Digital Heritage: Using Technology to Build Heritage Advocacy

A 333Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

The most fundamental key to cultural heritage preservation is advocacy. Without it, there will be no support, no funds, and no one to care for the built remains of our human story. Getting younger generations to advocate for cultural heritage is a daunting task; just ask National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis who once said, "There are times when it seems as if the national parks have never been more passé than in the age of the iPhone."

Yet despite the distractions of iPhones, it may be new tools such as the 3D scanning technologies currently creating a paradigm shift in heritage management, that actually hold the key to unlocking the advocacy of the next generation.

CyArk’s Technology Center program trains and collaborates with schools. In 2012 our first high school Tech Center was established at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School (SYVUHS). The SYVUHS students have since helped their community by digitally preserving the Santa Ines Mission and the historic Dana Adobe nearby. In February 2014, CyArk trained teachers from Mid-Pacific Institute (MPI) in Hawai’i. MPI students will now work with CyArk to digitally preserve Honouliuli, a WWII Japanese American Confinement Site (JACS) on Oahu. The MPI class project will share the stories of the unlawful incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII.

In April, CyArk joined with Sonoma Valley High School (SVHS), California State Parks, and supportive local Sonoma community members to provide a hands-on seminar in digital preservation for SVHS’ Engineering Pathway students. The "History in 3D" seminar taught students laser scanning skills in the field at the Blue Wing Inn, a historic adobe in Sonoma associated with the Sonoma Mission and El Camino Real de California. Students spent two days scanning with a FARO Focus3D scanner and two days learning data registration using Autodesk ReCap.

The Blue Wing Inn was likely built in the 1830s and for over 150 years it evolved from a single room adobe to a large two-story structure. It housed families, travelers, gold miners, a saloon, an antique store, and more. In the late 1990s the building’s deteriorating condition forced its closure. A survey showed it needed seismic retrofitting before it could be re-occupied. The 3D data captured is being archived by CyArk and CA State Parks will have it for use in restoration planning.

These engaging projects are creating work-based learning experiences for high school students and providing hands-on time with hardware and software utilized by an ever-growing 3D data capture market. Students even learned some local history in the process. Most were negligibly aware of the Blue Wing. Now, they’ve been inside, they’ve heard the stories of the place, and they can claim to be a part of its preservation. 3D technology is their interface with history and it can build their advocacy for heritage. Hearing students’ feedback on the experience gives us hope that the very digital tools that draw the attention of the next generation might also be the saving grace for heritage. As more than one student said, "This is so cool."

Justin Barton is an archaeologist with a specialization in terrestrial LiDAR applications for cultural heritage conservation and management. Follow him on Twitter @JustinScans.

A 333Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE