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Sharing Photographs

Antje Schmidt and Esther Ruelfs - February 2, 2016 in Curator's Choice, Featured, Public Domain

CURATOR’S CHOICE #29: Antje Schmidt and Esther Ruelfs of Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG)

Antje Schmidt, Head of Digital Cataloguing and MKG Collection Online, and Esther Ruelfs, Head of MKG’s Photography and New Media Department, on the functions of sharing images, both historically and in the present.


Only four months ago, in October 2015, MKG Collection Online was launched. For the first time the objects of the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg are made publicly available on a searchable digital platform. Although containing highlights from all collection areas, the initial release1 has focused on objects from the department of Photography and New Media which comprises well over 75,000 works. From the daguerreotype of the nineteenth century to early colour photography of the 1930s, the works held by the MKG illustrate the history of early photography, and extend beyond to digital photography of the present day.

For this occasion of the online image release the museum investigated how it can – in its role as a public cultural institution – make its holdings visible and accessible to as many people as possible. It decided that all images in the public domain should be provided under a Creative Commons CC0-license and be downloadable. The images tagged “public domain” are not only available for private, scholarly and commercial use, but may also be altered and combined with other content for the creation of completely new works. This idea of reuse corresponds to the museum’s initial founding charter from 1877, to offer persons working in the arts and crafts examples for study and imitation so as to improve the quality of the work of the regional workshops. Today the MKG is the first and only museum in Germany that offers, under the CCO license, the free use as well as reuse and remix of data and images of its public domain objects.

This decision to make the collection freely available for the public was largely influenced by conclusions made after the examination of the MKG’s historical photographs. They demonstrated that the sharing of images fulfills an important function for the confirmation of cultural identity and the production and transfer of knowledge.

Today more pictures are being taken and digitized than ever before – innumerable snapshots pile up on hard disks and in clouds, and are shared via the Internet and commented on. But platforms for sharing such as the MKG Collection Online, professional image databases, as well as Facebook and Flickr, only supersede older forms of archiving and transferring images and the associated interaction. Photography has always been a means of capturing, storing, and communicating visual impressions ever since its beginnings in the nineteenth century.

One of the central functions of photography is the creation of mementoes. Photography connects us with the subject or the person depicted beyond even the bounds of the time. The photo is an imprint; it transmits to us something that was once really there. Like a fingerprint or a footprint. This special quality of photography predestined it from the start to be a medium of memory. We can see this quality exemplified in the daguerreotype below, the image of the little girl framed by a braid of her own hair.

Unknown, Mädchen mit Kopftuch, Germany, 1855, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (Public Domain) — Source.

The idea of carrying part of a loved one with us and thus generating a special feeling of closeness is reflected in the practice of making friendship or mourning jewelry out of hair – and in the way we treasure portrait photographs as keepsakes of those we love. Emotional relationships can also be expressed by a certain photographic motif or by the body language of the sitters.

Unknown, Unbekanntes Ehepaar, Germany, 1840-1860, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (Public Domain) — Source.

The arms of the sisters in the photo below are closely intertwined, as are the hands of the couple in the daguerreotype by Carl Ferdinand Stelzner.

Unknown, Zwei unbekannte Frauen, Germany, 1840-1860, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (Public Domain) — Source.

Carl Ferdinand Stelzner, Carl Overweg mit seiner Braut Helene de Jough, Hamburg, 1857, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (Public Domain) — Source.

The relationship between photographer and subject may also be the focus of the work. Gertrude Käsebier uses the camera, for example, to capture and hold onto intimate moments with her own family.

Gertrude Käsebier, Happy Days, New York, ca. 1903, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (Public Domain) — Source.

Gertrude Käsebier, Blessed Art Though Among Women, ca. 1899, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (Public Domain) — Source.

Gertrude Käsebier, The Picture Book, ca. 1903, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (Public Domain) — Source.

Käsebier was a member of the Photo-Secession, an American group of art photographers, and with numerous photographs published in Alfred Stieglitz’s journal Camera Work she made a substantial contribution to the establishment of photography as a means of artistic expression. By 1897, she was already so successful as a photographer that she was able to open a studio on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. While her career was unusual for a woman of her day, her photographs feature traditional female motifs such as motherhood, and often treat Christian themes as well. Käsebier’s images of her own children as they grew up, as well as her commissioned portrait work, is notable for atmospheric dramatization using soft light combined with soft focus.

Gertrude Käsebier, Mutter mit Kindern, New York, 1901, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (Public Domain) — Source.

Gertrude Käsebier, Pastoral, before 1905. Heliogravüre published in Camera Work, Number 10, 1905, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (Public Domain) — Source.

Dr. Antje Schmidt is Head of Digital Cataloguing and MKG Collection Online. She holds a doctorate in Art History and, while her doctoral thesis examined the changing architecture and presentation modes of museums around 1900, in her current position she explores the challenges of museum practice in the digital age. Dr. Esther Ruelfs has been Head of the Photography and New Media Department since 2012. Her interest lies in the connection between historical currents and recent developments in photography. She wrote her thesis on the German photographer Herbert List.

1. MKG Collection Online shows a work in progress with the data updated regularly, therefore the number of objects available online grows constantly.

The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg is one of the most important museums for applied art in Europe. The collection with more than 500.000 works range from Ancient Art to contemporary design with emphasis on European and East Asian art. It includes the world religions as well as Fashion, Graphic Art, Poster, Photography and exceptional Art Nouveau objects or unique musical instruments. Apart from being an inspirational source the museum was established to spread the knowledge about its works in order to improve the quality of the regional workshops. To explore its collections more please visit MKG Collection Online.

This post is part of our Curator’s Choice series, a monthly feature consisting of a guest article from a curator about a work or group of works in one of their “open” digital collections. The series is undertaken in partnership with OpenGLAM and made possible through funding from the European Union’s DM2E project.


Hacking the Museum Experience

Lieke Ploeger - January 28, 2016 in eSpace, Events/Workshops, Featured, Hack days

The Europeana Space project is exploring different ways of reusing digital cultural heritage by running pilots in six thematic areas (TV, Photography, Dance, Games, Open and Hybrid Publishing and Museums).  On March 17-18, 2016 the Museums pilot invites everyone to Venice for the Hacking the Museum Experience, focused on creating disruptive solutions to enhance the museums’ visitors experience, engage the audience and boost the educational experience.


In the past several years the amount of digitized cultural content made available online has grown exponentially. The way people interact with culture and media as well as the way people learn and absorb information has changed as well. Museums around the world are moving away from a physical space speckled with digital devices to digital spaces that operate in the physical. Placards on the wall next to pieces are no longer enough. The E-Space Museums Hackathon seeks to discover new disruptive, innovative and sustainable ways that museums can enter this “phygital” realm.

During a 48-hour marathon of brainstorming, hacking, networking and pitching, participants will be encouraged to utilize new technologies and devices to see how digitized materials can enrich the museum experience. They will have access to the technical solutions developed within the E-Space Museums Pilot, including the Toolbox and Blinkster, but also to millions of digitized cultural heritage items from around the world via Europeana Space’s Technical Platform. Technical staff will be on hand to assist with development issues and business modelling consultants to help shape and hone participants ideas for the marketplace.

Designers, coders, museum experts and lovers, cultural managers, artists, creatives, IT and marketing experts are all welcome to join, either in pre-existing teams or as individuals. The jury will look at several aspects of each concept:

  • Relevance and value to the cultural heritage sector. Does the proposition offer a new application or perspective on the use of the digitalized cultural heritage content? Does the proposition use, re-use, or facilitate the use or re-use of digitalized cultural heritage material? It is important to remember that these projects are not only confined to the museum space. Participants are free to choose their own field for exploration.
  • Business potential & job creation. Does the proposition hold a strong position against current and likely competitors? What is the composition and size of target market(s) for this proposition?
  • Likelihood of success. How likely is the proposition to be adopted by users? Does the team have the skills and capacity to successfully accomplish and launch a new business concept?
  • Innovation & quality & uniqueness. How innovative, new, or original is the idea? (New technology, original approach, potential uptake by target users) What is the quality of the concept? (Form, function, aim)

More information on the programme will be made available through registration is possible here.

E-Space Photography pilot: citizens love to share their memories!

Clarissa Colangelo - January 7, 2016 in eSpace, Events/Workshops, Featured

Thanks to the digitization work of libraries, museums, and archives in Europe, and to online data sources such as Europeana, Wikimedia, Flickr and the likes, a vast number of images of high historical, artistic and cultural heritage value has become available. The Europeana Space Photography pilot draws on this wealth of images and tries to find spaces of possibilities for the reuse of this digitized photographic heritage.

On Friday, November 27th, we organized in collaboration with the City Archive of Leuven and the Erfgoedcel the “Photographic Memories Workshop”. The aim of the day was to revive the history of Leuven and connect it with today’s life, all through the medium of photography. The event targeted the citizens of Leuven and took place in the City Archive, which opened its doors for the three activities of the day: a spin-off of the exhibition “All Our Yesterdays” featuring old images of Leuven, a Wet Plate Collodion demonstration by the photographer Frederik Van den Broeck, and the possibility for people to get their own old photographs professionally digitized.


While all three activities were well received by the visitors and had very positive feedback, it was the latter in particular that taught us a valuable lesson.

We knew that citizens would show up with their own old images: we had already organized similar “Collection Days” in Pisa (Italy) from April until June 2014 during which over a 1000 images were digitized. What we didn’t know was how they would react to licensing. In Pisa we experimented only with CC-BY-NC, a license that does not allow for material to be used for commercial purposes, but in Leuven we took it one step further and presented the possibility of commercial reuse. What could have supposedly been a problem was in reality a non-issue: upon being explained by Professor Fred Truyen (KU Leuven) and Barbara Dierickx (Packed) the value of Open Access and the meaning of CC-BY and Public Domain licenses, most of the citizens had no doubts in licensing their old photographs as such. Far from being jealously attached to their images, visitors held in very high esteem the possibility to share and pass on memories of the history of Leuven and therefore gladly licensed their images as freely accessible and reusable.


The numbers speak clearly: out of 228 collected images, 190 were licensed CC-BY, 32 PD and only 6 CC-BY-NC. The photographs were digitized by the team of the Digital Lab at KU Leuven with state-of-the-art technology. A group of students from the Master of Cultural Studies helped us interviewing the owners of the photographs in order to get to know and collect, along with the images, stories about the places and people they captured.

Through the Europeana Space project, we will deliver these photographs to Europeana. They will all be available, together with more open access resources and technological toolkits, for the participants of the Photography Hackathon “Hack Your Photo Heritage” that the Photography pilot organizes from the 25-27 February 2016 at the FabLab Leuven. Developers, cultural heritage professionals, designers, creative entrepreneurs, photographers and photo-amateurs are all invited to the event, where they will be challenged to tap into the power of huge resources such as Europeana and Europeana Space, Flickr Commons and Wikimedia to build innovative apps that reuse photographic heritage and develop web environments for tourism, culture and education, with monetizing potential and investment appeal.

If you have an innovative idea for the reuse of photographic heritage or want to contribute with content, don’t miss out on this event: contact us or register here for the hackathon and follow our blog to read more on our latest developments!

NYPL Public Domain Collections: Free to Share & Reuse

Lieke Ploeger - January 6, 2016 in Featured, News, Public Domain

The year is off to a good start: today the New York Public Library made over 180.000 digital items in the public domain available for high resolution download, with no permission required and no restrictions on use. The collection includes items from the New York City collection, historic maps, botanical illustrations, unique manuscripts, photographs, ancient religious texts, and more. The library combines this launch with a new website that collects tools, projects, and explorations to inspire users to enjoy, reuse and remix these resources. One of these is a great visualisation tool, through which you can browse through the different public domain images as sorted by period.


To encourage novel uses of these digital materials, NYPL also announced today the NYPL Labs Remix Residency. This open call invites proposals and projects to provide new ways of showing what beautiful, inspiring, and engaging things can be made from public domain collections materials, or new ways of allowing access to the information or beauty currently locked within the static digital images. Submissions for proposals are possible until 19 February 2016, with the work to be completed by the end of June 2016.

More information on the release and the resources is available from this blog.

Creative reuse of cultural heritage and contemporary practices – challenges and opportunities in the digital world

Lieke Ploeger - December 22, 2015 in eSpace, Events/Workshops, Featured

Last week the consortium of the Europeana Space (E-Space) project came together for both a project meeting and the international conference on Creative reuse of cultural heritage and contemporary practices in Tallinn, Estonia. Over the course of three days they presented and discussed the various ways in which the project works on stimulating the reuse of Europeana content by creative industries.


Espace is running pilots in six different areas, focused on developing innovative applications that use digitized cultural heritage material in creative ways, as well as supporting new business and sustainability models around these innovations. Each pilot also organises a hackathon event, in which participants are encouraged to new and interesting ways to reuse cultural heritage content in domains such as film, TV, photography, dance and publishing.

In the project meeting on 9 December, the consortium partners (a mix of 29 cultural institutions, broadcasters, universities, national cultural agencies and SMEs) discussed the busy months ahead: four hackathons will take place in 2016, while the work in the TV and Dance pilots is now in the incubation period: the most promising projects are being further shaped in Business Modelling Workshops to explore the business potential of the project ideas. A report of the most recent hackathon, Hacking the Dancing Body, is now available from this blog of the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. While combining cultural heritage material with dance and technology seemed quite challenging at first, the event generated exciting ideas, such as using BCI (Brain Computer interface) technology as a new way to explore Europeana collections. Next up from 22-24 January will be the Hack the Book festival: all information on these upcoming events is available here.


In addition to the hackathons, the project is also working on a set of educational demonstrators: five examples of creative reuse of digital cultural content for education, as well as a MOOC (Modular Open Online Course) to learn what you can do with digital cultural heritage in your research or classroom. Barbara Dierickx of PACKED gave an overview of the ongoing work, after which the five different demonstrators gave a preview of their progress:

  • Photographic Investigation of Art Works – Frederik Temmermans (iMINDS) showed the website Closer to Van Eyck – Rediscovering the Ghent Altarpiece which presents the Ghent Altarpiece (1432) in visual light macrophotography, infrared macrophotography, infrared reflectography and X-radiography. For this demonstrator, the site will be further updated, keeping in mind an educational dimension, and iMINDS will deliver guidelines on how to increase interactivity with the public by giving innovative, ‘live’ access to an art restoration campaign
  • The Rode Altarpiece – the participants visited the actual work later in the afternoon in the Niguliste Church in the city centre of Tallinn
  • The Cavafy archive – Thodoris Chiotis & Prodromos Tsiavos (Onassis Cultural Centre) presented the digital application that showcases the work of seminal Greek poet C. P. Cavafy, housing digitised manuscripts of a specific number of Cavafy poems along with audio and video recordings of said poems and audiovisual commentary by leading scholars.
  • 3D visualization of archaeological heritage
  • Irish poetry & folk tales – The Irish Folktales demonstrator combines Irish folktales with new elements such as audio and video (recordings from storytellers), illustrations and lessons in a digital storytelling application, to demonstrate the potential that cultural heritage and creative industry partnerships can have.

The first version of the ESpace education miniwebsite is now up and running as well at here you can follow future progress of all five demonstrators.

With all this work, background information and guidance on issues around IPR, copyright and licensing is often needed, which is why ESpace has created the Content Space as a central place to access guidelines, tools and methods for managing IPR, clearing copyright and exchanging open content. Open Knowledge has been developing the Open Content Exchange Platform, which now contains over 100 resources that help both users and suppliers of open content fully understand the technical and legal implications of their work and make best use of its open character. Further resources will be added in early 2016, and a background document on the platform and its functionality will be shared in February 2016. If you know of any resources that should be in there, please let us know!


Following on the project meeting, the project organised their second international conference on creative reuse of cultural heritage, with keynote speeches, two round tables of experts, a poster session for the project pilots and a loop presentation of the project educational demonstrators. The presentations of the event can now be accessed from this site.

The Quirky, the Artful, and the Unexpected: Historic Photographs of Life in Australia

Dr Elycia J. Wallis - December 15, 2015 in Curator's Choice, Featured, Public Domain

CURATOR’S CHOICE #28: Dr Elycia J Wallis for Museum Victoria

Dr Elycia J Wallis, Manager of Online Collections at Museum Victoria, presents a few fascinating glimpses of late-19th- and early-20th-century Australia, and the photographers who documented its inhabitants.

Museum Victoria is a multidisciplinary museum in Melbourne Australia, holding collections of natural sciences including palaeontology and geology, as well as collections across the humanities including Australian indigenous cultures. In August 2015, Museum Victoria released its newly rebuilt collections online site.This site provides access to over 1.15 million collection records across a breadth of disciplines. It also includes articles written by curators, honorary fellows, and students about the collections more broadly, as well as profiles about species written by the sciences staff.

The aim of the site is to provide ways to delve into Museum Victoria’s multidisciplinary collections without having to understand how they are arranged. A search for the quintessentially Australian kangaroo, for example, reveals kangaroo toys, stamps depicting kangaroos, badges, medals, certificates, coins, photographs as well as specimens of kangaroos. A number of scientific specimens were found at Kangaroo Island and these appear as well. The site is deliberately designed to promote serendipity in discovery.

A search for kangaroo in Museum Victoria Collections returns a wide variety of results. This photograph was taken in the Euston district, New South Wales in 1921. A kangaroo, magpie and galah are all shown – Source.

Several years of concentrated effort have gone into assessing the rights status of images in the site, with the aim of having all content as open as possible. This includes cataloguing data, authored text and rights on images , video and sounds. The result is that 86,000 plus images assessed as copyright Museum Victoria and have been released with a Creative Commons attribution license. The vast majority of these have been taken by photographers employed by the Museum. In addition, over 33,000 images on the site are released with a Public Domain dedication, many of them from Museum Victoria’s photographic and Scientific Art and Illustration collections. Use the Image Licence filter on the Search Results page to narrow a result set according to the licence of the images associated with each record.

One of the significant collections of photographs is from AJ Campbell, ornithologist, naturalist and keen photographer.

Collecting Wattle – A.J. Campbell, naturalist and photographer standing at left, circa 1900 – Source.

A.J. Campbell travelled extensively throughout Australia, sighting and photographing birds and collecting their eggs for scientific study. He was an active member of the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria and was instrumental in founding the (Royal) Australasian Ornithologist’s Union. He also founded the Bird Observers Club. His photography extended from bird eggs and nests, live birds, through to more quirky pictures of rural life in turn-of-the-century Australia.

Nest of the Dusky Robin by A.J. Campbell, 1893 – Source.

Kookaburras sitting on a branch, titled “Our Jacks, Another” by A.J. Campbell circa 1895 – Source.

A family pet by A.J. Campbell circa 1900 – Source.

Campbell was also very interested in Australian flora, and particularly in Acacia. He founded the Victorian Wattle Club and promoted the 1st of September as Wattle Day. He was also inspired to photograph wattles, using his daughters as classic portrait subjects. He published a collection of these photographs in a book in 1921, Golden Wattle: Our National Floral Emblem

Coastal Wattle Acacia longifolia by AJ Campbell, before 1921 – Source.

Cootamundra Wattle by AJ Campbell, before 1921 – Source.

Other plants were also photographed with the addition of a ‘figure’ to enliven them. Morning flower is the name of the plant but the caption provides a hint of a double meaning to the image.

Mesembryanthemum or Morning Flower by A.J. Campbell circa 1895 – Source.

Depictions of life in the late 1800s and early 1900s was another fascination and now provides a rich glimpse into fashions of the time, campcraft, and the challenges of travel or settlement.

Under the Red Gums by A.J. Campbell circa 1895 – Source.

Second Camp by A.J. Campbell circa 1895 – Source.

A.J. Campbell is by no means the only historic photographer represented in the collection, nor the only one to be interested in depicting life in Australia. Another photographer whose work is included is William (Bill) Boyd. Strange wildlife could become pets, no doubt to the amusement or incredulity of relatives in other far away places.

Paddy Dickson feeding Kanga Joe, Nandaly District, Victoria by Bill Boyd in 1923.

Strange wildlife could even be found in stranger poses.

Bill Boyd with his pet kangaroo, Kanga Joe, Nandaly, Bimbourie, Victoria 1923 – Source.

There are photographs of cheeky children, extraordinary wildlife, and the Australian environment and people to be found in Museum Victoria’s collections. It’s a rich resource just waiting to be explored.

Frank Stephenson enjoying afternoon tea with his brother. Merrigum, Victoria, circa 1910 by Lilian Louisa Pitts – Source.

Dr Elycia Wallis is the Manager of Online Collections at Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. In this role, she is responsible for making the collections publicly available through websites, aggregators, apps or any other digital means. She has a PhD in Zoology and a Masters in Knowledge Management. She is also the current Chair of the Global Coordinating Committee of the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

For more information about collections featured in this article:
A.J. Campbell see:
Bill Boyd:
Lilian Louisa Pitts and the Biggest Family Album in Australia collection:
For more images, articles and information visit Museum Victoria’s collections.
To access the collection programmatically we provide a public API.
To investigate how the site is coded, visit the GitHub repository.

This post is part of our Curator’s Choice series, a monthly feature consisting of a guest article from a curator about a work or group of works in one of their “open” digital collections. The series is undertaken in partnership with OpenGLAM and made possible through funding from the European Union’s DM2E project.


Hack the Book Festival

Lieke Ploeger - November 10, 2015 in eSpace, Events/Workshops, Featured

The Europeana Space project is exploring different ways of reusing digital cultural heritage by running pilots in six thematic areas (TV, Photography, Dance, Games, Open and Hybrid Publishing and Museums).  From 22-24 January 2016, the Open and Hybrid Publishing Pilot is organising the Hack the Book Festival in Athens, Greece, inviting designers, artists, publishers, programmers, authors, poets, hackers and entrepreneurs to redefine the book as an evolving, visual and open medium.


Books are increasingly “re-invented”, moving to a hybrid, ‎phygital (physical + digital) phase. The Open and Hybrid Publishing pilot has for example created Photomediations: An Open Book, in which a coffee-table book is redesigned as an online experience to produce a creative resource that explores the dynamic relationship between photography and other media, using open content from various online repositories such as Europeana, Wikipedia Commons and Flickr Commons. In this way, the book showcases the possibility of the creative reuse of image-based digital resources.

The Hack the Book festival challenges users to create their own publications, finding the technical and legal limitations and learning to use data sources in order to create inspiring and innovative open-access books. The festival will include workshops, talks and a 2-day hackathon that will focus on creating a phygital book from scratch using the infrastructure offered by Europeana Space by remixing and building upon Europeana content. Participants are invited to rethink the book by working on four different dimensions / challenges. Each team participating in Hackathon’s final stage is asked to address each and every one of these dimensions:

  • #BookDesign: What kind of an object is the book? How do the physical object and its digital extensions merge into a new hybrid? What sort of aesthetic experience do we want to invoke to the user/reader? How could we use smart materials in order to construct a hybrid phygital object?
  • #OpenHardware: How can you address the object-environment interaction through your design? How can you use Arduino or RasberryPi to its full potential so as to make the book part of an interactive network of objects  that provide the user with a coherent operation experience?
  • #API: How can you connect the object or the cluster of objects that you have created to open data and Europeana’s content? How can you implement the application programming interfaces (APIs) and the programming tools provided by Europeana?
  • #Entrepreneurship and #sustainability: Which is the business model that best supports your prototype? How can you secure your prototype’s sustainability? Which is the social and financial value that could be derived from your prototype? How does your proposal contribute to the expansion of the commons (especially the digital commons)?

The event will take place at the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens, Greece from 22-24 January 2016 and is open to people from different backgrounds such as design, content curation, book art, creative programming and business modelling. On the day before the hackathon, a series of inspiring talks and workshops will take place, focusing on creating value via new publishing models, especially for educational purposes. Among the key topics that will be discussed are educational demonstrators, the eSpace MOOC, innovative practices as well as business modeling through open content.

More information on the event, as well as the registration process, is available from and the hackathon website at

The Legend of the Divine Farmer

Gillian Daniel - November 3, 2015 in Curator's Choice, Featured, Public Domain

CURATOR’S CHOICE #27: Gillian Daniel for Wellcome Library

Gillian Daniel, Graduate Trainee at the Wellcome Trust, explores the story of Shen Nong, born of a princess and heavenly dragon, and teacher to the ancient Chinese of agriculture and herbal medicine.

Watercolour: Shen Nung seated at the mouth of a cave, dressed in traditional garb made from leaves, holding a branch with leaves and berries in his right hand; anon., {Chinese artist}, 1920. Wellcome Images reference no. V0018486 – Source.

This ca. 1920 watercolour is a copy of an ancient original and can be found in the Library’s Art Collection, along with other visual material featuring the Shen Nong.

Legend has it that Shen Nong (神农), or ‘Divine Farmer’, was one of the Three Sovereigns, a group of mythological rulers and deities from ancient China circa 2852 to 2070 BC who established the Chinese life-arts. Said to have been born the son of a princess and a heavenly dragon, Shen Nong is believed to have taught the ancient Chinese their practices of agriculture, as well as the use of herbal drugs, which became the foundation of traditional Chinese medicine.

The earliest written record connecting Shen Nong to the practice of Chinese herbal medicine is found in the Huai Nan Zi (淮南子), or ‘The Masters of Huainan’, the Chinese philosophical classic from the Han dynasty in 122BCE. The text claims that Shen Nong transformed the ancient people’s diet from one of meat, wild fruits and clams by teaching them how to sow and harvest grains and vegetables. He is also said to have discovered and classified some 365 species of herbs and medicinal plants and is often referred to as the ‘God of Chinese herbal medicine’.

Tea is allegedly one of his great discoveries, as it proved to be the antidote for almost 70 varieties of poisons. Shen Nong discovered tea by accident when the tea leaves from twigs he was using for a fire rose up on a column of hot air and landed in the water he was trying to boil. Being a keen herbalist, he tasted the resulting brew and this became the origins of tea. Shen Nong tasted hundreds of herbs in order to determine their medicinal value.

The story of Shen Nong has been passed down orally for centuries and has been differently embellished throughout histories. Some versions even claim Shen Nong had a see-through stomach that allowed him to see the effects of various herbs on his internal organs. However, by all accounts, because of his tireless efforts, countless herbs are now commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine and knowledge about herbal medicine has been handed down for centuries.

Shen Nong is thought to have charted his long study of herbs in the text Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (神农本草经), which was published in English as The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica, but can be directly translated to mean ‘The Herbal Classic of the Divine Farmer’. Of the ten preeminent pre-modern classics of Chinese medicine, the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing is one of the two most important, as it is the locus classicus of Chinese herbal medicine (the second is Huang Di Nei Jing (黄帝内经), published in English as The Medical Classic of the Yellow Emperor, which is the authoritative text for Chinese medical theory, particularly acupuncture and moxibustion). Because of Shen Nong’s efforts, numerous herbs became routinely used for health care.

Gillian Daniel is a Graduate Trainee at the Wellcome Trust.

This is a post originally published on the Wellcome Library Blog. We highly recommend paying them a little visit for more context and background stories on their wonderful collection.

This post is part of our Curator’s Choice series, a monthly feature consisting of a guest article from a curator about a work or group of works in one of their “open” digital collections. The series is undertaken in partnership with OpenGLAM and made possible through funding from the European Union’s DM2E project.


Online access to cultural heritage now!

Lieke Ploeger - October 28, 2015 in Featured, News

The European Commission is currently working on modernising EU copyright rules as part of its strategy to create a Digital Single Market for Europe. This is a great opportunity to influence the outcomes and make sure that galleries, libraries, museums and archives will be able to make their collections openly available online. That is why Europeana, together with the directors of 29 major cultural heritage institutions have written an Open Letter strongly in favour of updated copyright rules addressed to Commissioner Oettinger, Vice President Ansip and Commissioner Navracsics.


In the letter, they argue that the full potential that cultural collections could achieve in allowing people to share and engage with content, is restricted at the moment due to limitations in current European copyright rules. New copyright rules are needed that make it easier for institutions to provide online access to out-of-commerce works, those works in collections that are not actively exploited by their creators or subsequent rights holders. From the letter:

Improving online access to works that are not available via other channels helps promote creators whilst encouraging new creative activity. (…) A copyright system that locks away large parts of our collections in museums or confines them to physical archives and libraries, that are not always easy to reach, benefits no one. (…) We look forward to working with the Commission and all other stakeholders to create a copyright policy framework that ensures cultural heritage can be shared and enjoyed by all; supporting both the role of institutions to share and provide access to other people’s works whilst also safeguarding the legitimate interests of creators and publishers who are key to encouraging and inspiring ongoing cultural exchange.

Additional support is very welcome and can greatly strengthen the ability to influence the outcome: you can add your institution to the list through this page.

Historic Oregon Newspapers: Preserving History While Shaping the Future

Sheila Rabun - October 7, 2015 in Curator's Choice, Featured, Public Domain

CURATOR’S CHOICE #26: Sheila Rabun from University of Oregon Libraries

Sheila Rabun, Digital Project Manager at the University of Oregon Libraries’ Digital Scholarship Center, gives a tour of the rich and varied history of news media in Oregon.

Image from Chronicling America. The San Francisco call. (San Francisco, Ca.) March 25, 1900, Image 12 – Source.

The Historic Oregon Newspapers online collection contains over 130 newspaper titles from across the state, primarily published before 1923, an era in which Anglo American men dominated the newspaper industry. Racism, sexism, and other modes of discrimination abound in historic newspapers, but hopefully we can learn from the errors and injustices of the past. Most mention of Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, and other cultural groups in Oregon’s early newspapers came from an Anglo viewpoint, and it can be challenging to find other voices in these “first drafts of history.”

A unique article found in a Utah newspaper claims to be written from the perspective of an Oregon woman from the Umatilla tribe (see the ODNP Blog for more info). The Salt Lake Herald. (Salt Lake City, Utah) November 22, 1903, Last Edition, Section Two, Image 9 – Source.

Every detailed inch of a newspaper page—the size, font, layout, rhetoric and writing style, mistakes and typos, advertisements and images—can reveal a plethora of information about the culture in which the newspaper was produced. By providing free, online access to these public domain materials, we are not only enabling a renewed awareness and connection to our collective past, we are also shaping the future of digital preservation and accessibility of public domain primary source documents. While all of the titles in the Historic Oregon Newspapers online collection document Oregon’s cultural heritage, the unique titles highlighted below have played especially crucial roles in shaping Oregon’s history. How much has changed, and what has stayed the same? How has our history shaped the present, and how will we continue to shape the future?

Oregon Spectator. (Oregon City, Or.) 1846-1855

The oldest title in the Historic Oregon Newspapers database is the Oregon Spectator (1846–1855), first published on February 5, 1846 in Oregon City, thirteen years before Oregon became a state. The first newspaper to be published on the west coast (California’s first paper came seven months later; Washington had no newspaper until 1852), the Spectator was initiated by the newly formed Oregon Printing Association, consisting of several prominent citizens of Oregon Territory, including Francis W. Pettygrove, who gave the city of Portland its name, William G. T’Vault, the Spectator’s first editor, and Oregon’s first territorial governor, George Abernethy, whose influence dominated the publication. The paper’s motto, “Westward the Star of Empire takes its way,” accurately captured the overall tone of the publication.

The Oregon Spectator was the first newspaper to be published on the west coast. Oregon Spectator. (Oregon City, Or.) April 30, 1846, Image 1 – Source.


Oregon Free Press. (Oregon City, Or.) 1848-1848

The Spectator’s voice fell short of unbiased reporting, and one of the paper’s editors, George L. Curry, was fired early on for refusing to cater to Governor Abernathy’s political interests. As a direct protest to the Spectator, Curry started the Oregon Free Press in 1848 with the motto: “Here shall the Press the people’s rights maintain, un-awed by influence, and un-bribed by gain.” The Free Press was only published for six months due to the outflow of Oregon readers to the gold mines of California, but Curry went on to become Secretary of the Interior for Oregon Territory as well as one of the youngest governors of Oregon, in 1854. The Spectator and the Free Press laid the foundations for opposition in Oregon’s print journalism between dominant and marginal political and social perspectives of the times.

The Oregon Free Press was only published for 6 months, due to the California gold rush. Oregon free press. (Oregon City, Or.) November 04, 1848, Image 1 – Source.


Willamette Farmer. (Salem, Or.) 1869-1887

The growth of Oregon’s economy, transportation, and natural resource industries can be traced through the pages of titles from various regions of the state, and researchers can witness first-hand the development of forestry, fishing practices, railroads, and Oregon’s mining boom. Salem’s Willamette Farmer (1869–1887) was Oregon’s first paper to focus on environmental, economic, and political issues related to agriculture, and was one of the first publications to point out the trend toward decline in wild salmon populations.

This article from the Willamette Farmer explains the measures that humans must take to ensure the survival of wild salmon.
Willamette farmer. (Salem, Or.) January 07, 1876, Image 3 – Source.


The New Northwest. (Portland, Or.) 1871-1887

The issue of women’s voting rights is prevalent in almost all of Oregon’s early newspapers, but The New Northwest is most prominent in leadership and advocating for equal suffrage, workers’ rights, racial equality, immigration, and human rights, in the face of fierce opposition from the mainstream press. The paper was published in Portland by Abigail Scott Duniway, a women’s rights and human rights advocate who came to Oregon via the Oregon Trail. With the help of Duniway, women in Oregon gained the right to vote in 1912, almost a decade before the United States government passed the 19th amendment. Now remembered as “Oregon’s Mother of Equal Suffrage,” Duniway finally witnessed the passage of the Oregon Proclamation of Women’s Suffrage, which she authored and signed, at the age of 78.

The New Northwest was published with the motto, “Free Speech, Free Press, Free People.”
The New Northwest. (Portland, Or.) December 29, 1881, Image 1 – Source.

Abigail Scott Duniway published The New Northwest, and was instrumental in securing voting rights for women in Oregon.
Morning Oregonian. (Portland, Or.) October 25, 1915, Image 14 – Source.


The West Shore. (Portland, Or.) 1875-1891 / The Illustrated West Shore. (Portland, Or.) 1891

The West Shore, which later became The Illustrated West Shore, was Oregon’s first illustrated journal, ahead of its time in terms of scope, quality and illustrative nature. Although not technically a newspaper, The West Shore was instrumental in drawing attention to the natural wonders and resources of the Pacific Northwest with extensive illustrations and regional literature. The West Shore’s creator, Leopold Samuel, was a German-Jewish immigrant who moved to Portland around 1871 and began printing “alphabetical and illustrated Portland city directories” with countless illustrations, rare for the time period and considered a “regional novelty” due to the technical and costly efforts to print them. Although somewhat short lived, The West Shore provided thousands of people with access to art, literature, poetry and science; an incredible victory in the development of the Pacific Northwest.

The West Shore drew interest to the Pacific Northwest with intriguing and detailed illustrations.
The West Shore. (Portland, Or.) August 01, 1877, Image 1 – Source.


The New Age. (Portland, Or.) 1896-1905 / Portland New Age. (Portland, Or.) 1905-1907

Oregon’s first African American newspapers are also part of the Historic Oregon Newspapers Online collection: The New Age (1896–1905) and subsequently the Portland New Age (1905–1907), published in Portland by Adolphus D. Griffin, offer a unique perspective on Oregon’s cultural history, given that African Americans were legally excluded from the state from 1857–1926. As a leading advocate for African American equality in the Pacific Northwest, Griffin was twice elected as a Republican delegate to the state convention, and his newspaper kept readers aware of the many issues facing America’s black population. The Portland New Age included national news items such as an annual announcement from Booker T. Washington for the National Negro Business League (1906), as well as Griffin’s own freely expressed opinions on African American involvement in business, politics, and academia. Readership extended beyond the greater African American community to include Anglo readers as well.

The New Age/Portland New Age was the first African American newspaper published in Oregon. Portland New Age. (Portland, Or.) September 15, 1906, Image 1 – Source.

The New Age’s readership extended beyond the African American community. The New Age. (Portland, Or.) June 29, 1901, Image 5 – Source.


Weekly Chemawa American. (Chemawa, Or.) 189?-198? / The Chemawa American. (Chemawa, Or.) 19??-current

The student-published newspaper from the Chemawa Indian Boarding School just north of Salem, Oregon, the Weekly Chemawa American featured news articles, literature, and photographs by students who were attending a journalism class taught by school staff. By late 1914, the publication shifted to a monthly schedule, dropping “weekly” from the title to become the Chemawa American. The Chemawa Indian Boarding School is the oldest continually operating Indian Boarding School in the United States, hosting students from throughout the western United States, including special groups of Alaskan natives, Navajo Indians, and in the earliest years, primarily students from Oregon’s tribal reservations. The Weekly Chemawa American and the Chemawa American were digitized in partnership with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

Title page from the Weekly Chemawa American featuring an article titled, “Preserving Indian Music.”
Weekly Chemawa American. (Chemawa, Or.) February 02, 1906, Image 1 – Source.

Photograph of the Chemawa Indian School band.
The Chemawa American. (Chemawa, Or.) December 01, 1915, Image 2 – Source.


Toveritar. (Astoria, Or.) 19??-1930

Toveritar (The Woman Comrade), a Finnish weekly paper for socialist women, represents the voice of both the early Finnish immigrant population in the Pacific Northwest and the Socialist Party movement in Oregon. Based in Astoria, Oregon, all of the paper’s editors were Finnish women, and it was one of the only Finnish language newspapers for socialist women at the time. Toveritar includes important information on the youth socialist movement and working women’s movement and covers the controversial time period when the Finnish Socialist Federation (SSJ) split from the Socialist Party of America and later associated with the Workers Party of America.

This issue of Toveritar features a poem titled (english translation), “Working Woman: International Women’s Day, March 8.” Toveritar. (Astoria, Or.) February 21, 1922, Image 1 – Source.

From freedom of speech and political and social equality, to the effects of human activity on the natural environment, the stories of history remain with us today, more broadly accessible than ever before. The titles and clippings highlighted here are just the beginning. A treasure trove of historic, public domain newspaper content is available online, just waiting to be discovered!

Sheila Rabun is the Digital Project Manager at the University of Oregon (UO) Libraries’ Digital Scholarship Center (DSC), currently serving as the Interim Director of the DSC. Her work in the DSC involves collaborations with faculty and students from various departments across campus to create interactive websites and digital projects related to the Libraries’ digital collections, in addition to managing the UO Libraries’ digital collections at Oregon Digital and the Oregon Digital Newspaper Program.


About the ODNP

The University of Oregon (UO) Libraries’ Oregon Digital Newspaper Program (ODNP) has taken historical research to the next level by providing free, online access to public domain, keyword searchable, Oregon newspapers, available to a worldwide audience at Historic Oregon Newspapers. Founded in 2009, the ODNP has remained in operation with grant funding from the Library Services and Technology Act, the Oregon Cultural Trust, the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, partnerships with local public libraries and heritage organizations, and private donations. The ODNP is also part of the National Endowment for the Humanities’ National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP), in partnership with the Library of Congress, a collaborative effort to build a free, searchable, digital repository of historic newspaper content from across the United States, starting with publications from 1836–1922. A portion of the historic Oregon newspaper titles digitized to date are currently available on the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America website, along with public domain titles from several other states.


Historic Oregon Newspapers: Oregon Digital Newspaper Program blog: Chronicling America: National Digital Newspaper Program: Other States Newspaper websites:
This post is part of our Curator’s Choice series, a monthly feature consisting of a guest article from a curator about a work or group of works in one of their “open” digital collections. Learn more here. See this post in all its full page width glory over at The Public Domain Review.