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Operating Archives

An Interactive Archive of Historical Medical Technologies

Project Lead(s): Mark J. V. Olson


The Operating Archives project emerges out of a concern with the preservation of the “performativity” of objects in the digital archive. While digital archives afford access to historical texts, images, and objects to be read and viewed, often in a reconstituted contextual milieu, what about objects that were intended to be operated or manipulated? Taking the creation of a multimedia/multimodal archive of historical medical technologies as both case study and laboratory, this project explores different interfaces for interacting with digital objects that attempt to reconstruct contexts of use.

In conjunction with Duke’s History of Medicine Collection, one key focus of the project has been the processing, visualization, and 3D printing of Duke’s collection of ivory anatomical manikins, the largest collection in North America. Dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the project aims to transform microCT scan data of each object into an interactive 3D model that can be manipulated virtually as well as displayed using augmented reality. 3D prints of the manikins also enable physical manipulation of artifacts otherwise too fragile to touch.

Banner Image: Two ivory manikins from the Rubenstein Library’s History of Medicine collection.
Image credit: Mark J. V. Olson

Past Collaborators

Catherine Farmer
Stephanie Fiddy
Alex Gordon
Yuchen "Leona" Lu
Jason Qiu