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Not only natural history


By pasilii - Posted on 13 March 2013

One could think that digitization of cultural history objects is completely different from that of natural history specimens. However, when digitizing a historical artifact or a plant specimen, procedures are alike. In fact, an old plant sample could be digitized by the same token as a historical artifact.

Metadata is used in a similar way in both cultural history and natural history digitization. Context information, which indicates dating of the artifact, the places of its manufacture and use, and people linked to the artifact, is relevant. Contrary to natural history specimens, keywords and categorizing classes are attached to the museum objects in order to facilitate a wider range of searches.

Cultural and historical materials are being digitized in "cultural memory organizations" i.e. in museums, archives and libraries. Materials vary: in museums there can be works of art or collections of historical artifacts; in archives there are usually documents, maps etc. Digitization gives the advantage that there is no longer a need to physically handle the original objects, which may be fragile.

Digitization can salvage cultural gems like old photographs, films or audio recordings from being perished. Cultural heritage saved in a bit format can be used in various forms of content production. For example art museums can be visited virtually. In this way history and culture can be made accessible to people with impaired mobility. Museum artifacts and works of art experienced via internet can be easily used at schools when teaching art and history. Archives digitize their most used and most relevant sets of documents, so that the customers can use them online. It’s all about preserving our local, national, continental and global cultural heritage for the future generations.

europeana.eu has been established to serve as a virtual treasury of European cultural heritage. It is a web portal, which provides access to digitized data of European museums, libraries and archives. The portal leads to actual data providers’ sites. The aim is by no means the most modest one: the intention is that Europeana will become the center node, in which our continent's cultural heritage is connected to. For a web user Europeana is the door, which opens to millions of pieces of artwork, museum objects, audio recordings, photographs... the content of Europeana is massive! At the present time (December 2012) more than 22 million objects from 34 countries are connected to Europeana.

A natural history dimension of Europeana is OpenUp! project. It publishes natural history material of cultural history significance. OpenUp! operates also as a forum for metadata quality control. The Finnish participant in the project OpenUp! is Finnish Museum of Natural History (FMNH). Digitarium is one of the material providers to Europeana via OpenUp! and FMNH.

There are texts of Darwin and Newton in Europeana, but not much literature as commonly construed. In cases of Greek and Finnish literature, literary data is primarily research documents and monographs. For instance studies about Homer have been especially made in Spanish universities. Greek literature has been commonly referred to in studies made in Swedish and German universities. These studies concern e.g. author’s own poetry. Finnish classics, starting from Aleksis Kivi, have been referred to in literary studies. Those studies have dealt with e.g. certain author’s characters’ relationship to the classics of Finnish literature. In a series called Finlandia-katsaus there is some video material of several important Finnish authors. That series includes e.g. a press conference held by Väinö Linna in Hungary in 1963. (About digitized literature see stötilaisuus vuonna 1963. (Digitoidusta kirjallisuudesta ks. Project Gutenberg.)

National Digital Library (NDL) is the organization transferring the digitized material of Finnish libraries, archives and museums to Europeana. NDL is the project of the Ministry of Education and Culture. Its aims include management and long-term preservation of digitized scientific and cultural data and general promotion of digitization. During the first phase of NDL (by the end of 2011) 19.5 million objects were digitized, most of which were documents, photographs and newspapers. The intention is to digitize seven million objects more by the end of 2015. Digitization of films is about to begin. Test version of Finna, which is the web portal of NDL, opened to the public in December 2012. Now it is possible to gain access to digitized material (pictures, documents, newspapers, surveys, video and audio recordings) of the Finnish memory organizations via a single web service.

Pasi Liimatta, Eini Nyyssönen, Hanna Pennanen ja Pertti Pulkkanen