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Winner of the DHMS Prize

Digital Humanities and Multimedia Studies Prize 2018

The Digital Red Monastery Church: Open Access for Scholars and the Public, for Research and Teaching

Principal Investigator, Elizabeth S. Bolman


The Digital Humanities and Multimedia Studies Prize celebrates an outstanding digital research project in Medieval Studies. The 2018 recipient is the project, “The Digital Red Monastery Church: Open Access for Scholars and the Public, for Research and Teaching,” led by the Principal Investigator, Elizabeth S. Bolman. This project used laser technology not only to create an interactive 360-degree panorama of the triconch sanctuary < https://www.360cities.net/image/red-monastery-sohag-egypt#2.10,-83.70,90.0> for the use of the general public, but also a highly sophisticated, finely grained laser scan of the entire church < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hHopGUnZNs> that preserves its current structure for future study. Named as one of the “100 Most Endangered Sites in the World” by the World Monuments Fund in 2002, the late fifth-century Red Monastery church in Upper Egypt stands as an important example of early Byzantine architecture, and it offers the most well-preserved example of painted architectural polychromy that has survived from the Greek, Roman and early Byzantine worlds. Yet, the environmental and physical threats to the longevity of the structure are increasing. The Digital Red Monastery Church project steps in to preserve this important cultural artifact in the face of “rising ground water, termites, and massive urban and agricultural expansion.” The project marshals an impressive methodology: on-site and post-site processing employed a phase shift laser scanner (FARO Focus 3D 120 laser scanner), a topographic total station (Leica TS02), and a high-resolution digital camera (Eos 5D Mark II Canon camera with calibrated lens) to capture the entire physical structure in a level of detail that ranged from 1–2 mm/pixel. Then, the high definition geometrical/geospatial and surface data was converted into a 500 gigabyte, three-dimensional model of the whole church. Rendering just the triconch of the church via this method involved mapping 160 high-definition images onto the 3D model, whose surfaces were composed of a cloud of roughly 600,000,000 points. This level of sophistication and attention to detail rivals the most advanced virtual reality projects known today. In design and presentation, the Red Monastery project not only brings a marvelous, high-level visualization of this significant structure to those far outside the small group of scholars who had known of it previously—but it also goes beyond visualization as it traces historical reconstructions and life of the monastery over time and its changing setting. As such, the project is an important component for the advanced research of medieval structures in general, especially in the light of unique architectural elements such as the khurus, not seen elsewhere in other architectural traditions. The Red Monastery project is equally important for advancing historic preservation and accessibility, especially since the structure is now largely closed to visitors, as the church is again in regular liturgical use after the completion of conservation work. The original contribution of this project to research on monastic architecture in particular, and to Medieval Studies in general, as well as the significant public outreach represented by its two-fold digital presentation, alongside its truly advanced impressive, sophisticated digital humanities practices and methodologies, make “The Digital Red Monastery Church: Open Access for Scholars and the Public, for Research and Teaching” project an outstanding example of digital research in the field.

DHMS Prize Committee:

Timothy Stinson, North Carolina State Univ. (2018), Chair 
Jelena Bogdanovic, Iowa State Univ., (2019) 
Kathryne Beebe, Univ. of Texas at Arlington (2020)
Copyright ©2018 The Medieval Academy of America
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