A forum for people interested in exploring the potential of computer haptic interfaces for the documentation, study and enjoyment of art objects.

Edited by
Anna Bentkowska-Kafel
Christos Giachritsis
and David Prytherch

The launch of these pages coincides with our poster presentation at the Digital Humanities conference held at Stanford University, California, between 19-22 June 2011. We extend our invitation to anyone interested in shaping an interdisciplinary research agenda for the Arts and Humanities, to contribute to these pages and share their views with others. We would like to hear from researchers of material culture, curators and heritage professionals what they learn about objects by handling them; whether they would like to simulate this experience in a virtual environment. We would also like to hear from anyone interested in touching virtual artefacts virtually.

Virtual Touch. Towards an Interdisciplinary Research Agenda for the Arts and Humanities


  • Much can be learned about an artefact through touch, but heritage objects of value need to be protected from touching.
  • Direct access to the artefact is often unavailable to researchers and students of material culture.
  • Virtual artefacts constitute viable 3D surrogates of real objects in many areas of education and research. Their use in the Arts and Humanities could be much wider if existing technical and conceptual barriers are resolved.
  • Medicine, product design and other fields employ virtual touch – mediated through the application of haptic interfaces – to much success. More research is needed to assess the potential benefit of haptic technologies in the Arts and Humanities.

Perception and Physics of Touch

  • How haptic interfaces can engage touch more effectively to deliver a more realistic user experience?
  • Can we use our knowledge of touch to create haptic simulations that overcome the technological limitations of the current haptic interfaces?

Histories and Cultures of Touch

  • What are the sources for the cultural history of touch: How we touched through the ages and what has been written about it?
  • What is the relevance, if any, of past knowledge to modern understanding of the human sensory experience?
  • What can be learned about art objects through touch?
  • Can the experience of touch be successfully simulated in a virtual 3D environment? See: Projects & Case studies)
  • What are the potential benefits for learning?

Haptic Computer Interfaces for Cultural Heritage

  • What are the characteristics of a successful haptic system for museum objects?
  • Is the required level of haptic resolution (‘feelable detail’) different, depending on the needs of identified groups of users, for example museum visitors, academic researchers and the visually impaired?
  • What are the most cost-effective and simple methods for creation and optimisation of virtual 3D models for haptic display, tactual exploration and study?

finger pointing right

Towards an Interdisciplinary Research Agenda, or TO DO list

  • Connect existing expertise, applications and resources across disciplines;
  • Seek the engagement of the Arts and Humanities communities;
  • Assess the needs and expectations of practitioners, professionals, researchers, teachers and students;
  • Identify potential benefits and issues in application of computer haptic interfaces within the Arts and Humanities research and education;
  • Influence future developments in haptic computing for the benefit of the Arts and Humanities;
  • Resolve issues in access to and re-use of 3D virtual artefacts;
  • Advocate the provision of haptic know-how and equipment;
  • Promote scholarly rigour and good practice in the creation of virtual artefacts for use in heritage research and education.

Read our proposal Virtual Touch. Towards an Interdisciplinary Research Agenda for the Arts and Humanities, presented at the Digital Humanities Conference, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA, 19–22 June 2011, published in: Book of Conference Abstracts, 273-77.