museums


DDIG members may be interested in learning more about Omeka, a simple and open source collections / content management application developed at George Mason University. I took part in using Omeka as the basis of the “Modern Art Iraq Archive” (MAIA). In this particular case, we used Omeka to publish a collection of modern art lost, looted, or destroyed during the US invasion. The same software can be very useful to publish small archaeological collections, particularly since Omeka has an active user and developer community that continually makes new enhancements to the application.

For a bit of background, MAIA started as the result of a long-term effort to document and preserve the modern artistic works from the Iraqi Museum of Modern Art in Baghdad, most of which were lost and damaged in the fires and looting during the aftermath of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. As the site shows, very little is known about many of the works, including their current whereabouts and their original location in the Museum. The lack of documents about modern Iraqi art prompted the growth of the project to include supporting text. The site makes the works of art available as an open access database in order to raise public awareness of the many lost works and to encourage interested individuals to participate in helping to document the museum’s original
and/or lost holdings.

The MAIA site is the culmination of seven years of work by Project Director Nada Shabout, a professor of Art History and the Director of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Institute (CAMCSI) at the University of North Texas. Since 2003, Shabout has been collecting any and all information on the lost works through intensive research, interviews with artists, museum personnel, and art gallery owners. Shabout received two fellowships from the American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII) in 2006 and 2007 to conduct the first phase of data collection. In 2009, she teamed with colleagues at the Alexandria Archive Institute, a California-based non-profit organization (and maintainer of this blog!) dedicated to opening up global cultural heritage for research, education, and creative works.

The team won a Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant from the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities to develop MAIA.

DDIG member Ethan Watrall (Asst. Professor of Anthropology @ MSU) sends us the following information about his upcoming Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) field school, which is part of the CHI Initiative at Michigan State University.

Excerpts quoted. For full details, please see this PDF LINK.

Site Link:<http://chi.matrix.msu.edu/fieldschool> Email:watrall@msu.edu

We are extremely happy to officially announce the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool (ANP491: Methods in Cultural Heritage Informatics). Taking place from May 31st to July 1st (2011) on the campus of Michigan State University, the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool will introduce students to the tools and techniques required to creatively apply information and computing technologies to cultural heritage materials and questions.

The Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool is a unique experience that uses the model of an archaeological fieldschool (in which students come together for a period of 5 or 6 weeks to work on an archaeological site in order to learn how to do archaeology). Instead of working on an archaeological site, however, students in the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool will come together to collaboratively work on several cultural heritage informatics projects. In the process they will learn a great deal about what it takes to build applications and digital user experiences that serve the domain of cultural heritage – skills such as programming, user experience design, media design, project management, user centered design, digital storytelling, etc. …

The Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool is open to both graduate students and undergraduates. There are no prerequisites (beyond an interest in the topic). Students from a wide variety of departments, programs, and disciplines are welcome. students are required to enroll for both sections 301 (3 credits) and 631 (3 credits) of ANP 491 (Methods in Cultural Heritage Informatics).

Admission to the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool is by application only.

To apply, please fill out the Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool Application Form <http://chi.matrix.msu.edu/fieldschool/chi-fieldschool-application>. Applications are due no later than 5pm on March 14th. Students will be notified as to whether they have been accepted by March 25th.

Another country, same upheaval, same “opportunities” for looting of archaeological patrimony (sites, museums, storage facilities): after Iraq, now it’s Egypt’s turn. Hopefully, this will only be an unfortunate but short-lived episode. A specialized Facebook group has been started to attempt to gather news, Restore + Save the Egyptian Museum!, an upgrade from the Iraqcrisis mailing list approach—in 2003, Facebook wasn’t yet the mass phenomenon it is now. Also, an ad hoc website, Egyptological Looting Database 2011, has been thrown up to try to keep track of what (and to which extent) we know about looting in different regions of the country. Compared with The Iraq War & Archaeology, this site endeavors to be a bit more systematic. I applaud all initiatives. Again, my sincerest hope is that all this will prove to be “overkill” but history has taught us to be prepared for the worst.

WikiLeaks is all the rage nowadays—that is, if you can actually reach it online. One good thing, the term “wiki” is now surely well known if probably still not really understood by the general public. I hoped that the cache of documents dealing with the Iraq War might provide some insights regarding the plight of the archaeological heritage of Iraq and esp. the way US and Iraqi authorities and law enforcement might have dealt with it. The search function on the wikileaks.org site though seems disabled, I guess the denial-of-service attacks are taking their toll. Fortunately, some people were able to get some relevant information before the DoS attack:

  • Larry Rothfield (U. of Chicago), ”Wikileaks Provides Evidence Linking Illicit Iraqi Antiquities to Weapons Sales,” in The Punching Bag blog:

More proof, on top of what Matthew Bogdanos has reported, that looted antiquities were part of the revenue stream for the same folks that were/are supplying weapons to insurgents in Iraq: (FRIENDLY ACTION) RAID RPT : ___ INJ/DAM

The actual text of that document is:

(FRIENDLY ACTION) RAID RPT : %%% INJ/DAM  —  2007-12-07 00:00:00  —  A FORCE FROM THE NATIONAL SECURITY ALONG WITH A FORCE FROM THE CRIMINAL %%% ONE OF THE HOUSES AFTER RECEIVING SOME TIPS THAT THEIR IS SOME ILLEGAL %%% ( SELLING WEAPONS AND ANTIQUES) THE HOUSE LOCATED AT %%% KUT – BAGHDAD %%% ROAD THEY ALSO FOUND A , %%% ,FOUR MORTAR , AND TWO GRENADES FOR ATTACKS.THEY ALSO CAPTURED %%% SUSPECTS.

  • Larry Rothfield (U. of Chicago), ”More from Wikileaks on Looted Antiquities Recovered in Operations Against Insurgents,” in The Punching Bag blog:
… there are 1020 documents in the WarLogs that mention smuggling (and many of these are duplicate reports, so the actual number of anti-smuggling operations is probably closer to 500); that is out of a total of almost 392,000 total reports posted to WarLogs. The total number of reports in which antiquities are reported found together with weapons, then, is very low, in the neighborhood of 1-2% (only 6 or so out of something like 500 smuggling incidents).
… the WarLogs do not contain all reports made during the war; missing are reports of smuggling of any kind before 1/1/2004.
2004-10-28 23:40:00  —  … The INFO-OPS, which started yesterday, carried out by Task force MSU joint with provincial archaeological local guard in , , %%% and %%% (located north west of ( %%%)) ended this morning. The op. Aim was to oppose and repress the illegal trade of archaeological stolen finds in %%% province. As result of the op. several vases, statues and tools dated %%% bc. All finds were given to archaeological authority of %%%.
2005-06-03 11:14:00  —  … AND 31X ARTIFACTSRECOVERED. ARTIFACTS WERE STOLEN FROM THE BAGHDAD MUSEUM.
  • Owen Jarus, “Statues, Vases and 120 mm Rounds – Wikileaks documents tell harrowing stories of Iraq’s antiquities,” in Heritage Key:
The documents indicate that the Iraqis took great risks to protect their past. On November 2, 2008 officers from Iraq’s “Antiquities Protection” service participated in a dangerous operation in Karbala. Working with the “Establishment Protection” service, they “found and cleared” a weapons cache containing an astounding amount of firepower.
One of the documents reveals that on February 19, 2004 an entire missile was found at an archaeological site. …

I was able to access one more document not yet mentioned, for what it is worth:

RAID BY WOLF BDE IN BAGHDAD(ZONE ): %%% DET, %%% INJ/DAMAGE  —  2005-07-18 23:50:00  —  %%%, WOLF BDE CONDUCTS RAID TO DETAIN AIF %%% FOR STEALING ANTIQUES VALUED AT -,%%%. MISSION COMPLETE: %%% DETAINED AND ANTIQUES RECOVERED NO INJ/DAM

Others mused on the topic and related issues touching on archaeological research:

  • Colleen Morgan (UC Berkeley), ”Wikileaks, Radical Transparency, and Archaeology,” in the Middle Savagery blog:

Sadly, [my students'] eagerness to interact with these past materials is often met with serious resistance from the local archives. While the individual archivists may be sympathetic, the archive often has stipulations that the materials cannot be shared. At all. This mystifies and frustrates the students, and this makes me both sympathetic (I have been through this constantly during my tenure at UC Berkeley) and grimly determined. I truly believe that institutions that house collections need to make these collections available to the public that pays for them. Period. The students can sense this and it leads to a process of negotiation in the classroom.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? The Getty museum is talking about destroying their collection of 100,000 study slides. Why? Because when they decided to digitize them several years ago, they discovered that the original vendors who sold them the slides made the Getty promise to never scan them. They don’t have slide projectors anymore and the last time a slide was checked out was a year ago. The only thing they can do is trash them. They will probably do it.

Finally, here’s one more article referencing one of the documents from the diplomatic cables cache on WikiLeaks that has archaeological importance:

  • Giles Tremlett, “WikiLeaks cables: Art looted by Nazis, Spanish gold and an embassy offer. Spain rejected attempt to tie together claim on coins found by US firm and row over painting in Madrid museum, cables show,” in The Guardian:

In a conversation with the Spanish culture minister, César Antonio Molina, the US ambassador in Madrid, Eduardo Aguirre, sought to tie the treasure found off the Iberian peninsula by Odyssey together with attempts by an American citizen, Claude Cassirer, to recover a painting by Camille Pisarro that hangs in a Madrid museum. ”The ambassador noted also that while the Odyssey and Cassirer claim were on separate legal tracks, it was in both governments’ interest to avail themselves of whatever margin for manouevre they had, consistent with their legal obligations, to resolve both matters in a way that favoured the bilateral relationship,” the embassy reported in a cable on 2 July 2008. The offer was made after the Spanish government claimed ownership of half a million gold and silver coins found on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean by Odyssey’s underwater robots. The company had provoked Spanish fury by landing the treasure at Gibraltar and flying it straight to the US. … Molina refused to tie the Odyssey case to the Pisarro painting, …

Spain claims that the Black Swan treasure find comes from a Spanish galleon, the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, which sank off Portugal’s Algarve coast in 1804. The vessel had just returned from Montevideo when it was attacked by four Royal Navy ships, and was carrying half a million coins that had been minted in Peru. Descendants of the 249 Spanish sailors who went down with the ship joined the Spanish government’s case against Odyssey in a court in Altanta, Georgia. The court ruled that the cargo belonged to Spain; Odyssey has appealed.

The leaked cables reveal that the US embassy had the previous year handed over to Spanish authorities the customs documents filed by Odyssey when it flew its hoard of coins into the US in mid-2007.

Sebastian Heath has an interesting discussion about museum identifiers. This is part of his ongoing project to document museum and online archaeological-collections identification schemes. Sebastian referenced a discussion circulated by Martin Doerr of the Center for Cultural Informatics on Crete (and of CIDOC fame) about aligning Web identifiers in museums toward some common design standards.

For instance, the Rosetta Stone has the PRN number: YCA62958, hence the “official” URI of the Rosetta stone is: http://collection.britishmuseum.org/object/YCA62958 . This URI should never become direct address of a document.

I absolutely agree with Sebastian on his points about getting human readable pages and avoiding divisions between the semantic and the “plain web” (contra the second sentence in the quote above).

Beyond those architecture issues however, I think the politics of naming and identifying cultural heritage will be a very interesting problem for semantic web approaches. Custody over the Rosetta Stone is in some dispute. The Elgin marbles are even more contested. I’m sure that some people in Greece would have a problem with “britishmuseum.org” in the internationally recognized / official / canonical  URI(s) for the Elgin marbles. In other words, naming and identifying things can be somewhat political and that will work against attempts to harmonize. I’m sure there will always be a need for third-parties to cross-reference identifiers.

I suspect issues like this will pose big problems to attempts to rationalize identifiers. That’s part of the reason why some digital library folks favor opaque identifiers. Of course, this digital library perspective is not universally shared.

It will be interesting to see how this discussion unfolds in cultural heritage applications.

Updated (Nov. 2):

  1. Also I should note that the “Museums and the machine-processable web wiki” (a fantastic resource and community hub!!) has some excellent discussion of these issues.
  2. Sebastian continued the discussion in this post.

I came across a post in the Through the Kaleidoscope blog that got me thinking. “Crowd science – where masses of people participate in data collection for science projects – is growing … Astronomy is the area in which crowd science has been most frequently used, which makes sense given the field’s massive scale and large datasets. One example is the ten-year old SETI@home project …” I must admit here that I’ve been participating in the latter project since May 1999—which puts me in the 89th percentile of all 1.1 million SETI enthusiasts  :-)  I run the project using UC Berkeley’s BOINC, a commonly-used, multiplatform open-source program for volunteer computing and grid computing. BOINC facilitates running several projects at the same time according to selected settings. For instance, I’m also active in other projects: Einstein@home, MilkyWay@home (astronomy), Climateprediction.net (climatology), Rosetta@home, Malariacontrol.net (medical research), SZTAKI Desktop Grid (math), Quake Catcher Network (seismology). At one time, I also participated in non-BOINC projects but that was too cumbersome. The BOINC projects have attracted a lot of creative programmers so that there are for example at least seven websites where you can easily access your statistics both by project as well as combined. Each project awards credits for work done, allowing cross-project comparison and combination of your “scores.” It all serves to involve the participants, make them feel invested. There is even a way to have important milestones in you efforts posted on your FaceBook account, e.g., on September 3, I passed the 6,000 credit milestone for Climateprediction.net.

So what could we do with this crowd-sourced/distributed-computing approach in archaeology? After all, just like astronomy and medical research, we too have a lot of goodwill from the general public directed at us. There has to be a way to channel some of this. Surely, we can find some huge data sets that need processing and whose results can be appealing to a general audience? In the above blog post, another angle is also discussed, e.g., Galaxy Zoo, a project in which people help classify galaxies from Hubble Telescope images, a task that is hard to computerize. Some museums are letting the public tag artifacts online, a way to enhance the often-brief information available in the database (see the Steve Project). This is still primarily for art though, not archaeological artifacts. We all know that our budgets won’t increase in the near future, on the contrary. Let’s get creative!

Jack Sasson draws my attention to the website of Factum Arte, an organization working with museums and other institutions on the production of 3D facsimiles of artifacts, structures, etc. that can be used for conservation and documentation purposes. They also prepare facsimiles for exhibitions. Especially interesting are their archaeological projects:

Wallada's box
SETI I Seti I Thutmose III
A facsimile of Princess Wallada’s Box
Madrid 2010

Commission by
The Conjunto Arqueológico
Madinat al-Zahra

Work in the tomb of Tutankhamun
Madrid 2009

Recorded in Luxor,
Valley of the Kings

pdf report available

Facsimile of a section of Burial chamber from
the tomb of Seti I

Madrid 2003

Recorded in Luxor,
Valley of the Kings

pdf report available

2nd pdf report available

Facsimile of
Thutmose III´s tomb

Madrid 2004

National Gallery of Art in Washington and other venues in USA & Europe

Asurnasirpal II
Dama de Elche
Facsimile of the Asurnasirpal II´s
Throne Room
.
Madrid 2006
The British Museum, Pergamon Museum, Princeton Art Museum, Harvard Scakler Art Museum and Dresden Museum
Facsimile of the
Dama de Elche

Madrid 2004

Commission by
Museo Arqueologico Nacional
and MARQ

pdf report available

One of the Neo-Assyrian winged lions from Nimrud at the British Museum assembled prior to moulding. The winged human headed lion is over 3 meters tall. It has been assembled with the carved carpet piece, also from the British museum.

Martin Bailey has another good article in the June issue of The Art Newspaper, this time on the new director-general of UNESCO, Francesco Bandarin. He was promoted from within: he comes from the World Heritage Centre. A few excerpts:

From organising the restoration and re-erection of the 1,700-year-old Obelisk of Axum in Ethiopia more than 70 years after it was looted by Mussolini, to working to protect the ancient capital city of Samarra in war-torn Iraq, Italian-born Francesco Bandarin has been involved in many well-known projects during the decade he has served as the director of the World Heritage Centre, …

How damaging is tourism to the major world heritage sites? —— FB: It is an issue of scale, and context. Machu Picchu now has one million tourists a year, which may not seem so many, but it is an isolated mountain site. This led to the development of the city of Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu. All the rules of conservation have been overrun by the sheer volume of tourists. At Angkor Wat, in Cambodia, the temples are being conserved, but we did not realise that nearby, at Siem Reap, 150 luxury hotels have sprung up like mushrooms. —— Should Unesco have been tougher in monitoring Angkor Wat? —— FB: We were distracted because we were focusing on conservation of the temples, not on the environment. Now it is a problem. We are not an international police force, but we do run a substantial monitoring system. This year we will be reporting on 180 World Heritage Sites, out of 890. Sometimes monitoring works in terms of results and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a bit frustrating.

Culture is not a luxury, it is a constituent of development, both economic and social. Culture is not entertainment, it is actually production or capital for development. … Unesco deals with four aspects of culture. First, conservation of heritage sites, both cultural and natural. Secondly, preservation of intangible culture. That comprises traditional knowledge, such as rituals, dance or skills. For instance, the Tango was born in Argentina and Uruguay, but it is now found all around the world. Thirdly, museums. And finally, intercultural dialogue.

I will be organising a major international conference on the future of the book. The book is the most important cultural object, but Unesco has been absent from the debate. The argument between Google and the French government is not healthy, and I think we should provide a forum for the actors [French publishers are resisting Google’s attempts to scan their books]. There is the issue between the Anglo-Saxons and the rest of the world, with English dominating language and technology. Amazon did not exist a few years ago. Books won’t disappear, but they will mutate.

In the New York Times, an article discusses how the “Venerable British Museum Enlists in the Wikipedia Revolution.’ Have you looked at what Wikipedia says about your project/museum/archaeological site/etc. as of late? If you think it is inadequate, consider doing what the BM is doing: collaborating with Wikipedia to ensure that its huge readership—admit it, it hasn’t been very long since you last consulted it too, right?—gets the correct information. After all, “‘[t]en years ago we were equal, and we were all fighting for position,’ Mr. Cock [BM webmaster] said. Now, he added, ‘people are gravitating to fewer and fewer sites. We have to shift with how we deal with the Web.’”

In other words, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Once criticized as amateurism run amok, Wikipedia has become ingrained in the online world: it is consulted by millions of users when there is breaking news; its articles are frequently the first result when a search engine is used. This enhanced role has moved hand in hand with Wikipedia’s growing stability (some would say stagnation). With more than three million articles in English alone, there are fewer unexplored topics, and many of the most important articles have been edited thousands of times over a number of years. All of this means that in today’s Wikipedia there is renewed value in old-fashioned expertise, whether to provide obscure details to articles that have already been carefully edited or to find worthy topics that haven’t been written about yet. Mr. Cock, for example, estimated that there were thousands of British Museum objects (among the eight million total) that would be worth their own Wikipedia articles but don’t have them.

What unites them is each organization’s concern for educating the public: one has the artifacts and expertise, and the other has the online audience. Dividing them are issues of copyright and control, principally of images. Wikipedia’s parent, the Wikimedia Foundation, is strongly identified with the “free culture movement,” which generally holds that copyright laws are too restrictive. The foundation hosts an online “commons” with more than six million media files, photos, drawings and videos available under free licenses, which mean they can be copied by virtually anyone as long as there is a credit. That brought Wikipedia into a legal tussle with another prominent British institution, the National Portrait Gallery, when high-resolution copies of paintings from its collection were uploaded to the commons. A Wikipedia volunteer had cobbled the copies together from the gallery’s Web site, justifying his actions by noting that the paintings involved were no longer under copyright. Both the portrait gallery and the British Museum generate revenue by selling reprints and copies of pieces in their collections.

[note: follow-up in the next post]

The Brooklyn Museum continues to push the envelope:

“When it comes to progressive, public-friendly copyright policies, few art museums can match The Brooklyn Museum. In 2004, it was the first art museum to adopt a Creative Commons license, allowing any non-commercial copying of any image in which the museum holds the copyright. In 2008, it was the third institution to join the Flickr Commons, making available high-resolution images of Public Domain artworks from its collection. Last week, the musuem published the detailed copyright status of every image in its online collection–that’s over 12,000 artworks–and made this information available through its API so that anyone can easily cross-reference the data with their own copyright research. It also switched to a less restrictive Creative Commons license, allowing non-commercial remixing as well.” (Jonathan Melber in The Huffington Post).

The museum possesses many archaeological artifacts from the Middle East, Latin America, etc. Here’s an example:

Bahía. Seated Figure, 500 B.C.E.- 500 C.E. Clay, post-fire pigment, 17 3/4 x 13 1/4 x 8 1/4 in. (45.1 x 33.7 x 21.0 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Tessim Zorach, 88.57.7. Creative Commons-BY-NC

Bahía. Seated Figure, 500 B.C.E.- 500 C.E. Clay, post-fire pigment, 17 3/4 x 13 1/4 x 8 1/4 in. (45.1 x 33.7 x 21.0 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Tessim Zorach, 88.57.7. Creative Commons-BY-NC

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