Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 September 2013
The study and description of history is fundamentally a process of reconstructing the past: piecing together fragments of documents, buildings and artefacts to create a believable story or illustration of people, events and places. For heritage professionals this process and its associated debate is the stuff of history. For exhibition interpreters it is less the debate and more the conclusions that matter. For the majority of the public it is the story. Balancing these sometimes very different levels of interest has never been easy. An acceptable level of accuracy for one group can be a source of obfuscation for another. The successful combination of these different approaches is, nevertheless, essential if we are to make accessible the processes and results of historical debate to the wider public. By doing so we can hope to enrich public consciousness with accurate and accessible reconstructions of our past.
Just 15 years ago historical reconstructions were most often presented via the pages of a book — academic tome or romantic fiction. This format normally required a significant reduction and simplification of the evidence. There were constraints on word count and number of illustrations that we had all grown used to. Today, with the proliferation of digital publication and interpretation centres, the volume of information we present to the public, consciously or subconsciously, can be very large indeed. In particular 2D and now 3D visual reconstructions are often so detailed and realistic that they routinely challenge our understanding of the evidence upon which the visual reconstruction itself is based.