Creating Digital Collections I

Creating Digital Collections I


MA Digital Cultures

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Maastricht University

Coordinator & main teacher

  • Dr Costas Papadopolous & Dr Susan Schreibman
Intended learning outcomes (more on programme level)

Creating Digital Collections (DCU4009/4010) builds on subjects, concepts, and approaches that you have studied in Periods 1 and 2 of MADC.

  • Design Thinking processes have been introduced in the course ‘Design Thinking and Maker Culture’;
  • Audio narratives introduced in ‘Design Thinking and Maker Culture’ will be utilised in developing the narratives for the digital collection;
  • Online narratives, issues of representation, and issues pertinent to digital archives and cultural memory were discussed in the course ‘Machines of Knowledge’;
  • Skills on blog design and WordPress introduced in the course ‘Transformations in Digital Cultures’ will be utilised here for the creation of the digital collection;
  • This year’s theme for the collection also draws from the lightning challenge at the beginning of the year, as well as discussions in the course Machines of Knowledge that dealt with larger societal issues.
Learning objectives (course specific)

Part I – In successfully completing this course you will be able to:

1. Knowledge & understanding:

  • Understand and reflect on issues brought about by the digitisation of material culture, including transparency, authenticity, reconstruction, and aura.
  • Demonstrate advanced knowledge and understanding of object biographies and digital sensoriality.
  • Demonstrate a good knowledge and understanding of the theory and practice of using digital technologies and methods to digitise, disseminate, and promote material culture in three dimensions;

2. Applying knowledge and understanding:

  • Apply professional and industry-standard techniques for the three-dimensional digitisation of material culture.
  • Put theories into practical effect and design solutions related to specific heritage and new media scenarios and case studies.
  • Produce 3D models to present and disseminate material culture.
  • Plan, design, implement, and evaluate 3D recording processes and products.
  • Work in teams for the creation and distribution of digital media.

3. Making judgements:

  • Analyse the impact of digital media developments and related user practices
  • Critically evaluate different tools and methods and their products as well as the benefits and challenges of implementing such technologies for cultural heritage.

4. Communication:

  • Use various formats for presenting your work, including blog posts, and interactive media.
  • Participate as a team member in a group project and collaborate with professional cultural heritage organisations;

5. Lifelong Learning skills:

  • Collaborate in groups to develop a shared understanding of a task/problem.
  • Reflect upon your own learning process and utilize these reflections to further develop your academic and professional skills.
  • Communicate in oral and written form and by using and producing interactive 3D content.

Research Methods and Skills Training

The course ‘Creating Digital Collections’ will introduce you to a new skill: 3D digitisation and modelling. In this skills training you will be introduced to the tools and methods needed for the digitisation of the collection, including photogrammetry, processing software, and online 3D repositories. Particular emphasis will be placed on the field of computational imaging; a field in computer science that studies the computational extraction of information from digital photographs that has democratised preservation and dissemination of heritage. This skills training will span across both periods. For this skill training you will also use the pedagogic paradigm of the flipped classroom by reading in advance of the class relevant content on the platform ‘#dariahTeach’. This is essential, since Period 3 is extremely short and class time will not be adequate to adequately cover the method.

Objective statement (course description)

This course is designed as a capstone course which brings together much of the skills and knowledge, theories and methods taught in previous courses, along with new competencies to design a specific type of web presence, that of a digital collection. It does this by having you consider the ethical, methodological, theoretical, and practical issues regarding collecting and curation, representation, reconstruction, and reproduction. This year, taking a project-based approach to PBL, you will collaboratively develop a digital collection of 3D objects. Working in small teams, you will create this collection utilising skills and competencies, such project management, design thinking, content development, web design, podcasts, technical integration, and social media. The 3D objects will be contextualised thematically for a specific audience, with interactive elements inviting readers to actively participate in knowledge creation. This course will explore, both theoretically and practically, the narrative being created in the design and presentation of artefacts while situating this collection within a conversation of other similar web-based artefacts, collections, and narratives.

In constructing collections we take on responsibility as mediators: the objects we choose and how they are contextualised and framed have great influence on how the public will understand and interpret them as individual objects, as well as a collective. Contemporary societies rely on collections of artefacts and documents as repositories of collective identity to allow us not only to make sense of the past, but to understand our present. Traditional gatekeepers (e.g. archivists, librarians, and curators) are trained in making decisions about what objects are to be preserved, hence what is worthy of being remembered, as well as how these objects should be organised and presented to the public. Collections and archives play a key role in memory studies, being a repository for the present generation to collectively remember and commemorate the past, informing our understanding of identity, change, and persistence (Conway 2010, p. 442). In the process of creating digital collections we ought to be conscious of, on the one hand, the power dynamics of being the creators of the repositories that shape (collective) memory, and on the other, the responsibility we have towards the objects themselves and to the people who used and/or created them. Therefore, this course, through the development of a digital collection, also problematises the politics of digitisation and reflects on notions such as value, memory, and authenticity.

The goal of this virtual time capsule is to capture the essence of our time through these representative or symbolic 3D (re)creations, augmented by other multimodal content: e.g., text, 2D images, videos, or podcasts. To realise this project, there will be both group and individual components:

  • Individual component: Each student is responsible for choosing and digitising one object in 3D. The skills sessions in period 3 will provide you with the skills you need to do this digitisation. In period 4 will focus on how to contextualise the objects you choose. Thus, each student will be responsible for creating one 3D model, as well as curating it (via text, images, audio, and/or video) on a single blog page for the collection.
  • Group component: We will take a team-based approach in which sub-teams work (somewhat) independently to create a single, unified collection. Each of you will take on a role within your team (this may differ depending on the goal of your team via the list below, but each group will select a team leader). We will use WordPress to realise the collection. The methods, skills, and concepts in periods 3 and 4 will provide the background for curating the collection as a whole. To realise the collection, the class will be divided into seven groups.

– Group 1: Web Design and Coordination. The Web Design/Coordination team will be responsible for designing the WordPress site that will host the collection. They will also be in charge of coordinating the other groups and the material that will be uploaded to the website. Communication with the web design/coordination will be done via the leaders of each group.

– Group 2: Introduction and Contextualisation. The Introduction/Contextualisation team will be responsible for the pages which pertain to the project as a whole (e.g., content of landing page, About, Background, Acknowledgements etc. This team will be responsible for the content of those pages. They will also be responsible for designing these pages in coordination with the Web Design team.

– Groups 3-7: will collaborate to curate the collection as a whole by bringing together individual objects into five Covid related themes. Each thematic team will co-author a landing page via text and other multimodal elements that will contextualise and reflect on the theme as well as the objects which are part of that theme.

Type of course :

Skills & content course

Target group :

Master’s students

Pedagogical approach:

Problem-based Learning; Project-based Learning

In this course, PBL is materialised in the form of interactive lectures, workshops and skills training, stressing its four core values: learning as a constructive, collaborative, self-directed and contextual process:

  • Learning as a self-directed process: students are encouraged to play an active role in the content of the course and direct their learning process by designing the digital collection. Tutors will facilitate students’ decision-making process and direct the development of the collection using a range of learning activities. Freedom regarding the themes of the collection and its presentation is given to the students;
  • Learning as a collaborative process: mutual and shared understanding working towards a common goal is promoted in the creation of this real-world project;
  • Learning as a contextual process: we believe in learning in meaningful contexts, and therefore this course encourages students to activate and develop skills and knowledge within a cultural heritage/institutional context;
  • Learning as a constructive process: the elaboration process is emphasized through discussions, peer- feedback, (digital)making, and critical reflection. This will be put into practice throughout the two parts of the course

This course will make use of the flipped classroom instructional strategy. In this approach, you are introduced to the learning material before the class, most often via online resources, and therefore class time is devoted to working with the content more deeply. In this course, practical elements of 3D recording and processing will be introduced via the course ‘Remaking Material Culture in 3D’ on #dariahTeach, a platform with open educational resources for the digital arts and humanities. Class time will be devoted in practice and discussion.


Part I

In Part I of the course, we will focus on objects, particularly focusing on their lives, biographies, and multisensory affordances, while problematising 3D visualisation both as a process and product, and the aura and authenticity of digital representations. Using these as the theoretical basis, you will start conceptualising your own digital collection, particularly focusing on your chosen objects and their context. You will also be introduced to 3D modelling, a skill that you will utilise to develop 3D digital representations of the physical objects you will include in the Collection.

Overview of Meetings

Period 3

The course consists of six tutorial group meetings, two lectures, and four skills training sessions. During the tutorial group meetings, we will discuss assignments which are each organised around a specific topic that will help you to better think about and reflect on the role and value of digital collections. Most tutorial sessions will follow a similar approach to the courses in Period 2. The first part of the tutorial will be devoted to the discussion of a problem, theory and/or concept, while in the second part you will be asked to work in groups to apply and problematise these into case studies and scenarios. At the same time, you will be working together to start conceptualising the digital collection, first starting with individual objects, which will then in Period 4 will be thematically categorised and contextualised in the form of an online collection.

The course handbook and the canvas modules provide most of the information you need to prepare for each session. As this course is project-based, some of the sessions will be more flexible and free-flowing rather than pre-determined and strictly structured. Items that have to be prepared for the following meeting are also clearly indicated.

The course focuses on three broad themes, aspects of which are explored in the lectures and tutorial group meetings using different modalities, including discussions, reflections, and case studies:

  • 3D Visualisation and Knowledge Production
  • Object Biographies
  • Authenticity, Affordances, and Aura
  • Digital Materiality

Preparation for Week 1

In this session you will practice Structure from Motion by developing 3D capturing scenarios and simulating the recording of small objects. In advance of the session you should read/watch the following material from the course ‘Remaking Material Culture in 3D’ on the #dariahTeach platform. You are also expected to do the quizzes and go through any learning material (e.g., quizzes, exercises etc.) associated with these tasks. This is essential as the session will build on that content. These readings and the work undertaken during the session will also be the basis for the quiz in the following week.

For Session:

Part 1: Read the assignment text, required readings, and reflect on the learning goals for the class discussion. Groups should decide in advance who will be responsible for chairing and note-taking for the discussion.

Part 2: In small groups (3-4), select a 3D collection (from a museum channel on Sketchfab to a 360o rendering of a museum to a collection on Europeana or Google Arts & Culture) and reflect on the following:

1) What is the 3D collection you have chosen?

2) How are individual objects/spaces represented?

3) What are the affordances of the 3D collection (platform or object/space)?

4) How do they come together as a collection?

5) What is gained and what is missing in this form of presentation?

Groups will discuss their findings in the second part of the next tutorial. Please note that you don’t need to prepare all this in advance. However, it will be good if you start looking at 3D collections before coming to class, so that we don’t have spend class time to find a collection but only to discuss the above topics.

Week 1 – Introduction to the Course

Part I: Introduction to the Course

In the first part of this session, you will receive an overview of the course, Digital Collections I and II in periods 3 and 4. You will be introduced to both courses, their structure, the various tasks and activities, the skills training, and the assessments due for each of the courses. You will also be given time to complete the IWIO evaluations for Period 2, if you haven’t done so.

Part II: What is a (Digital) Collection?

In the second part of the tutorial, we will explore (digital) collections. Working in groups, we will focus on publicly available collections from heritage institutions: including museums, libraries, archives. The goal is to begin to explore the shapes and parameters of these collections, with a view to how you will shape the collection you will be creating as a class.

These collections are offered by heritage institutions:

1. Library of Congres Digital Collections

2. Europeana
3. Rijksmuseum
4. Digital Library of Scotland

The questions we would like you to address concern institutional goals. Choose two of the institutions above and focus on two different collections from each. When picking collections to focus on, try to choose them not only because the subject matter is different, but also because of the way of presentation (e.g., narrative vs data-base driven, object types, or attached to special projects or exhibitions).

  • What purpose(s) does the institution have in making their collections available generally, as well as the goal of the sub collections you have chosen to focus on?
  • How are the collections narrated? Or how does the institution narrate its own purpose, goals, reasons for making their collection available online? How are the objects curated? What voice is used? From what position is the story told? How do the objects chosen further the narrative?
  • Who are the digital collections created for? What clues help you select the audience?
  • Do you feel the institution fulfilled their goals with the way the sub-collections are curated?

These collections have a connection to some of the themes that we may be dealing with in this class project:

5. Stories of 2020 from the Museum of American History

6. Corona in de Stad: from the Amsterdam Museum

7. Urban Art Mapping

The questions to answer are a bit different:

  • How does the institutional or personal context help determine what is included and what is excluded?
  • Why would the institution or organisation curate this particular collection?
  • What authority does one need to possess to curate such a collection?
  • What value (and to whom) do the objects in the collection contain?

By the end of the tutorial (or for homework) each group should create a definition of what is a digital collection and post it to the ‘Discussion Board: What is a Digital Collection’. Each group should also provide examples of the collections that exemplifies this definition.

Part III: Brainstorming – The Themes for the Collection

In the final part of the tutorial, we will brainstorm about the potential themes for the collection. This will enable you to make more informed choices regarding the objects you pick to digitise.

Skills: 3D Modeling I

In this session you will practice Structure from Motion by developing 3D capturing scenarios and simulating the recording of small objects. In advance of the session students should read/watch the following material from the course ‘Remaking Material Culture in 3D’ on the #dariahTeach platform. Students are also expected to do the quizzes and go through any learning material (e.g., quizzes, exercises etc.) associated with these tasks. This is essential as the session will build on that content. These readings and the work undertaken during the session will also be the basis for the quiz in the following week.

After the class session, you are expected to post on the ‘Discussion Board: 3D Modelling My Object’ a brief reflection on the potential difficulties and/or problems that your object may present in capturing it in 3D using ‘Structure from Motion’ as the method.


3D Visualisation and Knowledge Production

In this lecture, you will be introduced to three-dimensional modelling and visualisation in cultural heritage. It will touch upon different methods of visual recording, analysis, and communication, particularly exploring issues of representation and discussing the epistemological challenges we face in the remediation of the physical into digital three-dimensional forms. By focusing on digital surrogates, visual renderings, and computationally-processed visualisations it also explores the materiality, sensoriality, intellectual transparency, knowledge production, and technical sustainability of 3D models in the arts and humanities.

Tutorial: Analogue to Digital: Authenticity, Affordances, Aura

Part I: Post Discussion

  • How do you understand the terms: aura and authenticity based on your readings?
  • How notions, such as aura and authenticity change in (3D) digital reproductions?
  • What are the factors that determine how authentic a digital object may be?
  • What are the affordances of digital (3D) objects? What is lost and gained in the process of digitisation and how might these losses and gains affect our understanding?

Part II

In the second part of the session, different groups will evaluate 3D collections and will present their reflections to the questions posed under ‘To prepare for Week 1’. You don’t have to do this in advance, however, you should already form groups and look at 3D collections so that you don’t spend class time in browsing different collections. Based on this work, we will discuss about 3D collections, their aura and authenticity, and what is gained and missed via such (re)presentations.

Preparation for Week 2

For Tutorial:

Read the assignment text, required readings, and come up with responses to the learning goals. Decide in advance who will be in charge of chairing and note-taking for the discussion.

For skills session:

In advance of the session you should read/watch the following material on the #dariahTeach platform. You are also expected to do the quizzes and go through any learning material (e.g. quizzes, exercises etc.) associated with these tasks.

For next Tutorial:

Read the assignment text, required readings, and come up with responses to the learning goals. Decide in advance who will be in charge of chairing and note-taking for the discussion.

Week 2

Lecture: The Lives of Objects

In this lecture we will explore the lives of objects from these many perspectives to provide hooks for you to create your own object narratives.

Tutorial: Object Biographies

Part I: Post Discussion

Learning Goals:

  • Several authors discuss the concept of object biographies. What exactly do they mean by this term? How can objects have biographies?
  • How do the narratives about objects change over time? How is this related to production and consumption?
  • How does this concept relate to an object life cycle? How is this lifecycle ‘entangled’ (Harding) with human production and use?
  • Can objects have agency? And if so, how?

Part II:

In the second part of the session, you will work in small groups to apply the notion of ‘object biography’ to your chosen objects. This work will feed into your object descriptions for the digital collection.

Skills: 3D Modeling II: Processing

In this session, you will delve deeper into 3D modelling by learning how to process image datasets to produce 3D models. In advance of the session you should read/watch the following material on the #dariahTeach platform. You are also expected to do the quizzes and go through any learning material (e.g. quizzes, exercises etc.) associated with these tasks.

Tutorial: Digital Materiality

Learning Goals

  • Why does materiality matter in the digital age?
  • How do you understand the materiality of digital objects?
  • What are the factors that affect how (digital) materiality is communicated and perceived?
  • Find an example of Digital Materiality in relation to an archive/collection and critically reflect on its physical and digital affordances

Preparation for Week 3

For Monday’s Quiz:

Look at the exercises we did in class for the two skills sessions and at the content and quizzes on #dariahTeach. The quiz will include questions about photographing, structure from motion good practice, capturing workflows, and a dataset processing scenario.

For the 3D Digitisation of your object:

For the digitisation of your object make sure to practice digital photography and look back at your notes from the skills sessions and #dariahTeach material. If you want to practice, you can form groups and borrow cameras and lightboxes. Speak to Costas in advance to arrange this. We will have a sign-up sheet to ensure that everybody gets a chance to practice. You can also borrow equipment to digitise your object

For Wednesday’s Skills:

In this skills session we will discuss publishing your models online. We will explore the functionalities of Sketchfab; the platform we are going to use to upload the 3D models. You will also have the chance to ask any questions you may have for the object you digitised. This session will form the basis for the final session in which you will upload your models in Week 4.

In advance of the session, you should read/watch the following material on the #dariahTeach platform. You are also expected to do the quizzes and go through any learning material (e.g., quizzes, exercises etc.) associated with these tasks.

For Thursday’s Tutorial:

Read the assignment text and required reading. This tutorial does not have learning goals to respond to in advance of the class.

Week 3

Monday – Tuesday – Wednesday

Digitalisation of your objects

Skills: Publishing online and Q&A

In this session, we will explore the functionalities of Sketchfab, the platform we are going to use to upload the 3D models.

In advance of the session, you should read/watch the following material on the #dariahTeach platform. You are also expected to do the quizzes and go through any learning material (e.g., quizzes, exercises etc.) associated with these tasks.

Tutorial: Brainstorming: Working Towards your Themes & Objects

In this tutorial we will go through a brainstorming exercise to help you come up with relevant literature and multimedia that will help you better inform and contextualise the descriptions for your objects and themes. The work you will do in this tutorial will feed to the activity you will have to prepare for Period 4 during the first week of the course (reflection week).

Preparation for Week 4

You only have one session in Week 4. This is meant to help you upload the models to Sketchfab. By Wednesday 25th of January, you are expected to have your 3D models completed, and have gathered all the material required to populate your models in Sketchfab (based on the skills session in Week 3 and the relevant #dariahTeach material). In advance of the session, please make sure to have your 3D model uploaded to the dedicated Sketchfab channel (either export it as an .obj from Metashape or use the direct Sketchfab upload feature via Metashape).

Assessment of learning:

For Period 3 of the course, you have to complete three assessments: a 3D model (40%), a blog post (40%), and a quiz (20%). You need to pass all three assessments to pass the course.

1. 3D Model for the Collection: Each student will be responsible for producing one model for the digital collection (photographing object, processing dataset, exporting file). The model should be uploaded to the dedicated Sketchfab channel and accompanied by categories, tags, at least two annotations, and a description of the object (up to 1000 characters, including the creator of the 3D model ‘created by: Name, Surname’). The evaluation will be along the following criteria:

  • Quality of the 3D model (geometry, texture, rendering mode on Sketchfab)
  • Tags, Categories, and Description of the 3D models on Sketchfab (relevant tags and categories, description that provides a sufficient amount of information about the object and its context, annotations).
  • Depth of reflection (what went well, what did not work as expected, how would you have done things differently, etc.) – evaluated via the 300-word reflection (see below)
  • Structure of GDrive folder (see below)

The 3D model should be embedded on a dedicated page on your personal blog, accompanied by a 300- word reflection. This 300-word text also needs to be submitted via Canvas using the submission/feedback form provided to you under the Resources tab. In addition, you will need to submit the 3D model (.obj); photographs used in processing; masks (if applicable); and, the metashape .psx file in a Google Drive folder created for the class.

A master GDrive folder link will be provided on the student portal in which each student will have to create their own folder ‘Name, Surname’ in which they should include the above in a clear folder structure:

  • Name, Surname
  • Object (name of object)

– Obj. file

– Photos

– Img1., img2. Etc Masks

– Masks

– Metashape File

– Processing Report

An example folder/structure will be included in the dedicated GDrive folder for guiding purposes

2. A 800-1000 word blog post (excluding references), uploaded to your personal blogs, and also submitted via Canvas, using the submission/feedback form provided. The blog post should be related to your chosen object, which will be theorised using one of the perspectives discussed in the tutorials:

a. Authenticity, Affordances, Aura

b. Object Biographies

c. Digital Materiality

Since you are writing this essay in the form of a blog post, you should make sure to use blog affordances as much as possible. The weight of the blog post towards the final grade is 40%.

3. Quiz (Monday 17th of January). Based on the skills session on 3D modelling you will have to complete a take-home quiz in Week 3 of the course. This will consist of True/False, Multiple

Choice, and Open-ended questions. The weight of the quiz towards the final grade is 20%.

Effect (witness account, evaluation of the course)
Additional biblio sources

Week 1 – from link:

Unit III: Computational Imaging

  • 3.1.3 Defining Computational Imaging
  • 3.2 Understanding How Cameras Work (whole section)
  • 3.4 Photogrammetry (whole section)

Unit IV: Structure from Motion

  • 4.1 Capturing Data for Structure from Motion (whole section)


  • Denard, H., 2012. A new introduction to the London Charter, in Paradata and Transparency in Virtual Heritage Digital Research in the Arts and Humanities Series, eds A. Bentkowska-Kafel, D. Baker & H. Denard. Ashgate, 57–71.
  • Huvila, I. (2018). The subtle difference between knowledge and 3D knowledge. Hamburger Journal für Kulturanthropologie, 7, 99-111.
  • Jeffrey, S. (2018). Digital heritage objects, authorship, ownership and engagement. In Authenticity and cultural heritage in the age of 3D digital reproductions. McDonald Institute Conversations. McDonald Institute.
  • Younan, S., & Treadaway, C. (2015). Digital 3D models of heritage artefacts: Towards a digital dream space. Digital Applications in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, 2(4), 240–247. Doi: 10.1016/j.daach.2015.11.001
  • Benjamin, W (1936). The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. Visual Culture: Experiences in Visual Culture, 114-137. (Covered in Period 1)
  • Jeffrey, S. (2015). Challenging heritage visualisation: beauty, aura and democratisation. Open Archaeology 1(1).
  • Jones, S. (2010). Negotiating Authentic Objects and Authentic Selves: Beyond the Deconstruction of Authenticity. Journal of Material Culture, 15(2), 181-203.
  • Latour, B. & Lowe, A. (2011). The Migration of the Aura, or How to Explore the Original through its Facsimiles. In Bartscherer, T. & Coover, R. (eds) Switching Codes: Thinking Through Digital Technology In The Humanities And The Arts, pp. 275-98. University of Chicago Press.

Week 2

Unit IV: Structure from Motion

4.2 Processing Data for Structure from Motion (Whole Section)


Week 3

Unit IV: Structure from Motion

4.3.1 3D Viewers and Repositories

4.3.2 Sketchfab

4.3.4. Evaluating a 3D Platform