"Every true history must force us to remember that the past was once as real as the present and as uncertain as the future."
– George Macaulay Trevelyan
About a week ago, I was provided the opportunity to give a presentation on laser scanning applications to the Oregon State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation (SACHP). This Committee is a nine-member group that reviews nominations to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The members are professionally recognized in the fields of history, architecture, archaeology, and other related disciplines.
The committee holds public meetings in February, June, and October each year at different locations within the state. What was perhaps the greater privilege was that my team and I had actually helped document one of the several nominations that were presented that day – Petersen’s Rock Garden, located in Redmond, Oregon. This project consisted of six days of scanning and photography from early morning until sundown each day in the late spring of 2012.
The Committee reviewed additional nominations such as the infamous Zane Grey Cabin located in Grants Pass, Oregon and the Hobson-Gehlen General Merchandise Store in Stayton, Oregon, among other privately and organizationally held historic sites.
It was a remarkable experience to be sitting with these nine Committee members who were coming to educated decisions on whether the National Registry nominations submitted by various persons and interest groups were historically integral enough to be passed along to the "Keeper" at the National Register archives in Washington DC.
According to the National Register Federal Program Regulations, Title 36, Chapter I, Part 60, Sec. 60.3 (f): …The Keeper is the individual who has been delegated the authority by NPS [National Park Service] to list properties and determine their eligibility for the National Register. The Keeper may further delegate this authority as he or she deems appropriate.
I love this stuff.
We have an extraordinary historical archival system in our country. We have persons that have been placed in positions to ensure the utmost integrity of our nation’s historical record – an incredible responsibility, to be sure. We learn about this hierarchal system in school or college, but there is a significant difference between reading about it and actually experiencing it, especially from the vantage point of introducing new methods and technologies for documenting historical infrastructure to decision-makers in this distinction.
As I presented information on the various applications of laser scanning and 3D technologies that can assist with and expedite the documentation process, I was not met with resistance in any way. In fact, quite the contrary. These seasoned historians with backgrounds ranging from anthropology and planning to archaeology and literature agreed that it was due time to have this technology begin its implementation into the documentation process and subsequently, the archives both locally and nationally.
I have spoken with persons at the national level that maintain aspects of the archives and one of the primary concerns with archiving scan data, or digital data for that matter, is legacy. Questions arise such as who will be responsible for converting digital data to new formats as the technology evolves and where the robust scan files will be stored.
Currently, the National Register, the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), and the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) do not have the computing power or storage capacity for scans – however, this author believes it is only a matter of time before that will change. My evidence is based on the conversations that I’ve had with persons involved in these agencies and committees who express a readiness for a movement into a 21st century version of HABS, HAER and HALS.
This movement is something I absolutely wish to see for several reasons. First and foremost is accessibility to these rich historical resources for the people of our nation. In the process of documenting in 3D, we will certainly keep the invaluable role of the historian to tell us the story of what really happened in our past, and can rest assured that not only will their research be integral; the documentation of each site will be impeccable as well.
Another important consideration is that viewing history in 3D is simply more intuitive and easier for our minds to process the spatial context of a subject. Our culture is steeped in technology and as we integrate this further into our lives to stay connected to one another and enhance our ability to access information, it appears in my mind, to be the next logical step. And who knows, perhaps within the next 5-10 years, we will be seeing history in a way like never before and remembering where we’ve been not because we are directed to by a curriculum, but because we cannot forget the amazing interactive experiences we’ve had learning about it with advanced, 3D technologies.
"A posse ad esse – From possibility to actuality"
For more information on SACHP, please visit their website at:
The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.