Position Paper: Publishing 3D Work

Invited remote discussants: Bernie Frischer, DAACH (8-9:30pm, Florence), Neil Christensen, UC Press (PST), Friederike Sundaram, Stanford University Press (PST)

The long-term goal of this discussion is the acceptance of computer models and digital work that involves 3D content as a new form of knowledge production and publications in their own right, either as short form arguments (i.e., article equivalents) or long form arguments (i.e., monograph equivalents). There are a host of related challenges including, but not limited to, the plethora of 3D projects and their technologies (in which ‘publishing’ is not one constant), challenges to embedding the academic argument into the 3D form (as opposed to making the model a secondary element to a textual argument), finding a publishing house willing to deal with 3D content and confer it with their imprimatur, identifying a stable platform for dissemination, developing standards for peer reviewing 3D scholarship, and overcoming the inherent technical challenges. This publication goal is largely driven by scholars looking to push the academic envelope and engage in research work that does not necessarily result in a single-author monograph. A related piece of the discussion is general access to 3D work. (See the London Charter for their discussion of access.) Consider access as the kinder second cousin of publication. Where publication’s overarching raison d’être is to get credit for one’s 3D work in the high-stakes promotion and tenure process, access has fewer demands and is easily satisfied with a stable mechanism for the dissemination of the research to its intended audience.

There are limited opportunities for publication of 3D work today:

  •  Elsevier’s Digital Applications in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage (DAACH) encourages upload of models as an accompaniment to a textual argument and displays them in a basic web viewer. First published in 2014, there have approximately 35 articles, a portion of which have included supplementary 3D content.
  •  The University of Michigan Press has been funded by the Mellon Foundation to develop a publishing platform envisioned as “the infrastructure to enable long form presentations of digital scholarship.” One of the project’s five case studies is the Gabii project (an archaeological field report with navigable photogrammetric models of the site in Unity), which has a Fall 2016 publication date.
  •  The Journal for the Society of Architectural Historians has in the past accommodated 3D models via Google Earth.
  • Europeana provides access to 3D models (mostly artifacts with a simple viewer for objects based on 3DHOP through Archaeology Data Service, 3D pdfs, and links to other outside party for environments (Fondazione Bruno Kessler, PROBADO 3D, Archeotransfert, etc.). A related project was 3D Icons (3D Digitisation of Icons of European Architectural and Archaeological Heritage), which ran as a pilot for three years starting February 2012 and was an aggregator of 3D content (http://3dicons-project.eu/eng/)).
  •  CyArk stores their own scan data of cultural heritage sites, and has expressed interested in hosting data from scholars, but there’s been no action on this as of yet.
  •  General 3D warehouse websites host and provide access to models (e.g., SketchFab, 3D Warehouse, Thingiverse, and Turbosquid), but these are not designed for academic interests.
  •  UCLA has been funded by the NEH to build the VSim Archive and Repository for 3D content and the design includes both a standard for distribution (VSim) and a mechanism to embargo content during the peer-review process. The project will likely be launched Fall 2017.

 Until other options become viable, the bulk of 3D work is being self-published and made available on project websites.


What does it actually mean to publish 3D work? Are we giving primacy to a model? Is it a 50/50 text to model ratio? When can screen grabs suffice and at what point is interaction necessary? What kinds of annotations do we need to support? Within the model or within the text? How are those linked? What kinds of interactions would we want to support? How do we support a continuum of research objectives, some of which can be addressed by simple web viewers while others require the ability to navigate through a large-scale space? How to support visual/spatial/kinetic/sequential argumentation within 3D space? How is the publishing or access question different for models captured and generated (e.g., PhotoScan) vs. those manually built? How to track and support different versions of a published model or database? How to track use statistics? How does one peer review digital work that challenges the prevailing print traditions? How does the user experience impact peer review? How to articulate and acknowledge the scholarship represented in the 3D work from the ‘bells and whistles’ of the latest technologies?


Potenziani, Marco, et al. “An advanced solution for publishing 3D content on the web,” MWF2014: Museums and the Web Florence 2014, held February 18-21, 2014.

3D-ICONS Guidelines and Case Studies. http://3dicons-project.eu/eng/Resources/D7.3-3D-ICONS-Guidelines-and-Case-Studies

Author names redacted. “Digital Karnak: an experiment in publication and peer review of interactive, three-dimensional content.” In peer review with the Journal for the Society of Architectural Historians.

Morse, Jeremy, et al. “Poster: Building a hosted platform for managing monographic source materials and born digital publications through library/press collaboration.

Hydra/Fedora Mellon Project. “Building a hosted platform for managing monographic source materials” Interim Report – Year 1.

Elliot, Michael A. “The future of the monograph in the digital era: a report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.” In the Journal of Electronic Publishing, v18, n4.

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