Women Architects and World Fairs

Author: Heba Abd El Salam

Analyzing Digital Collections

Museums in the Digital World

New technology makes museum collections available for academics and the public. People can now access museum collections anytime and anywhere. However, making these collections available for online audiences is not an easy process. Curators struggle to analyze the large number of digital collections. This process is complicated and beyond human ability. It is necessary to find tools to facilitate the curators’ missions, such as ChatGPT and machine learning. These programs save people time and effort. For example, these machines help structure information and data about museum collections. https://www.filmfest-muenchen.de/en/program/news/2023/06/ai/ Machine learning can identify the link between artworks. For that reason, museums, archives, and libraries initiate training programs to train their employees on using machine learning to analyze collections. For example, “Training the Archive ” is a project that aims to examine the ability of machine learning techniques to visualize and explore the links between objects and digital archives. The purpose is to make the data and information of the museum organized and accessible. This project profoundly interests me in understanding how to utilize these machines in museum collections.[1] However, the article was unclear because it used several terminologies, I wasn’t familiar with. This article was published to help beginner users understand how to use machine learning in museums. To me, I felt that this article was written for digital humanities professionals. The field is new; new users must understand these machines’ processes. Machines always make tremendous mistakes, and curators always fix these mistakes. Online audiences rely on a museum digital collection as a self-learning tool, so we are responsible for providing accurate information to keep the museum as a place for education and inspiration. https://blog.pigro.ai/en/digital-museums On the other hand, curators can develop engaging programs for online visitors. This is demonstrated in the author’s writing about Chinese history in Australia. The author uses people’s images to share the history of racism in Australia when immigrants were required to have a certificate with their image to return to the country. In this project, they collected the National Archives Australia images and then digitized and comprised images. Google allowed him to use facial detection to find photos.[2] With new permitted technology, people can now gather the information they need and answer questions. This program was very engaging to me. Public historians always suffer when trying to reach online audiences. They always ask how to raise the number of our online visitors because the number is less than physical visitors. However, if the museum was able to meet online visitors’ needs, this would expand the online audience. I can tell these types of projects would attract new visitors to learn about these types of projects. Digital humanities specialists face limitations while searching for digital collections. Since interface tools are limited, professionals would often find restrictions when analyzing digital cultural collections. The article argues that the problem with these digital collections is that they return very limited results when utilizing their search features. [3]This is not helpful for those who are trying to search digital collections for research, as researchers need to explore collections in depth to draw meaningful conclusions. The author argues that the solution is to create web platforms that are more exploratory. I agree with the author on this point that new tools to help users expand their research. I found the reading for this week to be very selective. By combining these articles, I could build my understanding of how to find and analyze digital collections. As a beginner in the field, I have difficulty learning about the terminology in the field, but I was able to understand how machines enable curators to expand their projects. New technology answered many questions that were impossible to answer in the past. However, with the rapid development of technology, people rely a lot on these machines, and they stop using their brains. It’s good to have these machines to help you save time and effort, but they cannot replace people. As everything becomes digital, will this affect our cultural institutions like museums and libraries? People now rely on technology to gather their data. What can we do to engage the community with their museums?
[1] Dominik Bonisch. “The Curator’s Machine: Clustering of Museum Collection Data Through Annotation of Hidden Connection Patterns Between Artworks.” Digital Art History Journal (May 4, 2021) [2] Tim Sherratt. “It’s all about the Stuff: Collections, Interfaces, Power and People.” Discontents (November 2011) [3] Mitchell Whitelaw. “Generous Interfaces for Digital Cultural Collections.” Digital Humanities Quarterly, vol. 9, no. 1 (2015)


Digitization has become particularly important for cultural institutions to document and preserve objects. With this new tool, museums can share their collections online. Archives and libraries can share their manuscripts with the public. Most of the cultural institutions are using facsimiles to reach their audiences electronically. While this tool opens opportunities for more projects to document objects, specialists still struggle with the limitations of digitization.

Emma Stanford reflected in her book chapter on how digitalization has increasingly been used in museums and art institutions. Her chapter aims to explain the limitations of digitization and offers a guide for creating high-quality digital images. [1]She pointed out how many institutions, such as the British Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art, took advantage of the recent technology and could share their collections online. Many museums were indeed able to digitize most of their collections and share them with the public. On the other hand, many museums, like museums in the Middle East and North Africa, cannot do the same because of the lack of funding.

A critical question Stanford raised was which objects should be digitized. This question is a debate between cultural heritage preservation professionals. They always ask themselves which object needs to be digitized or preserved for the next generation. The answer is that each piece of history is essential and should be digitized. Digitization is a tool to share objects with the public and scholars and saves objects for future generations. In case we lose an object in the future, at least this would allow cultural institutions to share it with the public and scholars. One example to support this point is a historical manuscript called “Description of Egypt.” The book was written by French scientists in 1809. Unfortunately, the book was burned on 25 January 2011. It was the only copy, and humankind has lost it forever.

One of the other problems of digitization is the visual size of an object. Stanford points out that digitization sometimes differs from actual objects, and I agree with her. I have seen this problem in many museums, like the Egyptian Museum in Cairo Khufu’s statue, which is only 4 cm (about 1.57 in) but looks more significant than that in the image. Of course, this is one of the limitations, but I think with better interpretation and description of an object, this problem would be resolved. Another problem is the quality and the resolution of an image. I believe with the rapid progress of technology; this problem will also be resolved.

Now, cultural heritage organizations tend to share their digital images internationally with other organizations instead of digitizing new images, which will reduce their budget for digital projects. I believe in saving funding for more digital projects, and institutions should collaborate to ensure no overlapping of digitizing. For example, instead of digitizing the same objects twice, other objects can be digitized to save effort and money and allow more objects to be digitized. Many objects are still not digitized and need to be digitized. One example is a collection at storage in Middle Egypt. Digitization will introduce audiences to new collections hidden in storage and protect these objects from being stolen.

An example was an object was found in Abydos, Egypt. The director of the team digitized the objects after she excavated them. After a few years, she found those objects online for sale and was able to identify them and bring them back to the Egyptian government. The digitization and share collection will expand the audience and protect these projects from theft.

Of course, the budget has been one of the main problems museums and cultural institutions have dealt with for decades. Now, with the age of digitization, these institutions struggle to find funding to fund their digital humanities projects. Stanford argues that cultural institutions are working hard to secure digital project funding. We can see that many government institutions and nonprofits are more likely interested in funding digital projects than other projects. For example, the National Endowment of Humanities offers different funds for digital projects.

Digitization has increased the number of scholars because scholars can now study the site without visiting museums or sites. Stanford made a great argument about the benefit of digitization and how to make art history more accessible to the public. Also, digitization software offers new methods for visualization, like 3D models and showing objects closer to the original state. Her chapter is beneficial for those who are interested in the study of digital humanities. However, she focused her arguments on the United States, Europe, and Japan; these countries are significantly developed in digital use. I wish she could emphasize the role of digitization in other countries like India and Egypt and how big institutions like MET or BM can help museums in these countries to digitize their collections.

In addition, Stanford ignored the role digitization plays in protecting cultural heritage. I hope she can light this point in her chapter and explain it in depth for the reader to understand how this tool offers sources to preserve the past for the audiences. Before this tool, humankind had lost many artifacts. For example, the government of Libya lost a storage collection at the Bank of National Libya. During the Arab Spring, those collections were stolen, and because the Libyan government did not have any images from the collection, they could not find it and bring it back to Libya.

Overall, I want to say the reading this week helped me better understand digitization. Digitation for cultural heritage sites was interesting to me as a public historian. I believe these tools would allow me to expand my audience and open the door for more projects to protect cultural heritage.

[1] Emma Stanford, “A Field Guide to Digital Surrogates: Evaluating and Contextualizing a Rapidly Changing Resource,” Routledge Companion, pp. 203-214. 

© 2023 Claiming a Place

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑