Working in a Cultural Heritage Institute


To follow our progress go to Twitter: @Ecclesiology3D

This post is the first of a series of posts detailing my experience of working with the ecclesiological material in St. Patrick’s College Museum.  The primary goal of this research was to enable students participating in AFF622: Digital Heritage: Theories, Methods and Challenges as part of the MA in Digital Humanities, An Foras Feasa, National University Maynooth, to develop the practical skills required for working with photogrammetry and 3D scanning to explore a cultural heritage scenario.

The research deliverables included selecting and capturing appropriate ecclesiastical artefacts.  Furthermore, students were expected to design and carry out an effective workflow for 3D recording cultural heritage projects including: Capturing, processing, online publishing, 3D printing, and writing a report

The research was carried out in cooperation with the National Science and Ecclesiology Museum, St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.  Working alongside the curator, Dr. Niall McKeith, and under the guidance of the course coordinator, Dr. Konstantinos Papadopoulos, the project team captured data for fourteen objects from the Museum’s collection of ecclesiastical artefacts in November 2016.

Many of the observations made here can be applied to other similar digitisation projects.  It should be noted that the hardware and the software used by the team were prespecified by the course coordinator and therefore, discussions surrounding their use did not include resource acquisition.  Details will be provided in later posts.  A list of factors that may need to be addressed by other projects is included at the end of the section.

Much of what follows will highlight the importance of thorough project planning in advance of data capture.

Digitisation is above all an access strategy.  Like many smaller cultural heritage museums, the opening hours of The Museum of Ecclesiology are very restricted.  At present, the institution does not provide access to the collection in digital forms.  Considering the limited opening hours of the museum at St Patrick’s College, digitisation will open new modes of access to the collection.

Public access to artefacts is an important factor when considering which objects to digitise and when to digitise.  In a cultural heritage institution with regular public access the project should aim to minimise its impact to the institution’s other activities.  Coordination between project members and museum staff is essential.

A further consideration in this regard in the amount of time assigned to data capturing.  Quality control throughout the data capturing process is essential.  Repeated digitisation should be avoided and is often not an option.

Most museums will not have the appropriate physical environment and hardware and software systems in place.  In relation to St. Patrick’s College Museum the lighting was poor and the physical environment was uncomfortable due to the temperature.  The hardware and the necessary software had to be transported to the museum for the data capturing.


Ideally, original items should be handled as little as possible.  Where necessary, appropriate precautions were taken when handling original items: team members wore cotton gloves and the curator handled the very fragile objects such as the Ivory Ciborium.  When working with the Laser Scanner, the user manual recommends using powder for shiny or metallic surfaces.  Similar recommendations are made for these items when using photogrammetry.  It is unlikely that you will be permitted to use powder on original artefacts.  The same can be said for the use of alignment markers.

The metadata models implemented by the project were restricted by the prespecified online publishing platforms (for further detail see Online Publishing).  The historical and contextual information for many of the ecclesiological materials at St. Patrick’s Museum is extremely limited, in many cases the provenance is unknown.  Digitisation in the absence of annotation lacks context and meaning.  A project should consider the digitisation process as a unified whole, focusing on those objects which are best suited to the technology being employed may limit the overall results if there is insufficient data on the object itself.  The approach taken by the current project was to research the individual items.  However, this may not be in the scope of similar digitisation projects and it should be taken into consideration when deciding which items to digitise.

Reflections on the Ethics of Tangible Cultural Heritage Reconstruction


When reflecting on the recently reconstructed Triumphal Arch from Palmyra which was destroyed by ISIS in May 2015, I have found myself considering the anxiety that surrounds the recreation or reconstruction of cultural heritage artefacts.  On the face of it, the use of digital technology adds extra dimensions to discussions about the ethics of cultural heritage conservation.  In an age of digital reproduction, one of the primary questions appears to have become not whether we can reconstruct cultural artefacts, but rather whether we should.  This question becomes particularly sensitive when it is applied to the physical restoration of tangible cultural heritage that has been destroyed as a result of armed conflict.  Even more so, when the culture in question is still the subject of deliberate destruction.


However, when we drill down into the question of whether or not we should be reconstructing cultural heritage objects we find that there is nothing particularly new about the situation in which conservation professionals now find themselves. Firstly, the replication of cultural artefacts (both 2D and 3D) is not a modern phenomenon nor are the anxieties surrounding their reproduction.  In 1936, Walter Benjamin wrote that ‘man-made artefacts could always be imitated by men’.  Benjamin was most concerned with the ‘aura’ of the artefact and according to him the most destructive social consequence of mechanical reproduction is ‘the liquidation of the traditional value of cultural heritage’ (Benjamin).

Secondly, whilst concerns for cultural heritage during times of armed conflict run the risk of appearing indifferent to the immediate need to preserve human life, the desire to conserve and protect cultural heritage objects during times of active combat is well documented.  Perhaps most famously, the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program was established during the second world war to protect and preserve Europe’s cultural heritage.

Similarly, the reconstruction of a people’s cultural heritage post-armed conflict is not without precedent.  Moreover, the restoration of cultural artefacts in the immediate aftermath of the object’s destruction is not unprecedented.  The example of the destruction of the Dalada Maligawa (the Temple of the Tooth Relic) of Sri Lanka destroyed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) in 1998 will serve as an example for both points.  In the day immediately following the destruction of the Temple, calls were made for its restoration and Sri Lankans proceeded to rebuilt this significant cultural symbol.  So why the anxiety?

The anthropologist Valene Smith has written: ‘Wars are without equal as the time-makers of society.  Lives are so irrevocably changed that culture and behaviour are marked by three phases: “before the war”, “during the war”, and “after the war”’ (Smith).  Cultures develop and transform throughout the course of and as a direct result of armed conflict.  In relation to the 3D-printed scale model of the Triumphal Arch from Palmyra, Mark Sinclair has suggested that what is unprecedented is the ability to reconstruct cultural artefacts “during the war” (to employ Smith’s terminology) and to my mind this is ultimately the source of the anxiety surrounding the reconstruction of the Arch of Triumph (Sinclair).


The question then, is not really should we reconstruct cultural heritage objects, but rather when should we reconstruct them?  One advantage that digital reproduction has over mechanical reproduction is the ability store large amounts of detailed information without having to produce replications.  Given that it is no longer necessary, is it appropriate to recreate the artefacts of a culture that is still under threat?  As the copyist Adam Lowe has observed, ‘the critical thing now is to document. Later we can decide what to do with the material we collect’ (Sattin).


Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. N.p. Web.

Sattin, Anthony. Meet the Master of Reproduction. N.p., 2015. Web.

Sinclair, Mark. Should Museums Be Recreating the Past. N.p., 2016. Web.

Smith, Valerie. “War and Tourism: An American Ethnography.” Annals of Tourism Research 25.1 (1998): 202–27. Print.

Further Reading

Stanley-Price, Nicolas. Cultural Heritage in Postwar Recovery. ICCROM, 2005. Web.

Reflections on Copyright Law in Ireland and Public Engagement 3D Scanning Projects



The issue of copyright is a contentious one, particularly in the modern era of digital productions and reproductions. In what follows, I offer briefly a couple of thoughts which have occurred to me during my recent endeavour to get to grips with copyright law in Ireland as it applies to the digitisation of cultural heritage artefacts. Foremost in my thoughts have been the implications for copyright of public engagement projects involving photogrammetry and structure in motion software. In the absence of legislation dealing specifically with digital works, I have followed the examples of others in examining the current legislation as it applies to photographic materials (Weinberg, 3-6; Margoni, 26-50).


The primary legislation governing copyright in Ireland is the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000-2007 (CRRA 2000). Section 2(1) CRRA classifies a photograph as an ‘artistic work’. As such, photographs must be original in order to attract copyright protection. Traditionally, for originality to be considered present it was required that an artistic work display a modest level of skill, labour and effort on behalf of the author and that it should not be copied from another source. However, a recent report aimed at improving national copyright law recommended that the development of the statutory definition of ‘originality’ should be left to the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (EJC) (Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, 33-4). Under EU law the required originality standard is that the work being protected is the ‘author’s own intellectual creation’. The author’s own intellectual creation is present when the author can make free and creative choices and put their own person stamp in the work. Consequently, ‘labour, skill and effort’, no matter the amount, do not necessarily result in originality. The EU originality standard further specifies that in instances where an expression is governed by technical or functional rules or a specific goal, no originality can be present (Margoni, 14-16).

Community Engagement Projects

In recent years, a number of heritage projects within Ireland have actively sought to engage the public in the production of 3D records and visualisations (see below for a list of references). In doing so, they have highlighted the affordability, accessibility and, perhaps most importantly, the simplicity of new recording technologies. For example, the coordinator of the Roscommon3D and Galway3D citizen science projects, states that ‘there is very little skill invovled [sic] as most of the work is done by a computer’ (Dempsey, 3).


In attempting to establish whether or not the individual digitised objects created by these community based projects would acquire copyright protection, an application of the EU originality test would more than likely produce a negative result. Firstly, the author (defined here as the photographer) cannot exercise free and creative choice. These projects specify photographic subjects and the success of the subsequent three dimensional visualisation is dependent on the accuracy of the photographs, that is to say that the photographs must be taken according to a predefined set of rules. Secondly, an author might argue that processing legitimises their claim to originality as the EJC left a certain degree of ambiguity in this respect in the Painer case. However, by highlighting the lack of human input required by the technology, community based 3D modelling projects have negated this ambiguity. In my view, the individual digitised objects created for these projects would fail in a copyright claim as they appear to fall short of the requisite originality standard in every respect.




Government Reports:


3D Public Engagement Projects:

Further Reading: