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Resources for Digital Humanities: Other Methods

Vocabulary, tools, advice, and library resources to start your Digital Humanities project or research.


3D Models, 3D Rendering, and CAD

3D modeling, 3D rendering, and CAD are different but overlapping tasks, which often even use the same programs or file types. All can support (and have supported) digital humanities projects in various ways.

3D Modeling
  • The generation of digital, 3D objects (or the mathematical descriptions of 3D objects)
  • 3D models can be rendered visually by a computer into an image in a variety of ways
  • 3D models, if designed correctly, can be printed on a 3D printer
  • Many DH projects involving 3D modeling have centered on reconstructions of historical sites or objects
3D Rendering
  • The generation of images or animations of 3D models and scenes, often using techniques to simulate light, texture, and other visual effects
  • 3D rendering can happen in a variety of ways, producing results that range from detailed, computationally intensive, and photograph-like images to fast-loading video game scenery to simplified representations of objects and forms
  • While many DH projects involving the 3D rendering focus on generating images from 3D models of historical sites or objects, 3D rendering can also be used to simulate light effects
CAD (Computer-Aided Design)
  • CAD is an umbrella category that includes any computer-aided design process, but in this case often means the creation of 2D or 3D plans and models of designs, especially architectural designs
  • CAD programs can often use and generate the same model files as 3D modeling software for other purposes, though the demands may differ—CAD programs tend to have a greater emphasis on precision and measurement, for example, but may be less effective for sculptural or artistic tasks
  • 3D models, if designed correctly, can be printed on a 3D printer

Illustrations of 3D Methods

A screenshot of three-dimensional spheres, shaded only enough to indicate volume, all grey, created in Blender

3D Modeling

3D models are representations of object in space, made with a computer—these might then be 3D printed, rendered, or used for simulations or other purposes. Technically, these have been rendered so you can see them—but the rendering isn't the key aspect of this image.

A rendered image of 3D spheres, showing color, texture, light, and other effects

3D Rendering

3D rendering refers to the generation of 2D images from 3D scenes, which might include 3D models, lighting, textures, and so on. This image was rendered using Blender's Cycles, a path tracer that simulates the paths (hence the name) of light through a scene.

A diagram generated in AutoCAD Web, showing boxes of various dimensions


CAD software supports design: this can be architectural design (including buildings, interiors, floorplans, etc.), machine part design, and so on. CAD software may produce 3D models, and may be able to produce file formats that can be used in other 3D modeling software, or vice versa.

3D Printing and Scanning

3D printing and scanning, though often spoken about in the same contexts, are two distinct techniques with different potential DH applications.

3D Printing
  • Uses 3D models to generate physical objects
  • Various methods exist, including extrusion (the building up of plastic from melted filaments) and UV reaction (the solidifying of liquid resin in specified places)—each may have its own requirements of 3D models for successful printing (not any renderable model is printable)
  • Could be used for:
    • Producing hardware components for DH projects (you might create a plastic case and buttons for a Raspberry Pi and a speaker that could let users interact with sound, for example)
    • Recreating and testing historical machine elements (gear interaction, for example)
    • Creating detailed, touchable versions of 2D or 3D art objects (provided a 3D model is available or possible to create)
    • Other situations in which precise, generated physical objects are called for
  • The Yale CEID offers 3D printer access, following training
3D Scanning
  • Technically, a form of digitization: the generation of a set of data that represents a physical object (usually as a 3D model)
  • Can be done a variety of ways, including photogrammetry (using lots and lots of 2D pictures from different angles), the detection of surfaces from their interactions with light, and physical probing
  • Because of the technology in many contemporary phone cameras, it is sometimes possible to perform photogrammetry with a certain degree of success with phone apps, especially for small objects—there are also physical devices available to assist this process
  • In some instances, you might actually want a 360 photograph or video rather than a 3D scan
  • 3D scanning can be used in the digital preservation of historic sites or objects

AR and VR

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) both emphasize physical interactions with virtual imagery. VR emphasizes total immersion in virtual imagery, navigated by the turn of a head or even by walking. AR, meanwhile, superimposes virtual elements over the real environment of a user.

How complicated a VR or AR experience would be to make, and what technology it would require, is highly variable: a single 3D scene that can be viewed from various angles but not moved around in is very straightforward to create and view, and can be made with everything from a 360 camera to 3D rendering software (see above). More complicated or more interactive projects might require mobile app development skills or specialized hardware.

Studies of Technology

Applying humanistic lenses, theories, and methods to the study of technology can also sometimes fall under the umbrella of digital humanities. This might include an art historian studying Internet art, a literary scholar addressing born-digital texts or interactive fiction, or a historian investigating the people involved in a particular social media community.

Contact Us

For help with any stage of a digital humanities project, with any of the methods described here, or with any other questions, feel free to reach out or book a consultation with the DHLab.