ARCHiOx (Analysing and Recording Cultural Heritage in Oxford)

ARCHiOx (Analysis and Recording of Cultural Heritage in Oxford) is a research and development partnership between the Factum Foundation, the Bodleian Libraries and the University of Oxford. It was launched in February 2022 and is directly linked to the ARCHiVe structure established at Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice, with generous support from The Helen Hamlyn Trust.


ARCHiOx (Analysis and Recording of Cultural Heritage in Oxford) is a research and development partnership between the Bodleian Libraries, the University of Oxford and Factum Foundation. It was launched in February 2022. As with ARCHiVe, ARCHiOx is supported by The Helen Hamlyn Trust.

The project was established as a free exchange of knowledge that sought to demonstrate the potential of non-contact 3D and colour recording technologies for the study of materials held by the Bodleian Libraries. The Bodleian’s Imaging Department is one of the leading photographic recording centres within a university library. ARCHiOx aimed to introduce 3D recording to supplement their ongoing work and to integrate 3D and colour data into the IIIF initiative for inter-library shaFring.

John Barrett, the senior photographer at the Bodleian Imaging Services, has taken a lead role in all the work at ARCHiOx. He has been working with Factum’s Selene Photometric Stereo System to record the surface of a wide range of objects, in each case revealing the importance of their materiality. Working closely with Jorge Cano, the lead developer at Factum for both hardware and software related to 2.5 D objects; they are digitising dominantly flat objects where the surface is critical for a more complete understanding of its character, fabrication and career.

Over the first year of the project, John Barrett initiated an open call to all departments in the university to suggest objects that could be understood in different ways if 3D recording was carried out alongside colour photography. The elegance of the Selene system is that photographic techniques are used to produce high-resolution 3D data (see page 326) by lighting from different angles and using advanced software to accurately map the surface. Working with ‘normal maps’, ‘depth maps’ ‘Albedo maps’ and shaded renders, it has been possible to give scholars access to the data recorded with the Selene, both in the imaging studio with technical support, and online without specialist knowledge or equipment. As a coherent workflow was established, attention turned to the creation of userfriendly and intuitive software for handling objects in a digital space. The new version of the IIIF-compatible ‘digital torch’ will be available on the Digital Bodleian platform over the next 12 months.

The results of the first 2022 pilot exceeded every expectation in both accuracy (with surface information recorded in the range between 12 and 25 μm) and speed. The Selene system has allowed for complex and reflective surfaces (such as copper printing plates) and fragile objects (including unfired clay seals and palm leaf manuscripts with minute Sanskrit inscriptions) to be recorded with extreme precision. The result of this approach to digitisation has informed new theories and discoveries relating to maps, drawings, manuscripts and bindings.

On February 5, 2022, the Selene Photometric Scanner was installed at the Bodleian Libraries after four days of setting up and testing. The results, both in terms of colour and data, are remarkable. It is the first time that high-resolution data has been recorded at the Bodleian. The implications for the material culture of the book are significant and the hope is that many departments and college libraries will realise the importance of surface recording. Image and form are merged to reveal more about the objects in their care. […] The relationship between digital recording, non-coantact restoration and online/offline access has never presented more opportunities. This is a groundbreaking initiative. […] Thanks to Helen Hamlyn and her advisors, Richard Ovenden and the great team at the Bodleian Libraries and everyone at Factum who commits so much time and energy to the understanding and preservation of cultural artefacts.

Adam Lowe, Founder of Factum Foundation

The ‘Selene Circle’ has been formed encourage dialogue and share the technology and software with other institutions. The first member of the ‘Selene Circle’ was the University of Princeton who have been using the Selene system since it was installed in the University Library in July 2023. Many other libraries and institutions are now seeking to join this approach to treating books, manuscripts and other objects as material evidence that requires dynamic interaction in order to be correctly understood.

John Barrett has been publishing regularly about the work of ARCHiOx. The text that follows, on specific examples of the work carried out, has been extracted from several texts published in the Conveyor (the online magazine for the Bodleian Libraries ‘Centre for the Study of the Book’):

Shaded renders make it possible to view the surface texture of an original while removing their visible tone and colour. This allows for academic research from originals that contain textural details which are difficult to see and cannot be adequately recorded using traditional photographic techniques. Alternatively, the data may be used to produce 3D facsimiles from items within our collections, allowing the material nature of the original to be reproduced.

John Barrett, Bodleian’s Senior Photographer and ARCHiOx Technical Lead for the Bodleian


Several projects have been explored in detail by ARCHiOx collaborators and PhD researchers on The Conveyor: Research and development in imaging (John Barrett), Digital imaging for facsimile making (John Barrett), Finding stories in the margins (John Barrett), Women in the margins (Jessica Hodgkinson and John Barrett), Researching and digitising copper printing plates (Chiara Betti), Patterns and paintings in a 17th-century Ragamala album (John Barrett), ‘Let him make a statue with a horse and a rider’ (John Barrett)
ARCHiOx was featured on several press articles, including: – The GuardianBBCThe Smithsonian MagazineNational Geographic HistoriaLa VanguardiaArs Technica