Category Archives: #CulturalHeritage

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories are from the British Library’s “Digital Conversations: Cultural Heritage Institutions and Videogame Technologies” panel held on the 8th of December and have been chosen by the Institute’s Maria Pirkkalainen.

Minecrafting the British Museum

Putting together the world famous game Minecraft and the even more legendary British Museum might not sound like the most logical pair at first glance. However, like Nick Harris from the British Museum’s Museum of the future project pointed out at the Digital Conversations panel discussion, the mix of these two has proved out to be very fruitful to both parties.

Initiated and managed by Mr Harris, the crowdsourcing project Museumcraft aims to give anyone interested in the Museum or Minecraft the opportunity to engage with the Museum’s spaces by working together to build the Museum in Minecraft. Engaging the interested audience first via a post on Reddit, the project provides Minecraft users the chance to personalise and modify the Museum according to their wishes. The building will be freely available to download after its completion, and it is also planned to be used as an educational tool.

The idea behind the project is to give the museum and the general public a chance to think together how, for example, the museum space could be customized. Would the people want to build the museum themselves? Judging from the enthusiastic feedback and interest that Museumcraft has generated, the answer seems to be a strong yes.

Victoria and Albert Museum’s Games Designer in Residence

The world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, the Victoria and Albert Museum took another step forward when it introduced its new initiative of a games designer residency in 2013. The museum’s first chosen games designer Sophia George completed her yearlong residency in the fall of 2014, and the V&A’s Team Leader for Digital Programmes, Alex Flowers, discussed some of the achievements and results of their collaboration at the Digital Conversations panel discussion.

Before her residency, BAFTA winner and Chair of Swallowtail Games Sophia George was known, for example, for her family-friendly puzzle game Tick Tock Toys. Organized as a partnership between the V&A, V&A at Dundee and the University of Abertay Dundee, Ms George spent the first half of the residency in London and the other half in Dundee.

The residency aimed to find new interpretations and ways of use for the museum’s large collection of British heritage. The final product of the residency was therefore a free iPad game called Strawberry Thief. The game was inspired by a historical William Morris textile piece in V&A’s Britain 1500-1900 galleries.

Besides working and producing the game in question, the games designer’s residency tasks included working on public engagement, workshops and being active in calling for more women to enter the games industry. The museum’s focus on video games will also be seen at their upcoming video games exhibition in 2016.

World’s first cultural centre for gaming to open in the UK

GameCity is a British institution that celebrates the artistry and creativity of video games and has held the annual GameCity festival each year ever since 2006. And as the company’s Director Iain Simons told at the event, starting from March 2015, GameCity will also be the main party behind the world’s first cultural centre for gaming; the National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham, United Kingdom.

The 2.5 million pound centre aims to promote video gaming as an art form as important as for example film and theatre. With five floors, video game exhibitions and a permanent display of gaming world objects, the centre is sure to answer a need for an important area of the creative culture and economy.

British Library’s annual quest for finding inspiring video games

Besides engaging professionals from the cultural heritage and academic videogame design sectors, the British Library’s Digital Conversations event also introduced the third edition of the Library’s and GameCity’s annual video game competition Off the Map. The competition’s co-curator Helen Melody explained how the theme of the next Off the Map coincides with the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – or as originally known, Alice’s Adventures Underground. 2015 also marks the year when British Library will celebrate the anniversary with an exhibition.

The idea of the contest is to challenge video game designers with the task of using the British Library’s collections as an inspiration to create new digital media – and in new creative ways. The competition will have three entry categories in 2015; the games should be submitted as either 3D, 2D or Interactive Text. On top of this, the competitors should search for inspiration from three particular themes: Oxford, underground and gardens. Taking into account the interest generated by the previous years’ competitions and the forthcoming anniversary of the legendary book, this will no doubt be another successful year for bridging together the gap between cultural heritage institutions and new digi-savvy audiences.

Preserving and Sharing Cultural Heritage

Sampo Viiri from the Finnish Institute blogs about the Institute’s new report on digital humanities and digital culture heritage preservation.

The evolution of digital technology and online networks is shaping our lives and societies. At some point in the recent past, digital stopped being something separate from the “real” world for many of us. Now we are constantly in the network and using digital tools without even noticing it ourselves.  Digital information is increasingly everywhere and largely available for everyone.

Digital humanities, the intersection of digital technologies and humanities, involves the use of digital tools in research, teaching, scholarship and publication in humanities disciplines. Digital humanities has been a buzzword of the humanities field in the last few years.

United Kingdom has so far been seen as a pioneering country in open data and open knowledge. In Finland the Open Science and Research Initiative aims at Finland becoming the leading country in openness of science and research by the year 2017 and that the opportunities of the open science will be widely utilised in Finnish society.

However, archivists and IT experts respectively have expressed their concerns on the so called digital dark age: a phenomenon where significant amount of important cultural heritage is lost due to rapid digitisation of information and lack of reliable long-term preservation methods.
How does this change influence humanities research and teaching, as well as preservation of cultural heritage? Concentrating on the fields of history research and archives, the Finnish Institute’s new survey consults recent literature and professionals associated with the digital humanities field.

The main findings are as follows:

  •  Access to digital content online has benefited researchers and can improve geographic and socioeconomic equality.
  • Digital history may narrow the gap between academic and popular history, and increase cross-disciplinary and international collaboration.
  • New digital tools have not yet changed most historians’ research methods substantially but digital tools and methods should be included in history curriculum.
  • Libraries, archives and universities see future digital preservation challenges similarly, which encourages further collaboration.
  • Digitisation projects are work hour intensive and require new skills and attitudes.
  • Private-public partnerships in the culture heritage sector are in many ways controversial but may offer good collaboration possibilities.
  • Measuring the societal value of digital humanities is difficult but might be possible in the near future.

The literature and interviews suggest that the areas of digital humanities, open knowledge and open data are in many ways connected. The main idea is linking the digital humanities scholars and digital preservers with the wider community. The GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) sector was seen as an important channel for academic research to reach the wider public. The archives and libraries need to deal with similar problems, diminishing the barriers between their fields.

The findings of this survey are in many ways similar to the Finnish research Tutkijoiden ääni, the British Reinventing research? report and the American Ithaka S+R reports from 2012 and
2014. They all promote collaboration within the academia and between universities and the GLAM sector.
What we would like to add is the role of non-profit organisations such as Open Knowledge or Wikimedia and the important contribution that grassroots activists have in creating and disseminating digital content. These organisations and individuals could offer important information eg. about copyrights for the GLAMs and researchers.
From a Finnish perspective, international collaboration and networking are especially vital. In Finland there are fewer universities and the organisations are smaller than in the United Kingdom. The situation calls for even more collaboration to make most use of the resources available. The Open Cultural Data and Open Government Data courses, organised by Open Knowledge Finland, are some promising projects.
The small organisations in Finland could be an asset too if smaller size means an agile organisation. Collaboration in the field is a good way to make sure that the different organisations’ metadata can communicate with each other, and organisations do not end up as silos.
Publishing cultural heritage online without restrictions helps researchers, the public and the cultural heritage organisations themselves. There are promising examples and these policies are emphasised in European Union strategies.

The new possible gap between online material and analogue content that is not digitised needs to be addressed too. There is a concern that the analogue material will become invisible for the researchers and the public, thus distorting research interests and processes.

Politics will always influence cultural heritage preservation. Archivists have so far been somewhat invisible from public discussion. They should speak up and demonstrate how archives are valuable in preserving societal memory.
There is a certain fear for private sector domination in public-private partnerships, but collaboration between the two can be fruitful too. It is worth asking, how far can you go with these private partnerships without hurting your own agenda? The private companies may want to put content behind pay walls or exploit it otherwise. Open and honest discussion between public and private organisations is needed.
There are interesting further research topics, such as measuring the overall societal impact of digital projects. Open scholarly publishing, its impacts on the knowledge gap between socioeconomic groups, and what kind of policies lead to utopia and dystopia scenarios in digital preservation are important topics in the future too.
The report presents some of the questions on a more philosophical level. Trying to provide concrete answers for practical questions would not be feasible in a report like this one, but we hope that the presented ideas, referenced literature and projects circulate good ideas and encourage discussion and collaboration in and between Finland, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
The report can be downloaded here.
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