Adding a new dimension to history

When you think of areas of study that benefit from 21st-century technologies, what comes to mind? Math? Science? Coding? Given education’s renewed focus on STEM, these disciplines are obvious choices. However, the impact of current technologies isn’t limited to STEM. In the field of history, cutting edge technologies not only help us evaluate sources, but also provide new ways to engage with the past.

The Scanning History Project, a new initiative led by Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School in Strathroy, Canada, is the embodiment of these possibilities. Through this project, students in our history classes use a variety of 3D scanning techniques to capture primary sources and historical objects; we turn these scans into 3D models that can be shared online, viewed in browsers, and even embedded in Word documents and PowerPoint presentations. Thus, students around the world will have unprecedented access to interactive sources that they can examine in great detail.

Good scanning isn’t easyat least, not yet. We’ve experimented with new technologies and approaches, all with varying degrees of success. Luckily, an amazing team from Microsoft has been incredibly supportive, helping us at various stages of our work. Only a few weeks into our project, Peter Hoang, Creative Director at Microsoft Vancouver’s Bigpark studio, and their Technical Artist Jeremy Kersey Skyped with my students to learn about our goals and our process.  In return, they helped us understand how to scan objects effectively, and even tried to replicate our approaches so they could give us feedback. Amazing, huh?

The team’s support of our endeavor reached new heights in late April. Peter, Jeremy, and two team members from Seattle flew from the west coast to meet our students at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. My students were thrilled: a team of professionals was willing to fly across Canada just to work with them! The team from Microsoft worked closely with our students as they scanned a variety of objects from Canada’s Indigenous communities. The collaboration was remarkable: my students learned so much about photogrammetry and scanning tools inspired by the Kinect, and the Microsoft team learned about how 3D scanning can be used to engage students in the study of history.

A 3D image of an art gourd

What’s next for The Scanning History Project? As the scan of the Peruvian gourd art demonstrates, our understanding of 3D scanning is continuously growing. We’re excited to work with the Microsoft team in the future. We also look forward to sharing our approach with classes around the world so that they can scan history, too.


Jim Pedrech is the English and Canadian & World Studies department head in Strathroy, Ontario. He is also a Microsoft Innovative Educator Fellow.

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