My Time as the Immersive Scholarship Graduate Research Assistant

During the Fall ’21 and Spring ’22 semesters, I served as a Graduate Research Assistant with the Office of Digital Research and Scholarship (DRS) at FSU Libraries. Collaborating with Matthew Hunter, the Digital Scholarship Librarian, I worked to increase FSU Libraries’ support of research services that utilize 3D scanning and modeling, 3D printing, and extended reality technologies. Working on various immersive scholarship- and digital humanities-based projects, including a self-curated exhibition, has made this one of the most memorable experiences of my graduate student career!

When I started working as a GA in the Fall semester, I spent the first few weeks exploring the digital tools and technologies available through DRS. I searched online for 3D models of objects and artifacts so that I could compare the differences in print quality between the two 3D printers available; I played around with the virtual reality (VR) headsets, web-swinging around New York City as Spider-Man; I used a handheld 3D scanner to scan rare and unique objects from FSU Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives Division (SCA); and I spent time researching examples of museums and universities that were similarly increasing efforts to utilize 3D digital technologies within their public programs and services. Though this work was largely experimental, it was ultimately dedicated towards establishing the research and educational value of incorporating these digital technologies within research projects, collections, and museum exhibitions, while similarly navigating the challenges that will inevitably arise when utilizing these tools.

Once I understood the basics of 3D scanning, modeling, and printing, I had the opportunity to participate in a collaborative project with students from the Classics department and Anthropology department at FSU. Lighting the Way to Archaeology is a program where tactile activities and 3D printed objects are utilized to give visually impaired participants physical access to ancient Etruscan artifacts and the processes of archaeological excavation. As part of our collaboration, the Immersive Scholarship team 3D printed artifact replicas to engage children with visual disabilities about ancient Greek and Roman culture. Using 3D modeling software, the textural features of some objects were raised and enhanced to enable a deeper level of engagement through tactile sensory experiences.

Utilizing the 3D modeling skills I gained from working on this project, I created the piece Visualizing Disparity for the Fall 2021 exhibition Art Education in Critical Times. Combining arts-based research with 3D digital technologies, Visualizing Disparity is a 3D printed data visualization representing income inequality in Leon County, FL. This piece was created to address issues of racial and social discrimination in Tallahassee, while dually questioning the potential benefits and disadvantages of using 3D modeling and printing to engage these issues.

During the Spring 2022 semester, I worked with the Technology and Digital Scholarship department to begin incorporating a 3D model viewer into DigiNole. This feature update would enable students and faculty to upload research that utilizes 3D data. In addition, I worked on building and designing the Immersive Scholarship Program’s CreateFSU webpage to promote digital humanities resources and services provided by DRS.

The work that I’ve performed as part of the Immersive Scholarship team ultimately culminated into my capstone project exhibition Thinking in 3D: Utilizing the Future to Reimagine the Past. For this exhibition, I used 3D modeling and 3D printing technologies to explore the capabilities of these tools for research, education, and entertainment. Thinking in 3D features over thirty 3D printed objects and artifact replicas from the fields of Classics, Archaeology, and Art History and was created in response to conversations surrounding the newfound responsibility museums and digital humanities centers have to digitally preserve objects in their collections. This exhibition examines the potential promise of using 3D digital technologies for audience engagement, research, and education while additionally considering the ethical and social challenges of adopting these technologies, both now, and in the future.

Ultimately, working as an Immersive Scholarship GA with DRS has been truly invaluable and has allowed me to gain 3D modeling, research, and project management skills. I am confident this experience has prepared me for a successful career in the field of digital humanities and I am incredibly excited to continue researching the applications of 3D digital technologies within the museum and beyond!

Blog post written by Yatil Etherly, Graduate Assistant with Digital Research & Scholarship at FSU Libraries.

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