What is ‘Digital Heritage’

The broad term ‘heritage’ refers to the study of human activity not only through the recovery of remains, as is the case with archaeology, but also through tradition, art and cultural evidences, and narratives. According to UNESCO (2003) ‘digital heritage’ consists of unique resources of human knowledge and expression. “It embraces cultural, educational, scientific and administrative resources as well as technical, legal, medical and other kinds of information created digitally or converted into digital form existing analogue resources”. So far ‘born digital’ has been similarly identified as; there is no other format but the digital object. On the other hand ‘virtual heritage’ (VH) is a term; widely use to describe works that deals with virtual-reality (VR) and cultural-heritage (Roussou, 2002). In general, virtual heritage and cultural heritage have independent meanings: cultural heritage refers to “properties and sites with archaeological, aesthetic and historical value” and ‘virtual heritage’ refers to instances of these properties and sites within a technological domain.

To virtualize heritage means to actualize the heritage content digitally and to simulate it using computer graphics technology. According to Roussou (2002), the functions of ‘virtual heritage’ are to facilitate the synthesis, conservation, reproduction, representation, digital reprocessing, and display of cultural evidence with the use of advances in VR imaging technology. Some scholars also described ‘virtual heritage’ as a vehicle for preservation, access and economic development at the service of archaeological remains valued for their artistic qualities. The representation of landscapes, objects, or sites of the past and the overall process of visualization of archaeological data with the use of VR technology form a sub-domain known as ‘Virtual Archaeology’ (Barceló 2000). Some extended form of VR technology mixed with real-world known as ‘Mixed Reality’ and ‘Augmented Reality’ have also been applied in experiencing archaeology and heritage. These applications are frequently identified with the reconstruction of ancient sites in the form of reproducing accurate 3D models (Valtolina et al., 2005 , Yang et al., 2006).

Digital tools and techniques now emerging from academic, government and industry labs offer new hope to the often painstakingly complex tasks of archaeological survey, historic research, conversation and education (Addison, 2000). The increasing development of digital technologies, interfaces, interaction techniques and devices has greatly improved the efficacy and usability of digital heritage, providing more natural and obvious modes of interaction and motivational elements. This has helped institutions of informal education, such as museums, media research and cultural centres to embrace advanced digital technologies and support their transaction from the research laboratory to the public realm. According to Addison (2000) there are three major domains in digital heritage (or virtual heritage):
• Documentation: everything from site survey to epigraphy
• Representation: from historic reconstruction to visualization
• Dissemination: from immersive networked worlds to ‘in-situ’ augmented reality.

Figure 01: Basic domains of virtual heritage

Figure-01 explains the present method of developing and disseminating virtual heritage. The first stage is about finding information, analysis and documenting the authentic data from both cultural and architectural past. Basically heritage professionals like archaeologists, historians, anthropologists, conservationists are involved in this sector. The next stage is for representation. Media professionals, computer scientists, 3d modellers and animators are mostly working in this domain. However at this present time ‘representation’ is conditioned by media and only supports the tangible heritage, which is mostly focused on ‘accuracy’ in visualization or ‘faithful’ reconstruction of the past. The final stage is devoted to distributing these information and knowledge to general public by means of interactive digital media, which can vary from in-situ, internet or independent installation based distribution. This research will focus on third domain of digital heritage.

2 thoughts on “What is ‘Digital Heritage’

  1. Dear prof. Hafiz
    I want to thank you very much because of a brief introduction for digital heritage , I think that future of our culture preservation and presentation depends on usage of digital technology and also guidline of country development , is it able to preserve and present it or n’t , I work as conservator at Gayer Anderson Museum , Egypt . But I have an question , above you told us the first stage of virtual heritage is ” Documentation ” and don’t tell digital appproach to carry out it specially finding information ,, analysis

    Best resgards

  2. Hello Mr Abdel Aziz,
    Many thanks for your comment and question, as well.

    Following Addison, I have mentioned, three (03) domains of Digital Heritage where the first one is ‘Documentation’. In addition, I have also mentioned that, this stage “is about finding information, analysis and documenting the authentic data from both cultural and architectural past”.

    The main objective if the first stage to gather authentic data/info to feed next stage, i.e representation. The data/information can be gather/adopt following from both digital or non-digital sources. However, at the end it need to be digitised for dissemination or presentation.

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