Drafting tools lying on a wooden table

Tools on a wooden table

"Tools lying on a wooden table" CC0 Creator: Fleur, Owner: www.unsplash.com

The 4D Community Browser project was financially supported by the NFDI4Culture Flex Funds in 2022. It was carried out between June 1 and  December 31, 2022 by Dr Heike Messemer at the CODIP of the TU Dresden in close consultation with the former head of the junior research group Prof. Dr Sander Münster and the computer scientist Jonas Bruschke, who was largely responsible for the technical implementation of the 4D browser. The aim of the project was to prepare the 4D browser developed by the junior research group HistStadt4D (http://www.urbanhistory4d.org/wordpress/research-group-urban-history-4d/) for opening to the community.

The HistStadt4D project was funded by the BMBF from 2016 to 2021, within which the 4D browser was developed as a demonstrator to show the potential of spatio-temporal image search. The 4D Browser is a digital research tool that is publicly accessible online. It offers multimedia possibilities for searching, 4D display and analysis of existing image digitalisates of historical photographs (https://4dbrowser.urbanhistory4d.org). This application is thus primarily aimed at researchers working on historical photographs, urban development, urban history and architecture, but also at the interested public.

The 4D browser includes an interactive, digital 3D city model of Dresden, in which historical photographs are virtually located, starting from the respective locations of the photographers. A timeline also makes it possible to recreate the changes in the photographic image of the city over time. The spatio-temporal visualisation enables users to virtually perceive, search, filter and analyse the photographs directly in the urban fabric. Quantitative analyses can also be carried out using several different visualisation options.

Through these diverse approaches, the image corpus can be viewed from new perspectives and with new questions: Which historical settings were preferentially photographed from which perspectives in which time? Has the photographic behaviour of photographers changed over time? The 4D Browser enables a spatio-temporal approach to historical photographs as well as their quantitative analysis. With these possibilities, it goes far beyond the functions of established image repositories (e.g. Europeana, Deutsche Fotothek, prometheus, etc.) and offers an innovative research tool to the community dealing with historical photographs, urban development, urban history, architecture, etc. It is intended primarily for experts. It is primarily intended to serve as a tool for experts in the fields of art history and history, but also to provide interested laypersons with an informative access and an interactive exploration of the depicted city and its photographic documentation.

In order to prepare the 4D browser for opening up to the community, it was presented to the community in different contexts:

  • At the Barcamp 3D and Cultural Heritage 2022 of the NFDI4Culture on 06 July 2022, the research tool was presented in a separate session. This also enabled valuable feedback to be obtained from the community.
  • At the international conference Cultural Heritage and New Technologies (CHNT) in Vienna on 10 November 2022, the project was presented in a paper - "Exploring Historical Cities with the 4D Community Browser. Requirements of a Spatio-Temporal Research Tool" - in the session on "Planning history and urban heritage. Historical towns atlases as a tool for research, heritage management and participation".

The core of the work in the project was the evaluation of a survey that had been carried out in HistStadt4D 2020. The aim of the survey was to find out what kind of research questions researchers would like to work on with the 4D browser and how they assess the functions of the tool. The online survey among the digital humanities community received a response of 50 survey forms in total.

A five-minute video served as the basis for the survey. In it, the most important functions of the 4D browser were explained in a screen capture with voice-over. The aim was to find out which functions are relevant for the participants, how the functions are assessed (important, purposeful, relevant for work, exciting) and whether the functions are understandable and, if necessary, whether functions are still missing. In addition, the participants also had the opportunity to leave suggestions and comments freely.

The results of the survey will be presented at the 3rd Workshop on Research and Education in Urban History in the Age of Digital Libraries (UHDL) on 28 March 2023 in Munich and published in the corresponding peer-reviewed Springer Post-Proceedings (Communications in Computer and Information Sciences, CCIS).

Author: Dr. Heike Messemer (TU Dresden)