While computer-based visualisation methods are now employed in a wide range of contexts to assist in the research, communication and preservation of cultural heritage, a set of principles is needed that will ensure that digital heritage visualisation is, and is seen to be, at least as intellectually and technically rigorous as longer established cultural heritage research and communication methods. At the same time, such principles must reflect the distinctive properties of computer-based visualisation technologies and methods.
Numerous articles, documents, including the AHDS Guides to Good Practice for CAD (2002) and Virtual Reality (2002) and initiatives, including the Virtual Archaeology Special Interest Group (VASIG) and the Cultural Virtual Reality Organisation (CVRO) and others have underlined the importance of ensuring both that computer-based visualisation methods are applied with scholarly rigour, and that the outcomes of research that include computer-based visualisation should accurately convey to users the status of the knowledge that they represent, such as distinctions between evidence and hypothesis, and between different levels of probability.
The London Charter seeks to capture, and to build, a consensus on these and related issues in a way that demands wide recognition and an expectation of compliance within relevant subject communities. In doing so, the Charter aims to enhance the rigour with which computer-based visualisation methods and outcomes are used and evaluated in heritage contexts, thereby promoting understanding and recognition of such methods and outcomes.
The Charter defines principles for the use of computer-based visualisation methods in relation to intellectual integrity, reliability, documentation, sustainability and access.
The Charter recognises that the range of available computer-based visualisation methods is constantly increasing, and that these methods can be applied to address an equally expanding range of research aims. The Charter therefore does not seek to prescribe specific aims or methods, but rather establishes those broad principles for the use, in research and communication of cultural heritage, of computer-based visualisation upon which the intellectual integrity of such methods and outcomes depend.
The Charter is concerned with the research and dissemination of cultural heritage across academic, educational, curatorial and commercial domains. It has relevance, therefore, for those aspects of the entertainment industry involving the reconstruction or evocation of cultural heritage, but not for the use of computer-based visualisation in, for example, contemporary art, fashion, or design. As the aims that motivate the use of visualisation methods vary widely from domain to domain, Principle 1: "Implementation", signals the importance of devising detailed guidelines appropriate to each community of practice.