Contextual Cultural Heritage at the American Institute of Indian Studies, Gurgaon, India

DSC_1678This two day workshop in Gurgaon, New Delhi, was organised by Professor Donna Kurtz of the e-Research Centre of University of Oxford and Vandana Sinha, the Academic Director (Center for Art and Archaeology) at the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS). It was made possible through an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) grant and also through the kind support and generosity of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts. The workshop was held at the headquarters of the AIIS which houses a truly astonishing photographic archive of Indian art and culture and hosts a world leading specialist library.IMG-20150407-00683

The event provided the opportunity to exchange knowledge on cultural heritage digital representation and integration using the Virtual Museum of Images and Sound (VMIS) Project from the American Institute, Oxford University’s CLAROS system and the Andrew W. Mellon funded ResearchSpace project at the British Museum as a backdrop for discussions. It also encouraged a mutual exchange of knowledge on meaningful knowledge representation, the contextual ontology CIDOC CRM (Conceptual Reference Model), and the various tools under development aimed at scholars and subject experts. The messages of the workshop centred on information sharing and linking with the following key points.

  • Cultural heritage organisations, through the World Wide Web, reach a wide range of audiences. These communities need to be better served by these institutions in the representation and integration of data.

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    A CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model semantic representation of AIIS spreadsheet data

  • The Web of Knowledge relies on the fluidity of data. While barriers on the Web may be frustrating for human browsing they prevent the use of computers to make sense of the vast amounts of knowledge encoded as data. Some organisations, like the Yale Center for British Art, the National Gallery in Washington and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam have removed barriers to their digital images and data and already work towards a more fluid and knowledge driven Web.
  • Cultural Heritage institutions use their collections to provide particular perspectives on history and therefore provide a particular commentary about contemporary society. However, each institution provides only particular perspectives, and only by making information accessible (particularly in a computer readable and reusable form) can these perspectives can be combined, compared and studied. Without releasing institutional knowledge, perspectives are not represented in important information channels and, at worst, perspectives can be misrepresented.
  • The World Wide Web contains an increasing amount of information containing visual inaccuracies and contextual and semantic mistakes. Only by source organisations engaging with the Web of Data can these misrepresentations be confronted.
  • The value of cultural heritage resources lies in its availability for continued scholarship and creativity and ultimately the dissemination of the results of this work in accessible, meaningful and engaging ways.IMG-20150407-00689
  • While the Web has exposed the extent of the audiences interested in cultural heritage data, cultural heritage organisations have yet to respond to this by reviewing the type of information they record and publish. Information about the significance and relevance of items in a collection is becoming the important factor in serving new communities and audiences. Cultural heritage organisations can address these issues by reusing the results of external research (based on information they have made accessible) to enrich their own knowledge systems.
  • Only when meaningful contextual links are established between different cultural heritage organisations will audiences be able to see a more complete picture of history that combines local knowledge with national, and harmonises data across collections, archives, bibliographic information and other scholarly sources.
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Sebastian Rahtz (Oxford University) and Dominic Oldman (British Museum) at the Taj in Agra

The American Institute of Indian studies and Oxford University e-Research centre are committed to supporting these principles and strive to promote knowledge collaboration and help develop the Web of Knowledge into a serious resource for academic researchers and enthusiast alike.

Presentation Slides from Professor Kurtz, Dominic Oldman, Head of ResearchSpace at the British Museum, and Sebastian Rahtz, Chief Data Architect at Oxford University are available at                         .

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