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Coming Soon: The Hunt-Lenox Globe, in 3D!

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Hunt-Lenox Globe
Hunt-Lenox Globe, c. 1510.  Rare Book Division.  The New York Public Library.

No, this is not an advertisement for a forthcoming blockbuster movie, but it is certainly a newsworthy announcement. 

The Hunt-Lenox Globe is, without question, one of the great treasures of The New York Public Library.  Purchased in France during the 1850s by noted American architect William Morris Hunt, and subsequently gifted to NYPL progenitor James Lenox, the circa 1510 Hunt-Lenox Globe is recognized today not only as one of the oldest terrestrial globes in existence but also as the oldest-known globe to depict the Americas.

Recently, The New York Public Library received a generous grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation to scan the globe using 3D imaging.  The project was undertaken in conjunction with the Lazarus Project, an organization that provides historical researchers access to advanced imaging technology.

In order to reproduce the globe in digital form, two technologies were utilized.  The first of these, multispectral imaging, scanned the globe using multiple wavelengths of light.  The high-resolution images that result from this process possess a tremendous amount of detail and extreme color accuracy; however, they are also traditional flat, 2D depictions.  Therefore, to achieve a realistic, 3D representation of the globe, it was necessary to employ a second type of imaging: structure from motion.  Structure from motion, a cutting-edge computer process that utilizes complex mathematical algorithms, enabled the reconstruction of 3D images from the 2D scans, resulting in a realistic representation of the globe that is mostly free of geographic distortions of size and scale.

As of this writing, work on the online 3D  presentation of the Hunt-Lenox Globe continues, and it is our intention to make it available via The New York Public Library’s website in the not-too-distant future.  In the meantime, if anticipation has gotten the better of you, and you cannot wait to see the final 3D product, we would encourage you to check out the flattened, hi-res 2D images of the globe’s northern and southern hemispheres, which are featured in the Library’s Digital Collections.  If you like, you can think of these highly zoomable, manipulable images as a sort of teaser trailer for the as-yet-to-be-released 3D production.  

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