Sunday, January 10, 2010

Google SketchUp and Public History

Google SketchUp is a free 3D modeling software that allows the user to model physical objects on their computer. SketchUp works in conjunction with Google Earth through the 3D Buildings layer, and adds a further dimension for fans of Google Earth to explore. SketchUp is fun and relatively easy to use once you get hang of it.

3D modelling of built landscapes seems to be in the early stages of catching on, based on the number that currently appear in Google Earth (Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto are examples of Canadian cities with a good number of 3D building, whereas Montreal and Halifax seemed to have relatively few). In his 2003 article “Following in Rabelais’ Footsteps: Immersive History and the 3D Virtual Buildings Project”, John Bonnett explains that constructing 3D buildings is a promising way in which to engage the public with history. Today this is occurring in a number of ways, including through Google Earth Tours, which include worldwide virtual tours of cathedrals, castles and palaces, universities, rail stations, and buildings included on the United States' National Registry of Historic Places. Some 3D representations of heritage resources include information relating to the history of their construction and associated people and events. However, some of these suffer from the same issues of authority that plague Wikipedia, where writers include a pseudonym and do not have to include sources. Unlike Wikipedia however, if one were to find inaccurate information it is not a simple matter to correct the entry.

A surprising number of buildings in Alberta have been rendered in 3D by various contributors. Notably among them is a user named newfangled who has provided over 200, many in the Edmonton area. If historic buildings included a simple link to an authoritative site regarding the building’s history, the issue of authority might be addressed. Canadian sites that should be considered include (which includes site-specific information on nationally designated resources) or HeRMIS (which includes site-specific information on provincial designated resources in Alberta). An interesting public history project might be to focus on creating 3D models of buildings in areas with high concentrations of historic buildings, such as Calgary`s Stephen Avenue, or Edmonton`s Old Strathcona, and link the models to municipal Statements of Significance, which serve to explain the historical value of a resource.

To see my early ventures into the world of SketchUp, please see my Interactive Exhibit Design website.

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