Discovering the Future in the Middle Ages

February 22, 2013
3D photography setup. Photo: Jeff Steward.

Thanks to the magic of digital 3D imaging, students in Harvard professor Daniel Lord Smail’s Making the Middle Ages course had a virtual hands-on experience with a pilgrim flask in our collections from the Byzantine period. Pilgrim flasks (ampullae) were used to carry water or oils from pilgrimage sites.

Students turned, flipped, and measured a 3D model of the flask, which was created by Harvard teaching fellow Rowan Dorin in collaboration with the Harvard Art Museums and Harvard’s Academic Technology Group. Dorin used 3D modeling software to combine images of the flask taken from different angles.

In a world where so many aspects of our lives are mediated through digital media, Rowan says, 3D models give students an opportunity to not only interact with objects, to but reflect on the relationship between what is real and what is rendered. Who would have thought that a course so deeply rooted in the past would give students a new perspective on how we live in the world today?

Interact with the 3D model of the pilgrim flask.*

Where can we go from 3D modeling? See how one California artist is working with sculpture and 3D printing technology.

*Recommended browser for Mac users is Safari 6.0 with Java enabled. Works well in most browsers with Java enabled for Windows users.
  • Close up of 3D photography setup. Photo: Rowan Dorin.
    of Close up of 3D photography setup. Photo: Rowan Dorin.
  • Still of 3D model.
    of Still of 3D model.