Digital Humanities meets Digital Cultural Heritage

Sander Münster (sander.muenster@tu-dresden.de), TU Dresden, Germany und Fulvio Rinaudo (fulvio.rinaudo@polito.it), I-Change, Politecnico di Torino, Italy und Rosa Tamborrino (rosa.tamborrino@polito.it), I-Change, Politecnico di Torino, Italy und Fabrizio Apollonio (fabrizio.apollonio@unibo.it), Department of Architecture, Alma Mater Studiorum – Università di Bologna, Italy und Marinos Ioannides (marinos.ioannides@cut.ac.cy), Digital Heritage Lab, Cyprus University of Technology, Limassol, Cyprus und Lisa Snyder (lma@ucla.edu), University of Southern California, Los Angeles

1. Introduction

As a main characteristic of digital humanities their objects are cultural heritage – according to Panofsky “’the records left [by] my man’ — works of literature, art, architecture, and other products and traces of human intellectual labor” (Alvarado, 2011). While digital humanities focus on the application of digital technologies to support research in the humanities (c.f. e.g. Schreibman et al., 2004, Waters, 2013, Gibbs, 2011), the scholarly community on (digital) cultural heritage concentrates on tangible and intangible cultural heritage objects and their preservation, education and research (c.f. e.g. (UNESCO, 2003). Even if cultural heritage may be an agora (Ch'ng et al., 2013), there are some central topics adressed as “

  • Documentation (Geometric, Architectural, Historic etc.), involving 2D and/or 3D for archiving, for studies, for planning protective interventions etc.
  • Accurate measurements, suitable for restoration actions, reconstructions, structural studies, protection etc.
  • Monitoring of its state, involving recording deformations, state of materials, assessing pathology etc.
  • Proper Management of its data for sustainability, risk management etc.
  • Preservation possibilities specially suited for fragile objects (e.g. libraries etc.)
  • Public Outreach, which involves visualization, dissemination, raising awareness of the public and many more” (cited according to Georgopoulos, in print).

Concerning an application of digital methods, numerous associations were funded and a lively scholarly community has arisen during the last decades. One of the most renowned associations worldwide is the CIPA Heritage Documentation, an International Scientific Committee (ISC) of ICOMOS and ISPRS (International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing). It was founded in 1964 and has the responsibilities to keeping up with technology and ensuring its usefulness for cultural heritage conservation, education and dissemination (Münster, 2017a).

In addition, there are numerous conferences and journals focusing on digital cultural heritage, and various specific topics can be traced. Most prominent research areas are data acquisition and management, visualization or analysis. Recent topics are for instance unmanned airborne vehicle (UAV)-based 3D surveying technologies, augmented and virtual reality visualization, metadata and paradata standards for documentation or virtual museums (Münster, 2017b). In addition, data access seems to be a crucial point in terms of legal admission, annotation and semantics, technical as well as infrastructures.

Finally, there are some characteristics shared with digital humanities. A scholarly discourse is closely related to practical applications within projects (Münster, 2017b) and often takes place within cross-disciplinary cooperation.

Against this background, the idea of this panel is to sketch an outline of current research topics, challenges and practices in the field of digital cultural heritage. Our overarching interest is to initiate a fruitful discussion about communalities and differences between digital humanities and digital cultural heritage as well as to assess, to which extend they are two sides of the same medal.

2. Contributions

A scholarly community on digital cultural heritage

Within this paragraph, I will outline some characteristics of the scholarly field of digital heritage. In particular, a scientific community, usage-related challenges and demands as well as epistemic cultures will be mentioned.

A community perspective: Who are stakeholders of cultural heritage? What are topics of scientific discourse? We studied these aspects by analysing ~5000 publications in that field. Even if digital cultural heritage is a relatively new subject and a still emergent community, several protagonists, both individuals and institutions, are visible and have continuously been involved in an academic discourse since decades. Most of the researchers in the field of cultural heritage are Europeans and have a disciplinary background in the humanities and in particular archaeology. As mentioned in the introduction, a discourse is primarily driven by technologies and in particular data acquisition and management, visualization or analysis.

A usage perspective: What are challenges and demands?

To examine current challenges and demands we conducted an online survey with more than 1000 participants. At a glance, money is named as biggest obstacle, including lacking funding opportunities for digital activities, costs for hardware and software as well as budget priorities for non-digital activities within organizations. Another big problem is a missing awareness such as a generation gap or digital divide in terms of digital literacy and frequency of use of digital tools as well as a general fear of or resistance to digital methods or – vice versa – missing awareness of limitations and requirements in the digital world. Moreover, the lack of competency and skills especially in technical domains is frequently named and vice versa would be seen as most important prospection. Finally, several participants see no obstacles for employing digital approaches in their organization.

An epistemic view: How does digitization change research approaches in the field of cultural heritage? What marks a disciplinary culture of digital cultural heritage?

For that research, we employed various in-depth research methods such as qualitative interviews and workshops. Similar to digital humanities, also for cultural heritage the use of digital technologies and approaches is currently estimated between another sub-domain of humanities studies and to “redefine traditional humanities scholarship through digital means” (Adams and Gunn, 2013). Beside the “technology-enabled” use of computational technologies to answer new types of research questions and the “technology-facilitated” employment of computational technologies as medium “for new research practices without necessarily transforming researchers’ methods” (Long and Schonfeld, 2014, p. 42), a third type gets visible: “humanities-enabled” research as trading in humanities techniques to answer technology related questions like user-engagement, research ethic or to perform a comprehensive explanation of technical results. A key aspect of digital cultural heritage is cross-disciplinary cooperation. With regards to De Solla Price, digital cultural heritage could be seen as a mode 2 science (De Solla Price, 1963) with an emphasis on cross-disciplinary teamwork, the use of machines and a joint intellectual property. Consequently, a disciplinary culture is widely common to engineering but less to humanities. That may explain why humanities scholars report more frequently than engineers about the need to gain qualifications in order to enter the field of digital cultural heritage.

Space and time in Digital approach to Cultural Heritage

Digitisation changed the field of disciplines by creating a hybrid of their methodologies with ICTs. At the same times the complexity of new research, the quantity, and the quality of data available and the potential of new tools for managing and using data, ask for new cross-disciplinary approaches.

Digital Humanities and Digital Cultural Heritage could have same or different goals in using digital technologies for developing researches and interacting with a wide range of stakeholders, both in the aim of improving keys of interpretation of the Past (Digital Humanities) and/or of improving the understanding of the Past through the fruition of Cultural Heritage. A certain link between these methodologies has to be reached to avoid repetition of digitisation efforts and to reuse data in the aim of an open access of research outcomes.

The proposed contribution will show in which way Digital Urban History and Digital Cultural Heritage meet, by adopting digital strategies of two experts, in history and in geomatics, to obtain research results useful to document a Cultural Heritage asset, to give information to assess cultural meanings and for the subsequent actions of valorisation, conservation, restoration, and at the same times to implement the knowledge of historical assets.

The proposed interdisciplinary approach shares the focus on ‘spatialising’ historical information that have different significance in the two disciplines: space is a fact for geomatics as well as times is a fact for historians. Essential relationships between history and the space emerged since 1970s (Lefebvre, 1991) unless digital history emerged in the late 1990s (Brügger, 2010) and recent awareness confirms the role played by technologies for improving this trend by visualisation of relationships between space and time (Bodenhamer, 2013).

The contribution of Digital Urban History to Cultural Heritage documentation is the description of urban landscape changes by assessing the modifications and their possible causes, by linking material changes to human and natural actions such as political decisions, economic factors, earthquakes, climate changes, etc.

The study of those phenomena requires the use and interpretation of historical sources, the mutual validation of the quality of the used data and the filling of the “information gaps” that sometimes the archive contents do not allow to solve properly without an historical interpretation. Usually the digitisation, required to develop an historical research, has to put in evidence the spatial meaning of the sources in term of cartographic localisation and 3D modelling at the needed scales. Those solutions have to be shared with experts to avoid misunderstanding of the historical sources and their interpretation.

Digital Cultural Heritage experts need not only the results of the researches but also the used primary data in digital sharable formats to be distributed among the experts involved in documentation, management, valorisation, and restoration design.

Digital technology changed the way to collect, share, and manage information. Digital technologies are instruments and, as instruments, they do not have to overpass the aim of the different research. They are tools and not the focus of the Humanities and the Cultural Heritage.

A challenge: formalizing semantic knowledge and new forms of representation

The availability of new and more effective digital technologies, applied to Cultural Heritage studies, does not represent only the move from analogue to digital source material (Brügger, 2016), but obviously, other factors also play a role (Svensson, 2011, p. 42). Digital technologies introduce the possibility of interchangeable media able to offer multiple nodes of access to a given term or object, and enable a multidimensional approach to knowledge on several levels (Stefani et al., 2013).

Even though the Digital Humanities open up an array of possibilities either for doing what was previously done in new ways, or for rethinking well-known practices of the humanities, for instance by integrating software-supported methods and by using digital research infrastructures ( (Brügger, 2016)), the inescapable problem remains the need to make retrievable the documentation process (Münster et al., 2016) behind the production of any digitized, born-digital, and reborn-digital material, as well as that concerning the cultural asset and the preservation of the data during the whole lifecycle of CH. Therefore, besides spatial modeling and its representation the digital humanities, as well as digital heritage, open to the temporal dimension (diachronic and synchronic) - which allows to know artifact not only in its evolution and transformation during its life cycle, but also through its analysis - and to the extrapolation of various possible models from fragmentary pieces of information (remains), which imply of portraying uncertainty in a digital imagery, and defining an inventory of new forms of representation for indicating distinctions between known and projected or imagined evidence.

Thanks to the development of the ICT technologies and infrastructures, and their application to research on architectural and urban cultural heritage, the semantic virtual environment platforms can become the engine for dissemination of different and customized level of knowledge (Apollonio, in print).

According to theoretical humanities approaches to knowledge as knowing, observer dependent, emergent, and process-driven rather than entity-defined, next challenges will be focused on defining appropriate methodology able to ensure, through descriptive metadata jointly the connection of the data-sources and the knowledge processes involved in creating digital objects (knowledge provenance by means of semantic database) ( (Brügger, 2016); (Bruseker G. et al., 2015)), the possibility to modeling the human processes of understanding and interpreting the digitized sources (paradata) in order to produce the 3D digital outputs, semantically enriched.

As humanistic methods are necessarily probabilistic rather than deterministic, performative rather than declarative, more advanced models of simulation than the literal techniques of current visualization will need to be designed in order to incorporate these methods within Digital Humanities.

Even though web-based ICT systems can offer increasingly updated tools for the Cultural Heritage management, providing a smart 3D navigation system, always accessible to the users via internet, we need to define standardized methodology of source or reality-based 3D reconstruction of tangible Cultural Heritage, able to ensure, throughout a (i) a transparent reconstruction workflow, (ii) 3D modeling qualified by readable quality/properties, (iii) a proper semantic structure of the 3D digital model, and (iv) a retrievable knowledge reconstruction and formalization process (Apollonio, in print), the interoperability of data sets by referring to recognized standard reference ontologies.

The challenge, as hoped by Johanna Drucker (Drucker, 2012) due to shifting humanistic study to a humanistically informed theory of the making of technology, consists in developing a new web philological toolbox (Brügger, 2016) that can help the scholar gain as much information as possible about the object of study. This approach, in fact, should be able to develop applicable working techniques, to define valid strategies, and to apply classifications useful to supporting scientific work besides the conveyance of knowledge to its extraction, elicitation and representation.

The Virtual Multimodal Museum Network (ViMM)

Virtual Multimodal Museum (ViMM) is a major Coordination and Support Action across the field of Virtual Museums (VM), within the overall context of European policy and practice on Digital Cultural Heritage (DCH), funded under the Horizon 2020 program of the European Union. A highly-expert seven (7) partner consortium, coordinated by Cyprus University of Technology (CUT) leverages the support of a unique and powerful Advisory Group, consisting of many of the Europe and the world’s leading public and private sector organisations in the field, to define and support high quality policies, strategic and day-to-day decision making, the utilisation of breakthrough technological developments such as VR/AR and to nurture an evidence-based view of growth and development impacted by VM, supported by a set of case studies in culturally-rich regions of South Europe affected by economic recession.

Its work will be founded on building a consensual framework directly involving Europe’s leading VM decision-makers and practitioners in defining and resolving existing issues spread across 7 interlinked Thematic Areas (‘the 7 Ds’): Definitions – Directions – Documentation – Dimensions – Demand- Discovery - Decisions and aims for wide-reaching stakeholder participation and very high visibility. The latter will be achieved through organisation of key events at policy and practitioner/ stakeholder levels, extensive use of the media, and by the introduction of an interactive and wide-reaching communication platform, deploying social media and novel approaches to enable focused debate by all interested parties, supported by access to representations of excellence and a decision-support tool for stakeholders.

An initially broad and open approach will be refined through a process of definition, consolidation and resolution activities to arrive at a clear Manifesto and Roadmap for Action on VM/DCH, validated at a final ViMM international conference. Measurable impacts will be achieved on the role and capability of DCH – and VM in particular – to meet their enormous potential in society and the economy.


Appendix A

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