Augmented digital representations of cultural heritage enabling interactive virtual museums
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Sussex
Unit of AssessmentComputer Science and Informatics
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
History and Archaeology: Curatorial and Related Studies
Summary of the impact
Research at Sussex has enabled the development of interactive virtual
museums, which include the Church of Santa Chiara in the Victoria and
Albert Museum`s Medieval and Renaissance Galleries, and Sierra Leone
digital collections both online and also recently exhibited at the British
Museum. These developments apply Internet, XML, 3D visualisation and
database technologies in novel ways. Impacts of the research are social
and cultural, through support for social cohesion and the public`s greater
awareness and understanding of their cultural heritage; impacts are also
in the area of public services, by enabling 2017memory institutions` to
improve their service delivery by increasing the global reach of their
exhibits and the depth of their engagement with visitors.
The digital heritage research outlined in this case study was led at the
University of Sussex by Dr Martin White (Research Fellow 1994-1995,
Lecturer 1995-1998, Senior Lecturer 1998-2003, Reader 2003-) and was
funded by the EU FP5 programme and, more recently, through third-stream
University consultancy activities, the Technology Strategy Board, and the
Arts and Humanities Research Council. This research focuses on enabling
2017memory institutions`, i.e. repositories of public knowledge such as
libraries, museums, archives and other entities such as cultural heritage
monuments and sites [see Hjerppe, R.A. (1994) 2017Framework for the
description of generalized documents`, Advances in Knowledge
Organization, 4, 173-180], to solve some of the classic problems
they experience concerning preservation and access to heritage in their
- The public are often restricted from accessing sites and monuments.
- Collections are often far larger than can be presented to the public
in the physical space of a museum.
- Digitising large collections can require expensive ICT expertise and
is very time-consuming.
- Curators have to balance the sometimes-conflicting priorities of
preservation and access.
- For practical reasons, contextual information about objects is often
limited to the object label.
The need for cost-effective and innovative ways to preserve and allow
access to cultural heritage in digital space is clear: not everyone can
visit the Parthenon or the British Museum; and people want to see objects
2017in the round`, understand objects in the context of their use, and
explore the relationships between these objects and their cultural
context. This gives rise to the concept of the virtual museum or
exhibition, which relates a museum`s digital objects and their context
through ICT tools and methods, providing an interactive and engaging
experience. The EU IST Key Action 3, Multimedia, Content and Tools, in
particular the FP5-IST 4th Call for Proposals,
IST-2000-III.1.6: 2017Virtual representations of cultural and scientific
objects` was specifically designed to address the issues outlined above.
The objectives were 2017to explore and experiment with novel ways of
creating, manipulating, managing and presenting new classes of
intelligent, dynamically adaptive and self-aware digital cultural objects,
either held by memory institutions (archives, libraries, museums, etc.),
or directly involving digitally born objects or art forms`. White and
collaborators have investigated such issues through several EU- and
Augmented Representation of Cultural Objects (ARCO): [White,
PI, EU FP5, £520k]. October 2001 to 2004. The ARCO system provided novel
ways to create, manipulate, manage and present digital cultural objects
organised into virtual museums and exhibitions [R1, R2, R3]. The project
developed an innovative cultural-object manager, exhibition manager and
other tools that allowed museums to create their own solutions with
minimal ICT support. This project provided a new metadata standard for
such systems, and demonstrated the innovative application of augmented
reality for presenting digital cultural objects to the public.
Marie Curie Training Site: Virtual Reality and Computer Graphics
(MAVRIC): [White, PI, EU FP5, £77k]. December 2001 to November
2005. This research focused on understanding how computer graphics and
virtual reality are best applied to the 3D reconstruction of heritage
sites, monuments and artefacts [R1, R2, R3]. The research results
allowed large-scale, interactive 3D digital reconstructions, such as the
Church of Santa Chiara for the Victoria and Albert Museum`s Medieval and
Excellence in Processing Cultural Heritage (EPOCH): [White, PI,
EU FP6, £19.7k]. May 2004 to March 2008. A main research result was a
novel multisensory approach for exhibiting museums` valuable objects,
which integrates an electronic system (including an inertial measurement
unit) with a physical replica of the Kromstaff in the Ename Museum in
Belgium. The replica was used as a tactile multisensory input device to
explore a virtual-reality exhibition presenting the Kromstaff in the
context of its original use [R4].
Reanimating Cultural Heritage (RCH): [White, CI (33 per cent),
AHRC, £600k]. February 2009 to January 2012. The project created a
unique digital heritage repository that connects the Sierra Leonean
diaspora (scattered across the world as a result of the country`s
economic collapse and civil war) to its heritage in digital space
through the novel integration of social media and Web 2.0 mashup
technologies. The digital repository aggregates several major UK
museums` collections with the Sierra Leone National Museum collection
Motion in Place Platform (MiPP): [White, CI (36 per cent),
AHRC, £532k]. May 2011 to April 2012. Building on motion-sensing
research results (i.e. the creation of an innovative upper-body
motion-capture suit on the eMove—Personal Motion Sensing project (eMove)
[White, PI, TSB £1.4M]) MiPP developed new methodologies for utilising
whole-body inertial motion-capture technology, in order to augment
virtual reconstructions of early Romano-British buildings at the
Silchester archaeology site with real-time motion characters [R6].
References to the research
R1 White, M., Mourkoussis, N., Darcy, J., Petridis, P.,
Liarokapis, F., Lister, P.F., Walczak, K., Wojciechowski, R., Cellary, W.,
Chmielewski, J., Stawniak, M., Wiza, W., Patel, M., Stevenson, J., Manley,
J., Giorgini, F., Sayd, P. and Gaspard, F. (2004) `ARCO: an architecture
for digitization, management and presentation of virtual exhibitions`, in
Mair, S.G. and Cook, R. (eds) Proceedings of the 22nd International
Conference on Computer Graphics. Hersonissos, Crete, 622-625, doi:
R2 Wojciechowski, R., Walczak, K., White, M. and Cellary, W.
(2004) `Building virtual and augmented-reality museum exhibitions`, in Proceedings
of the Ninth International Conference on 3D Web Technology. New
York: ACM, 135-144, doi: 10.1145/985040.985060.
R3 Walczak, K., Cellary, W. and White, M., (2006) `Virtual museum
exhibitions`, Computer, 39(3): 93-95, doi: 10.1109/MC.2006.108.
R4 White, M., Petridis, P., Liarokapis, F. and Plecinckx, D.
(2007) `Multimodal mixed reality interfaces for visualizing digital
heritage`, International Journal of Architectural Computing, 5(2):
322-337, doi: 10.1260/1478-0722.214.171.1242.
R5 Zhang, W., Patoli, M.Z., Gkion, M., Al-Barakati, A., Newbury,
P. and White, M. (2009) `Reanimating cultural heritage through service
orientation workflows, social networking and mashups`, in Ugail, H.,
Qahwaji, R.S.R., Earnshaw, R.A. and Willis, P.J. (eds.) International
Conference on Cyberworlds. Washington: IEEE, 177-184, doi:
R6 Dunn, S., Woolford, K., Barker, L., Taylor, M., Hedges, M.,
Norman, S.J., White, M., Bailey, H., Fulford, M. and Clark, A. (2011)
`Motion in place: a case study of archaeological reconstruction using
motion capture`, in CAA2011 — Revive the Past: Proceedings of the 39th
Conference in Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in
Archaeology, 66-74, http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/40997/1/CAA_Motion_in_Place.pdf.
The underpinning research for the case study comes from EU and UK funded
projects, where outputs R1 and R2 illustrate the innovative technology
(commercialised) we developed that allows museums to develop their own
'interactive virtual museums' based on 'augmented digital representations
of cultural objects', while R4 adds a more interactive and tactile
approach to exploring a museum's cultural objects in a virtual museum
through a multimodal interface.
Details of the impact
The research outlined in section 2 has improved how museums and other
memory institutions are able to engage the public with their cultural
heritage, resulting in social, cultural and public
services impacts with global reach — illustrated below. The impacts
are enabled by research and innovative systems (e.g. ARCO) that allow
museums themselves to develop and deploy approaches that go beyond
standard multimedia methods (typified by technologies such as Adobe Flash)
to create interactive virtual museums and exhibitions that combine
Internet and 3D technologies and virtual and augmented realities in novel
In 2008, the University transferred its IP resulting from the ARCO
project to a spin-out based in Poland (ARCO Centre), which has
commercialised the system targeted at Polish museums [C1]. Although the
creation of the spin-out and the receipt by the University of consultancy
and licensing income associated with the transfer of IP represents an
economic impact, the main impacts are related to end users: members of the
public. In particular, virtual reconstructions of sites, monuments and
artefacts allow visitors to situate their heritage within its cultural
context; 3D, virtual and augmented realities allow visitors to appreciate
how such heritage was first created and used; interaction with a
2017digital object` or 2017augmented representation` can lead to a better
understanding than, for example, a museum`s physical display of the
object; and digital representations can be viewed remotely across the
Internet and in combination with Web 2.0 technologies to develop virtual
communities around cultural objects.
- One key example is a 3D reconstruction of the Church of Santa Chiara,
installed at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in 2009. The
church itself is located in Florence, Italy. However, the V&A
purchased the church`s chapel and altars in 1861. This dislocation of
church, chapel, altars and other artefacts (lost through time) presents
a classical problem associated with understanding our past heritage. The
3D reconstruction allows visitors to explore the chapel and altars
2017virtually` within the context of the missing church. The Santa
Chiara interactive system was installed for the public opening of the
new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries [C2].
In a visitor survey commissioned by the V&A in April/May 2013, 93% of
visitors who used the Santa Chiara interactive reported that it had
enhanced their enjoyment, and 60% reported that it had caused them to look
more closely at the physical chapel exhibit [C3]. This is supported by a
V&A evaluation report, which states that the "interactives are well
utilized, as 40% of visitors report using a Gallery interactive during
their visit", and that the effects of the Gallery interactives influence
their users to "see a larger proportion of the Gallery than non-users"
[C4]. Recent evaluation "has demonstrated that the digital interactive
enhances visitors` understanding of the chapel". The digital model is on
the V&A`s website, thus "reaching a wider international audience" [C5,
C6]. The range of beneficiaries is broad, and impacts span the areas of
public awareness and understanding of their heritage, and of museum
- A further notable example is the digitisation and aggregation of
several major Sierra Leone collections of cultural artefacts, resulting
in the SierraLeoneHeritage social media-based digital-heritage
repository (online at http://www.sierraleoneheritage.org).
For this virtual museum, Sierra Leonean material culture from the Sierra
Leone National Museum, the British Museum, Glasgow Museums, and Brighton
Museum and Art Gallery were digitised (augmented with appropriate
metadata and media objects) to form a unique repository. After its
launch, the British Library and the World Museum Liverpool asked for
their Sierra Leonean collections to be added to the repository, and, in
early 2013, the Cootje Van Oven Collection was also added. The requests
to integrate further collections after the end of the associated funded
project demonstrate the value that these leading memory institutions
place on the repository.
The British Museum staged a combined physical and virtual display of
Sierra Leonean artefacts in spring 2013, with a touchscreen kiosk giving
access to http://www.sierraleoneheritage.org. The museum`s evaluation
report states that there were 66,996 visits, with the touchscreen being
used by 22% of those tracked. A number of people were observed spending
over 10 minutes using it. The report concludes, "the touchscreen enabled
those who were interested to explore Sierra Leonean heritage further and
so appears to have been a useful addition to the display" [C7]. The museum
considers that "the digital resource has been extremely useful in
encouraging exploration of Sierra Leone`s heritage by specialists as well
as non-specialists ... the unprecedented access it provides to multiple
museum collections is impressive". The Sierra Leone National Museum has
developed a schools outreach programme supported by a version of the
website on DVD, received "with much enthusiasm by teachers and students
alike". The website has been "recognised as coming at a key moment for
schools", and is being used in extra-curricular clubs in the capital city
and in charity-sponsored educational development projects in the poorest
rural area of northern Sierra Leone [C8].
In the 50th anniversary of independence celebrations in 2011,
the country`s president announced in a speech that "Sierra Leone now had a
cultural website and congratulated [its creators] on this achievement".
The website "provides a way for people in the Sierra Leone diaspora to
connect with their home country ... they are proud of it too" [C9]. A
Sierra Leone Facebook community is integrated within the website, allowing
people in this diaspora to connect with each other and discuss their
shared culture. The community has global reach: in the period 1 February -
31 July 2013, people in 206 cities/regions in 45 different countries have
2017liked` content [C10]. The beneficiaries are thus spread across the
world, and impacts include support for social cohesion and greater public
awareness and understanding of dispersed heritage.
Sources to corroborate the impact
C1 Letter from a representative of ARCO Centrum, Poland.
C2 Callahan, M. and Cooper, D. (2013) 2017Sacred space in the
modern museum: Researching and redisplaying the Santa Chiara Chapel in the
V&A`s Medieval & Renaissance Galleries`, V&A Online
Journal, 5, ISSN 2043-667X. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/journals/research-journal/issue-no.-5-2013/sacred-space-in-the-modern-museum-researching-and-redisplaying-the-santa-chiara-chapel-in-the-v-and-as-medieval-and-renaissance-galleries
C3 2017Santa Chiara Chapel Gallery evaluation (room 50) —
preliminary draft results`. August 2013. Confidential V&A report; can
be made available for audit purposes.
C4 Matthew Petrie (2011) 2017Case study evaluation of FuturePlan:
Medieval and Renaissance Galleries`.
C5 Letter from the lead interpretation specialist for the
development of the V&A Medieval and Renaissance Europe Galleries.
C7 2017Sowei mask: Spirit of Sierra Leone — executive summary`.
June 2013. Confidential British Museum report; can be made available for
C8 Letter from the Curator, North African Collections, The British
C9 Letter from the Acting Curator, Sierra Leone National Museum.
C10 Facebook Insights metrics for Sierra Leone Heritage Community
within the website http://www.sierraleoneheritage.org, 1 February - 31