Sure, it’s cool, but is it scholarship? Building a case for computer modeling as knowledge production


Herter Hall 601

Encounters with the digital are increasingly pushing the boundaries of academic knowledge production. For traditionalists, the most palatable concession to technology is surely the print-like online journal, if only for convenience’s sake. At the other end of the spectrum of the ever-expanding range of digital tools and methods, sits the three-dimensional computer model. Decidedly not print-like. Interactive. Non-linear. More visual than textual. Confounding in approach and dissemination. Sure, it’s cool, but is it scholarship? From this academic’s point of view, most emphatically, yes! Building a three-dimensional computer model of an ephemeral or long-demolished environment combines traditional historical methods with new technologies and results in an entirely new form of scholarly publication. With a few twists. The research process requires the same – if not more – rigor and dedication as that for a printed monograph, but the focus is often on the micro-level details, not generalities. Analysis and interpretation are at the forefront of any modeling effort, although the end result is a visual argument, not textual. And the finished product is an effective vehicle for disseminating knowledge, albeit in the form of an interactive learning environment rather than a print-like page. Using her computer reconstruction of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 as a case study, Snyder will address the process of researching and reconstructing historic urban environments, the affordances of this new form of scholarship for research and pedagogy, and the challenges yet to be overcome in terms of peer review, evaluation, and publication.

Lisa M. Snyder (Ph.D. UCLA) is an architectural historian and research scholar with UCLA's Institute for Digital Research and Education (IDRE) and is an Associate Editor of Digital Studies / Le Champ Numérique. From 1996 - 2013 she was a senior member of the Urban Simulation Team at UCLA. Snyder's primary research is on educational applications for three-dimensional computer models of historic urban environments. She developed the reconstruction model of the Herodian Temple Mount installed in 2001 at the Davidson Center in Jerusalem, and is currently working on a reconstruction model of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition that is shown regularly at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. In 2010 she received an NEH-Digital Humanities Start-Up grant (HD-50958-10) for the development of a software interface (VSim) that provides users with the ability to craft narratives in three-dimensional space as well as the ability to embed annotations and links to primary and secondary resources and web content from within the environments. This work is continuing under an NEH Digital Humanities Implementation Grant (HK-50164-14). Snyder is also co-PI on “Advanced Challenges in Theory and Practice in 3D Modeling of Cultural Heritage Sites,” an NEH Summer Institute being hosted at UMass Amherst in June 2015 and at UCLA in June 2016 (HT-50091-14).