Digital Humanities Laboratory

Experts study the past and present in new state-of-the-art Digital Humanities Laboratory

Experts are using cutting-edge technologies to study the past and present in a new, state-of-the-art digital humanities laboratory.

The £1.2m new building houses cutting-edge tools so academics can use the latest methods to investigate important historical, literary and visual artefacts. The laboratory, opened today, contains specialist scanning equipment which can create high-resolution 3D models of objects too fragile to be handled, allowing them to be studied in detail and seen by the public for the first time while helping to protecting them for future generations.

The rapid growth in online access to cultural and historical information and new methods of digitization has created new opportunities to study human activity, and challenges. A purpose-built research facility like the Digital Humanities Laboratory allows them to tackle them. 

Another technique supported by the laboratory is photogrammetry, 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.

Delicate or damaged documents can also be recorded, transcribed and explored in the building, including the 10th-century Exeter Book from Exeter Cathedral, recognised by UNESCO as a Global Cultural Artefact and 650 year-old archives from the collection of the Earl of Devon at Powderham Castle. Laboratory staff are working with academics at the University of Exeter and other institutions to compile, analyse archives and make them available, bringing their content to new audiences. As part of a project to understand and map famines in India and Britain between 1550 and 1800 staff in the laboratory worked with more than 700 texts in ten different languages. The laboratory also offers studio space for digital exhibitions, and professional quality video and audio recordings.

Professor Leif Isaksen, newly appointed Professor in Digital Humanities at the University said: “The ways in which information about contemporary and historical culture is produced, consumed and studied are changing rapidly. It is essential that in enjoying the many benefits this brings, we also take heed of the possible dangers. Thinking through the impact of an increasingly digital society, both good and bad, is an essential mission of the new laboratory.”

Date: 23 October 2017

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