3-D animations bringing #LostCambridge to life. A 21st Century Cambridge Museums project?


Looking and learning from archivist Hannah Rice at East Riding, Cambridge has huge potential to combine archives with 3-D.

I was following the hashtag #DCDC17 where the great and the good from the archives community seemed to be. I confess that it’s only in recent times that I’ve become interested in archives – in part because it took so long for me to get my head around how to actually use them properly.

Archives are complicated creatures

I use that term deliberately – for *archives* are living and breathing institutions that have the archivists as their beating hearts and buzzing brains that make them function. It’s easy to dismiss or stereotype archivists as people who don’t like to be disturbed/don’t like daylight/don’t like human contact – you’ve seen it in a movie somewhere. This is why I think it’s a dangerous thing to go about cutting funding for our civic archives – a point I’ve told councillors at Cambridgeshire County Council on more than one occasion.

Asking a public question to the county council – you can do it too

Part of the challenge for historians and researchers such as myself is to turn the information that is hidden away in archives and present them to the public. That or get them into a format where creatives can turn the content into something engaging and exciting for the general public – something more interesting than a blogpost such as the ones I post on LostCambridge.

In and around Cambridge, one of the best examples of turning history into something far more engaging than text, is with Helen Weinstein’s organisation HistoryworksTV. Very recently I went to one of her workshops for the Mill Road Winter Fair 2017.

The story of the railways coming to Cambridge is told in their Creating Cambridge project here http://www.creatingmycambridge.com/songs-creative/railway-history-of-cambridge/ – featuring the legendary children’s author Michael Rosen.

In terms of bringing history to life, have a look at this showreel from HistoryWorks.

Lesson: To bring history to a wider audience, you’ve got to do more than just write about it. I gave it a shot last year on Cambridge – the shaping of our city.

3-D animations and history

I noticed that Hannah Rice was getting excellent feedback on Twitter with her presentation.

Early on in the stream, I spotted this tweet.

Now, Cambridge has Castle Hill without a proper castle on it.

Yet the archives tell us that we once had a castle on the site. I’ve also gone on record saying that Cambridge should rebuild the castle as part of an expanded Museum of Cambridge, with an expensive cafe-bar on the rooftop to have splendid views of the city while charging a lot of money for the drinks so that it pays for itself. Again, I tabled this in a public question to Cambridgeshire County Council who have promised to examine the idea. Being able to put the idea into a 3-D visualisation would make this so much easier for others to imagine what I have in mind. Hence my interest in Hannah’s presentation. Hence:

…followed shortly after by a post to some of Cambridge’s museums community

…noting that 3-D visualisation could link past with future as at

Cambridge’s archives are full of photos and plans of some wonderful long lost buildings, a few of which I featured in this blogpost.

“It’s all just old masonry, isn’t it?”

This is where the 100th anniversary of Votes for Women [who were property owners] comes in. (Full suffrage isn’t achieved for another decade). At the moment, Cambridge City Council are working with a number of organisations and colleges on this.

It was from both the gathering above, and from the HistoryWorks rehearsal that something clicked around getting the archive materials together in a manner that creatives, community activists and children & students in particular can then use and create something that will engage far greater audiences.

The 3-D animation/simulation isn’t just about recreating the streets that the likes of Florence Ada Keynes and Eglantyne Jebb would have walked down in their lifetimes in Cambridge. I’m not going to pretend I know what’s possible because I’ve never really done anything with 3D on a computer in recent years. (Trying to design a kitchen using early CAD on ACORN computers in the mid-1990s for GCSE Information Systems doesn’t really count!).

My imagination beyond the buildings-that-won’t-get-built (eg a new massive concert hall named after Florence Ada Keynes) doesn’t go much further than huge portraits or frescoes of the women that made modern Cambridge. Personally I think the big portraits in The Guildhall’s large hall should be replaced by new paintings of our civic heroes of the 20th Century. That plus commissioning paintings of the groups of women together. For example one of Eva Hartree, Leah Manning and Frida Stewart together as anti-fascist fighters. (Eva and Leah’s story is here, and Frida’s story is here).

But back down to earth…an addition to my task list is to find who would be the best contact/organisation to put Hannah Rice in touch with in order to invite her down to present on what she showcased at the #DCDC17 event today.


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