Special Collections stepping out into a new Virtual World

A wire frame model of St Andrews Cathedral, c. 12th century, developed by the Open Virtual Worlds project and designed by Sarah Kennedy.

No, this headline isn’t the plot of some low-budget 90’s science fiction film, we’re serious! Special Collections has teamed up with the Open Virtual Worlds team at St Andrews to bring our presence into the 4th dimension. For the past few years, a team of computer scientists, art historians (including Professor Richard Fawcett, Dr Julian Luxford) and graphic designer Sarah Kennedy have been working on creating a virtual, to-scale model using an open source platform. This has resulted in the wonderful Virtual St Andrews Cathedral, which can be viewed, strolled through and interacted with using an OpenSim platform.

An early rendering of the exterior of the Cathedral, viewed from the south side, developed by the Open Virtual Worlds project and designed by Sarah Kennedy.

A behind-the-scenes shot at some of the software used to reconstruct the virtual Cathedral.

Earlier this year, the team’s co-ordinators, Alan Miller and Lisa Dow, sat down with members of Special Collections to see if and how we could get involved in this already very well developed resources. After a brief discussion, we realized that there was a great deal that we could do together, and so we developed some ideas for a short-term project: Flexible Access to Medieval Books (FAB). This project, designed for an MSc dissertation, will take a two pronged approach to integrating Special Collections into this new virtual environment: 1) we will identify what manuscripts and charters were known to have been in the Cathedral Priory in the 12th century (held both here at St Andrews and further afield), produce 3D object scans of each item, create a 3D representation of each book or charter and place them back in the Cathedral Priory’s book presses, and 2) a virtual exhibition space will be designed that will enable flexible access to Special Collections’ material, a space which will not be constrained by the same considerations of cost that a real world exhibition would.

A rendering of the cloisters of the Cathedral Priory, where it is known that the medieval book presses were located.

In order to get this new project off the ground, a collaborative project bid between Open Virtual Worlds in Computer Science, Special Collections and Art History was made to the SELF fund for technological support and guidance. We learned yesterday that the bid was successful, and so the project will be beginning very shortly! Watch this space for more information!


12 responses to “Special Collections stepping out into a new Virtual World

  1. Pingback: Open Virtual Worlds » Successful SELF bid·

  2. This blog goes from strength to strength and never fails to entertain and inform. Sounds a bit po-faced but nonetheless true.

  3. I really enjoyed this post and the digital Cathedral. I think this kind of immersive environment is the future of web engagement – so much more engaging than a Facebook or Twitter feed! It will be really interesting when the 3D books are in situ. Do you realise you are creating a digital library here? I’m also really interested in the reconstruction of the Cathedral. It must have been a big project. Did it increase the knowledge we already have of the structure? There must have been a lot of digging around the archives to get the most accurate visualisation.

    • Thanks Jane, indeed, the larger plans are to investigate a potential site in the Cathedral where a scriptorium might have been sighted. Once we do this, we may look into developing a virtual scriptorium with NPC Scribes and illuminators, etc. The Cathedral has been a big project worked on by several people, I think it really is just beginning to realize its potential.

  4. These images are absolutely stunning. Having lived in St Andrews for over three years, and visited the cathedral ruins in every kind of weather, it’s fascinating to have yet another perspective on the building. I look forward to the day when ‘entering’ the cathedral digitally will be as easy as stepping onto the site itself!

  5. I wasn’t aware of the cathedral project at all. Just had a quick look round inside and it’s very impressive. Really brings home how imposing it would have been in its prime. Can’t wait to see it housing the collections. Is anyone apart from yourselves and Art History contributing content – Divinity, History etc?

    • Hi Mike, I think those involved are just starting to realize the potential of this thing. For the Cathedral project it was mainly Art Historians, however I know the Open Worlds team has worked on other projects with staff in Classics. Now that the model is in place, I think it is really a great time for more experts to get involve and starting to fine-tune the thing. A very exciting time indeed!

  6. Pingback: A Cathedral Resurrected « mediaevalmusings·

  7. Pingback: Open Virtual Worlds·

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