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Digitizing heritage—vintage photos, historic maps, art, terrorism, and LGBT heritage

Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland

The invention of the printing press ca. 1440 is considered perhaps the most important invention in human history. It allowed for the widespread distribution of information and ideas to the late medieval population in Europe and beyond, helping usher in the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment ultimately leading to the overthrow of monarchies and the beginnings of democracy in Europe and the United States. Many historic libraries dating that were founded in the medieval period are popular tourist attractions in their own right (see 2014 photo of Trinity College Library, Dublin above).

Perhaps no less impactful, the introduction of digital collection and storage of a wide variety of information in various media has helped spread information and ideas even farther. The field of cultural heritage and history in all its forms has been somewhat slow to adopt digitization of archives, collections, and inventories, mostly due to lack of resources as well as the extensive backlog stemming from hundreds of years of collecting historical information. But a number of institutions are catching up, from libraries that are hundreds of years old to newer institutions and organizations charged with protecting our cultural heritage. The US Library of Congress has long been adding to its digital archives. The British Library in London now offers over 1 million vintage images online—for free download. And the Metropolitan Museum of Art now has shared more than 375,000 art images available online.

Digital technology also is being used to recreate heritage sites destroyed by ISIS in the Middle East. The World Monuments Fund and the Getty Conservation Institute worked in partnership to expand Arches, a free software platform for cultural resource inventories first developed for Los Angeles, to Syria and elsewhere in the war-torn region. The closed society of Cuban is gradually opening, with online collections of Cuban history such as that curated by the University of Miami providing an excellent resource as the Cuban population slowly gains access to the internet. And the LGBT community has developed several initiatives to create and populate online archives in the very new field of LGBT history and heritage.

Will the availability of digital heritage lead to a new Renaissance? Here are just a few links as a sample of the impact of digital technology on cultural heritage preservation.


Library of Congress Digital Collections

Accessed August 6, 2017

The British Library offers over a million free vintage images for download

By Neil Bennett

Digital Arts Online UK

July 31, 2017

Introducing Open Access at the Met

Metropolitan Museum of Art

February 7, 2017

The Technology That Will Resurrect ISIS-Destroyed Antiquities

By Evan Hadingham

PBS Nova Next

June 9,2016

Arches: A Free Software Platform Purpose-Built for Cultural Resource Inventories (pdf file)

By David Myers, Alison Daglity, and Yiannis Avramides

The Alliance Review – Summer 2016 – National Alliance of Preservation Commissions

Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) Digital Collections

University of Miami

Accessed August 6, 2017

Archives Online

Rainbow History Project (Washington, DC)

Accessed August 6, 2017

Places with LGBTQ Heritage, a project of the National Park Service LGBTQ Heritage Initiative

Rainbow Heritage Network

Accessed August 6, 2017

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