I am very excited for this week in our digital humanities course, as 3D scanning/printing has been a fascination of mine every since I discovered it. The possibilities for creation and replication seem endless, with the latter resonating strongly with me as an historian for several reasons. First, it seems an incredible benefit to scholarship to be able to replicate obscure artifacts that can then be distributed across the globe, allowing scholars everywhere increased access to items essential to their research. Second, it seems to be a perfect way to “preserve” (through duplication) these artifacts for future generations without having to worry about their preservation in the same ways as we might the original. It seems like the perfect solution, right?
However, as my childhood (and current) moral compass has famously said (in his oft misquoted line), “with great power there must also come great responsibility.” Just because we have the power to replicate and distribute these artifacts, doesn’t mean that we should. This caution is urged both by Sara Bond in her article debating the ethics of 3D-printing Syria’s cultural heritage in the wake of the 3D-printing of the famous Palmyra Arch and by Claire Voon’s coverage of the event. One of the principle problems with 3D-printing is the question of ownership. How do copyrights function for the reproduced product, especially if the scan is identical in appearance to the original? Even if one does not own the artifact in question, is it appropriation/theft of cultural property for it to be 3D-printed? Bond’s references to notions of colonialism in the practice brings to mind the notorious acquisition and display habits of British museums during the heyday of the British empire. Are the two all that fundamentally different? I know that I don’t have explicit answers to these questions, but I am certainly more aware of the question now than I was and can hopefully avoid any missteps in the future.
With regard to my project, I have been continuing to increase my familiarity with the digital tools necessary for mapping and feel much more confident in utilizing many of them. This project is finally starting to seem a bit less daunting than it did just a week ago! However, my priority has definitely been on accumulating sources, as per the recommendation on the syllabus and my own project plan. The grinding of the process can be boring at times, but slow and steady wins the race (and hopefully submits a quality project!)