to construct and to understand the works and sites at the time that they were made and used. (The numerical, proportional, and algorithmic basis of ancient and non-Western arts is well understood, but the systems in question were not explicitly algebraic-geometrical or "digital," the twin bases of 3D virtualization programs in the modern West.) The goal of this research is to be able to see sites as they were meant to be seen in their own time, but through eyes other than our own. The theoretical challenge is that there is no special reason to believe that other visual systems than modern Western visuality could have seen the visual orders that we use to try to capture and analyze previous or other visualities. For example, no other visuality than the modern Western one uses 3D coordinate or point space (so-called Cartesian space) to control the construction of quasi-perspectival pictures. And yet such coordinate space is the very basis of all present-day 2D and 3D imaging technologies mediated by digital coding and electronic computation. Other visual systems have used metrologies, proportional systems, or projection systems that are far removed from 3D coordinate or point space. And it is these systems that our own photogrammetry, digital-computation reconstruction of optical perspectives, and numerical analysis is now supposed to capture, to assess, and to interpret. This method, though ubiquitous in contemporary "new-media" analysis of cultural and historical artifacts, is tendentious. What are we doing to devise "new media" for the representation of artifacts made without Western (Cartesian) presumptions? I conceive our research as a critical examination of the relevance of new imaging technologies in the understanding of visual worlds produced without our technical basis. We do not assume the relevance. In fact, frequently we discover the problems and dangers of digital imaging. In Muslim cultures, for example, figuration is barred, at least in contexts of religious display---though it is figuration (the representation of space, objects, and people) that is the highest priority of 21st century Western imaging technology (e.g., in Hollywood FX, in gaming, and even in CAD). What are the religious repercussions of using a figure-generating imaging technology to produce images? Conversely, what algorithms might present substantial alternatives to Cartesian point space? Why should Cartesian imaging technologies in the West dominate our teaching of visual cultures worldwide? 

By reconstructing past or nondigitally-mediated visual worlds with modern (digital) imaging technology, we both explore new ways of looking at sites, which have never been available before, and the implications-positive and negative-of using ubiquitous modern technology to display works of art. Students, for instance, find the use of modern imaging technology very vivid, as it speaks to their current use of technology. They are much more accustomed to looking at a screen then they are accustomed to viewing paintings in a museum, so introducing a new way of looking by means of a known one can be very effective. On the other hand, these new ways of looking can be highly misleading-indeed, culturally inappropriate. Many students are deeply invested in new media and in digitally-imaged representations of artworks, sites, and, of course, people, around the world. But this perspective is limited. How can we use new imaging technologies as it were "against the grain"-to show, for example, how they often fail to represent the most important visual aspects of many artworks or sites in many cultural traditions? How can we use digital media to inform students that ioften the analog media produce better images of, and are culturally better calibrated to, the originals? (Analog photographs and slides, let alone in-situ sketches or drawings, are terra incognita to many students, who expect to use 3D digital-image virtualizations, but as an art historian I am obliged to introduce them to these unfamiliar, but often very powerful, modes of visual understanding.)  

These are complicated questions that involve detailed demonstrations of the pros and cons of both digital imaging technologies and previous or alternative analog modes, ideally accompanied by sophisticated, culturally informed discussion of the historical contexts of alternate visual cultures. In particular, it is necessary to juxtapose contemporary virtualiizations produced by new technology and virtualizations-or "real things"-produced by the cultures under investigation. But how are we to do this when all cultural materials around the world are being rendered in a digitized virtuality? How do we preserve the diversity of visual worlds, both historically and today, when there is only one visual world-one overall system of visually virtualizing objects and space-to deploy?

Unfortunately, I can only share about 20% of my team's work with undergraduate students. For graduate students who work with me, it is much easier to get them set up with a laptop equipped with the specialized software needed to view the data, and, I hope, to apply various programs that result in different kinds of analysis of the analog and digital data. As graduate students in art history, they are already being trained in the existence of many historical systems of visualization and virtuality, and can work with me on historical and theoretical questions. But for larger groups of undergraduates, the university has fewer resources for displaying three-dimensional and animated digital works in constant, direct, active juxtaposition with nondigital materials-analog photographs (usually mediated in the form of slide), works of sketching or calligraphy (usually to be consulted only in the museums and libraries of campus), and, of course, the real-time, real-spatial phenomenology of seeing and using artifacts in class. We need classrooms that function as "image labs" that are not limited simply to digital scans of images in turn projected by digital projectors (usually of such poor quality that they cannot even represent the power of digital imaging techology to reproduce, or represent, a rich analog photograph!) and that allow for the introduction of entirely alternate imaging technologies into the students' experience. Of course, high-end digital projection technology is coming into the classrooms. But often the layout or lighting in the room is not optimal for displaying work that needs to be seen from a certain angle or in total darkness. These are not trivial considerations. Worldwide and transhistorically, most artworks were made to be seen from a particular visual angle. Point-space imaging technology certainly enables a virtual reconstruction of this vantage---a huge, impressive achievement. But a rich digital virtualization of an original visual vantage-point (as good, or maybe better, than analog photographs of the same view) must nonetheless be compared to nondigital representations that might do a better job in relevant cultural terms. How can this dialog be staged in the laboratory of the classroom? Any ambitious and forward-looking university would create a lab, suitable for a large class, that would enable, that would frontload, these debates. (We could, for example, be partnering with the University Library and with the campus museums to create lab spaces in these contexts.) Sad to say, my university is often missing in action-and not because of its technical investment as such but because of the relative lack of cultural and historical awareness about the cultural and historical diversity of imaging among the technologists and technocrats who seem to drive decision-making.

One possible direction of solution to these mundane logistical problems is to move some undergraduate classes online. In that context, students might share, display, and critique the digital materials (including proposed digital reproductions of analog pictures and reconstructions of sites that were made without digital mediation); if they have sufficient computing power (not to be taken for granted), they can view the data on their laptops from any location. (At the moment, some of the key software is licensed to run only on two sufficiently powerful computers in the New Media lab, but these are under constant heavy pressure of use by many clients.) There is currently an effort at Berkeley to do this sort of thing. Four large classes offer online summer sessions; they pose a problem, however, in that students have limited social interaction with the professor and with each other. Moreover, so far as I know these classes have so far refrained from complex debative or dialectical courses about the very nature, implications, and value of the technology; the assumption seems to be that the technology is valuable, and the pedagogical issues are merely logistical. This is naïve and unscholarly. Technical support is also a concern; graduate students I work with can usually manage amongst each other for solving software problems, and may be able to ask people in other departments (usually Architecture) who have experience with these high-end software packages for training or advice. If undergraduates were expected to set up their laptops, even in a basic way, to view our projects, they would probably need some support resources as well. At the most basic level, the research that my grad students can envision doing is limited by the availability of the high-end digital-photogrammetric camera-computer that we typically would use to produce the metricized reconstructions. It costs well over $100K and currently we collaborate with a project at Columbia University that allows us some use of its equipment.

The bottom line seems to be that my university would like to invest in the digital mediation and representation of virtually all information that is transmitted to undergraduates. So what else is new? The University of Phoenix is way ahead of the game. This strategy would lower costs for the university, and it would probably galvanize current generations of undergraduates. But it is not academically sound, robust, or diverse enough; it does not sufficiently challenge students on the very ground that they have made their own. What is my university doing technologically to support a longer-range, culturally more diverse agenda in imaging? Pretty much nothing, so far.


Moving the course online seems like an effective way to ensure that all students have the resources required; namely, a computer capable of running our software. Moving courses online is not a perfect solution, however, and it might suit our needs more to find a way to integrate online content with real-world lectures or discussion sections. This would probably require that we find some way of accommodating students who do not have the necessary computer resources, as it might be tricky to require everyone taking the class to own a computer that meets certain requirements. 

We would require lightweight, easy-to-use software that allows students to view these digital artifacts without incurring the huge licensing costs normally associated with the 3D imaging software. Also, we would need to either offer technical support or guides ourselves, or work with other IT support groups to make sure students got the necessary support in case of problems. 

Other Comments:

The information below was comprised when transcribing the interview, to make sure pieces were not missing.  If it is unhelpful, please disregard.


Graduate students: 
With help of professor or other research assistants, get a laptop with proper software licenses. Invest in core equipment, e.g., photogrammetrically capable cameras or survey stations.
Ask other research assistants or people in other departments for software training 

Undergraduate students: 
Professor requests classroom with proper resources when setting up class 
If possible, professor requests funding for new resources for classroom 
Students view research in classroom, possibly under sub-optimal conditions

Ingredients: Tools and Content
3D modeling software
Complex 3D models
Model viewing software
Digital projectors



Example Link