What should medieval Swansea look like?

Ƥǿşŧḗḓ ƀẏ: Catherine Clarke 6 years, 10 months ȧɠǿ

So: how should we go about our 3D visualisation of medieval Swansea? Should our final product be something creative, imaginative and speculative - but immersive and engaging? Or should it be a more cautious, conservative construct which makes uncertainties and unknowns visible? There's some strength of feeling on each side of this debate amongst the project team, and we're confronting some interesting ideological, theoretical and methodological questions as we decide how to proceed.

3D visualisation is the centre of ongoing debate in the Humanities, and especially historical disciplines. Vincent Gaffney has commented that digital visualisation is 'always a highly emotive act', and has also questioned our obsession with visual reconstruction as part of our 'fetishization of visual experience'. But this kind of visualisation has value, both as a tool for public engagement and communication, and also as an alternative mode of scholarly enquiry.

DDH have been closely involved with the London Charter on 3D modelling and visualisation. The team at DDH are particularly concerned with issues of 'intellectual transparency' and making sure uncertainty is legible in our work. This means keeping visualisation simple and basic and avoiding anything 'gamified'. They're keen to avoid an emphasis on the aesthetic over the accurate - clearly something we need to have in mind. Paul and the DDH team will be giving their views and arguments here on the Blog.

But I see things a different way. Whilst it's clear that our visualisation needs to be as informed as possbile, I feel there's space here for imagination and creativity. And more detailed 'realistic' models - even though some may see a touch of the 'Hogwarts' effect - allow the viewer a more immersive, experiential, sensory engagement with the medieval city. I see our 3D visualisation as an alternative critical mode to our GIS mapping and textual analysis - one which privileges creative and imaginative engagement and which provides a site for hypothetical, experimental thinking about the medieval city. Scholarship has different registers and different idioms. I think this is an exciting opportunity for us to place different modes in apposition in our research.

'Artists' reconstructions' have been used in medieval history for decades. But questions surrounding creativity, imagination and licence are now more acute than ever in relation to our digital tools and applications. We'll be continuing this debate in person at a project meeting this week - we'll also share our different views and (I hope!) our final resolution here on the project Blog.