The Medieval History Database (MHDB) reproduces historical sites such as
cathedrals, towns, chateaux, and other locations, rendering them in realistic 3D (see screenshots
to the left and right). Clicking on buildings or other structures activates a window displaying
historical source documents related to that location, such as military records, financial
records, and eyewitness accounts. The database thereby links together two types of historical
evidence : the written sources and 3D reconstructions of what these locations may have looked
like at the time.
The screenshot at left shows a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the central
turret of the massive, ornate organ at Rheims cathedral in 1429, when Charles VII was crowned
there with Joan of Arc by his side.
The screenshot at right shows an inn at Orleans, France, with a gilded deer above its door.
As an example of how the two parts of the database are integrated: clicking on the street at Orleans called
the "Rue des Hostelleries" brings up an account of an English artillery attack on 14 February 1429 which
damaged an inn called the "Hostel de la Teste Noire" and killed three civilians in the street outside
(see screenshot at right of the text window overlaid on the Rue des Hostelleries).
The database also contains military unit records - troop inspection documents, unit payment
records, and the like. The screenshot at right shows
a percentage of the French Royal units which fought at Orleans during the siege, listing the
commander and number of men-at-arms and projectile troops (mostly crossbowmen).
In many cases, the surviving records are complete enough to allow us to track every
small unit as it was deployed from one place to the next or split into sub-units.
For example, Henry de Lisle's unit at Orleans consisted of 42 men-at-arms and 129 mounted archers when the unit's contract
was renegotiated after his brother and co-commander Lancelot de Lisle was killed on 29 January 1429. The unit was subsequently divided into
two sub-units a bit later in the siege after taking further casualties. One sub-unit consisted of Henry himself plus nineteen men-at-arms and
62 archers, stationed as part of the English garrison of Les
Tourelles at the southern end of Orleans' bridge. The other sub-unit consisted of twenty men-at-arms and 64 archers and was
deployed in other fortresses encircling Orleans.
The unit inspection documents often list the names of each soldier, at least for the men-at-arms
and projectile troops. This often brings the subject to life in a way that the vague battle
summaries in chronicle sources rarely do.
This project also attempts to render the 3D models
with as much detail
as possible in order to create a more realistic appearance. Most 3D software allows the video
card to blur out surface textures as the viewer gets closer, since that's what video cards
are programmed to do; but this project's software adds tiny
details such as wood grain, miniscule bumps,
dents, scratches, and the like, thereby increasing the detail as the viewer gets closer
rather than the reverse (see the sequence of screenshots at right, which show a sculpture
of a lion's head with individual bumps and nicks becoming visible as the software zooms in
The software was recently modified to have the capability of replacing the usual flat "textures"
(2D images that are overlaid on the surface of 3D geometry), instead using
fully volumetric patterns that can be generated on-the-fly and treated as if they
extend through an entire object's volume. This is especially useful for wood,
marble, and other materials that have volumetric patterns in real life. For example, below
is a screenshot of a wooden relief carving using this graphics technique:
The following are a selection of screenshots
from various 3D models, including Orleans and the cathedral at Rheims as it may have looked
in 1429. The latter show an early model of the cathedral's organ, which was substantially
different than the one there today. In 1429 the organ had three "turrets" separated by
flat panels which were apparently subdivided into two sections at slightly different angles.
The current organ model contains about 5.2 million polygons, but usually
renders at an acceptable framerate even on older computers,
although the framerate slows dramatically when the entire organ is in view.
Here are some screenshots:
The organ in the cathedral at Rheims: