Digital Lab for Islamic Visual Culture & Collections

A University of Edinburgh Research Network

The mission of the Lab is to transform approaches to research and teaching in Islamic Visual Culture (encompassing architecture, art, and material culture) by engaging with broader digital initiatives in art history, the humanities, and the sciences. The Lab is particularly focused on digital visualization and mixed reality technologies for teaching and learning Islamic visual culture, but welcomes diverse approaches that apply digital initiatives from other fields.

The Lab aims to contribute new ways of experiencing historical Islamic spaces, objects, and histories to the digital global cultural heritage landscape, and to make immersive experiences and knowledge about Islamic visual culture and history widely accessible. Recognising that digitisation and heritage come with significant ethical implications, our work is committed to the thoughtful application of new technologies. We are guided by the Creative Informatics Ethics Statement, which encourages best practices and thoughtful reflection on work with data and new technologies in the creative industries.

Based in the School of History of Art and the Edinburgh College of Art at the University of Edinburgh, the Lab brings together students and researchers from across Edinburgh University and beyond to work on creative, interdisciplinary projects in collaboration with partners such as the uCreate Studio, the Centre for Data, Culture & Society, the Centre for Research Collections, and the History & Games Lab.

If you would like to be added to the Lab’s mailing list please contact


Diversifying Gaming

Gaming combines the Lab’s focus on immersive technologies with entertainment. Games have the potential not only to entertain, but to make substantive historical knowledge more widely available to audiences beyond the academy. One of the aims of the Lab is therefore to contribute expertise on premodern Islamic visual culture and history to games (both analog and digital), by working in collaboration with developers.  In summer 2020 I explored some of the issues in the Creative Informatics Creative Bridge pre-accellerator programme, and in a talk for MIT AKPIA

Digital Astrolabe Project

With Mike Boyd (uCreate Studio), Elizabeth Lawrence (Centre for Research Collections), and PhD student Sarah Slingluff (History of Art). Our astrolabe project is inspired by the 11th century Cordoban instrument in Edinburgh, one of the treasures of the National Museums of Scotland, and by Lawrence’s 2018 Edinburgh Book Festival astrolabe workshop. Our aim is to create a digital model of the NMS astrolabe and a brief viewing guide to explain its significance as a work of medieval Islamic visual culture, along with a durable model of Dominic Ford’s Make-Your-Own astrolabe, which students can use to learn the functions of this important medieval technological device.

New Imaging Technologies for Heritage: an Islamicate Celestial Globe in the National Museum of Scotland

With Melissa Terras (Centre for Data, Culture & Society) and Tayce Philipson (National Museum of Scotland), our project focuses on an important scientific instrument on display in the National Museum: a seventeenth-century celestial globe bearing an inscription identifying its maker as Diya’ al-Din Muhammad, and its year and place of production, 1074 AH/1663-64 CE in Lahore, in present-day Pakistan. The globe was cast as a solid sphere, using the lost-wax technique, an innovation that is attributed to this maker’s family and their Lahore workshop.

The project begins in 2020-21 with a postgraduate internship. Natasha Sivanandan, MSc candidate in the History of Art, Theory and Display, is researching the materials and techniques of the globe’s facture in preparation for the project’s ultimately aim: to investigate the materiality and craft technique of the object through the heritage application of new digital medical imaging techniques, such as microtomography (Micro-CT). Enabling scholars to ‘see’ inside objects and to determine the elemental composition of materials, such techniques will help us move beyond art history’s traditional emphasis on surface and elements visible to the naked eye, and to construct a more complex object biography for this object, one based on materiality, facture, change and mobility.