Alan Resnick, Outlive your friends and family through 3D Scanning and other Digital Archiving Techniques (2011)
Historical artefacts are perceived as a part of the past and digital historical objects can instead be used as ‘tools for understanding the past’. Digital 3D models are therefore of potentially greater use for researchers and scholars who can use these tools to explore new interpretations and points of view.
Users of 3D digitisation can learn from the creative interaction to develop a more informed historical imagination and gain greater digital visual literacy. In educational environments this leads to the sharing of ideas and knowledge. Users can copy, manipulate and recontextualise data; going on to share their data amongst peers or publicly.
Digital 3D models of heritage artefacts allow researchers to study heritage materials without being restricted by the need for physical access. They can be accessed online all over the world. Museums, universities and heritage institutions are increasingly contributing 3D models to online repositories, their own websites and via shared databases for the benefit of all.
3D digitisation, much like the Digital Humanities as a whole, is represented by its collaboration. Open culture and digitisation initiatives such as Scan the World by MyMiniFactory or Sketchfab, which the Exeter DH Lab publishes on, have worked closely with artists and museums and share those models for free online. Hackathons, mostly used in computer programming, have been brought into the realm of 3D digitisation to develop and foster collaborations, often in a short amount of time.
There is some loss to public creative access to digital reproductions of heritage artefacts. Museums and heritage institutions stand to lose some authority over their intellectual property and there is a risk of digital heritage content being modified to be used in ways that are confusing or offensive. The historical accuracy of digital 3D models is an area of on-going debate in the Digital Humanities. Objectivity is the ultimate goal in the preparation of these models, yet technological or human error can sometimes risk the accuracy of the model to the historical object.
Digitisation can also be expensive for many institutions. The costs associated with 3D printing can make it particularly unrealistic for the heritage sector to undertake major 3D digitisation. At the same time, by sharing the entirety of their collections online some fear that this would devalue unique historical objects by turning them into something that can be infinitely reproduced and shared freely with no economic benefit for those keeping the objects safe and protected.
There are worldwide efforts to scan and model artworks, artefacts, architecture and other cultural heritage objects, and make them freely available for viewing, downloading and printing. If you want to use 3D models in your teaching or assignments, it's worth looking at the provenance of the model - who has created it? How have they made the model? How much information about what the model represents is included?