by guest blogger FLO LAINO (follow Flo on Twitter @FloLaino)

The Heritage Jam Vision 

The vision and purpose of the Heritage Jam is to showcase and celebrate the practice of heritage visualisation, and its importance to heritage practice as a whole. Today, the study of the past, both tangible and intangible, is recognised as necessary not only for investigating the events of history, but also for the role it serves in the understanding and crafting of our own identities, and the world around us - for building connections, for how we teach and learn, for how we relate to and value other people and things. Visualisation in heritage practice works in conjunction with the written word to record, interpret, and articulate ideas about the past. We use pictures as devices for communicating stories, for inspiring others, for evidencing and evaluating our contributions to knowledge, and for stimulating investment in our research, our fields of practice, our cultural institutions.

The world of heritage visualisation is a complex one, with diverse drivers, goals and consequences. Its outputs often are the means by which we come to know history and prehistory; they offer the gateway into discussions about personal and collective biographies, and the circulation and manipulation of materials and spaces across time. And, in turn, they influence the degree of importance that individuals and communities assign to their environment, from the tangible landscape, to intangible practices of culture-building and policy-making, to overall systems of value.

What animates us here, then, are a series of critical questions about visual practice and its relationship both to the archaeological and heritage records, and to larger processes of knowledge making and knowledge sharing:

  •  What are the boundaries between art and science in visualisation?
  • Can we separate our visualisations from entanglement in our own modern constructs and value-judgements?
  • How do we represent working method, for example, intention, process, uncertainty, imagination and narrative?
  • How to we control the second life of images and should we worry about their ability to be taken out of original context and/or misused?
  • How do we balance the imperatives of our art, against evidence, multi-vocal contributions to the interpretative process, and commerce in the production of our visualisations? 

We are among a long line of individuals and groups who’ve been motivated by such questions, and it is their investment in critical reflection and self-conscious attention to the affordances and tensions behind visual production that drives The Heritage Jam. We see visualisation as a critical player in exploring and navigating the intersections between the arts, humanities and sciences; and within the heritage sector specifically, we see it as a means for cultivating value, fostering creativity and wellbeing, occupying new spaces for thinking and doing, negotiating relationships between different publics (including professionals), and creating connections with local historic and cultural environments.

A look in retrospect, shows a history of visualisation in heritage that is long and diverse. Often credited with the popularising of the archaeological reconstruction, the discipline owes much to pioneering figures such as Alan Sorrell (1904-1974), whose singular style of illustration achieved a prominence and ubiquity during the 20th century. However, individuals working today represent a spectrum of approaches as dynamic and fluid as the theoretical developments within the discipline itself - demonstrating the potency of visualisation for enabling interpretation and guiding research questions.

Measured recording combined with powerful computational softwares, are forging a strong virtual reality movement, where predictive models can facilitate novel methods in hypothesis testing, framed around questions of space, light, sound, colour, volume.

3D model of the Guild Chapel, Statford-upon-Avon (Giles, Masinton, and Arnott, 2012). This, ‘functional’ or ‘cognitive model’ (Barceló 2001; Forte 2000) is used as a vehicle for demonstrating and navigating the paradata of the Guild chapel paintings in a non-linear narrative.

Whilst on the other hand, the canon of impressionist artists tests the boundaries of our human empathy, whereby the artistic and archaeological method is united to help us to frame questions and engage critically with the interpretations that are conjured inside our heads. Such visualisations can prompt us to ask - what does this narrative look like? Could this have actually been what was? What, of the modern world, is influencing my interpretation?

Taking, for example, the above work of archaeological illustrator Kelvin Wilson, whose work pushes against the arguments regarding the tenability of the narrative constructions required in heritage visualisation, as necessarily subjective and conjectural compositions. His visualisations are often framed around a specific question that is intended to provoke archaeological reasoning or response within the viewer:

“…Asked to form a narrative around one archaeologist's favourite find, she chose a necklace found in a Roman woman's grave, so pristine it made her wonder...

'Why was it so special to her?' …”

Speaking at the York Research Seminar series in 'This is Not Archaeology: The Interpretive Design of the Past', his stance is forged on the premise that archaeology should see empathy in visualisation as a powerful tool for revealing how our own contemporary life history and individual interests, complement and guide our understanding of archaeological data (Kelvin Wilson 2014).

Recent digital heritage interventions are further stretching the boundaries on what visualisation might achieve. For instance the Museum of London’s Street Museum App, or the History Pin website, both of which are championing new ways of building senses of place, and exploring relationships with the landscape based on embodied, user-controlled, sense-based, augmented realities and narratives. Similarly, other sites such as Retronaut, have proven popular in their ability to surprise by disturbing certain preconceptions about the past through their time-capsule-like collections. (Although these sites also demand critique for various reasons, including their tendency to ignore attribution and to circulate pictures in unbounded, untraceable ways.)

Screenshot taken from the landing page for the App on the Itunes store – showing how the App works.

Screenshot of a History Pin tour of the March on Washington, 1963.

‘Smiling Victorians’, time capsule of photographs of smiling Victorians throughout the 1800s, to rebut the common perception of the austere character of Victorians.

Colour photographs of occupied Paris in the 1940s – illuminates the desensitising and hardening effect of the black and white image.

In other ways, digital heritage visualisation organisations such as Cyark (whose mission is to build a 3D online library of laser scans of the world’s cultural heritage sites, freely accessible to the public, before they are lost), who champion digital methods of preservation, pose novel questions of what the nature of preservation is; the increasing ubiquity of the laser-aesthetic of electric yellows, reds and greens of their scans challenging our sense of what is beautiful in data visualisation, and how we value such outputs in society.

3D scan of Tudor Place, Neoclassical mansion, Georgetown dating 1795 CE – 1816 CE. 

The Heritage Jam seeks to shine a spotlight on the talent of those working in the sector. But why does heritage visualisation need this?

The Heritage Jam believes that giving greater voice and recognition to visual practitioners is vital to supporting innovation, culture-building, and the sustenance of heritage and the historic environment overall. At the heart of The Heritage Jam is a grassroots mission to bring together specialists and different interested publics in the building of both models of good visual practice and networks of sharing and collective creativity. It is our vision that the Jam will facilitate ideas and connections which will continue into the long term – whether this is through the continued development of experimental prototypes crafted at the Jam, or through growth of new working partnerships.

But most of all, for participants, the Jam is a unique opportunity to have fun, appreciate and reflect on the power of your craft skills, and draw inspiration from the past to shape the future. It is an invitation to explore your creative potential, produce new work, and inspire others to participate. Ultimately, we seek to facilitate spaces in which we can build our various heritage communities, break down walls between how heritage values are integrated into decision making in the present, and promote shared enjoyment and care of our many and diverse histories. 



Barceló, J.A. 2001 'Virtual Reality for Archaeological Explanation: beyond 'picturesque' reconstruction', Archaeologia e Calcolatori 12: 221-244.

Giles, K., Masinton, A., & Arnott, G. (2012). Visualising the Guild Chapel, Stratford-upon-Avon: digital models as research tools in buildings archaeology. Internet Archaeology, (32). doi:10.11141/ia.32.1


AuthorIan Kirkpatrick