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Nome del file originale: ArsialPP3.pdf
Titolo: Virtual museum and environment
Autore: Stefano Carrano - ARSIAL

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Pilot project 3. Virtual museum &
environment

Projet Interreg IIIB
Medocc n° 2005-05-2.1-I-137
November 2007

Content

Foreword

1

Methodological approach

4

Definition of a virtual museum

5

Virtual museum instances

10

Virtual museum project development

19

Target groups

25

Sources processing

27

Technical requirements

28

Virtual Museum case study: Pontine Plain Land Reform

32

Background

35

Target group & purposes

42

Sources

49

Resources

70

Costs and benefits

77

General considerations

77

Virtual Museum project realisation cost evaluation

79

Virtual Museum project management cost evaluation

81

Bibliography

82

Acknowledgements

85

Foreword
This third ARSIAL activity simulation in the frame of the GreenLink project is focused on the
cultural aspects of the relationship country-town with particular emphasis on the museum
concept.

The common image connected to a museum description is associated to a collection of
objects contained in glass cases that illustrate the past. This in many instances is true as far
as a first observation, but at a closer reflection it stands out that museums are a source of
evidence that could be utilised to give proofs of a thesis or to enrich knowledge on specific
themes. The order with whom the objects are displayed is important to induce into the
observer mind a construct among a range of possibilities.
The evidence of the displayed object could help the observer mind to pose questions like:
what is it? How was it utilised? How different from us where the people that utilised it? In
which context (environmental and cultural) they lived?
The simple exhibition of objects of the past is therefore often linked to other sources of
documentary evidence like short explaining texts, images, maps, videos, etc… The historic
context of the object itself is described before and after in the broader view of its evolution,
correspondence in other countries or ages are evidenced and links to other kinds of culture
are displayed addressing the observer to other collections or other museums.
The personal construct of the interested observer is in this way often interrupted because of a
physical limit: the impossibility to follow the path of the mind (the research of knowledge) to
find in short time further evidence across the walls of the different museums hosting the
different collections.

This limit could be overcame only through the web. “Cyberspace is limitless. Transposing
museum into the digital domain offers a way towards overcoming the problem of juxtaposing
documentary evidence and objects, ignores limitations on space and facilitates a whole new
approach to interpretation such as offering alternative views” (McKeown R., 2003).

The

observer construct is no more obliged to follow the specific order imposed by the museum
responsible and new approaches from different points of view are enabled.

In the last 15 years the concept of virtual museum has affirmed after the realisation of
important examples all over the world. The first instances were related to the simple purpose
of diffusing trough the web information on existing physical museums and to attract more
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awareness and visitors. Then this new tool on the Web was utilised to illustrate

with

satisfying results the extraordinary events that during the year some of the greatest museums
organise to diversify their exhibitions. Later the concept acquired new values and there are
now many instances of virtual museums on line that are totally independent from real
physical collections of objects or artefacts.

Very soon the responsible of teaching institutes (architects, universities and high schools)
seized the educative potential of the act of building in the cyberspace a representation of
documentary sources and the virtual museum concept developed into an exercise for
learning purposes. The virtual architecture is now regarded as a new teaching and training
domain that concerns new questions, new bets and new challenges.

This fast aptitude to adapt and evolve was linked with the technological easiness and to the
poor resources requirement needed to build and especially to maintain and manage a virtual
museum. It is obvious that the costs for the realisation and maintenance are extremely
contained or are missing compared to those of a true museum (such as personnel, security,
insurances, cleaning, etc…).

For these reasons virtual museums are particular apt to represent art, culture, history and
environment at local level and in peripheral areas, in those instances where small
communities with reach traditions but poor means have no financial resources to maintain a
traditional representation of culture. The recording of many local cultural traditions could
therefore represent a point of force thanks to the linking through the Web of many different
local virtual museums. In this way the building of a network of the cultural “milieu” could
become one of the best methods to enhance cultural landscape of large areas or regions.
The principal characteristic present in the relationship country-town, is the mobility, mobility
conceived as passage of humans, goods and environmental factors between the two places.
This traffic could be represented in the space and in the time, but for evidence and
documentary reasons it steps into the culture sphere particularly with migrations phenomena,
usually from the country to the town.
Virtual museums could represent in the best way the roots of this mobility in the local level.
This will be the theme of the case study of the second part of this work, linked to the cultural
evidence of the historic migrations that the great land reform of 1920-1950 brought in Pontine
Plain, the huge coastal plain that stretches itself along via Appia, the ancient imperial road
connecting Rome to the South.

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Virtual museum are moreover particular environment-friendly both for their little carbon
“footprints” in the building phase and for the zero emissions caused by the absence of
mobility of the users to perform the observing visit.

Among all these strength points, on the other end, the representation through web of objects
has its negative sides. These are connected mainly to the representativity itself of the objects
and to the absence of a physical engagement of the observer in the exhibition space. A visit
in a real museum is linked to a physical experience that has more relevance in the mind of
the observer, involves all its five senses, helps his attention and therefore will be more firmly
printed in his memory.

Therefore virtual museums could not replace real physical museums, but they could become
the best way to ensure multidisciplinary connections between environment and culture in the
representation of human history and, when properly designed, could offer the best fitting
method to represent documents, acts, maps and archive materials in a living perspective.

To be compared with map on p. 9

The Pontine Plain land reform represented in an historical archive map of O.N.C. (circa 1936)

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Methodological approach
This pilot project is structured in a first part describing the concept of Virtual Museum (VM)
and illustrating instances and best practices all over the world. An important section has been
dedicated to the problems and the modalities of VMs planning and designing, aiming at
being useful for local administrators interested into this argument.
The second part of the work concerns the realisation study for a specific project: the VM of
the Land Reform of Pontine Plain. This work is strictly linked to the historical background of
ARSIAL and is intended to the valorisation and conservation of a cultural heritage of
thousands of people that from 1920 to 1950 worked with enormous efforts and among
dangerous health risks to ensure the welfare and the future for the next generations of
inhabitants of the territory.
At the end an evaluation of cost & benefits will try to take into account the economic effort
and the benefits linked to the VM realisation. To this regard it should be stressed that
economic benefits are quite impossible to be accounted for, because they concern the
cultural sphere and the un-monetary advantages of public actions and adequate instruments
for this evaluation have not yet been realised.

Definition of a Virtual Museum (VM)
Virtual museum instances
Target groups

Virtual museum project development

Sources processing
Technical requirements
Background

VM case study: Pontine Plain

Target group & purposes

land reform

Sources
Resources
General considerations

Cost & benefits

Collection
Analysis
Processing
Human
Instruments

VM realisation cost evaluation
VM management cost evaluation

Virtual museum and environment methodological approach

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Definition of a virtual museum
The list of Web sites falling under the definition “virtual museum” (net virtual museum,
museum on line) is long, and always increasing. A search in the Web with Google tool for
"virtual museum" will bring up nowadays more than 24,800,000 hits; on 2002 they were only
141,000. Such an exponential increase is linked to a term definition that is very vague,
accommodating entries that have little to do with each other regarding both their institutional
status and their interpretation of the word “museum”. There are virtual museums that might
more conveniently be classified as libraries or archives. If the virtual museums definition
should have a common denominator at all, this would be a very general one, referring to
almost any kind of collection of material (supposedly of "historical" or at least "cultural" value)
put on general display on the Web.

A good definition of Virtual Museum was given by J. Andrews: “A logically related collection
of elements composed in a variety of media, and, because of its capacity to provide
connectedness and the various point of access available, [it] lends itself to transcending
traditional methods of communicating with the user; it has no real place or space, and
dissemination of its content are theoretically unbounded” (Andrews J. 1966)
Jamie McKenzie, instead, stress the multimedia characteristic in its own definition: “A virtual
museum is a collection of electronic artefacts and information resources - virtually anything
which can be digitized. The collection may include paintings, drawings, photographs,
diagrams, graphics, recordings, video segments, newspaper articles, transcripts of
interviews, numerical databases and a host of other items which may be saved on the virtual
museum’s file server. It may also offer pointers to great resources around the world relevant
to the museum’s main focus.” (McKenzie J., 1997).

The concept of virtual museum develops itself on the basis of a multimedia collection of
digital information that is searchable on the Web. The principal characteristics of a virtual
museum could be related to the following conditions:


to be multimedia interactive;



to be multidisciplinary;



to offer multi sensorial approach;



to be multi dimension (concerning the museum geometry and the information contained);



to be diachronic (to show the evolution of the conditions in the time);



to be accessible (broad open to users with hypertext links);

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to be dynamic (updating the information periodically);

In this context it is clear that the information given by a virtual museum could be different from
the simple exposition of images or the reconstruction of historical aspects. One of the great
benefices that a virtual museum could offer is the reassembling of scenarios, artefacts and
data that are disseminated in the space and in the time. Therefore it offers the possibility of
illustrating moments and evolution of humanity phases and cultures across the history and
environmental landscapes with amazing effectiveness.

One of the main problems in the design of a virtual museum is related to the representation
of the virtual space. This, in the best instances, should drive the user/visitor to the discovery
not only of new relations among the objects of the visit, but of new relations between the user
itself and the visited space too and, why not, among all the other users of the visited space.
It is therefore important for the designers of spaces (real and virtual ones) to meditate on the
kind of relationship that we have with those virtual spaces (the spatial information), how we
encode them and above all how and why we decode them.

The thematic and the contents of virtual museum are very diversified, but the programming is
usually recurrent consisting in a simple list of functions to be supported by the virtual
environment, in analogy to traditional museums. Those functions are translated in a list of
spaces/rooms characterising the museum that could be (among the others):


An entrance hall (the public access space for entering into the museum)



A common meeting place (Forum)



Different places for the collections/expositions



Service rooms (documents archives, download place, useful links place, etc..



Different transit and resting places to ensure an easier web navigation and a better
understanding of the hyperlinked places



One or more recommended paths/routes (illustrating a visiting scenario of the museum)

Virtual museum typologies and purposes
Actually we could separate two kinds of virtual museums: 1) the first one is a “virtual
integrated museum”, based on real collections of artefacts physically stored in an appropriate
building or place that utilises the cybernetic world to enhance and valorise the fruition of its
own collections and 2) the “total virtual museum”, that is a purely cybernetic reconstruction of
environments or landscapes (cultural or natural), that could be visited only through the PC on
the Web. A third intermediate kind of VM is offered by virtual selections of images of different
collections of artefacts and objects that are scattered in the reality in two or more different

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places around the world and that are presented in the Web in a new unifying vision to enable
a global/different approach.

According to the main purpose of their realisation two main categories of virtual museums
has been described: “marketing museums” and “learning museums” (McKenzie J., 1997).
The first ones are intended to attract more public visiting the real museum through a
communication and marketing action on the web. They could be introductive to the physical
visit and could give extra documentation concerning the artefacts exhibited, but are usually
limited in the cultural offer as in the detail scale.

Learning museums are instead very rich in information and data that could be utilised for
effective learning online and enable further investigations and links. They are not linked to a
physical location of the artefacts or to a defined institution and could put together pictures,
objects and themes that are situated at thousand of kilometres of distance or that concerns
different ages or eras.
A peculiar utilisation of Learning museum took place recently in high schools and university
departments as a kind of thematic exercise for students that are required to build virtual
museums on selected themes to improve their team ability and conceptual representation
aptitudes.

This is particularly important in the conservation of documents and objects

belonging to the local history of communities and municipalities, with the utilisation of old
letters, images and ancient diaries of the students parents and grandparents, thus enabling a
“live” study through the direct community sources, instead of through duly textbooks. In this
way different advantages are obtained such as: education to research, preservation,
collection and archiving; enabling network formation and cultural loss avoidance.
Another kind of Learning museum is linked to the work necessities of professionals of
museums and art galleries, education and research institutions. This is not open to the public
and targeted to scientific development.

Virtual museum concept development
History of virtual museum could be traced from the origins of the new media technologies that
starting from the mid 19th century had diffused themselves in everyday utilisation, like the
phonograph, home movie equipment, and eventually the telephone and the radio. The
appearance of each of these technologies triggered great numbers of proposals for their
possible uses, some of them realistic, some outright fantastic. (Huhtamo E., 2002).

In the meantime the museum traditional concept was developing new aspects linked both to
the visiting exigencies and to the cultural trends of the contemporary art movements. Groups
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like the Dadaists often abandoned the museum or the gallery altogether by re-defining art as
a unique (and often deliberately scandalous) temporary "event". This attitude was influenced
by André Malraux's famous idea about the imaginary museum without walls, presented in
1947.
The avant-garde experiments in exhibition art gallery space of the early ‘20s using reflective,
optically flickering wall material that changed its nature depending on the visitor's movement
through the space and the realisation of spaces filled with a three-dimensional system of gridlike horizontal, vertical and diagonal supports, that were used to display images and other
items were linked to Constructivism movement. The visitors had to literally "immerse"
themselves into the exhibition design and navigate amongst the architectural display "racks".

New principles of exhibition design first came to flourish outside the art world, at trade fairs,
world fairs, amusement parks and science centres that were able to embrace the idea of
interactive exhibits as a novelty without feeling the weight of tradition.
Among the more important, the Palais de la Découverte in Paris, opened just before the
second world war, and was influenced by the educational ideas of Paul Valéry.
Many of the early experience was seen as a necessary step in a child's development;
manipulating interactive exhibits was a logical continuation to playing with toys; at the same
time it was seen as unworthy of higher "cerebral" culture. Another target group for interactive
exhibit design were the disabled; tactility was seen as a way of compensation for sensory
deprivation (for blindness, for example). This exhibition projects introduced themes and
motives that can be claimed to have prepared the way for future virtual museums in a number
of ways. These include the idea of the gallery as a navigable non-linear database, the
convergence of several different media and the visitor's/user's interactive relationship with the
exhibits.

This brought to the key idea of integration. The exhibits were no longer seen as separate
entities put on display in any space. Instead, they become to be considered integral elements
of a total environment that envelops the visitors and encourages them into a dynamic
relationship with the space and all its dimensions and elements. The environment comprises
different media and channels of communication. Instead of a passive spectator in front of
static exhibits, the visitor is meant to turn into an active participant.

For the emergence of the virtual museum, as important as were wider cultural issues, the
topic was also grounded in new software or new media.

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Another important aspect precursor of the virtual museum concept was, in fact, the explosion
of art in the 20th century with the introduction of new technological media from photography,
film and sound reproduction to video, the computer and the Internet.
In the early 90s the possibilities of hypertext were applied to the creation of numerous CDROM-based virtual museums. Numerous commercial, some of them highly successful, CDROM products, now almost totally forgotten, were conceived as virtual visits to existing art
museums such as Le Louvre or the Hermitage.

There is no doubt that the vogue for virtual museums received a powerful impetus from the
emergence of the World Wide Web and particularly from its transformation into a multimedia
environment with the introduction of the Mosaic browser in 1993. Yet the idea did not
originate with the WWW. The invention of the hypertext in the 1960s may, in the long term,
have been a more decisive influence, pointing out the possibility of creating huge non-linear
data-architectures.

Detail of the first Pontine Plain land reclamation attempted by Pope Pio VI
(highlighted in pale brown) as represented in an historical map of XVIII Century.
All the coastal area, called into the map ”Macchia di Cisterna – Macchia di Terracina”,
was left untouched as an uninhabited huge area made of swamp, marsh and forest.

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Virtual museum instances
Virtual visits to existent museums is one of the broadest diffused utilisations of “Marketing
Museums” instances. The most famous example is offered by the Louvre museum, that on a
specific webpage named “Virtual Tours” proposes 10 virtual visits to thematic expositions
(http://www.louvre.fr/llv/musee/visite_virtuelle.jsp). These are not detailed, nor exhaustive, but
consist only of a limited landscape of the art gallery and some selected panoramic views and
the purpose it is clearly intended to induce the public to come and visit the museum on its
reality.

Louvre museum Virtual Tour access web page

Among the best instances of “Virtual Integrated Museums” the utilisation of a Virtual
Architecture could be a manner to emphasize particular aspects of an existing monumental
artefact on a parallel way for a better recognition. In this way the planning of the virtual
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representation is particularly cured on the spatial representation of the object. This concept
could be expanded with the instance offered by the virtual project for the Cappella degli
Scrovegni of Padova (http://www.aracnet.it/SitoScrovegni/Obiettivi%20del%20sito.htm), the
masterpiece of Italian painter Giotto. The project, elaborated by the Settore Cultura of
Padova Municipality with the consultancy of the prof. Ivo Mattozzi, has the purpose to
facilitate the visit of the Monument and its fruition to the observer (Comune di Padova, 2007).
The perilous conditions of the monument and the conservation works in progress, prevent an
harmonic and homogeneous point of view and a global acknowledgement for the observer. In
this way an underground virtual exhibition will be realised to ensure both a passive and an
interactive fruition thanks to seven didactic and multimedia tools and recreated virtual spaces
as for the Laboratory of the Artist and the House of Ann. This interactive project is aimed at
introducing, informing and contest-rendering the event of the visit to the Monument along a
path of multi-factorial growing intensity, broken into three topical moments: the immersion,
the expectation, the visit itself. The planning of the exhibition spaces is performed utilising
spatial algorithms to mark the “virtual territory” for each multimedia tool and the related stop
areas where the public attention is supposed to increase during the visit.

The visitor interactive strategy of Cappella degli Scrovegni virtual project

A particular utilisation kind of “Virtual Integrated Museums”, half way between marketing and
learning museum is offered by the instance of the Oriental Institute of the University of
Chicago (http://oi.uchicago.edu/museum/virtual/). The initial impetus for developing the
Virtual Museum on the World-Wide Web (WWW) was the imminent closing of the Oriental
Institute Museum during its renovation and construction project. In this case the re-installed
galleries would have not followed the Museum's previous exhibition arrangement. So the
Museum staff decided to record the actual collections with panoramic movies prior to the start
of the renovation project and once again after the galleries would have been re-installed,
because of the great historical value for the Institute. This would have also provided future
visitors a chance to see how the Museum was originally conceived, and to evaluate the new
gallery exhibitions in light of the previous design (Wilson K. et Alii, 2007).
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The Homepage of the Oriental Institute Virtual Museum

The operative realisation of the Oriental Institute Virtual Museum, was broken down into three
phases:
1) The planning, setup, and shooting of the still (film or digital) photographs that where
used to produce the movies.
2) The computer processing of the digital photographs, described above, with virtualreality tools software to produce the panoramic movie files.
3) The construction of the HyperText Markup Language (HTML) documents which
composed the overall structure of the Virtual Museum, which included the actual text
descriptions of the Museum and artefacts exhibitions and links to image files as well
as to the panoramic movies.
Several methods for navigating through the Virtual Museum were developed, each offering a
different approach:


A text-based, Regional and Topical structure.



A graphics-based, Museum Floor Plan structure.



A graphics-based, gallery/alcove "thumbnail" image structure.

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The results of this realisation are remarkable, and in particular if compared to the easiness of
the technical achievement and the low entity of the sustained costs (these will be related into
the costs & benefits chapter of this study).

An instance of “Virtual Integrated Museum” for learning purpose is offered by the Petrie
Museum (http://www.petrie.ucl.ac.uk), that collects all the objects, documents, photographs
and other materials concerning the researches that Flinders Petrie carried out on Egyptian
Archaeology from 1950 onward (McKeown R., 2003).

The English access page of the Petrie Museum

The planners of Petrie VM wanted to make all of the collection available remotely in surrogate
form and to do it in a user-friendly way which could be readily reproduced by any other
museum so inclined. Some of the artefacts of Flinders Petrie expeditions to Egypt and Sudan
were still in private hands, others have gravitated to local museums through bequests and the
like, but the overall result is that Petrie material can be found all over England and as far
afield as South Africa. This geographic dispersal makes it difficult to access physically, but
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thanks to the work of a Consortium for Virtual Egypt and Sudan, many of these objects and
the collections of Aylesbury, Bexhill, Brighton and Ipswich Museums are now entered into the
Petrie VM. The curators of the Museum intended to enable full access to the collections for
the virtual visitors and with this purpose they envisaged usage as being on a stepped model:


The first level of use is designed for those whose need for the kind of information
provided is not particularly demanding. For example, school students may be quite happy
to use the museum material in their project work.



A second level of use is designed for those who have more focused needs and may wish
to use the online material as a first step to identifying relevant material or to compare
different examples of object types within the collection or in conjunction with evidence
from elsewhere.



A third level of use is designed for dedicated researchers who have very specific needs
and who will use the online evidence to maximise the use of their time.

The Petrie VM is planned for advanced learning and special attention was given to the
interface allowing web search along four different characteristics of the object: type, material,
period and place of origin. An help feature provides a list of the terms in use to easy the
search, working down a hierarchy of terms allowing differentiated objects search. A
thesaurus-check facility has been added which allows the user to key in a possible search
term and be told whether it is a preferred or non-preferred term (with appropriate crossreference). The building of the thesaurus was particularly relevant and based on a own inhouse evidence-based thesaurus; that means that each term can be verified by reference to
a specific object or objects in Petrie VM collection.
The full record for the object includes not only the descriptive information but also a hyperlink
to a full bibliographic citation of any published references to the object that have been
recorded on the system. Most important: the VM offers the facility for virtual visitors to register
themselves by inserting name and password and to add records to a personal selection.

Coming to “Total Virtual Museums”, independent from real collections, one of the most visited
websites is the “The Parthenon Sculpture Gallery” (http://gl.ict.usc.edu/parthenongallery/)
realised thanks to the University of Southern California, the Basel Skulpturhalle and the
Visual Computing Group of CNR. The data for the models in this gallery was gathered from
the Basel Skulpturhalle in Switzerland. This museum houses a unique collection of high
quality plaster casts derived from the known Parthenon sculptures. Using a custom built
structured light scanner, all of these plaster casts have been digitally scanned and assembled
as 3D models. Using a systematic scanning approach, the 2,200 scans used to assemble the
meshes were acquired in five days with a team of four people. The models were
subsequently aligned, merged, and decimated using the MeshAlign v.2 and MeshMerge
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software tools developed by the Visual Computing Group at CNR-Pisa in the framework of
the EU "ViHAP3D" project. Most of the models represented consist of only the scanned data;
no hole-filling or data extrapolation have been used. This VM presently has over 150
sculptures in its library and the visiting website offers a selection of medium-resolution
versions of the complete gallery.

The Parthenon roof assembled virtual reconstruction offered by “The Parthenon Sculpture Gallery”

Another relevant instance of “Total Virtual Museum” is offered by the “Virtual Museum of
European Roots” (http://www.europeanvirtualmuseum.it/), envisaged as an e-service on the
heritage of the European ancient civilisations built by MU.S.EU.M., a multi-partnership project
funded by the European Leonardo da Vinci Programme. This realisation shows how the
European identity was built over the millennia, offering acquaintance with the history, culture,
art and people. The displayed objects are not limited to documents and objects; but large
room is given to the communication within the prehistoric societies and the visitor is enabled
to find and explore: maps of the firmament or its portions; sun, moon or stars motions;
constellations; zodiacs; calendar systems, religious-magic symbols; plots of mythical stories;
the knowledge of the rhythms of the daily, seasonal and cosmic time; accountancy
annotations, descriptions of sacred and ritual narrations; musical instruments; scripts, tattoos;
human and animal figures; amulets divinities … and many other thematic roots connected to
communication.
Particularly interesting is the fact that the M.U.S.E.U.M project has been a training laboratory
where experts and managers from seven European museums exchanged views, made
decisions, created new instruments and learned new languages while creating together the
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first virtual museum of European roots. The participants in this laboratory themselves decided
to create a pattern of the M.U.S.E.U.M training experience including into the website a
training programme (e-courses) for Virtual museum services (Euro Innovanet, 2006). Thus
the Web site and the “Virtual museum of the European roots” are not a separate area from
the training model, but a integral part of it and a support for it. In fact, the access to the ecourses is through the Web site and the content of the e-courses derives from the information
made available by the Virtual museum, as well as from the MU.S.EU.M. laboratories for
online training experimentation.

The multi-choice menu offered by the “Virtual Museum of European Roots”
enables the visit path selection or the e-courses access

Going on to illustrate the utilisation of cybernetics for learning purposes, one of the first
partnership among museum and school insitutes was at the basis of the well-known instance
of “Learning Museum” in the State of Washington (USA), where on 1995 the Bellingham
Public School collaborated with the Whatcom County Museum of History and Art to realise
the “The Fairhaven Turn of the Century Museum” (McKenzie J., 1997). This was the fruit of
the work of a concerted team composed by 34 students, 8 teachers and 6 professionals of
the Museum. This achievement could be considered a first example of a later development of
this kind of collaboration that in the States is broad diffused.

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Among the instances of Learning Museum utilisation for online training, the selection of two
actual instances will be representative. The first one is offered by the Marymount Institute of
New York, that put on the Web the guideline for a technical training exercise concerning VM
realisation on specific art thematic for its students (Marymount ICT, 2007). On the other side
of the world, but quite on the same level of accessibility for a WWW global surfer, the Virtual
Museum Atelier conceived by the École d'Architecture of the Laval University enabled a
practical concourse on the on-line conception and realisation of a VM to be planned through
a joint collaboration between students of Quebec and Toulouse (Côté P., Goulette J-P.,
2006).

The Homepage of the Fairhaven Turn of the Century Museum

The last example of utilisation of Virtual Museum is related to a recent experiment reserved to
professionals of the culture that tested high-speed network linking to combine image archives
in museums in Europe and Canada into a single virtual museum. The Virtual Museum
International

AC238 VISEUM, into the framework of the ACTS European Commission

funding program (Fourth Framework Programme) linked the most important Museum
Institutes of Europe and Canada (National Gallery, Louvre, Virtual Museum Association of
Vancouver) in a network of on-line applications for experimental art studies consisting of :
-

Remote browsing, viewing and downloading of high-resolution images (up to 20,000 x
20,000 pixels);

-

Colorimetric (device independent) imaging;

-

CD-ROM Juke box with high-speed ATM accessing;

-

Image archive database connecting.

As a result of previous projects, the European museums had large banks of high-quality
digital images. Thanks to the sharing network of the project, it was possible now to make
comparisons which have previously not been feasible: for example, accurate-colour details
from two paintings held by different institutions could be compared side-by-side on the
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computer screen. Also infra-red, ultra-violet and x-ray images which were usually not
published at all could be accessed remotely in high resolution. This is expected to contribute
greatly to conservation-related research. Traversing one third of the circumference of the
earth, the high speed ATM infrastructure will provide almost instantaneous access to heritage
resources that were formerly mutually inaccessible.
The trial sessions of this project are open to professional staff from the participating
museums only. However, the project will put in place the basic infrastructure and
technologies, so that other museums as well as research and educational institutions could
use the VISEUM system after the end of the project. Even some form of public access might
be possible in a subsequent project (Hellwig C., 2004)

The Explore/Highlights menu of British Museum website (see description on page 26)

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Virtual museum project development
The design of a virtual museum project has to consider 4 major stages:
-

the selection of the significant elements of the virtual world that is intended to represent;

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the spatial hierarchy planning of the virtual world (that will correspond to the input of an
underlying database);

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the hyperlink transit/passages (nodes and links) design, that will be targeted to the
groups of users of the VM ;

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the publication of the significant elements in Internet after sources processing and
Virtual Reality rendering phases.

The selection of the significant elements
The choice of the objects, documents, artefacts, images to be collected into the VM should
be regulated by the definition of admittance criteria appropriately formulated for each VM
purpose and thematic. Since there is no limit to VM purposes and themes identification, the
specification of these criteria could not be further defined, but will be left to each VM curator
attention. It is important now only to stress that protection of cultural heritage and
enhancement of knowledge are the central issues to be respected in this phase. Special
consideration should be given to the identification of the elements and to record and store
more details as possible concerning their characteristics. The realisation of an identity file for
each element should register different kinds of items concerning its nature. More recurrent
(but non-exhaustive) specifications are:
-

name and/or code

-

type of element

-

material by which is made

-

date of naissance

-

date of accession

-

place of origin

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where it is kept

-

material of origin

-

dimensions and/or weight

-

short description

-

short history

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bibliographic references

The filling operation of the single identity file card should be accomplished utilising a
standard selection of words contained into a defined vocabulary (thesaurus) in order to
achieve a routine level of performance of the database search operations. This vocabulary
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will be newly

defined during the planning phase according to the specific terminology

existent for the VM selected theme and/or to the specific/local denominations for the
objects/artefacts to be inserted.

The spatial hierarchy planning
It is a commonplace to consider the structure of a virtual museum as an hypertext, since each
element in an hypertext can be e-connected to others. However it is well known that large
hypertexts, in particular large websites are very difficult to manage. In the planning phase of a
VM it is important to provide future visitors with a well designed hyperspace so that they do
not get lost while navigating inside the space. The utilisation of an underlying database
schema can help to avoid this risk to some extent. Thus it has become common practice to
store documents and images in a database and to use some mechanism to automatically
produce the hypertext.

The utilisation of a Relational Database System is compulsory, due to the complexity of data
necessary for the complete description of elements the VM contains and also due to the need
for the information to be always updated. The existence of databases allows the registration
of all general and special information referring to the present element and the identification
features; can offer supplementary packages of special information referring to other
elements; allows research through internal or other museums collections; offers useful data
and addresses for transportation, accommodation, and visitation of cultural and tourist
objectives of for virtual shop (reproductions/copies). Shortly, the concept of a database can
be defined as being one or more collections of interdependent organized data, together with
the description of the data and the relation between them. The collections of data are
structured as tables called relations. The term “relational” comes from the fact that each
registration in the database contains information referring to a single subject. The
components of the relational model are: a) the relational structure of data; b) the operators
of the relational model; c) the restrictions to the integrity of the relational model. In order to
reach the objectives for which it was created, a database must have an associated system of
data management, which is the software of the database. This latter will allow the following
activities:
-

To define the database’s structure thanks to the organisation of data in tables;

-

To introduce new data or to correct existent data;

-

To access easily to data through different types of queries and enabling links and
nodes among the collected data;

-

To present the results of queries in the form of reports (printed or visualised on the
screen);

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To enable security to the original data;

Main relational database softwares commonly utilised for VMs realisation are:
-

Oracle (www.oracle.com)

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Microsoft SQL Server (www.microsoft.com/sql/)

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Microsoft Access (www.office.microsoft.com/en-us/default.aspx

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MySQL (www.mysql.com)

Starting from the database content, different hypertext structures can be created for the VM
and visitors will find some structures more accessible than others. Therefore it is important for
VM designers to easily define nodes and links from the hyperspaces and to consider the
different visiting paths. The more recurrent utilised technologies are based on the following
tools:

1. The fundamental element of the WWW (World Wide Web) is HTML (HyperText
Markup Language), a standard which describes the primary format in which the
documents are being distributed and published on the Internet to its special features
like the independence from the platform, the structure of formatting and the hypertext
connections.

2. VRML (Virtual Reality Modelling Language, originally known as the Virtual Reality
Markup Language) is a standard file format for representing 3-dimensional (3D)
interactive vector graphics, designed particularly for the World Wide Web. VRML is a
text file format where, e.g., vertices and edges for a 3D polygon can be specified
along with the surface colour, mapped textures, shininess, transparency, and so on.
URLs can be associated with graphical components so that a web browser might
fetch a web-page or a new VRML file from the Internet when the user clicks on the
specific graphical component. Animations, sounds, lighting, and other aspects of the
virtual world can interact with the user or may be triggered by external events such as
timers. A special Script Node allows the addition of program code (e.g., written in
Java or JavaScript ) to a VRML file. VRML files are commonly called "worlds" and
have the .wrl extension. Although VRML worlds use a text format they may often be
compressed using GZip standard, so that they transfer over the internet more quickly.
Many 3D modelling programs can save objects and scenes in VRML format.

3. Active Server Pages (ASP) is a powerful tool that may contain text, HTML tags
(markers) and scripts. The scripts in an ASP file will be executed by the server
through IIS (Internet Information Server), which is part of common operational
systems of Microsoft.
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4. ActiveX Data Objects (ADO) is used to access a database through a WEB page. It
was created by Microsoft and it is automatically installed at the same time with
Microsoft IIS (Internet Information Server) package.

5. Structured Query Language (SQL) is an ANSI (American National Standards Institute)
standard language used for the querying of MS Access, MS SQL Server, DB2,
Informix, Oracle, Sybase databases etc. SQL enables the selection and creation of
queries (adding, deleting and modifying registered choices of elements) upon
databases.

6. JavaScript is the most wide diffused script language on the Web, it was developed by
Netscape and is a programming language for Internet. It is used mainly for improving
sites design, forms validation, etc…

There are several approaches to create hypertexts from databases: utilising the “Procedural
Approach” the designers must write programs (CGI programs in C or Pearl, Java scripts,
PHP scripts, etc…). These programs are generally large since the code must contain both
tags and programming constructs. For such reasons, such a code is tough to maintain and to
update. The utilisation of the “Dynamic Document Approach” consists in extending some
document mark-up language (such as HTML) with specific tags for database querying, result
processing and formatting, etc…These tags introduce procedural parts into the document
description. The “Declarative Approach” consists in specifying an hypertext structure and
specifying how to build the hypertext elements from the database content. It is conceptually
simple and tends to be closer to the information designer’s conceptual level.
One of the more utilised building schemes for the realisation of VM is the Lazy hypertext view
specification language (Falquet G., 2001) that could be summarised as follows:
1. Database relations definition;
2. Hypertext view specification;
3. Combined action of 1. and 2. to enable the hypertext view generation;
4. Hypertext view generated by a combination of different nodes and links.
An hypertext view is thus formed by a set of nodes and links that represent (a part of) the
content of a database. Each view specification consists of a set of node schemas that specify
the collection from which the node’s content is to be drawn, the selection and the ordering
criteria, the element that form the node content and the links to other nodes. The node
definition language supports three kinds of links, which are “reference”, “include” and
“expand-in-place”. A reference link creates an active element whose action (when activate by
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a mouse click) consists in jumping to the referred link (opening another view). An inclusion
link creates a component-compound relationship between two nodes. An expand-in-place link
is an inclusion link that postpones the inclusion until the users activate the link itself.

Hypertext
view
generation
Database
(relations)
Hypertext view
specification

displayed interface of
the client browser with
nodes and links

Conceptual scheme of the VM functional structure (modified from Falquet G., 2001)

The hypertext view generation system is composed of two devices: 1) a node compiler that
checks the syntax of node definitions and stores the node definitions encoded in the data
dictionary; 2) a node server (Java script) that receives node requests from client browsers,
loads the appropriate node definitions, executes database queries to build the node contents
and sends the resulting Web pages to the client browsers.
The website development cycle consists in writing or editing source files that contain node
schemes, compiling the definitions and viewing the newly defined nodes in the web browser
to test them. Since this system is dynamic, once a node definition has been modified and
recompiled, the new version is immediately available to the client browsers without site
generation phase.
The design phase is a difficult task because there is an extremely large number of paths that
visitor can follow. It is difficult to ensure that visitors will be able to reach any information
node, that they will not get lost or disoriented in the hyperspace, that the requested
information can be reached in a reasonable amount of time or clicks of the mouse. Since the
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designing phase starts from an existing database, there is already a conceptual scheme that
shows the type of entities to be considered and some semantic relationships among the
entities themselves. However this is not sufficient, database design and hypertext design do
not have the same objectives: the first on has the objective to rationalise the offer system of
the documentary sources, the hypertext design has the main purpose to enable an easy
accessibility to the requested sources by the visitor and to induce in his mind a stimulus to
access to more information.

Therefore to the given and fixed structure of an initial database, the hypertexts design should
add refinement operations. Once defined the node scheme for each relation of the database,
with each node parameters and set of parameters to represent an object of the database
class, the designer has to set the links attributes and groups of attributes that refer to other
relations. Once all this realised the structure obtained is not completely navigable, due to the
unidirectionality of the links, it is not possible to reach any node from any other node. The
refinement operation consists to improve the navigability of the hypertext view through some
added operations like reducing the number of navigation steps, creating shortcuts, combining
two ore more links in a new one. To improve navigation it is useful to change reference links
into inclusion links, to summarise nodes that represent large objects with many attributes by
removing certain attributes of its initial definition, to letting previewing of part of the content, to
build indices and entry points. One of the easiest way to enable a rational navigation is to
create linear paths that make it possible to traverse all the node instances of a scheme in a
prescribed order (guided tour of the VM).

One of the most important concepts to be considered when designing a VM, is the concept of
adaptation. This refers to taking into account the visitor profile and to decide accordingly what
information to display, how to display it, and how to react to visitor actions. In the hypertext
view this means that the content of a node and its links should be generated according to a
user profile. The system could generate different contents only after it had acquired some
“profile” relation containing suitable information about the visitor profile, or if a global variable
“VISITOR” exists that stores the visitor name (trough restricted areas access, or registering
operations).

Another form of adaptation of the system is path-awareness and consists of having node
contents that depend on the navigation path selected by the visitor. Many web browsers offer
a limited path awareness feature that displays anchors of previously visited nodes in a
particular colour or trace the path of the displayed views on a part of the screen: This
mechanism proves efficient when exploring a new site.
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The last phase of the design process is the analysis of the resulted feature. This could be
realised thanks to a graphic and to grammar based approach. The first operation is based on
a graphic representation of the hypertext structure that will be subdued to an appropriate
refinement operation that will verify: the necessity to create new links, the possibility of lessen
the navigation steps or to utilise different type of links, the correctness of the connectivity
among the links, the total length of the navigation path.
The second operation will review the grammar rules both of the inner node structure and to
the outer set of nodes and links structure. The purpose of the grammar revisiting job will be
to find a different grammar, simpler to the original and to investigate its properties to avoid
ambiguous states between each property and the navigation structure of the hypertext.

Target groups
The hyperlink transit/passages design
This stage of the VM design ought to be linked to the definition of the groups of users/visitors
that are supposed to benefit from the Virtual Museum.
The richness of the information offered is not always a benefit to ease the visit of a website.
The hypertext information should be differentiated in consequence of the different typologies
of users targeted. During the planning phase of the project particular attention should be
addressed to define the different interested groups.
A display of documentary content particularly deep and detailed, that would attract the
specialised or academic scholar, could on the contrary, represent an obstacle for the curios
visitor that is interested in achieving an overview of some general aspect and could prevent
him to farther navigation. Targeting of the visitors is therefore a necessity of primary
importance.
The organisation of the website through a dynamic menu could be one of the methods to filter
the access, following the different needs of the visitors, otherwise a specific content for
specific users should be implemented. It is important to avoid long time researches to read
long lists of items or titles in order to find the requested object and, on the meantime, it is
important to allow users to find out what they want to know with total liberty, not just what the
curator of the VM intends to tell them. The purpose for the planner is therefore:
1. To leave to the visitor totally free to select;
2. To enable the visitor to find the information searched for;
3. To offer the level of information requested.

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The British Museum (http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/introduction.aspx) interface, for
instance, offers a menu “Explore” with differentiated option of search; here it is possible: a) to
select details of the collections through four different keys of research: culture, places, people
and materials, or through the database search (option for deepen interest or studies) ; b) to
let be introduced in thematic Online Tours (option for curious visitors); c) to explore the
physical space and exhibitions of the Galleries (option for introducing or remembering the
event of a visit in the reality); d) to be guided into the children world, through the “Families
and Children” access page. Therefore the user is thus freely able to select its own preferred
way of navigation and the desired level of information (see picture on page 18).

It is important that web interfaces are able to adapt themselves in such a way to better
support the achievement of different goals from different categories of users. More generally,
adaptation of hypermedia systems to each individual user is increasingly needed. Adaptation
can solve the problem of hypermedia systems which are used by different classes of users.
Users can seriously differ in their goals, background and knowledge covered by the
hypermedia system. Besides, adaptation can prevent the user from being lost in hyperspace.

Different users may be interested in different parts of the information contained and they may
want to use different links for navigation. Most of current hypermedia systems, on the other
hand, are independent from the type of user: they provide the same hypermedia pages and
the same set of links to all users. Adaptive and adaptable hypertext and hypermedia systems
attempt to bridge this gap trying to use knowledge about a particular user, represented in the
user model, to adapt the information and links being presented to that user.

Moreover, since the given information should be adapted, depending on user category
(occasional visitor, student interested, professional academic, etc…), it is possible to offer
contents even to disabled persons through attachments and links to audio files. Another
possibility suggested

by adaptive approach to hypermedia is the feedback opportunity

offered by inserting into the website forums, chat-rooms that enable comments and
suggestions from the users or, moreover allowing the users themselves to add their own
material and documents into the website.

This last opportunity is of great interest for the quest of creating a global community and
communication system but has to cope with the problems due to security and quality
assessment aspects. Therefore a kind of control on the operation of document input should
be previewed by the VM designer, for instance allowing input only after authentication of the
user, or thanks to registration and checking of identity.
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The adaptation of the information to the user should be automatic operated by the system
following sequential operations described in the previous chapter, and the offered information
could be adapted on three levels:
1. Appearance level: it is possible to differentiate the type of media, the layout, the
attributes of the perceivable elements (such as font type and size) depending on the
type of access;
2. Documentary level: the information content can be changed, sometime drastically,
even if related to the same topic, depending on the type of user and the use foreseen;
3. Navigation level: the path of the user could follow different link choices, in some cases
in different locations and with different appearance.

Sources processing
The publication of the significant elements in Internet
This last stage of the VM planning and the rendering of reality into the Virtual Reality (VR) is
based upon the concept of interactive environments; it can support interactive exhibitions that
display visual representations of the museum by a 3D architectural metaphor providing a
sense of place using various spatial references. This usually is achieved using VRML (Virtual
Reality Modelling Language, above described), or 3D modelling, authoring tool for viewing.

3D computer graphics (in contrast to 2D computer graphics) are graphics that utilize a threedimensional representation of geometric data that is stored in the computer for the purposes
of performing calculations and rendering 2D images. Such images may be for later display or
for real-time viewing. Despite these differences, 3D computer graphics rely on many of the
same algorithms as 2D computer vector graphics in the wire frame model and 2D computer
raster graphics in the final rendered display. In computer graphics software, the distinction
between 2D and 3D is occasionally blurred; 2D applications may use 3D techniques to
achieve effects such as lighting, and primarily 3D may use 2D rendering techniques. 3D
computer graphics are often referred to as 3D models. Apart from the rendered graphic, the
model is contained within the graphical data file. However, there are differences. A 3D model
is the mathematical representation of any three-dimensional object (either inanimate or
living). A model is not technically a graphic until it is visually displayed. Due to 3D printing, 3D
models are not confined to virtual space. A model can be displayed visually as a twodimensional image through a process called 3D rendering, or used in non-graphical computer
simulations and calculations (Wikipedia, 2007).
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Virtual museum images rendering is a

process that is common utilised for objects and

panoramas with the purpose of enhancing the spatial sense of the subjects.
Objects are thus captured by photos taken from many locations pointing in toward the same
central focus. There are two type of VR objects:
-

single row objects, with a single horizontal row of photographs;

-

multi-row objects, with several rows of photographs taken at different tilt angles.

The simplest type of VR objects to capture are single row objects, typically captured around
the equator of an object with a single horizontal row of photographs. This is normally
facilitated by a rotating turntable. The object is placed on the turntable, and photographed at
equal angular increments (usually 10°) from a camera mounted on a tripod. Capturing a
multi-row object movie requires a more elaborate setup for capturing images, because the
camera must be tilted above and below the equator of the object at several tilt angles. The
image source does not have to be photographic, 3D renderings or drawings can be used.
Panoramas usually are achieved through VR panoramic images which surround the viewer
with an environment (inside, looking out), yielding a sense of place. They can be "stitched"
together from several normal photographs, or captured with specialized panoramic cameras,
or rendered from 3D-modeled scenes. Here too the VR panoramas could be distinguished in:
single row panoramas and multi-row panoramas, with several rows of photographs taken at
different tilt angles.
VR Panoramas are further divided into those that include the top and bottom, called cubic or
spherical panoramas and those that do not, that are usually called cylindrical. A single
panorama, or node is captured from a single point in space. Several nodes and object
movies can be linked together to allow a viewer to move from one location to another.

Technical requirements
Various kinds of imaging techniques for building virtual museums are usually utilised, such
as, infrared reflectography, X-Ray imaging, 3D laser scanning, IBMR (Image Based
Rendering and Modelling) techniques. In case of EU-funded projects, new virtual reality
systems, for scanning museum artefacts have been developed by EU researchers.
Presently different commercial softwares are available to the purpose to operate VR
rendering, among whom, the more utilised are:


VR Worx 2.5 of QuickTime VR (also known as QTVR) is one of the more diffused
software to the purpose of rendering virtual reality. Developed by Apple Computer, it

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allows viewers to interactively explore and examine photo realistic, three-dimensional,
virtual world after the creation of photographically captured panoramas and the
exploration of objects through images taken at multiple viewing angles. It functions as a
plug-in for the standalone QuickTime Player, as well as for QuickTime Web browser.
QuickTime VR will play on Windows computers as well as Apple Macintosh computers.
Apple continues to include QuickTime VR in its QuickTime technology. Many software
companies realised authoring applications to elaborate QuickTime VR content. The VR
Worx 2.5 upgrade creates cylindrical panoramic movies, object movies and multi-node
scenes for virtual tours, all in the QuickTime format. It has the ability to create an object
movie, which has a panoramic movie as a moving background. It has the capacity for
transitions within a multi-node scene, like standard wipes, dissolves, explodes, and
others, as well as actual linear video as a transition. It can construct multimode
environments with cylindrical panoramas, cubic VRs, multi-row objects, absolute objects,
objects with sound, still images and linear QuickTime movies. System Requirements for
PC:
o

Pentium Class PC (or compatible);

o

Windows ME, 2000, XP (or higher);

o

DirectX 8;

o

QuickTime 6 or later;

o

128 MB RAM.

System Requirements for Macintosh:



o

Power PC (or compatible);

o

Mac OS X 10.2 (or higher);

o

QuickTime 6 or later;

o

128 MB RAM.

3D Software Object Modeller, from Creative Dimension Software Ltd., is a fast, costeffective software tool for generating photo-realistic 3D models from images of real
objects, based on technology originally developed by Canon. With the 3DSOM Viewer
Java applet, interactive plug-in-free 3D content can easily be created for compelling ecommerce sites, eye-catching internet advertising, online museum exhibitions, and more.
A fully customised 3D modelling service is also available delivering high quality
multimedia content for CD marketing campaigns, exhibitions, education, digital product
brochures and streaming over the internet. System Requirements: 3DSOM runs under
Windows XP (Home or Professional Editions) or Windows 2000. Although it is possible to
run under a Windows emulator on a Macintosh, this is not recommended, as intensive
processing is required. Recommended features for a PC:

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o

CPU x86 compatible, PC/AT compliant;

o

Pentium 3 or 4 is preferable;

o

32-bit graphics card with OpenGL support;

o

Monitor resolution 1024x768 minimum (small system fonts);

o

Physical RAM: 128MB minimum, 256MB recommended.

PhotoModeler is a powerful 3D software product that is utilised to calculate
measurements and construct 3D models from photographs simply and easily.
PhotoModeler is adopted for many professionals utilisations: in building engineering,
mechanical engineering, model realisation, film animations productions, crime scenes
analysis, archaeological reconstructions, anatomical medical practice, and 3D virtual
reality builders. System Requirements:

-

o

Windows NT 4.0 (SP6), 2000, and XP;

o

800 Mhz Pentium;

o

128MB RAM;

o

100MB hard disk space;

o

CD-ROM drive (4X+);

o

800X600 screen with 32,000 colours and sound hardware for the video tutorials;

o

parallel port hardware lock.

Pixmaker PRO enables to create 360° interactive content, complete with Hotspots
efficiently with customization options for Hotspot, Postcard and Web pages thanks to
friendly, intuitive and easy-to-use graphical user interface. The thus created scenes can
be published online as Web pages, offline as Postcards, Screen Savers, PowerPoint®
presentations; and onto mobile devices based on both Palm OS® and Windows® CE. No
additional software or browser plug-ins are required for viewing the Pixmaker files.
Minimum system requirements:
o

Windows® 98 Second Edition, 2000, Millennium Edition, XP;

o

650 MHz Intel/AMD Processor or higher;

o

256 MB RAM or more;

o

50 MB available hard drive space;

o

Video display capable of 1024 x 768 pixels or higher with 16 million colours.

Clearly, in order to introduce into the VM the documentation elements (images, maps,
documents) different methods and technical devices will be required to capture and digitalise
images, such as a digital camera, a tripod, a professional set of lights and shading umbrellas,
a rotating table, a scanner, or video capture board.
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ERSAL documentary heritage: farm typology project (early 1960’s)

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Virtual Museum case study: Pontine Plain
land reform
The Agro pontino Land Reform of early ’20-30 has deeply modified the natural habitat and
the socio-economic conditions of this territory. In the last two centuries land reforms
represented the most striking change into the natural landscape, the environmental
conditions and the social structures of the great coastal areas, of river basins and of desert
areas of the Mediterranean hinterland for extensions of hundred of thousands of hectares.
The colonisation of unproductive lands, the realisation of hydraulic and road communication
systems, the sanitary reform of lowlands and swamps infested by malaria, all this, at the
beginning of the modern era, allowed to build great productive reservoirs that enabled the
supply of alimentary resources for the great population increase that was at the same time
taking place.
In the interested territories radical changes of the habitat took place with catastrophic effects
for existent wildlife, sometimes for the climate, doubtless for the landscape.

Bortolotti photographic archive (Consorzio di Bonifica Agro Pontino copyright) testifies
the natural environment prior to the land reclamation

The land distribution of the great landlord and public estates to families of labourers an
peasants marked an era of great cultural and social changes in the European populations
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with moments of significant social struggle and historical migrations of hundreds of kilometres
of the new colonists and pioneers.
Different populations were suddenly at tight contact with phenomena of cultural identity loss
and anthropic biodiversity reduction; but at the same time new behaviours and customs were
introduced with new crops and new animal husbandry species.

The land reclamation works signified great changes for the environment
(Consorzio di Bonifica Agro Pontino copyright)

Mission of the Virtual Museum project
In the last 30 years the management of Agro Pontino has been very incorrect toward
environmental, agronomic and landscape values.
ARSIAL is able to give historical evidence of the transformations that took place with regard
to the natural landscape, to the environmental conditions and to the social order.
The historic and archive documents, heritage from the past organisations for the land
redistribution, represent a unique patrimony of historical-cultural knowledge that must not be
dispersed but should be compared with other Mediterranean similar situations.
The purpose of ARSIAL is to give a chronological order to the rich and varied cartographic,
photographic and bibliographic documentation in order to display and to stress the evolution
of the territory to the present days and to integrate this operation with other initiatives of
ARSIAL that through the study of local history and tradition are meant to the valorisation of

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typical productions and to the creation of visiting routes linked to the protection and
conservation of biodiversity.
Those initiatives are aiming to defend the existent particularities, enhancing at the same time
the commercial and marketing characteristics. The last purpose is to establish a synergy
between the heritage of the past in a durable transition with the ingoing projects of ARSIAL to
highlight the historical-cultural and industrious path of the Pontine territory into the last 80
years.
The tool that will be utilised to achieve this mission will be represented by a virtual hypertext
museum able to illustrate with effectiveness the mentioned social, technical, environmental
and economic travel covered by Pontine Plain area, thanks to the ARSIAL historical archives
and to other sources documentation.

Flooding: a recurrent plague of Pontine Plain before the drainage works
(Consorzio di Bonifica Agro Pontino copyright)

Project realisation
The planning of the Virtual Museum of Pontine Plain Land Reform has been developed in 4
different stages:
1. the summarised identification of the background of the Land Reform and Land
Reclamation in the ARSIAL heritage and in the general historic perspective;
2. the definition of target groups and purpose of the VM and the outline design of the
accessing strategy and underlying database structure;
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3. the identification of the sources of documentation to be collected in an integrated
multi-disciplinary approach involving archive documentation, cultural identity of the
province and environment transformation of the territory;
4. the forecasting of the necessary means in order to achieve the realisation in terms of
human and technical resources.
All these stages have been subject of surveys and analysis and the conclusions will be
reported in the following chapters.

Drainage works deserved the efforts of thousands of workers
(Consorzio di Bonifica Agro Pontino copyright)

Background
The project of virtual representation of the historical landscape of the Pontine Plain Land
Reform is strictly linked to the utilisation of the documentary sources contained into the
historical archive of ARSIAL. This archive collects all the documents of the institutions
merged on 1978 in the former ERSAL (Regional Organisation for Latium Agriculture
Development, transformed on 1995 in ARSIAL). These were: the Stabilimento Ittiogenico
(Organisation for Freshwater Fish Genetic Valorisation) established on 1895, the Opera
Nazionale Combattenti (National Warriors Organisation) established on 1917, the Ente
Bonifiche Albanesi (Albanian Land Reforms Organisation) established on 1940 and the Ente
per la Colonizzazione della Maremma Tosco-laziale e del Territorio del Fucino (Organisation

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for the colonisation of the Tuscanian and Latium Maremma and the Fucino Territory)
established on 1951 and later become “Ente Maremma” (1966).
To the VM project purpose, only the cultural heritages related to the Opera Nazionale
Combattenti and to Ente Maremma will be utilised, they consist of documents and official
acts, photographs, films and sound records but in a broader sense they are represented also
by the dwelling centres, villages and small towns realised at the land reform age, by the work
instruments and the artefacts of the colonists that lived in the Pontine Plain, by the landscape
that they build with so much efforts.

The Opera Nazionale Combattenti (ONC) heritage
The National Warriors Organisation was created on 1917 with the purpose to provide to the
economic, technical and moral assistance for the surviving warriors of the first world war. The
ONC started to work effectively on 1919 as a semi-governmental organisation that was
divided into three sections: the agrarian action, the social action and the financial action.
Most important from the beginning was the first one, that was enabled, by the institutional
law, to expropriate all the land owned by privates that was subject of land reform or that was
apt to important cultivation reforms. The institutional law of ONC established a fast land
expropriation procedure on the basis of public utility with the institution inside of ONC of
provincial and central colleges of arbitration. In the period 1919-1922 the ONC patrimony
acquired lands for 33,000 hectares.
With the advent of the Fascisms age on 1926 the ONC tasks and instruments where
strengthened aiming at the economic development and social improvement of the nation
thanks to the land property reform and the enhancement of the little and middle property in
order to increase the productivity and to enable the self sustainable dwelling of a farming
population of a greater density. New tasks were attributed to ONC: foundation of new
agriculture dwellings and villages, realisation of schools, libraries, etc…
ONC employees were qualified as public officials, its president was appointed by the head of
the govern, the arbitration colleges decisions were not subjected to administrative or law
control and the organisation was enabled to bank loan and to land credit.
ONC managed land reform and farms in many parts of Italy: from 1928 onward about 67,000
hectares of hydraulic land reclamation where achieved in the provinces of Bolzano, Venice,
Pisa, Grosseto, Cagliari, Rome, Naples, Chieti, Lecce and Taranto, with an increasing
presence in Latium, Campania and Puglia. On 1931 started the land reclamation of Pontine
Plain with the expropriation of 18,000 hectares of soil. In the following years this area became
one of the focus of the Fascisms propaganda with the foundation of new cities as Littoria
(Latina) (1932), Sabaudia (1934), Pontinia (1935), Aprilia (1937) and Pomezia (1939). On the

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same time the land reform brought in place 2.660 small farm properties, assigned for the
most to families coming from northern Veneto and Romagna regions.

Harvesting: the results of ONC action magnified by the government propaganda
(Consorzio di Bonifica Agro Pontino copyright)

The Ente Maremma heritage
The “Ente per la Colonizzazione della Maremma tosco-laziale e del Territorio del Fucino” was
founded on 1951 with competence toward the territories of Latium, Tuscany and Abruzzi.
Later (1954) this institution was separated in two different organisations: one with
competence on Latium and Tuscany, the other for Abruzzi. The purposes of the organisation
was the expropriation, reclamation, transformation and distribution of the land to peasants.
The organisation prepared the expropriation plans, collected the assignation requests from
the workers and operated an accurate on-field action of information and extension through
divulgators sent in every municipality and village. As time went by Ente Maremma
competence

was

enlarged

toward

agriculture

development

function

with

deep

transformations into its organisational and operative structure. The organisation was put
under the Agriculture Ministry coordination and at last on 1976 this transformation was
sanctioned with its definition by the law as regional organisation for agriculture development,
ERSAL and later ARSIAL. The Ente Maremma and particularly the following ERSAL
contribution to the developing agriculture system of Latium was mainly the establishment of a
network of co-operatives for dairy products, the creation of new centres for storage and
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processing of cereals, fruit and vegetables, olives, grapes all over the region utilising funds
from the Green Plan (Piano Verde) and from the EEC.

The environment transformation accomplished: from the swamp to the farm
(Consorzio di Bonifica Agro Pontino copyright)

The historical background
The Agro Pontino recent history is linked to the more general historical events of the Agro
Romano, the Roman countryside, that could be identified with the extension of Rome
municipality territory into the medieval age. A territory of more than 5,000 km2 extension,
whose landscape was so much appreciated in so many portraits and pictures from XVII
century onward in England and overall in Europe, where attempts to improve agriculture
conditions were sporadically carried out following the trends of the European illuminist
movement, by isolated initiative of some illuminated landlord or Pope. This happened in the
case of the first land drainage actions of the Pontine swamps, dated back to the end of the
XVIII century, thanks to the works carried out by Pope Pio VI. He realised a great hydraulic
land reclamation on 2,000 km2 of extension through a navigable channel of 21 km. By
considering the total average of Agro Romano, it is important to stress out that in the first half
of the XVIII century all the land was private property of only 113 noble families and 64
ecclesiastical organisations. This landlord property structure was the consequence of a
situation evolved from the medieval age thanks to the effects of the growing temporal power
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of the Popes and to the tendency of strengthening the power of the ecclesiastical court and of
the connected noble families. The residential population scattered among the countryside,
exempt few villages and towns, was before 1850 only around 3,000 inhabitants. The
agriculture productivity was structured on periodical manual work operations like for sowing
or harvesting. As far as 50,000 “opere”, the so-called seasonal workers, came to work into
the great landlords uninhabited properties from the towns and villages placed on the hill and
mountain sides of the country. Generally to the landlords themselves went an income for the
ownership of the land, because their own direct management of the land was extremely rare.
The key actor of the productivity organisation was the “mercante di campagna” (country
merchant): he contracted the rent with the landlord and advanced the costs for the crops,
contacted with the “caporali” (surveyors) the enlistment of the “compagnie” (workers gangs)
and contracted with the traders the sell of the hay or of the wheat. It has been esteemed that
at the beginning of XVIII century in the Agro Romano there were only 138 country merchants
and among them three families managed one third of the total extension (Cooperativa
Pagliaccetto, 1984). It is not a tale the fact that they were often richer than the landlords
themselves.

The traditional way of life of Pontine Plains survived till to the late ‘30thies
(Consorzio di Bonifica Agro Pontino copyright)

The surveyor had the task to enlist the workers into the hillside towns, to organise the gangs
anticipated a part of their salary and the travel expenses and was responsible of their conduct
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in front of the merchant. The seasonal workers were the real protagonists of the work, were
compelled to live into the hilly towns surrounding the country plains and were compelled to
travel from estate to estate according to the agriculture management plans to integrate the
meagre income typical of the hinterland towns. The workers were organised in gangs that
could group even 100 persons and were typologically differenced in: “di prima” (firstly), made
of expert and qualified men, “alla bastarda”

(bastardly) mixed with women, “a monelli”

(childish) with boys and child, “alla leggera” (lightly) composed of people enlisted in a place of
Rome without particular experience. The gangs came usually from nearby towns, but
sometimes came from far away because of their specialisation: the diggers from l’Aquila, the
chestnut harvesters from Arsoli or Marano, the sowers and the fence makers from Rieti, the
coal makers from Tuscany. The life conditions during the travel and the work where very
hard: the work was accomplished from dawn to sunset with only two breaks: at 9,00 AM and
at 2,00 PM and it was rare to found housing during the night, usually they slept inside
temporary huts or outdoor. In some plagues infested by Malaria (like Pontine swamps) their
generally low salary was one fourth higher to compensate the risks.

Life in Pontine Plain prior to Land Reclamation was very hard
(Consorzio di Bonifica Agro Pontino copyright)

The short period of the renting contracts and the economical necessity of increasing the
income, obviously, were against every attempt of operating local improvements of the soil,
the agriculture techniques or structures. So great extension of land were almost deserted,
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often plagued by diseases, with an extensive agriculture or more often a scattered sheep or
buffalo’s husbandry attended by those few peasants that dwelled permanently on the country
at the dependence of the landlords. On the other side the limited production of this kind of
agriculture was targeted only to the market of Rome that in this time had a population of
scarcely 150,000 inhabitants.

The typical shepherd seasonal dwellings prior to the Land Reform
(Consorzio di Bonifica Agro Pontino copyright)

The turning point of this stagnant situation was marked by the end of the temporary papal
power with the Italian Union and by the establishment in Rome of the national govern after
1870. A succession of factors brought to reverse the Latium agriculture situation: these were
originated by the suddenly increase of the population in the capital of the Italian kingdom; by
a more liberal address of govern toward the wheat prices that favoured the import of this
staple food, thus de-stabilising the production; by the new speculating trend into the building
investment that pushed many agriculture merchants to leave their trade and many landlords
to sell their estate; by the new work market boom that marked a social mutation era; by the
increase of emigration phenomena; by economic depression after the World War I, by the
governmental laws against the landlord privileges; etc…
In these fragments the peasant workers reacted with new, never seen before actions and
manifestation and movements to fight for the occupation of the land. On 1920 in Italy there
were 109 associations of peasants, known as “leghe proletarie” (proletarian leagues) with
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18,000 subscriptions. These events pushed the govern to take measures like the Visocchi
decree of 1919 that allowed the concession to the peasants of the ill- or not-cultivated lands.
In the meantime new actions aiming at land reform, drainage and soil reclamation were taken
by decrees of different governs, starting from the private land reforms authorisations in the
end of XIX century to the centralised actions of land reform particularly increased especially
under the Fascism after 1922.

This government, made a point of increasing the population of Italy by colonising new lands
and launching programmatic struggles for increasing agriculture productions. Only toward
Pontine Plain this brought 2,950 families of pioneers and settlers migrating from northern Italy
that were added to the 299 local families, creating a social and environmental new upsetting
and devastating territorial impact originated by a total of 20,000 people that came suddenly
to live in an area of 180 km2 that on XIX century had less than 5-600 permanent inhabitants.
This brought to an enormous environmental upset, with the creation of a new artificial
environmental equilibrium; a great social upset, with the realisation of new familiar, local and
hierarchical structures based on the new soil cultivation exigencies of private farming and
later of cooperation; a great cultural upset, with the separation of populations from their own
territories and the suddenly recombination of nucleus of families living at strict contact with
different ethnic groups.

Target group & purposes
Defining the target groups of users/visitors is strictly connected to the general purposes of the
Virtual Museum realisation. These could be defined in a rough summary as:
-

preserving the historical heritage of Pontine Plain Land Reform in its cultural, social and
environmental aspects;

-

preserving the collective memory of the roots of the key actors of the Land Reform and
Land Reclamation;

-

testifying the changes operated through the environmental, social and cultural elements
of the territory;

-

helping the inhabitants of the territory to re-establish the sense of tradition and to transmit
this to the new generations;

-

helping students to understand what is underlying behind the meaning of agriculture land
reform, to discover the evolution of the territory and to acquire a deep understanding of
the risks affecting their own environment.

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Secondary purposes of the VM could be connected to the exigency of enabling free access
to documents of great historical value, to enhance networking of the different cultural centres
of the territory, to offer documentary support to occasional visitors of the local museums,
etc….

The definition of these purposes enables to differentiate, on the basis of the level of interest,
at last three main profiles of user/visitors to be targeted by the VM:
1. the local inhabitant (of various age) interested in his territory and in the tracing of his
own cultural roots;
2. the researcher (at various level; academic, professional, school student, amateurish)
of original documents as tools/means for farther studies;
3. the occasional web surfer/navigator/tourist attracted by the meaning of the Land
Reform or by the geographical placement of the theme.
All this three main profiles of users could be of different age and cultural orientation and they
ought to find into the WM with ease and speed such information required by their level of
interest. This could be achieved only though a differentiated level access to the VM menu
enabling a diversified kind of visit and linked information search path. Moreover each
category of user should be finalised to a different focal point of attractiveness to the system.

The main attractiveness for the user 1 should be the interactivity of the system (enabling not
only output of information but input too) and the connectivity to his own cultural identity. The
user 2 main purpose would be to find complete archive information in less time as possible
and linked to useful bibliographic and collateral documents. The user 3 should be attracted
by the novelty and curiosity of the proposed visiting path and the leisure and the multiversity
of links proposed (history, environment, tourism, culture, traditions, art, etc…).

Definition of the accessing site properties of the VM
Therefore the access menu of the VM (the conceptual scheme of the displayed interface)
should be structured to enable free choice to 3 different navigating modalities:
1. thematic heritage root linking,
2. database archive searching,
3. guided tour visiting.
In the meantime at least the third chosen navigating modality should offer different levels of
communication complexity, of richness of information, and of depth of detail to adapt itself to
the user/visitor’s age and determination to be involved.

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The VM of Pontine Plain land reform accessing properties conceptual scheme

Moreover at every moment of the navigating path should be leaved to the visitor/user the
choice of selecting another navigating modality in order to deepen some argument of
particular interest or to explore a new course of ideas.
It is evident that the first two navigating modalities are strictly linked to two sets of variability:
in the space (geographically finding the interesting place) and in the time (chronologically
finding the interesting year/period). The third one is more limited since the freedom left to the
visitor/user is only linked to the choice of the kind of guided visiting tour and the option to
change in every moment the guided path to select a new navigating modality.
Path definition of the 3 visiting modalities:
1) the thematic heritage should accessible through a geographic representation of the
territory selectable clicking on a place and enabling the choice of the following
categories:
-

environment
o landscape (images)
o society (images, documents)
o health (images, documents)

-

infrastructures

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o buildings (images, documents)
o channels (images, documents)
o roads (images, documents)
o bridges (images, documents)
o plants (images, documents)
-

agriculture
o drainage (images, documents)
o land reclamation (images, documents)
o land reform (images, documents)
o techniques (images, documents)

-

culture
o traditions (images, documents)
o way of life (images, documents)

2) the database archive search should be accessible through 3 optional selections
criteria:
-

year of research

-

kind of document
o map
o project
o administrative document
ƒ

(to be sub-differentiated following the ARSIAL archive new category
attribution, see next chapter: “Sources - Guidelines for documents
selection from ARSIAL archives)

o photograph
-

place of research

3) the visiting tours option should be differentiated in pre-assembled guided paths
enabling text+images+sound thematic virtual voyages into the following features:
-

History of the Land reclamation/Land reform

-

The environmental transformation

-

The social transformation

-

The cultural transformation

-

The new agriculture organisation

-

The health problem

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At every stage of navigation the visualisation of a more deep documentation’s level will be
enabled thanks to:
a) the definition of each visualised document/image into the underlying database trough a
standardised vocabulary / thesaurus (to be compiled during the document acquisition
pfase);
b) the insertion into each displayed interface of a query action linking to the vocabulary.

Command to
user profile n°2
visit accessing

Command to
user profile n°3
for diversified
age level visit
accessing

Command to
user profile n°3
visit accessing

LA RIFORMA AGRARIA DELLA PIANURA PONTINA

RICERCA DI
ARCHIVIO

Command to
user profile n°1
visit accessing

Draft example of graphic menu filter option for different visitors/users profiles

The differentiated level accessing would be enabled through a menu filter placed into the VM
entrance interface and the filtering action would be achieved by the user/visitor himself by
selecting the more attractive graphic optional command to his purpose. Therefore the graphic
design of each accessing command should be performed with special care to the different
users/visitors profiles.

Definition of the Database structure
A first draft design of the database structure has been achieved after defining the items of the
file identifying each element contained into the database itself. The identity file is structured
as follows:

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Pontine Land Reform Virtual Museum
Identification file
identification number
kind of element

text
image
video
video audio
audio

origin of the element







organisation
department
referent
address
repertory
date of birth
name of creator

description of the original
element

original material
displayed place name
geographic coord.
dimensions
conservation state

very good

good

fair

bad

short description of the element

short history of the element

bibliography

VM insertion data

date of insertion into the VM
reference of authorisation document
mastercopy saving address
digitalisation operative notes

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