Early last year, I wrote a (successfully funded!) proposal for my department (Purdue Libraries) to purchase 3D scanning and printing equipment dedicated to archival digital humanities research. This was in response to a call to appropriately use some outstanding funds remaining in an equipment-funding account; the audience was department administration. I’m sharing the proposal now as part of a series of posts documenting practical, administrative, and infrastructural work that makes DH go. If you’re interested in possible DH applications of 3D printing, or more generally in researching and making a case for DH equipment, I hope this post is useful to you!
You can see the actual PDF I submitted here, if you prefer reading that to the blog post transcript below (it includes the budget and cost comparisons I didn’t feel like reformatting to paste into the blog text).
I try to start any proposal with a summary—this one has too long of a summary, and too long of an overall document. I was new to how the department handles purchase requests, and wanted to preemptively answer expected questions (e.g. you can see that I’m both trying to explain what 3D technology does and why purchasing it for open maker space service wasn’t my initial goal). I now try to keep reports and requests to a single page that’s easily skiable for key points like cost, value, and timeline, but I think this writeup might still be useful to someone seeking to familiarize their team with DH uses of 3D printing.
Notes: Redactions are summarized [in brackets]—these are things where specific names were involved or ideas that we might want to use in competitive grant proposals. The “ASC” is Purdue’s Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives & Special Collections.
I propose a dedicated setup for digital humanities 3D scanning, modeling, and printing as research and teaching:
The DH Center’s 3D printing setup would support research, with a focus on how to best scan, digitally model and animate, and print facsimiles of archival and humanities artifacts for research and teaching use. Much of our time will be spent experimenting with scanner, printer, and software settings to produce accurately representative 3D models, and it is critical that researchers have full access to the equipment to do this.
Requested funding: $7596.98 (see budget below)
Questions: Amanda Visconti (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The setup will be located in the future DH Center; until that space is inaugurated, the setup will be located in the DH Specialist’s office (table along the wall opposite the door).
IT for the setup will be entirely supported by the Digital Humanities Specialist (installation, support, maintenance). The DH Specialist would develop a contract with Libraries IT to record this understanding. This is an excellent test case to create a workflow for DH in the libraries that includes DH control and support for software, hardware, and policies.
I have discussed a possible 3D setup with [colleagues] in the ASC, and they have helped me identify specific artifacts and collections that would benefit from 3D support. We will collaborate on a workflow for secure handling and scanning on any ASC artifacts to be scanned, and think about how future ASC processing workflows might include capturing 3D digital model files of artifacts.
Research into appropriate equipment included speaking with humanists doing archaeological and archival 3D work at [institutions]. We’re attempting to strike a balance between the cheapest options (assuming in the short run we’d need to upgrade to intermediate options, costing more total) and highest grade options (e.g. the $25k Artec Spider might one day be useful, but I’d want several years of prior 3D work, successful class and research use, and external funding for an investment that large). Total requested: $7596.98.
Future possible costs that will be supported from DH Specialist startup funding and other sources: protected cart for bringing artifacts from ASC; blue painter’s tape for printing bed improvement, sink for cleanup; ventilation/fan; table covering; dedicated computer, monitor, keyboard, mouse, cables; lockable space for storage; shared ASC+DH graduate research assistant to assist with project design, 3D work, training others.
The Libraries already supports a 3D printing setup in the Engineering Library, but for various reasons this is not adequate for digital humanities scanning, modeling, and printing work:
Ideas that could be developed into full lesson plans, courses, or collaborative DH projects seeking external funding.
General classroom use. The 3D setup will allow students to have a dedicated space to explore digital interactions with the objects in ASC’s rich collections, where humanities students and faculty could experiment directly with the machines while getting archivists’ support in handling items and negotiating file/image reuse/sharing/copyright.
How close can we get 3D models and printing to the originals? Teaching archival concerns around authenticity, materiality, and representation (e.g. presentation differs depending on what significant property you’re focusing on) through experimentation with equipment calibration, materials, and post-printing processes.
How can 3D scanning and modeling improve current archival processing workflows? Augment existing digital collection items with 3D files; interactive 360+ degrees animations of artifacts; packaged lesson plans for K-16 including videos explaining archival artifacts, their details, differences in models, and possible discussion questions.
How can we meet the need for archival facsimiles? Meet the need for exhibits around Purdue and ASC history for external institutions (e.g. recent Indianapolis Symphony exhibit), the West/Lafayette community, and Purdue’s 2019 dual 50th moon landing / 150th Purdue founding anniversaries. Create facsimiles for hand-outs at Libraries and Alumni events, to pique interest in humanities projects and ASC collections (e.g. wearable facsimiles of Amelia Earhart’s flight goggles, possibly with add-on to hold smartphones a la Google Cardboard and display related Purdue history projects or apps).
Tangibility. The ability to touch and manipulate objects and representations of data inspires the curiosity and questions of learners. Additionally, tangibility adds accessibility to visualizations, timelines, maps, and graphs for the visually challenged. Building on existing museum work allowing visitor access to facsimiles (e.g. the Art Institute of Chicago offers a range of sculpture with which visitors can feel the differences of various materials and compare the effects of erosion over time), we will attempt to make the learning and research outcomes of tangible access to artifacts more rigorous.
Improving active participation with research involving rare and fragile artifacts. In addition to increasing access to artifacts, 3D scanning and printing would allow those without archival training to directly handle a fragile object like Neil Armstrong’s model lunar lander module, experiencing first-hand detail, dimensions, and texture. But students could do much more than just touch these artifacts.
Access to off-campus artifacts. The purchased scanner will be reasonably mobile, so that scans of artifacts held off-campus (e.g. in museums in an astronaut’s hometown) can be made when ASC staff visit them, then brought back to campus and printed so that a class can tangibly experience a remote artifact.
Improving world access to Purdue’s artifacts. Purdue Libraries could host downloadable 3D image files of some of our ASC’s artifacts; we’d begin by identifying 5 key objects that are some combination of highly interesting and difficult for non-archivists to access (rare, fragile, not well represented by photograph).
[Grant project idea]
Specific ASC collections or artifacts tagged for projects include: a 3D tour of the ASC vault, pliable/wearable 3D print of the lunar glove, Earhart flight suit, historical planes/propellers, artists’ books, Armstrong lunar lander module model. Anything that is fragile, rare, dangerous (lunar dust, jet fuel…) in the ASC—things that students or even researchers can’t currently touch or see. Anything in the ASC that would benefit from a cross-section (even if the insides don’t exist or can’tbe scanned, because these can be digitally modeled) or demonstration of them item in context and/or in use (historic propellers).