Recording history before it’s lost

April 6, 2016
Claire Campbell

Dating back to 1957, the University of Florida's Historic Preservation Program is one of the oldest in the country.

But as more and more ancient sites throughout the world fall prey to destruction in the wake of war-torn conflict, the program’s focus on historic documentation couldn’t be more timely. And so the program launched Envision Heritage in 2012.

Since then, Envision Heritage, housed at UF’s College of Design, Construction and Planning, has documented areas from Miami to Iraq. Using a 3D laser scanner to quickly and accurately record the physical design and conditions of historic buildings and sites, UF researchers and students are preserving for future generations rich cultural detail that otherwise would be lost.

At the request of the World Monuments Fund, a UF team took raw data of the Ishtar Gate in Iraq and created multiple 3D images and a video. The team forwarded the images to the World Monuments Fund and kept a copy for its archives.

Not all of Envision Heritage’s efforts focus on areas at risk of destruction.

Preservation Institute Nantucket, launched in 1972, gives students the opportunity to study and record more than 100 sites on Nantucket during a six-week, onsite immersion program. Participants get hands-on heritage management experience while they help document, research, conserve and interpret the island’s remarkable history.

Still, preserving the history of at-risk areas is crucial to Envision Heritage’s mission, said Morris Hylton III, the program’s director.

“There is an increasing urgency, given the destruction of historic places due to development pressures, conflict, and sea level rise,” Hylton said. “Harnessing technology like 3D laser scanning is vital to the recording of heritage before it is lost.”

Unfortunately, he added, his team didn’t have the opportunity to document the city of Palmyra prior to its destruction in 2015.

“There’s now no record of what was really there,” he said.

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