More than Meets the Eye: Going 3D with an Early Medieval Manuscript

by William Endres

… neither seeing, physical sensation, imagining, willing, nor feeling would exist without the existence of objects.

Hans-Georg Gadamer

1. Introduction

At its essence, 3D is about looking. It is about how we observe and interact with a digital artifact and generate knowledge from it. While I began exploring 3D in an attempt to offer scholars and viewers an encounter with a digital version of an illuminated manuscript that could portray on some level the dynamic nature of the original, one commensurate with but different from the physical manuscript, I found myself puzzling over the complex epistemic implications raised by 3D. What qualities of looking do 3D renderings restore to the experience of digital artifacts that are absent from 2D images? How do these qualities affect what is seen and the generation of knowledge? How best can we employ 3D and present manuscripts and other cultural heritage artifacts on the Web to open new ways of meaningful engagement and generate new lines of inquiry and further scholarly knowledge?

Until recently, technical challenges have stymied and limited such potential and the looking that 3D engenders. The advent and development of WebGL, a JavaScript API for rendering 3D graphics, changes this.1 Working with two programmers, Noah Adler and Justin Hall,2 I have brought online interactive 3D renderings of sixteen pages from the St Chad Gospels, an 8th century illuminated manuscript housed at Lichfield Cathedral.3 To my knowledge, these sixteen pages represent the first example of 3D images of a manuscript on the Web intended to support scholarly activity, the images of substantial resolution and the interface designed to facilitate 3D’s potential for scholarship, teaching and digital preservation.

In this paper, I want to use these 3D renderings as a means to think and examine the complex and otherwise abstract issue of 3D’s epistemic implications, much in the spirit of Aristotle who believed that “it is not possible to think without an image”.4 Such dynamics between thought and reified form were echoed in Andrew Prescott’s memorable keynote address at the Digital Humanities Congress. Prescott found the value and vitality of the digital humanities reflected in the Industrial Revolution’s laboratory of Harry Brearley and workshop of James Watt, cultivated spaces where tinkering, theorising (thinking) and making (reified forms) could collide. Such tinkering, theorising and making are central to my work and this writing.

2. Looking

The act of looking, which I use here to refer to a scholarly act of intuitive meandering or targeted searching, involves instants of gathering, analysis, pondering, interpreting, associating, and assessment. Looking is shaped by a discipline, cultural biases, embedded epistemic constraints in an artifact, and the material conditions under which the looking takes place. But it is also motivated by the intent in scholarship to be objective, no matter how impossible this might be, and make every effort to apprehend without a preconceived notion as to how what is observed might matter.

Looking leads to two types of knowing that I want to examine in relations to digital artifacts: knowing through semiotics, whether word, image, or feature of the physical artifact, that is, reading or interpreting signs that portray intentional or unintended meaning (unintentional meaning can be derived from the likes of the number of folios in quires or quality of vellum in a manuscript);5 and knowing through aesthetic experience, the artifact as a manifestation of a community generated aesthetic that is saturated with meaning and expression, inviting viewers into a cultural encounter in which their knowing is remade or where the experience opens the possibility of an altered or enhanced knowing.6 A manifested aesthetics re-orients viewers to the world as casts through its forms and structures, whether manuscript, monument, spoon, or urn. While any artifact manifests a culture’s aesthetics on some level, objects of art, like the St Chad Gospels, an illuminated manuscript, offer heightened or intensified experiences of knowing through aesthetic experience.

To begin apprehending some of the epistemic implications of 3D, I want to think through these two types of knowing, semiotic and aesthetic, but also in relation to 2D images and physical manuscripts. What are the implications for knowing when we look across a digitally rendered page rather than directly at it? What happens to our apprehension when a digital artifact has a vanishing point, a sense of open space filling in around it, when we can manipulate the perspective from which we view a digital artifact in countless ways? How does a 3D rendering affect our heuristics for looking, our relationship to a digital artifact and how we explore it, which in turn affects how we remember it, think it, and know it?

I will refer to 3D and 2D images as digital artifacts or digital versions, although not totally satisfied with either term as it relates to epistemology. I am tempted to refer to them as digital offspring, the results of a marriage between digital and manuscript technologies, with digital versions having unique qualities and a life of their own. This term is problematic but it speaks to the excesses, commonalities, and deficits when digital versions are measured against their physical antecedent. A term that has gained some commonality in 3D is digital surrogate. Bernard Fischer uses the term for 3D renderings of archaeological sites, like the impressive Rome Reborn.7 Fischer’s interest in 3D is to construct digital cityscapes and large spaces, thus his use of surrogate, the virtual environment functioning as a substitute or proxy, a stand in for the likes of a dig site or what once was, like ancient Rome, as a means to generate and test hypotheses, fulfilling a specific epistemic function.8 Surrogate fits Fischer’s needs but does not speak as readily to the full range of epistemic considerations that I want to explore for a manuscript, particularly the excesses of a digital artifact that add to our knowledge in other ways and its effect on looking and knowing.

I find Ségolène Tarte’s impulse to call digital versions avatars most consistent with my needs, the digital version as an incarnation, the physical artifact crossing over and into a digital form.9 Since I am working on a gospel book, I cannot help but to think about this issue’s echo in early Christian prohibitions against depictions of Christ in the flesh, the prohibition motivated by the belief that physical matter is mundane, not divine, and therefore a painting or statue could not portray Christ’s divine nature, thus could not portray Christ and was blasphemous. In a similar vein, without the blasphemy, a digital version cannot portray all of the features of a physical artifact, but as mentioned, it also includes excesses. I appreciate Tarte’s choice of the word avatars, its recognition that digital artifacts have excesses and exist in a different reality and with different rules and potentials, offering unique advantages and experiences, a recognition that I want to carry forward in my sense of digital artifact or version. However, I will refrain from using avatar because in virtual environments, like Second Life, it refers to a digital form through which a person projects her or his presence within a digital space, an avatar’s most dramatic attribute, a sense that I do not want to imply. Instead, I want to keep focus on the type of knowing and knowledge that an artifact engenders when it has a 3D digital makeup, the excesses and deficits this entails; therefore, I will rely on the terms digital version or digital artifact.

The contours and distances across a page in a 3D rendering generate a psychological experience that invites a type of looking and knowing different from that of a typical 2D image. 2D images regard the page as a flat surface, something to be viewed straight on. But a page is not simply a flat surface. It is a play of light. That light is experienced differently from varying angles, when it has a vanishing point, when perspective is altered and forms emerge from those differing perspectives. Amplifying this point, the originating motive for illuminated manuscripts is an aesthetic of light. These manuscripts gain their name from uses of gold and/or silver within a manuscript’s pages as decoration to represent and mimetically emulate the sparkling radiance of divine wisdom—although a majority of these manuscripts do not use precious metals but golden yellow pigments. Opened on an altar for display, as used in various liturgical services, lit by candlelight, the pages of an illuminated manuscript must have appeared otherworldly, shimmering, flickering, an aura radiating from the sacred space of the page, as if spreading light out and into the world.

Such presence is absent from a 2D image. This lack of presence has motivated attempts to increase it and facilitate the means in which a manuscript is known through its digital version. One of the more successful attempts is the British Library’s Turning the Pages. It returns viewers to the aesthetics of the book. In a manuscript, turning a page is an act of revelation, the structure of a codex’s pages engaged in a constant play of concealment and disclosure. For an illuminated manuscript, such turning can be dramatic, filled with anticipation, especially if the page revealed is stunningly decorated, like the Chi-Rho or cross-carpet pages (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1: Chi-Rho, St Chad Gospels.

Figure 2: Cross-Carpet Page, St Chad Gospels.

These theatrical instances, small as they might seem to other issues of knowing, are structured experiences of the book used by artists in their designs as movements through a codex, moments of expression to generate awe and intrigue—luring viewers toward revelation and knowing. Incipit (Figure 3), evangelist portrait and/or cross-carpet pages are placed before a gospel as a way to mark the beginning of an evangelist’s narrative to aid its finding and facilitate remembering. But the decoration within this turning-and-revealing event also functions as an opportunity to express aspects of a community’s faith and offer meta-commentary upon a gospel. For instance, the calf accompanying Luke’s portrait in the St Chad Gospels declares Luke’s gospel’s intent to narrate the complex relations between priestly duties and sacrificial offering central to the sacred mystery of Christ’s life. Book structure works in unison with decorative expression as part of the refined brilliance of these manuscripts, part of the movement through and within the aesthetic experience of an illuminated manuscript and the knowing it engenders.

Figure 3: Luke’s Incipit, St Chad Gospels.

Erwin Panofsky noticed and theorised how perspective functions as a symbolic form, an attribute available to portray information and cultural meaning, one worth paying attention to. Typical of his generation’s intellectual practices, Panofsky overgeneralises and offers monolithic metaphoric readings of perspective’s use by artists during a particular time period or in a particular region, overreaching and oversimplifying the complex expressions portrayed by artists through their individual uses of perspective—although he does present some intriguing nuances in his discussion of “high space,” “near space,” and “oblique space.”10 Still, the genius of his observation alerts us to possible meaning and significances for perspective and its manifestations in cultural heritage artifacts, 3D renderings celebrating and inviting exploration of meaning that might remain latent in or obscured by a 2D image.

While perspective as an attribute to portray meaning finds fuller expression in Renaissance painting and classical Greek structures (like the Pantheon, which is an architectural treasure trove of perspectival optical illusions), perspective’s use to portray meaning is readily available in the St Chad Gospels, even though medieval art lacks the repertoire of Renaissance techniques for rendering depth. In the Chad Gospels’ portrait of the evangelist Mark, Mark’s left foot stands upon the threshold, the decorative border that frames and encloses the page, suggesting a stepping across and from the sacred space of the gospel and into the physical realm. In the Life of Antony, a celebrated and significant book for early monasticism in the British Isles, there is a moment in which Satan addresses Antony and bemoans the fact that many Christians have entered the desert, his wilderness and domain. These Christians have stepped across the threshold of the Christian world and brought the divine into the desert, battling Satan on his own turf. Mark’s stepping across the threshold of the page’s frame is a similar gesture, a gesture that reflects divine light entering the world through his gospel, from sacred text to the wilderness, perhaps symbolically to the wilderness of the human heart. Mark’s gesture echoes the mimetically generated representation of divine light entering the world from the pages of an illuminated manuscript, the aura generated by gold, silver and/or yellow pigments, the use of perspective to portray symbolic meaning.

Such metaphoric echoes are part of the aesthetic experience of an illuminated manuscript, just as other metaphoric echoes are part of other cultural heritage artifacts. To miss them is to miss an artifact’s larger significance, meaning, and essence. For the St Chad Gospels, its sense of divine light finds expression through additional features, like layered pigments, which I will discuss momentarily, and other imagery in which the larger aesthetic experience of divine light resonates, accumulates, reveals, and invites enriched understanding. For instance, the artists of the St Chad Gospels decorate the passage of Matthew’s gospel in which the wise men follow the star in the East to Bethlehem with a unique interlaced star. They use this unique star in other key places within the St Chad Gospels. Through the context of the aesthetic experience of the manuscript, the interlaced star takes on added meaning beyond Christ’s birth, becoming another representation of divine light, emphasising the need to follow this light, with the significance and richness of meaning this entails. To have a digital version that does not present this aura of light, a vital aesthetic experience of the St Chad Gospels, is to miss one of the manuscript’s core concepts or metaphors that shapes the artistic expression, that accumulates and gathers, that haunts the pages, that invites revelation and understanding of the manuscript’s images, decorations, text, features, and cosmology.

For cultural heritage artifacts that portray significant meaning through perspective, understanding that which has been subtracted from digital 2D images alerts scholars to what might be lacking when they generate knowledge from them—and I will momentarily give 2D its fair dues for scholarship, which is extensive. But even with all of its virtues, 2D masks important aspects of cultural artifacts in the way it directs inquiry and aids comprehension. Viewing an image straight on, with light adjusted for consistency across an image (through efforts like flat-field correction), encourages epistemic inquiries that forgo the larger aesthetic experience of the physical object, including normal shifts in perspectives, and the knowledge that such experiences engender. 2D images direct inquiry toward information that has a two-dimensional existence and is best viewed straight on, leaving for example any revelation through light, the play of which artists of illuminated manuscripts amplify as part of their repertoire of expression, muted or removed from the looking.

In the St Chad Gospels, a technique that is rare in surviving gospel books of its class, Insular, referring to manuscripts made in the British Isles from roughly 600 to 850 C.E., is its practice of layered pigments, a way for the artist to play with light. The St Chad Gospels is the oldest surviving Insular manuscript to extensively use layered pigments, the artists first placing a layer of white in strategic areas before adding a layer of soft blue, deep red, purple, or emerald green. The only other surviving Insular gospel book that extensively layers pigments is the later Book of Kells, and as with other Insular techniques, the Book of Kells’ artists take this practice to lavish extremes, layering up to four pigments. Layering pigments has significance because it adds texture, depth, and an added element of perspective and play of light to an illuminated manuscript, one that 2D images do not capture well.

What motivated the artists of the St Chad Gospels to be dissatisfied with a single layer of pigment and instead layer it? While the exact motive for layered pigment is unknown, it adds texture and depth and crucially changes reflectant light. Vellum (calfskin) has a slightly translucent quality like paper, providing a soft backlight to any text or imagery it contains. The notion to layer pigments may well have been adopted from metalwork. Anglo-Saxon metal smiths refined the technique of placing a layer of thinly pounded gold beneath garnets, reflecting light back through the stones, making them shimmer. In 2009, the Staffordshire Hoard,11 the largest Anglo-Saxon hoard found to date, was unearthed not far from Lichfield Cathedral. It is dated roughly sixty years prior to the making of the St Chad Gospels and contains a substantial number of sword hilts in which a thin layer of gold is set behind garnets. It seems reasonable to venture that the artists of the St Chad Gospels borrowed from this metalworking technique, adapting it for pigments. The St Chad Gospels’ cross-carpet page substantially uses layered pigments, and even though its border is worn and chipped, the page still reverberates with the color and shimmer of garnets.

As part of the aesthetic experience and rhetorical argument of the St Chad Gospels, its presentation of divine wisdom as shimmering light structures the experience of the manuscript. This significant visual information is muted by a typical 2D image. While my 3D renderings for the St Chad Gospels are not sophisticated enough to mimic this play of light precisely, built within the viewer is a soft light that brightens a small area around the cursor. It is particularly helpful for brightening areas of pages darkened from water damage. Also, it focuses the eye within a region, as if a heuristic, one that aids in examining complex designs, like the triskeles and interlace of Chad’s Chi-Rho page.

However, the soft lighting effect is not only an aid to the eye as the cursor moves across and around a 3D image; it offers a sense of the potential play of light of the physical manuscript, generating a soft glow, different from but a reminder of the condition of light that must have accompanied the medieval viewing of a manuscript. The design of imagery and the aesthetics for an illuminated manuscript originated out of a profound knowledge of the play of light. The primary light in which a manuscript was planned for display likely influenced its decoration, whether that light was the flicker of candlelight or the morning or evening light streaming through the windows of a cathedral or shrine. Anyone who has visited San Marcus in Venice during the morning hours knows that the play of light was carefully and artfully orchestrated and enacted by artists. Lichfield’s first cathedral was completed roughly thirty years prior to the making of the St Chad Gospels, and the cathedral’s lighting would have likely informed decorative strategies and pigments chosen, especially for exquisitely decorated pages.

While I have focused on features of manuscripts that benefit from 3D renderings, interactive 3D images also benefit seeing. Much is still unknown about the physiology of sight. However, recent research by Pawan Sinha demonstrates that movement is primary for the brain’s ability to delineate individual objects within visual information.12 The brain must learn to take raw visual data from the retina and parse regions of color and luminance into objects. Sinha’s laudable humanitarian efforts to restore the sight of people born blind shows that moving objects are the first that people learn to parse. Movement reveals clues in regard to the contours of objects and their shapes. When perspective is altered, forms emerge from those differing perspectives, giving the brain visual clues with which to delineate objects. Pawan Sinha’s Ted Talk includes a segment of video that demonstrates the role of motion for parsing visual data into objects (the explanation starts at the nine-minutemark).13 The video presents the effects in a more dramatic fashion than can be viewed by rotating and moving 3D renderings of the St Chad Gospels; however, the concept remains the same and is subtler for a page of a manuscript.

To view a 3D image and rotate it while observing it is advantageous to seeing, not only for perspective and differentiating objects but also for clarity of sight. From a physiological standpoint, the eye sees best when objects have at least slight motion. A 2D image thrives in its capacity to be motionless. It literally stares us down. If a person looks too long at a static image, the photoreceptors in the eyes begin to shut down from the lack of stimuli, causing blank batches in what is seen. Motion and/or changing stimuli are essential for clarity of sight.

Our digital artifacts and their interfaces need to account for how we see. The brain constantly interprets visual information and constructs what we consider the outer world. The brain learns to parse information sent from our retinas when we are young, developing a set of rules for interpreting this visual information. These rules are in part based on probability and have been exposed by what we consider optical illusions. Diagrams, like those developed by Kanizsa and Varin to show false squares, help to demonstrate the general rules used by the brain to parse regions of color and luminance into objects and attribute perspective (Figures 4 and 5).14 Other diagrams, like the well-known duck-rabbit, demonstrate the interpretive nature of vision. What we see is constructed and the results of our brain’s instantaneous and routine interpretations.

Figure 4: Kanizsa & Varin False Squares.

Figure 5: Kopfermann Diagram.

The interpretive nature of sight and the quickness in which the brain makes its interpretations should startle us. It demonstrates how knowing and meaning can just as quickly be structured from what we think we see (interpret as seen) rather than from what is before us. Magicians’ illusions are a prime example. When we misinterpret visual data, we misthink. What we think we see, how we interpret visual information from our retina, is the first thinking that shapes our knowing and has great epistemic consequences. Structuring ways of looking and designing interfaces for our digital artifacts which recognise that visual data is interpreted and what we see constructed is an important part of the epistemic question raised by 3D renderings, and significant for 2D images of artifacts as well.

For a page as intricately designed as the St Chad Gospels’ cross-carpet page—the page consisting of an intricate weave of dogs and birds, their bodies forming twisted knots of interlace, some strands a mere three pixels wide—any additional visual information to clue the brain toward parsing the visual data is beneficial. This page would offer an intriguing experiment, with two groups working to discover various obscure details and overall patterns on the page, one using interactive 3D renderings and one using 2D images. Examining eye movement and times required for the various tasks would supply useful information for the development of 2D and 3D interfaces for viewing digital versions of cultural heritage artifacts.

3. Epistemic Features of a 3D Interface

Until I can organise the aforementioned experiment, let me discus the features and scholarly tools that I have included as part of the 3D gallery and interface for viewing the 3D renderings of the St Chad Gospels. They include the ability to generate a URL for the exact position that a 3D image is manipulated into, one that can be saved, sent to a colleague, or used as a citation; zoom in and out, the resolution a healthy 4096 x 4096; measure any feature on a page using placement pins, allowing a measurement to be a line or polygon (taking up to seven different measurements, using seven different colors for the placement pins); save a measurement or measurements and the position of a 3D image with a note as an open-access annotation that can be reloaded any time; and manipulate a 3D rendering by panning the camera or performing an alt + left click to make any point on a 3D rendering an epicenter around which to rotate an image. I will focus my discussion on this last feature, as it has the most significant epistemic implications for interacting with the 3D images and looking. The other tools have more obvious scholarly functions, like the measurement tool, which can be used by a scholar (or conservator) to measure any feature of a page, including holes in the vellum to track in the future whether or not they are increasing in size and need special care.

Epistemically, the viewing of a page changes when every point becomes an epicenter for looking. As a page is rotated, the eye suddenly radiates in the direction of the tilt or vanishing point, opening a new heuristic. Compared to 2D images, looking is remade. The page’s margin loses some of its significance as a starting point. A page is no longer anchored on one side, as it is by a manuscript’s binding, or shackled on all four sides, as it is incarnate as a 2D digital image. Instead, any feature that catches the eye or sparks curiosity becomes a point from which to begin an inquiry, the start for a series of rotations and turns that lead to knowing. A page is observed, discovered and comprehended from this point, and as the page is tilted and perspective changes, words, decorate and imagery are constructed and reconstructed within the field of vision. The brain accumulates a multitude of images, a collection of visual information, from which to process it’s knowing.

Interactive 3D renderings free scholars’ aesthetic experience to direct inquiry in a manner not nearly as readily available otherwise. While a physical manuscript enables looking across a page, it is awkward to manipulate yourself or a manuscript into positions to allow any point to be the origin (epicenter) for looking across, particularly for a large manuscript or one in delicate condition. Such looking places viewers in relation to a page in some regards similar to that of the artists or scribes who made it, who viewed the page as its execution unfolded, from every point touched by the brush or quill, the design radiating from it. As each point becomes an epicenter, in the interactive movement of the page, the changing perspective draws the eye to various aesthetic moments and allows the page’s grandeur to unfold in a sequence of altering shapes and perspective. The aesthetic experience of the page is made and remade and paths of inquiry are available for thought, reflection and knowing. This is the excess of 3D.

I do not wish to over- or understate the significance of these paths of inquiry as a heuristic and route to knowledge. How we approach and look at a page has been deeply conditioned by the printing press. Increasing knowledge normally involves overcoming ingrained habits of thought and looking. Our habits for viewing a page—left to right, top to bottom—have been conditioned by printing (for good reason) and carried over to the screen as seen in scroll bars. The layout of printing has left a deep impression, even in our linguistic habits. When we say, “across the page,” we normally imply from left to right, across taking on the meaning of horizontal as it does for crossword puzzles. Web viewers, like Google’s Map API, enable diagonal movements. However, these movements do not generate a point from which to look; they allow traversing an expanse rather than a looking from a location on the image. While the eye moves across a page, taking in information, there is not a ready point or perspective from which to relate it and think it. In a 3D rendering, such a point exists, one in which to place other features of the page in relations to or in dialogue with for analysis and knowing. By having the ability to make any point an epicenter, this point becomes the reference point, the moment of the page, the design feature that the rest is measured against, associated with, a path for looking, seeing, and making meaning. 3D renderings generate engaged points of interest, positions to move out from, the line of sight radiating outward and through distances, beckoned by a page’s boarder, its vanishing point, whether vertical, horizontal or diagonal.

4. Concluding Thoughts

While the digital humanities is strongly dependent upon science and its advances in computerised technologies, such science has a way of returning us to our deepest humanistic roots, the ways of knowing that makes the humanities the complementary discipline to the sciences that it is. In a long line of philosophers, from Emanuel Kant, through Martin Heidegger, Theodor Adorno and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Hans-Georg Gadamer views the humanities as differentiated from the sciences by its knowing through aesthetic experience.15 For Gadamer, it is the recognition of the central role of the human element, with all of its complexities, that allows the humanities its insights. A culture’s aesthetics, embedded within artifacts, represents the essence of a culture’s way of being, condensed and distilled, the elixir with which a culture propagates and reinvents itself. In regard to knowing, Maurice Merleau-Ponty is not completely incorrect when he says, “Science manipulates things and gives up living in them”.16 The humanities are about living in things and lived experience.

As epistemology relates to 3D renderings, I have focused on two types of knowing generated by looking, knowing through semiotics and knowing through aesthetic experience. While I have concentrated on knowing through aesthetic experience, knowing through semiotics has been a large driving force in the digital humanities, particularly in the realm of text, beginning with the generally accepted originating story of the digital humanities with Father Roberto Busa approaching Thomas J. Watson of IBM in the 1940s to develop an index verborum for the corpus of Thomas Aquinas. Digital projects with textual concerns reinvented what we could know and continue to do so. For example, the Great Parchment Book project17 is producing readable 2D images of the fire-damaged Great Parchment Book, a manuscript that appears beyond hope of digitising. Part of this project involves digital flattening through 3D. Such projects demonstrate 2D’s profound impact on scholarship and knowing, with 2D’s ability to increase access, digitally preserve, and enhance viewing (through resizing, sharpening, and multispectral imaging). These abilities speak to 2D’s substantial contributions and excesses for knowing—particularly in the realm of recovering that which is no longer viewable, through ultraviolet and infrared images.

However, 2D images, even when text is the targeted characteristic, generate epistemic concerns, as addressed recently by Melissa Terras in “Artefacts and Errors: Acknowledging Issues of Representation in the Digital Imaging of Ancient Texts”.18 One of Terras’ concerns is dependency on digital representations and the possible lack of training for new scholars in examining physical artifacts. Will digital versions cause scholars to lose touch with, have amnesia or misremembering about physical artifacts? Working out of Gadamer, Dennis Schmidt tells us images, particularly art, “educate our seeing and understanding”.19 He offers the example of the earth never able to be seen in the same way after it was photographed from the moon. My hope, of course, is that we make concerted efforts to keep new scholars in contact with physical artifacts. But we have to admit that digital practices have remade scholarship and its practices for generating knowledge. Scholarship and our looking are and will be forever changed because of digital efforts.

One of the excesses of digital versions, whether 2D or 3D, is that sooner or later they will represent their antecedents better than the antecedents represent themselves, as in the case of manuscripts, when their inks and pigments fade and chip, their vellum gelatinize. In the future, we will have an epistemic crisis. Digital images preserve how a cultural artifact represented itself at a certain point in time, through a certain technology. Oddly, then, digital representations increase in value for scholarship as time progresses, preserving how an artifact once appeared, even after the artifact has seriously deteriorated. I believe that Melissa Terras has it correct when addressing current issues of digital representations for these future concerns, that our best strategies are documenting the technical aspects of a digital project and following sound standards, whether the Library of Congress or Joint Information System’s Committee.20

For digital projects, we must think hard about what is of value to place within the conceptual space of the screen for scholarship. For text, much of the conceptual space of the page works as negative space, to make letters as discernable as possible for their flight into meaning. However, this is only one use of the conceptual space of the page, one quite different for illuminated manuscripts. An artifact like the St Chad Gospels reorganises the universe around its aesthetic, an aesthetic of light, one dominated by religious doctrine but also well informed by its culture’s artistic heritage. The decoration of this great gospel book, the experience of its play of light, offers clues to understanding its text and larger expression. For the St Chad Gospels, the conceptual space of the page is anything but negative space, and a digital version needs to account for this.

Cultural artifacts and the characteristics that scholars wish to capture and represent for meaning making will generate the standards and urgency for how an artifact is digitally captured and presented. However, 3D is a rupture in our habits of thinking about the page as a flat surface, reminding us that the page is a conceptual space, one with horizons and vanishing points, embedded with a culture’s aesthetic. 3D images engender different types of knowing. With time, we will more completely understand the effects of 3D on knowing and scholarship, and how scholarly knowing reacts and evolves, the heuristics 3D inspires, and the types of knowledge it generates, which is certain to be different for different types of cultural heritage artifacts. 3D opens new potentials for interactivity, in the best sense of Web 2.0, and engaged learning, which has significance for teaching. How 3D influences scholarly practices, ways of knowing and the knowledge generated is an answer that I must leave to the future. Yet, I believe as digital humanists that we should leave digital artifacts for the future that are as saturated with data as we possibly can. When the scribes and artists made the St Chad Gospels, I doubt if any of them considered this great gospel book surviving twelve hundred years. Some of our digital artifacts will likely survive twelve hundred years. I know that I would prefer ones that have the saturated information of 3D.

5. Acknowledgments

Images of the St Chad Gospels reproduced by kind permission of the Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral.

  1. For a short video on the constructing of 3D images, see “The St Chad Gospels: Potentials for 3D in the Study of Manuscripts”
  2. Noah Adler is the Director of Research Computation and Application Development for the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Kentucky. Justin Hall is an undergraduate in Computer Science who recently graduated.
  4. Aristotle on Memory, trans, by R. Sorabji, University of Chicago Press, 2004, I.449b30.
  5. I am using a sense of semiotics as presented by C. S. Peirce in his flexible categories of icon, index and symbol. C. S. Peirce, Peirce on Signs: Writings on Semiotic by Charles Sanders Peirce, edited by James Hoopes, University of North Carolina Press, 1991. See particularly pages 181-3 and 239-40.
  6. For knowing through aesthetic experience, see Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Truth and Method, Crossroad Publishing, 1989. Gadamer recognises his debt to Emanuel Kant and extends ideas abandoned by Martin Heidegger in “The Origin of the Work of Art.” Maurice Merleau-Ponty offers some intriguing parallel thoughts and extensions in “Eye and Mind”; however, Merleau-Ponty’s untimely death interrupted his pursuit of this subject.
  8. Bernard Frischer offers a history of the use of surrogate in his co-authored essay “From CVR to CVRO: The Past, Present, and Future of Cultural Virtual Reality,” Proceedings of VAST 2000, British Archaeological Reports 834, ArcheoPresss, 2002, 7-18. While he does not use surrogate in his “Introduction: From Digital Illustration to Digital Heuristics,” Frischer offers an excellent discussion of 3D and motives for its uses in the collection he co-edited with Anastasia Dakouri-Hild, Beyond Illustration: 2D and 3D Technologies as Tools for Discovery in Archaeology, BAR International Series 1805 ArcheoPresss, 2008, p. v-xxiv.
  9. See Ségolène Tarte’s talk, “Interpreting Ancient Documents: Of Avatars, Uncertainty and Knowldege Creation”
  10. E. Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form, trans. C. Woods, Zone Books, 1997. For a critique and extension of Panofsky’s work, see J. Elkin, The Poetics of Perspective, Cornell University Press, 1996.
  12. For example, see P. Sinha, et. al., “Visual Parsing After Recovery from Blindness,” Psychological Science, 20:12, 2009, 1484-91
  13. Video link:
  14. D. Hoffman, Visual Intelligence, W. W. Norton Company, 1998, 1-105.
  15. H. Gadamer, Truth and Method, Crossroads, 1986, 5-19 and 106-14.
  16. M. Merleau-Ponty, “Eye and Mind” in The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetic Reader, ed. G. Johnson, trans. M. Smith, Northwestern University Press, 1993, 121.
  18. M. Terras, “Artefacts and Errors: Acknowledging Issues of Representation in the Digital Imaging of Ancient Texts,” Codicology and Palaeography in the Digital Age 2, ed. F. Fischer, C. Fritze and G. Vogeler, Norderstedt, 2010, p. 43-61.
  19. D. Schmidt, Between Word and Image, Indiana University Press, 2013, 117.
  20. Tarras, 51-4.