9 June 2010

Venue: University College London
Christopher Ingold Chemistry Lecture Theatre
Christopher Ingold Building, Ground Floor
20 Gordon St, London, WC1H 0AJ [directions] [UCL street map]

Seeing is Believing: New Technologies for Cultural Heritage was yet another successful ISKO UK meeting attended by over 90 participants.

The afternoon offered a fascinating and mutually complementary suite of talks that covered topics ranging from how to capture 3D representations of precious artefacts in order to improve access to mass audiences without the damage caused by physical handling, to how crowdsourcing can harness the enthusiasm of online communities to improve collections, speed digitisation, and enhance metadata. A range of questions about privacy, community, and how we relate to both the most precious and the most trivial things in our lives was prompted by the description of the Tales of Things project, which uses the geolocatory power of RFID and QR codes to allow people to add their memories to objects via the website. The afternoon was rounded off with a reception sponsored by Gallery Systems.

This event was organized in cooperation with the UCL Department for Information Studies.

We are very grateful to Conrad Taylor for recording and photographing the event on our behalf.

Read comments/feedback on this event.

Check also outputs from a related ISKO UK Event "Recording the Living World" that took place on 30th March 2010.



[Printer-friendly version of the programme]

[slides] [mp3]
David Arnold: Shaping Up: 3D Documentation and Knowledge in Cultural Heritage

This talk will describe current research targeted to make 3D documentation a practical alternative for Cultural Heritage organisations and cover topics such connecting shape to metadata and the need to interpret the semantics of shape. The talk will also describe some of the challenges that the research faces in the quest to empower the mass digitisation and widespread 3D dissemination that the aspiration demands.

David Arnold is Professor of Computing Science at the University of Brighton. He has been chair of programme committees for VAST, for CHIRON (Cultural Heritage Informatics Research Orientated Network), and coordinator of the EPOCH Network (Excellence in Processing Open Cultural Heritage).

[slides] [mp3]
Andy Hudson-Smith: Tales of Things: Archiving and Viewing the Cultural Heritage of Everything

Tales of Things is part of a research project called TOTeM that will explore social memory in the emerging culture of the Internet of Things. Researchers from across the UK have provided this site as a platform for users to add stories to their own treasured objects and to connect to other people who share similar experiences. The system allows any object to be tagged via qrcodes and rfid labels, making it suitable for use by museums, exhibitions, artists and the public at large. The talk explores the project to date and discusses the implications of being able to archive and write memories to everything.

Dr Andrew Hudson-Smith is a Senior Research Fellow and Research Manager at CASA , he is Editor-in-Chief of Future Internet Journal, an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Course Founder and Director of the MRes in Advanced Spatial Analysis and Visualization at University College London. He also runs the digitalurban blog.

[slides] [mp3]
Melissa Terras: Crowdsourcing Cultural Heritage: UCL's Transcribe Bentham Project

Crowdsourcing - the harnessing of online activity to aid in large scale projects that require human cognition - is becoming of interest to those in the library, museum and cultural heritage industry, as institutions seek ways to publicly engage their online communities, as well as aid in creating useful and usable digital resources. UCL's Bentham Project has recently set up the "Transcribe Bentham" initiative; an ambitious, open source, participatory online environment to aid in transcribing the 10,000 folios of handwritten documents by the philospher and legal reformer Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) that are currently in UCL special collections. This paper will explore how crowdsourcing can be used, the myths and pitfalls in using crowdsourced effort, and the features that computer applications need to provide, in the context of the development of the Transcribe Bentham project.

Dr Melissa Terras is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Information Studies at UCL, working in the area of humanities computing. She is also deputy director of the newly formed Centre for Digital Humanities. Her doctoral work on the machine analysis of the Vindolanda tablets was ground-breaking in its field, and image interpretation continues to be one of her research specialties.

[slides] [mp3]

Fiona Romeo: Putting the National Maritime Museum online

Fiona Romeo is Head of Digital Media at the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory, Greenwich. Her department is responsible for the museum's website and digital marketing, mobile learning, interactive exhibits, and collections digitisation. Fiona is also chair of the Citizen Science Alliance, a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop projects that further scientific research and the public understanding of science.

[slides] [mp3]
Sascha Curzon: eMuseum Network - a path to Linked Data

eMuseum Network is a search and collaboration platform designed and hosted by Gallery Systems. The project enables member museums to share their collections catalogues and to search and export data across all participating collections from a single access point, in a share-and-share-alike fashion. This presentation will give an overview of the project and how Gallery Systems plans to provide a path for museums to participate in the Linked Data Initiative.

Sascha Curzon is European Technical Manager at Gallery Systems; he has an in-depth knowledge across a broad range of domains including databases, programming, project management and client services. He has been technical lead on numerous system implementations at museums all over the UK and Europe.


Post-event comments

  • by Conrad Taylor (excerpt from the message to the BCS KIDMM list, 10.06/2010, 11:30)
  • "... Anyway folks, back to the present and "Seeing is Believing". Not the best name for the ISKO event, I thought, but the subtitle "New Technologies for Cultural Heritage" described it much, much better. The headline news is that ISKO-UK once again pulled off a great event, very much worth attending, and if you missed it you should kick yourself. But not is all lost because I audio recorded it.

    David Arnold from the University of Brighton got the afternoon started with a presentation about techniques for three-dimensional digitisation of cultural artefacts and the environment. Perhaps for example you have seen "QuickTime VR" images of museum objects, which you can rotate with the mouse. But David's explanation went much further, showing various ways in which such imagery can be created and exploited. As an alternative to laser-scanning, there are methods for performing computations on loads and loads of photos taken from many different angles, and if you have access to a great number of images of a famous building or statue (and you can get access to such via Flickr, for example), you may have a means of recreating that which is no longer there: David gave the example of the Bamian Buddha-images in Afghanistan, which were blown up by the Taliban. Another use for 3D images which I hadn't considered is exploitation for museum revenue streams, because the data can drive the production of souvenir reproductions, or greatly enlarged physical gallery representations of objects too small to display easily and too costly to allow people to handle directly. Then there was quite a wacky presentation from Andy Hudson-Smith of UCL, whose project TOTem (Tales of Things, see http://www.talesofthings.com) suggests this:

    "Wouldn't it be great to link any object that direct to a 'video memory' or an article of text describing its history or background? Tales of Things allows just that with a quick and easy way to link any media to any object via small printable tags known as QR codes. How about tagging a building, your old antique clock or perhaps that object you're about to put on eBay?"

    We've discussed QR codes before on KIDMM; they are two-dimensional barcodes, a square image that can be captured and software-processed by smartphones with cameras, such as iPhones and Android phones. Andy is experimenting with scenarios where any Thing thus uniquely identified and given a GUID can play media about itself, such as an audio-recorded memory, or have its own Web site, where people could collaborate to build a story around it. An alternative technology which is less visually intrusive is to use an RFID tag, and the TOTem team are experimenting with DIY Bluetooth-linking RFID reader wands, but the QR code solution does provide a means for people to register their own Things online and print out a label to stick on it. As for museums and galleries, they could place either kind of tag (or both, I guess) beside exhibits, and that could provide a gateway to a Web experience or discussion around the object. Fascinating stuff.

    Another presentation from UCL was by Melissa Terras, who spoke about the potential (in a cash-strapped environment for all museums and heritage organisations) to get assistance from the wider public through "crowdsourcing". This is not new, there have been examples of crowdsourcing going back to Victorian times with amateur astronomy and eager ornithologists, but the Internet offers new possibilities for this. UCL has digitised thousands of pages of the legal reformer and philosopher Jeremy Bentham's correspondence and notebooks, and is just now starting a project to try to get crowdsourced help in transcribing his sometimes not that legible handwriting.

    Fiona Romeo gave a somewhat more conventional but very clear presentation about the plans which the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has to provide enhanced digital access not only to Museum exhibits (which includes a large number of maritime-related art), but also the archives which are going to be brought on-site as the Museum gets a major new extension next year. One cute idea was the provision to visitors of a "digital compass", a contactless smart-card which could by swiped near an exhibit object you wanted to know more about; then when you come to one of the museums computers the system will already know which items you want to know more about. The other nice idea is a large digital multi-touch display surface, a kind of Monster iPad, which can respond to having RFID-tagged cards placed on it by bringing up more information and media about what you are interested in. Fiona emphasised that her concern is that technology in museums should not get you to turn your back on the world and your friends and goggle at Web pages, but should be a multi-user experience you can share with your friends and discuss.

    The final presentation was by Sascha Curzon of Gallery Systems, a company which sells a collections management system that is pretty big in the States and making itself now felt in Europe, especially Germany and Austria. They have a non-profit project called the eMuseum Network which helps participating institutions to share such parts of the collections catalogues as they feel comfortable with, for searching, for export-import into larger portals and so on. An essential feature of the system is term mapping so that the metadata label for a database field can be translated in an automated way into its equivalent in the database or search interface of another system (or human language). In exchange the ability to make the only "commercial" presentation at the conference, Gallery Systems kindly paid for the drinks and nibbles.

    I did the audio recording as usual; I've checked the recordings and they are rather good. I'll be getting these ready for uploading to the ISKO-UK site. The chemistry lecture theatre we used this time was vast, but had rather good natural acoustics, which helped. This time, I ran twin mic inputs through a powered pre-amp, which is a messier kind of set-up to carry around, but gives me a better capability to capture questions from the back of the hall. But I am so, so glad that something made me lug my own power extension reel, because that theatre is almost "powerless" and I had to run a power line more than 20 metres out from a socket to my recording position. Good to see a decent showing of KIDMMs there, especially Liz Orna who I was happy to see is recovering well from a fall and a broken bone. I'll just wrap up this account by saying that what with these talks, plus the two from the ISKO event with the folks from the Natural History Museum, and other museum and gallery topics in the past, including an account of the V&A project from one of our KIDMM meetings, we are beginning to build up a library of "discussables" in the museum, gallery, library and physical heritage space. I spoke to some of the museum-etc types at the meeting (there were two dozen at least!) about our emergent ideas about a working party to start something about museum-etc informatics, and there was (a) definitely interest and (b) an agreement that this is something that doesn't yet have a home. So I think we should feel encouraged to build that! "