Wired! Lab Electrifies the Past

Undergraduate researchers combine art history and technology in Smith Warehouse

Images from Wired! Lab and Jack Edinger
Images from Wired! Lab and Jack Edinger

Professors and undergraduates who study ancient cathedrales, forgotten traditions and history that lies buried under modern cities are inviting the curious to see how 3D modeling can help people better visualize the past. 

The Wired! lab in Bay 10 in the Smith Warehouse held an open house Sept. 3.

"We're making buildings that no one's seen since 810 AD," said Kristin Lanzoni, a visiting professor in art history who's involved in the initiative in digital art history and humanities research. 

Over the past five years, researchers have digitally reconstructed monasteries for Franciscan friars and built and traveled to Venice to teach digital art history techniques. While many of their graduates go on to careers in art history and architecture, the majority are working outside of their discipline, such as sophomore Economics major Annie Haueter, who discovered a centuries-old document that helped her digitally recreate a Renaissance-era cathedral.

Wired researchers have worked in Italy and Durham to uncover and portray how cities have changed over time. For example, in the Venice: Virtual World seminar, students used Sketchup software to  recreate a zone of the city from the 1840’s.  Students created avatars with period costumes and built their environment: the gardens, boats, and canals that a typical 19th century Venetian would’ve walked by every day.

Wired researchers study maps and floor plans to gain insights about life in centuries past and then use digital technology to present their findings about how geography influenced culture, politics and trade. 

Wired’s Digital Durham team is creating an online archive of primary source material.  The team  also working to create “augmented reality experiences” accessible on smart phones, and using video game theory to investigate how we experience our everyday environments.

Visitors experience Medieval-era paintings at the Nasher as discrete objects against white backgrounds. Yet their original creators and viewers looked at them quite differently. They saw them as small parts of cathedrals. To reimagine a painting in its original context, Wired researchers ask questions like “How would the light from a stained glass window have changed the painting?” or “What would this painting have looked like during a Sunday Mass?” 

Learn more this fall from a free  Wired! workshop .