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GIF IT UP winners

Thomasin Sleigh - December 15, 2014 in Contest, Featured, Public Domain

GIF IT UP Banner -- 3

Over the last six weeks DigitalNZ and the Digital Public Library of America have been all about the GIFs. GIF IT UP was an open competition to find the most excellent GIFs reusing openly licensed images and video from the collections searchable on the sites of the two digital libraries. Entries were received from all over the world and the winners were judged by Adam Green, Editor of the Public Domain Review and Brian Wolly, Digital Editor of the Smithsonian magazine.

Here are all the awesome winners from each of the seven categories.


Lillie Le Dorre, from Wellington, New Zealand, wins this category with her precocious typing dog. Source material courtesy Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga.


Darren Cole, from the United States, wins this category with his moving (and smoking!) monowheel patent. Source material courtesy the National Archives and Records Administration.



Richard Naples, from Washington DC, is awarded the winner for his elegantly fluttering butterflies. Source material courtesy Smithsonian Libraries via the Biodiversity Heritage Library.



Jason Varone’s mesmerising map overlay of Brooklyn wins this category. Source material courtesy the US Government Printing Office.



Ron Leunissen in the Netherlands takes this award away with this stereoscopic image of the Penna. Cavalry at Newport News, en route to Porto Rico during the 1898 Spanish-American War. Source material courtesy Boston Public Library.



The Othmer Library in Philadelphia wins this award with their wagging WWI enlistment dog. Source material courtesy the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources via the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center.

Wagging dog


Nono Burling takes away the open category award for this romantically dancing couple, created from the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge. Source material courtesy University Southern California Libraries.



Jessica Pyburn’s beautiful snowflake GIF is the winner of the People’s Choice Award for the GIF with the most Tumblr ‘notes’, 381 in total. Source material courtesy Smithsonian Institute. More information about the original photographer, known as ‘Snowflake Bentley’, can be found on the Public Domain Review here.



Looking for the rest of the GIF IT UP submissions? Check out the competition gallery here.

The Dowse Art Museum goes Wikipedia

Courtney Johnston - December 5, 2014 in Featured, Guest Blog Post, News, Projects

During the next two months, The Dowse Art Museum in New Zealand will be running a new Wikipedia project designed to increase the profile of New Zealand craft artists and history. In this guest blogpost, director Courtney Johnston shares more information on this project and why Wikipedia is so important for museums.

Contemporary research into any topic begins today on the internet. However, when searching for information about New Zealand craft artists – historical and contemporary – online researchers are likely to be met by a gaping hole rather a wealth of information. I’m delighted to announce that The Dowse Art Museum, with financial support from Ngā Taonga a Hine-te-iwa-iwa A Treasury of New Zealand Craft Resources, is addressing this problem with an innovative Wikipedia project. The core aim of the project is to increase the amount of accurate and up to date information about New Zealand craft artists available online.

In the next two months we are employing two Wikipedia researchers who will research and write entries for approximately 100 New Zealand craft and applied art practitioners. Our Wikipedia researchers will also identify and copyright clear and digitise primary resource material (e.g. book chapters, exhibition catalogues and journal articles) to support the entries.

Visitors at the The Dowse Art Museum. Photographer Mark Tantrum, courtesy of The Dowse Art Museum, New Zealand

Visitors at the The Dowse Art Museum. Photographer Mark Tantrum, courtesy of The Dowse Art Museum, New Zealand

Why Wikipedia?

Since launching in 2001, Wikipedia has become the starting point for almost anyone with an internet connection and a research question. Museums have recognised that Wikipedia is now an important discovery place for their collections, their history, and information about artists they represent.

This recognition comes in many forms. For example, a number of institutions from around the world – from the British Museum to the Palace of Versailles to the Derby Museum and Art Gallery – have hosted a ‘Wikipedian in Residence’ in which a researcher familiar with Wikipedia is hosted by the institution to create entries, release material under open licences, and raise interest in the institution amongst Wikipedia contributors and users.

The Brooklyn Museum is regarded as a world-leader among cultural institutions harnessing the power of Wikipedia’s strong community of writers and editors and vast audience of readers and researchers. For example, in 2010 the Museum opted instead of printing a traditional catalogue to accompany the exhibition Seductive Subversion, curated to bring attention to lesser-known female Pop artists, to invest their energy in writing Wikipedia pages for each artist.

Preliminary research by Museum staff showed that these artists were very under-represented on Wikipedia. They argued “To get the research into the hands of the biggest audience possible, updating Wikipedia made the most sense. After all, more people go there for information than any other source, so why not take the information we have and make a contribution where it will count?”

We have identified that there is a paucity of information about New Zealand craft artists – historical and contemporary – online. A quick Wikipedia search reveals no entries for established artists such as Warwick Freeman, John Edgar, Alan Preston, Emma Camden, Donn Salt, Gordon Crook, or Malcolm Harrison. Others such as Ilse von RandowPatricia PerrinDame Rangimarie Hetet and Ida Mary Lough have ‘stub’ entries – a sentence or two drawn from official sources. These are significant figures in our cultural history and while there is information about all scattered around the web, no central collating point.

One option for improving this lack of information would have been for us to write and add these biographies to The Dowse’s website. However, I see four advantages to using Wikipedia:

  • Wikipedia scores well in Google searches, putting the information in front of people who might not even know about The Dowse (I know, it’s nearly unimaginable, but it does happen)
  • Wikipedia articles can be updated by any interested person. This takes the onus off The Dowse to keep these biographies up to date (a task we’re not resourced for)
  • We hope that people seeing this activity might be inspired to start their own editing and adding of information in Wikipedia
  • We hope to use the information that is ‘kept alive’ on Wikipedia in our own future collection digitisation.

Project objectives

We want to get as much value as possible out of the funding Ngā Taonga a Hine-te-iwa-iwa have generously provided. This is what we’re aiming for with this project:

  • The amount of information about New Zealand craft and applied art practitioners available online is dramatically increased
  • The amount of primary resources about New Zealand craft and applied art available online is increased
  • The researchers for the project develop a wide understanding of the history and current state of New Zealand craft and object art, and connections with artists and museum professionals
  • The researchers develop fluency in working with Wikipedia’s editorial protocols and can pass this expertise on to others
  • The project is openly documented and freely shared, to encourage others to run their own programmes
  • The Dowse’s knowledge about artists represented in our collection is increased.

Who is involved?

The Dowse has partnered with Ngā Taonga a Hine-te-iwa-iwa on this project. Apart from Dowse staff members being involved in the project, we’re reaching out into the New Zealand Wikipedia and international GLAMs (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) Wikipedia community to provide mentors for our two dedicated Wikipedia researchers. This has also started with them attending a NDF workshop on Wikipedia last week.

An advisory group has been formed to review the list of artists to be profiled and help build understanding of the project and connections with artists and research resources. The advisory group includes representatives from Ngā Taonga a Hine-te-iwa-iwa, Toi Māori, Auckland Museum, Te Papa, and Objectspace.

Digital New Zealand (a collaborative project run by the National Library of New Zealand to support the availability and use of New Zealand digital content, with a special emphasis on culture and heritage) will help us to make digitised material available through their Shared Research Repository.

An open project

We are treating this as an open project, and we plan to blog about the process and share information such as the budget for various aspects of the work transparently. This is being done in hopes that other institutions and sectors could pick up our project as a model and either finance the creation of another group of entries, or use it to profile another group of makers (such as design, photography, music or architecture).

Next steps

This is very much a project under development. We are currently collating basic biographical information and references for about 70 artists, from a long list of nearly 300 names. The first thing we need to nut out is Wikipedia’s standard around “notability” and making sure the entries we put up meet it. This means a lot of research online and through our (luckily quite extensive) collection of craft books, catalogues and serials.

We know we will learn a great deal, and hope to pass it on to all those interested in running or contributing to similar projects. Let us know if you have any questions – you can find more information on the project and post your comments through this extended blogpost on The Dowse Art Museum website.

Boys will be Boys: Playing Around in a 17th-Century Friendship Book

Dr Lynley Herbert - December 2, 2014 in Curator's Choice, Featured, Public Domain


Dr Lynley Anne Herbert, Robert and Nancy Hall Assistant Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at Walters Art Museum, investigates a mysterious image and accompanying rebus found within the pages of a liber amicorum or “friendship book”, an album for recording friendships and social connections that amounted to a kind of seventeenth-century version of Facebook.


In the spring of 2012, the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore purchased a charming illuminated liber amicorum, or friendship book, that had never before been known to scholars and on which research has just begun (Fig. 1). Started by Joannes Carolus Erlenwein when he entered the Jesuit seminary school at Fulda in 1614, the book contains 13 watercolor images and 55 painted heraldic devices, all accompanied by personal dedications from friends and family. Paintings of his home, of him hunting and rescuing damsels in distress, and of playing games with friends provide an intimate view of his world. In constructing his book, Joannes chose to interleave blank pages with a newly published emblem book based on Homer’s Iliad, the first (and only) edition of Isaac Hillaire’s Speculum Heroicum (Fig. 2). The images were engraved by Crispin de Passe the Elder, who had come to realize that some of his books were being converted into liber amicorums, and began producing engravings with blank versos to provide room for inscriptions. As this book fits that pattern, it is likely that the Speculum Heroicum was designed with this purpose in mind. A partially trimmed inscription on the cover page indicates the book was gifted to Joannes at some point between its publication in 1613 and the binding of his amicorum in 1615, so it is possible that the gift of the emblem book inspired him to begin his friendship album.

Left – Fig. 1: Original Binding of the Liber Amicorum of Joannes Carolus Erlenwein, dated 1615. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, W.922 – Source. Right – Fig. 2: Title page of Isaac Hillaire’s Speculum Heroicum. Crispin de Passe the Elder, 1613. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, W.922, p. 7 – Source.

Books of this kind grew out of university culture in Germany in the sixteenth century, but by the seventeenth century had become a form of social networking used by people of all professions and stages in life – the seventeenth-century Facebook. Often these books were kept up over decades, with their owners eagerly gathering inscriptions of those they met throughout their travels, and seeking autographs of the notables of their day. Through these inscriptions, they built relationships, documented their worldliness, and created an image of who they were through the people they had gathered. Despite its creation in this later period, the entries in Joannes’ book rarely extend beyond his school days, and therefore provide a snapshot of youthful joy and playfulness, full of anticipation of life to come as he and his friends prepared for manhood.

The school they attended, the seminary at Fulda, was modeled on the uniquely German Knight’s Academies – finishing schools designed to train the sons of the elite to become the next generation of courtiers. The curriculum concentrated on activities that helped develop courtly and knightly skills, such as fencing, dancing, painting, shooting, horseback riding, and ball playing. Several of these activities have been depicted in the book’s strikingly personal and informal images. The most unusual and charming of these is the tennis game (Fig. 3), which the students seem to have chosen as their “group portrait.” After exploring the meticulous work by Heiner Gillmeister on the subject, the Walters’ image appears to be unique in that it depicts the students playing outside in the cloister instructed by the clergy, rather than playing in the famous enclosed, paved ball court at Tübingen as all other known amicorum images do. Tennis was in fact a surprisingly popular topic in proverbs, mottos, and poetry in the seventeenth century, and Joannes’ book might have resonated on many of these levels. It is an image of playfulness, of healthy competition, and teamwork – an eternal moment of fraternity frozen in time.

Fig. 3: Tennis game. Anonymous, 1616. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, W.922, p. 306. – The page depicting the tennis game – Source.

Although the book’s images focus on his time at school, there is one intriguing exception. Nearly three decades after he began his amicorum, Joannes allowed a new friend to add a playful painting. In 1642, Johannes Blittersdorff provided a straight-forward inscription with an image that is anything but (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Painting and inscription contributed by Johannes Blittersdorff. 1642. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, W.922, p. 303 – Source.

The painting is surmounted by a rebus, a riddle of words and images, which contains three pictorial symbols (Fig. 5, detail).

Fig. 5: Detail of rebus from Fig. 4 – Source.

The first one, a heart, is a common element in rebuses of the period, and simply stands for “heart”. The last symbol is a globus cruciger, which in Christian iconography usually indicates Christ’s dominion over the earth, but in contemporary rebuses is interpreted more generally as the “world”. The middle symbol is crucial for interpretation, yet is the least comprehensible. At first glance, it appears key-like, allowing for a romantic phrase that reads “The hearts of women are the key to the world”. However, further contemplation of the symbol complicates this interpretation, for its resemblance to a key is vague at best, suggesting it is either poorly painted or meant to represent something else entirely. It actually most closely resembles a jaw harp, a small instrument played with the mouth that produces a distinctive twanging sound (Fig. 6). The possibility that this is the intended meaning of the symbol at first seems untenable, as it does not appear to fit the phrase in any logical way. Inserting the common French term for the instrument, guimbarde, gives us nothing, as does the German term maultrommel. However, discovering earlier French names for it, jeu-trompe and trompe de Béarn, suddenly supplies the image with a double entendre. If the word “trompe” is inserted in the phrase, an unexpectedly negative phrase emerges: “Le coeur de dames trompe le monde”, or “The hearts of women deceive the world”. There is little doubt that this is the correct interpretation, as it is a known proverb. The phrase in fact appeared on the Queen of Hearts in a playing card ca. 1500 (Fig. 7). Yet while this mystery is solved, the question of how it relates to, and informs the image above, is just as cryptic.

Left – Fig. 6: Jaw harp, etching, from El mundo físico : gravedad, gravitación, luz, calor, electricidad, magnetismo, etc. / A. Guillemin, Barcelona Montaner y Simón, 1882 – Source. Right – Fig. 7: French playing card with Queen of Hearts holding inscription found in rebus. Anonymous, c. 1500. Originally from Leo S. Olschki, La Bibliofilia, Firenze, Giuseppe Boffito, 1906. – Source.

The painting is titled the “Arbor Saxonica”, usually a reference to the royal family tree of the Saxons going back to the early medieval period, so calling this image by such a pretentious, regal title is surely tongue in cheek. Here we are presented with a literal tree with four women perched on different branches. The heraldry of the signer Johannes Blittersdorff is attached to the trunk, suggesting he is the man standing below. He has removed his hat, cloak, and sword, and holds a stick in one hand, and perhaps a feather or leaf in the outstretched one. The woman on the right precariously balances on a limb and comically flails as she begins to fall, while the man below strikes a seemingly heroic pose, yet makes no chivalrous move to catch her. The heraldry attached to the tree, along with the “Arbor Saxonica” inscription, suggest perhaps the image is meant as a commentary on Blittersdorff’s family tree. However, taken with the rebus above, another line of interpretation becomes possible. Perhaps the phrase appearing on a playing card – a Queen of Hearts – is a clue to the image. Playing cards of this period varied greatly in themes and imagery, but many German cards depict a vine or tree from which various items sprout. In a famous example, Jost Amman created a series in which the usual German suits – bells, acorns, hearts, and leaves – have been substituted for objects related to his printing profession (Fig. 8).

Two of Books. Jost Amman, Charta Lusoria, 1588. – Source.

Trees shoot up behind the charming vignettes below, carrying objects such as books and inkpots in their branches. The type and number of objects in the tree reveals the suit and number of the card. Perhaps in the liber amicorum, the women in the tree serve a similar function. The rebus refers to the “hearts” of women, and the skirt of the falling woman, as well as the man’s cloak, echo the reference through their heart-like shapes. Is this the “4 of hearts?” Could the image be a reference to, or joke about, a card game shared between Joannes and his friend? Or perhaps do we read the women, with their deceptive hearts, as the ones playing games of love with the man? The image is strange, and funny, and defies easy interpretation. It has the feel of a visual pun, an inside joke between friends that has been lost to time. Thus is the challenge, and the charm, that comes with visual games that are both highly personal and four centuries old. But perhaps someone out there holds the key to the image’s secrets…is it you?

Thoughts or feedback? Please contact Lynley Herbert at

Dr. Lynley Anne Herbert is the Robert and Nancy Hall Assistant Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. She received her doctorate in May, 2012, from the University of Delaware, and while the subject of her dissertation was a Carolingian manuscript, her research interests also include later manuscripts and early printed books. The above discussion of the Walters’ liber amicorum is part of a larger article soon to be published in the Journal of the Walters Art Museum.

The Walters Art Museum is in the process of digitizing its nearly 1,000 manuscripts, thanks to three generous grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Digitized cover to cover, these books can be found at, and the images can be used freely under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. To explore the Liber Amicorum discussed above, go to

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.


1st Swiss Open Cultural Data Hackathon

Lieke Ploeger - November 27, 2014 in Events/Workshops, Featured, Hack days, Working Group

On 27-28 February the local Swiss OpenGLAM working group will be organising first Open Cultural Data Hackathon in Switzerland. The event will take place at the Swiss National Library in Bern, and focuses on using cultural heritage data/content online for research purposes in Digital Humanities and related areas, as well as in the context of Wikipedia and Wikimedia. Participants are welcome to re-use the open data/open content provided for other purposes, such as the development of apps or artistic re-mixes. 

In preparation for the event, the Swiss OpenGLAM Working Group is calling on all Swiss heritage institutions to provide data and content for the upcoming hackathon. The event is an excellent means for heritage institutions to enter into dialogue with software developers, researchers, and Wikipedians, in order to put their data and digitized collections to wider use.

Datasets from Swiss institutions are listed on the event wiki: more information on the event is also available from this event page. A preparatory meeting for data providers will be held in the afternoon of 23 January 2015 at the ETH Library in Zurich.

Swiss National Library, Photo: Marianabeauty, CC by-sa 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Swiss National Library, Photo: Marianabeauty, CC by-sa 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

State of the Commons: OpenGLAM highlights & what the future holds

Sarah Stierch - November 21, 2014 in Featured, News

In this blog (cross-posted from her blog The Culture Feed) Sarah Stierch discusses some of the OpenGLAM highlights in the recently published Creative Commons report ‘State of the Commons’, as well as some suggested future steps.

“Creative Commons’ goal has always been “realizing the full potential of the internet,” with greater access for everyone to culture, knowledge, information, and education.”
(Image: CC BY 4.0)

(Image: CC BY 4.0)

I was very happy to wake up this morning to discover that Creative Commons (CC) had published the State of the Commons report. While reading through the report and exploring the colorful infograph, I found myself getting very emotional about the shift in culture that has taken place since the inception of CC, and their open option to copyright, 12 years ago.

Freemedia fighters

The past five years has seen an uptick of cultural heritage institutions opening up their digitized works, with the inception of the GLAM-Wiki movement and OpenGLAM initiative. Freemedia fighters from within institutions and from the outside have made it our mission to enable the public access and to artwork, objects, film and writing. A small crop of contemporary artists have begun to explore it as well (most recently, Danish artist Filip Vest and the Hack the Bells contest). I can’t even imagine copyrighting my own work anymore, as a writer, public speaker or as a photographer, and perhaps that is my ego believing freedom is a more satisfying legacy (versus restrictive ownership).

OpenGLAM Highlights

There are a few highlights that I think can be attributed to the work we are doing in the OpenGLAM community:

  • In 2006, 50 million works were CC licensed/CC0. Today, over 882 million works are CC licensed/CC0. That number will continue to increase as we continue our efforts to open up more cultural heritage material and provide improved resources to the public about how the Commons works and why free licensing is so important.
  • The trend is moving towards free culture licenses. About 56% of those works are free culture licenses, meaning it will end up on Wikimedia Commons to be used in Wikipedia articles and can be adapted and used for commercial use. More restrictive licenses (non-commercial, no-derivatives, etc.) fail the mission of open culture and, in my opinion, are the last vestiges of copyleft imperialism.
  • The USA and Europe lead the way in open licensing, which is no surprise given that open licensing advocacy groups involved in OpenGLAM are primarily headquartered in both the USA and Europe (i.e. Creative Commons, Wikimedia, Open Knowledge Foundation, Europeana). We need to provide more multi-language resources and support to empower our brothers and sisters fighting restriction around the world.
I have used this awesome cheshire cat toy image in many presentations about OpenGLAM. It's a gem and was freed to the Commons in 2011. A Cheshire cat toy from the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, CC BY SA 3.0

I have used this awesome cheshire cat toy image in many presentations about OpenGLAM. It’s a gem and was freed to the Commons in 2011. (Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, CC BY SA 3.0)

What the future holds and needs

We have lofty dreams, or at least, I do. A dream where all public domain material that is locked up under image rights fees and faux-copyright claims are truly free; where all cultural institutions release their metadata CC0, and where artists are not scared of being starving artists or losing control of their creativity by releasing their works under free culture licensing. But enough about my dreams, here are a few ideas on where I think “we” need to move next:

  • Multi-lingual outreach, without over stepping it: we don’t want to be seen as imperialists moving into a country to demand they give it all up to the Commons and we’ll show them how to do it because their people aren’t capable of doing it on their own (especially given the Anglocentric nature of where the most Commons impact has been made, thus far). We need to create more multi-lingual multi-cultural resources, tools, and events that empower people – workshops not just lectures – throughout the world.
  • More FREE workshops and conference activities: these are key component to getting people engaged and empowered. The OpenGLAM US Workshop was a hit with participants, and led to further understanding and internal buy-in within many of the institutions represented. We need to keep these programs free, we need to keep them accessible, and at times, localized. We also need more booths/tables at conferences – lectures and panels are just the beginning. Keeping things free provides accessibility and doesn’t just empower the “GLAMs with lots of money”.
  • We need more investment – financially from institutions and organizations. While the idea of volunteers being the people power behind openness is romantic, the movement won’t be able to survive. We need more financial investment (and in-kind) from foundations, organizations, and individuals. Money funds the hiring of people (I like that idea!) and paid internships, events, attendance scholarships, evaluation, technology, etc.
  • More case studies: as the old proverb goes, “the proof is in the pudding“. Without more case studies, blogs and data about what has been released to the Commons we won’t be convincing more people to contribute. Here in the US, case studies are a critical component to getting institutional buy-in – from boards, curators, librarians, executive directors, etc. It’s lovely that your organization has openly licensed tons of pictures of paintings, but what impact has that made and what has been learned from it? Evaluation – with successes and failures – is an important tool to making more people jump into the Commons boat.
  • I use this image as my computer wallpaper. It was released into Flickr Commons under a "no known copyright restriction" license by Archives of the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle. This makes it a part of the broader Commons, but, it was not included in the CC report.

    I use this image as my computer wallpaper. It was released into Flickr Commons under a “no known copyright restriction” license by Archives of the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle. This makes it a part of the broader Commons, but, it was not included in the CC report.

    See where “no known copyright restriction” fits into this report. You can read more about this “faux license” here. It’s used to release media where the institutional holding it has done it’s fair share of research (or so they claim) to figure out the copyright status of the image and no one can figure it out, so it enters free licensing purgatory. I’d love to see more research around this – how to crowdsource licensing status and how this “license” fits into the State of the Commons.

The State of the Commons will continue to improve and grow as more people are empowered, engaged and inspired. Let’s get to work.

What other successes, challenges and next steps do you foresee for the OpenGLAM Commons? Share your thoughts below.

Armenians and Armenian Photographers in the Ottoman Empire

Julia Grimes - November 7, 2014 in Curator's Choice, Featured, Public Domain


Julia Grimes, research assistant at the Getty Research Institute, introduces a fascinating selection of images from the Pierre de Gigord Collection detailing Armenian life in the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, many from the studio of Armenian photographers Pascal Sebah and the Abdullah Frères.

Benefiting from the continued generosity of French photograph collector Pierre de Gigord, the Getty Research Institute (GRI) has assembled an extensive collection of images documenting the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, specifically the area which we know now as Turkey. A growing number of these photographs depict the Armenian community within the empire, representing religious leaders, families, and individuals in full ethnic dress. Besides those living in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), the Ottoman capital and location of the major photographic studios, certain images also record details of life in other cities, including valuable views of their Armenian quarters.

J. Pascal Sebah (Armenian, 1823-1886), Armenian Patriarch, ca. 1880.
Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (96.R.14, Box 80)

J. Pascal Sebah (Armenian, 1823-1886), Armenian Family, ca. 1880. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (96.R.14, Box 80)


Photographie Tchamlidjian [Studio] (Armenian, active ca. 1880), Group of Armenian Men in Checkered Jackets, 1883. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (96.R.14, Box 69)

Guillaume Berggren (Swedish, 1835-1920), Entry to the Main Street of Pera, ca. 1870. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (2008.R.3, No. 3547)

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Gigord collection is the number of images taken by Armenian photographers. Due to the frequent employment of Armenians as chemists, goldsmiths, and pharmacists, many possessed the skills necessary for photography, in particular a thorough knowledge of the chemical processes used in development. During the late-nineteenth century, some of the principal studios in Constantinople were owned and operated by photographers of Armenian descent. Pascal Sebah, for instance, opened his “El Chark” studio in 1857, and by 1873 had achieved such success with his elegant, crisply detailed portraits that he opened a second branch in Cairo, Egypt. By the time of his death thirteen years later, his name had become synonymous with studio photography in Constantinople to the extent that his studio remained active and the new managing partner, Polycarpe Joaillier, changed its name to “Sebah and Joaillier.” The business continued to prosper and achieve renown, even adding Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany to its list of clientele in 1889 during his visit to Constantinople.

A portrait of two Armenian men in full dress taken circa 1875 reveals Sebah’s mastery of both the technical aspects of photography and its use as an artistic medium. The men’s formal poses show off their wide trousers, scarves, and hats, aspects of traditional Armenian costume that would have immediately triggered recognition among viewers. Their expressions match the dignity of their posture. This is a posed studio photograph, likely staged by Sebah and his assistants to portray these men as a “type,” or as representatives of the Armenian ethnic group to which he also belonged. The control of tonalities, or the manner in which the sepia color of the photograph varies from light to dark, expressing areas of illumination and shadow, is among the qualities which most clearly signals Sebah’s skill as an artist.

J. Pascal Sebah (Armenian, 1823-1886), Armenian Men, ca. 1875. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (96.R.14, Box 77)

Similar control of composition and tonality is visible in Sebah’s album, Les costumes populaires de la Turquie en 1873, commissioned by Ottoman diplomat, artist, and founder of Istanbul’s Academy of Fine Arts, Osman Hamdi Bey. In seeking a photographer to depict the peoples of the Ottoman Empire for the 1873 International Exposition in Vienna, Osman Hamdi Bey chose Sebah due to the refined elegance of his style. The image of an Armenian bride, the central figure in Plate V, captures this quality with the manner in which the dangling tassels, necklace, and gold pattern of the bride’s costume catch the light, contrasting with the delicate lace of her veil.

J. Pascal Sebah (Armenian, 1823-1886), Constantinople: Armenian Bride. From Osman Hamdi Bey (Turkish, 1842-1910), Les costumes populaires de la Turquie en 1873: ouvrage publié sous le patronage de la Commission impériale ottomane pour l’Exposition universelle de Vienne. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (96.R.14, Box 139)

The high standards set by Pascal Sebah remained a hallmark of his studio, even after his death. The 1894 Sebah and Joaillier image of the Armenian Quarter in Brousse, located across the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul, for instance, presents an unusual view taken up a hill. As in the image of the two Armenian men, the mastery of tonalities for which Sebah’s studio was known is again on display. The bright midday sun posed a challenge, since it could easily wash out the details of gestures, faces, and objects, but the photographer deftly dealt with this issue by positioning the small child to the right of the road underneath the last in a row of trees, allowing the shadows to compensate for the glare. Close inspection reveals that each person in the image has been placed in the shade, either of the trees or of the two-story buildings on the opposite side of the road.

Sebah & Joaillier [Studio] (Armenian, active 1890-1940s), Brousse: Armenian Quarter, 1894. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (96.R.14, Box 70)

The “Abdullah Frères” studio, run by three brothers of Armenian descent, opened in 1858 and quickly became so honored for its technical skills and artistry that just five years later the brothers were named royal photographers to the Ottoman Sultan. In 1867, they exhibited their 220 cm-long panorama of Constantinople at the second International Exposition held in Paris, moving beyond the studio to prove their equal ability as landscape photographers internationally. They hosted a distinguished clientele during these years, photographing Edward, the Prince of Wales, during his visit to Turkey, and Eugénie, the Empress of France. By 1886, their fame had spread as far as Egypt, and at the personal request of the Khedive (Viceroy) there, they also opened a branch in Cairo which lasted for the next decade. Interestingly enough, their Constantinople studio merged with that of Pascal Sebah when Abdullah Frères sold it to Sebah and Joaillier in 1900.

The Abdullah Frères excelled at capturing landscapes, “types,” and scenes of daily life in the major metropolises of the Ottoman Empire. Their photograph of the Galata Bridge, the bridge spanning the Golden Horn in Constantinople and one of the city’s principal landmarks, is remarkable for its view of the Old City. As minarets soar in the distance, the blurred images of boats in the middle ground suggest a bustling site of commerce, an urban landscape where the traditional meets the modern in dynamic patterns of exchange.

Abdullah Frères [Studio] (Armenian, active 1850s-1900), Galata Bridge. From Abdullah Frères, O.H. [Views], 1875-1880, 1884. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (96.R.14, A10)

A set of five studio photographs depicting a porter and varied types of street vendors stages a similar interchange, for although the men’s occupations are traditional, they are now being represented using the contemporary medium and conventions of photography, including backdrops, studio lighting, and carefully choreographed poses.

Sebah & Joaillier [Studio] (Armenian, active 1890-1940s), Porter and Street Vendors. From Abdullah Frères, O.H. [Views], 1875-1880, 1884. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (96.R.14, A10)

Less rigorously staged, yet full of energy, is the Abdullah Frères image of a fire brigade in Constantinople. Due to the age and proximity of many structures, along with the extensive use of wooden timbers in construction, the city lived under constant threat of fire, and firefighters thus held a significant role in the community. By dedicating an album page to them specifically, the Abdullah Frères recognized their importance to civic life, simultaneously displaying the preparedness and modernity of Constantinople’s municipal services.

Abdullah Frères [Studio] (Armenian, active 1850s-1900), Fire Brigade. From Turquie, 1880. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute (96.R.14, A25)

These brief examples reveal only a fraction of the extent of Armenian involvement in photography during the late-nineteenth century. There were dozens of other Armenians working not only in Ottoman lands but in Eastern Europe and Central Asia whose legacy still remains to be explored. As the number of images from the Gigord Collection available in the Getty’s digital collections continues to grow, it is our hope that information about this remarkable historical link between the Armenian community and photography in that era will become more widely accessible, and that fresh discoveries will continue to be made. The history of photography is a relatively new discipline, and this chapter is still being written.

Julia Grimes is completing her Ph.D. in Chinese modern and contemporary art at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a research assistant at the Getty Research Institute since 2010.

Explore more photographs from the Pierre Gigord collection over at the Getty Research Institute site. There are more than a hundred images in their Open Content Program and more than 30 albums available through their “Rosetta” database (click on link in top right corner to get access to albums).

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.

MUSE Awards open for submissions

Lieke Ploeger - November 6, 2014 in Contest, Featured

Each year, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) organises the Muse Awards to recognize inspiring and outstanding digital media projects in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) sector. Institutions or independent producers who use digital media to enhance the GLAM experience and engage audiences are invited to apply, within various categories such as Applications and APIs, Mobile applications and Multimedia installations.


Especially interesting for OpenGLAM is the award category ‘Open’ (which was first added last year) that celebrates and showcases projects by or for GLAMs that have made use of open data and content. The following entries are accepted:

Entries are projects created by or for* GLAMS celebrating the ever growing bounty of innovative projects created in the open environment. Projects can include both front-end and back-end innovations. Projects must demonstrate how open data/content was used and the product created.
*By or For: This award can be submitted by anyone working with open data in the GLAM environment. We encourage anyone to submit projects that contribute to our larger mission to engage and education our community and to allow our repositories of global cultural heritage more to be more accessible and equitable for reuse.

GLAMs of any size, discipline and country are eligible to submit: the deadline for submissions is 23 February 2015.  The winners for each category will be presented at the 2015 AAM Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo (26-29 April, Atlanta). More information on the awards and the submission process is available from the AAM website.

Harvard Library lifts copyright restrictions on public domain works

Lieke Ploeger - October 23, 2014 in Featured, News

oaweek2014-600x60As part of the international Open Access Week (20-26 October), Harvard Library shared great news on their new policy on the use of digital reproductions of public domain works. From now on, the library will make such reproductions openly available online and treat them as objects in the public domain. This means that users will be able to reuse this content in any way they want, without any restrictions: Harvard Library does not charge for permission to use those reproductions, and it does not grant or deny permission to publish or otherwise distribute such images.

Harvard Library expects that this new policy will stimulate the use and reuse of digitized content for research, teaching, learning, and creative activities, which supports their mission of advancing scholarship and teaching by committing to the creation, application, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge. Sarah E. Thomas, Vice President for the Harvard Library and the Roy E. Larsen Librarian of Harvard College, states:

“We have already been using the digitization of Harvard’s collections as a means of enhancing access for Harvard’s students and faculty. Now we are seeking to share Harvard’s unparalleled collections with the rest of the world in ways that will foster new creativity.”

This is great news for OpenGLAM and we hope this can be an inspiring example for other institutions. The full policy can be read here: Harvard Library will announce other news related through Open Access Week on this page.

Open Rubens – the new and improved Rubens Online

Joris Janssens - October 14, 2014 in Case Studies, Featured, Guest Blog Post

This is a guest blog post about the Open Rubens platform written by Joris Janssens of Packed, one of the partners of the Europeana Space (eSpace) project. Open Rubens won the public prize during the competition 2013. PACKED is a centre of expertise in digital heritage and promotes the use of standards for the creation, preservation and online dissemination of cultural heritage content.

In 2004 the Rubenianum, a centre dedicated to the study of Rubens, developed the Rubens Online website, which holds information on all works by the Flemish baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens whiopenrubens1ch have been or are present in Belgian public collections. The website is a product of its time and we could nowadays easily present the collection in some refreshing manner without much effort. Since the Rubens Online dataset was available under an open license ( we used it create some new ways to explore this collection. You can find the result at

You can browse the collection through:

1) Some random images which are loaded from the dataset. If you click on an image you get a detail view of the work.

openrubens22) Since there was geographical information in the data we could show all the works on a map and if a work has been in different locations we can track these movements.

openrubens33) A timeline shows the works in the collection in a chronological order

Timeline using timeline js

Timeline using timeline js

On the detail page we added some social sharing functionality, the possibility to add tags to the images and to add comments.

Most of the images are available in a low resolution: we therefore implemented the functionality to do a Google Image search for similar images, in the hope of finding some higher resolutions. Since the works are public domain, even a larger resolution should not fall under copyright. This however could be different from country to country.


Google Image search with different sizes

In addition to the Rubens Online dataset the detail page of a work shows some results from a search by title using the Europeana API. This however does not always provide nice results: sometimes because their just isn’t any relevant content to show, but also because searching and filtering is a bit limited – which will hopefully improve in a future version of the Europeana API.

Results from Europeana search

Results from Europeana search

Open Rubens was submitted for of the competition 2013, where it won the public price.

Open Knowledge Foundation joins Europeana Space

Marieke Guy - October 14, 2014 in Featured, News, Projects

This blog (cross-posted from the eSpace blog) introduces the work that Open Knowledge will perform within the Europeana Space project. Open Knowledge will be cooperating on WP3 – The Content Space and provide support and tools about the possibility of re-use of public domain and open content.


The aim of the Europeana Space project is to create new opportunities for employment and economic growth within the creative industries sector based on Europe’s rich digital cultural resources. It will provide an open environment for the development of applications and services based on digital cultural content. The use of this environment will be fostered by a vigorous, wide-ranging and sustainable programme of promotion, dissemination and replication of the Best Practices developed within the project.

Open Knowledge will be providing a ‘Knowledge Base’ on ‘Open Content Exchange’ known as the ‘OpenContent Exchange Platform’ for the Content Space. This platform will comprise of collated public domain and open content materials related to the value of digital public domain and best practices around open licensing. One particular area of focus will be the monetising of Europeana open content by creative industries and the challenges this poses related to IPR.

The OpenContent Exchange Platform will help answer, in an accessible, user-friendly way, the question “What would those working in creative industries want to know or to happen to enable them to reuse Europeana content?”. Questions from those working in creative industries may include:

  • What is the license of the content? What does the license mean? What can I do with the content? Can I make money from this content?
  • Do licence rules for what I can do differ by country? Do licence rules vary for the type of content I want to use? Are there differences between the licence for physical work or a digital work?
  • How do label my own content correctly? What is rights labelling?
  • Is IPR content embedded within content? What technical standards are there around embedding IPR content?
  • How can I get legal advice on IPR issues? How can I get content cleared to reuse?

It is anticipated that results from the platform will inform further research and policy making in the cultural heritage sphere, specifically around business models for open cultural content. Any poorly covered areas in the currently available materials will be identified with the intention of ‘filling in the gaps’.

Handing over a book from the Institut für Realienkunde. This image is Public Domain marked and available on Europeana portal.

Handing over a book from the Institut für Realienkunde. This image is Public Domain marked and available through the Europeana portal.

The OpenContent Exchange Platform will be an online, publicly accessible platform consisting of:

  • Links to open content to be made available through the exchange platform both from     partners of the Europeana Space project and from the wider cultural heritage community;
  • Blog posts and articles on open content being provided by Europeana Space partners     and the wider cultural heritage sphere presenting this material thematically and in a highly curated way to maximise interest in it;
  • Documentation on open licensing for both suppliers and users of open content so that     both parties fully understand the technical and legal implications of their work and make best use of its open character;
  • Materials on the re-use of openly licensed materials targeted at the creative industry, including manuals on how to source public domain works from other repositories

A first version of the OpenContent Exchange Platform will be ready in early 2015: the full version is planned for February 2016.

The Open Knowledge team that will work on the eSpace project includes:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALieke Ploeger, community manager of the OpenGLAM initiative and project co-ordinator of the DM2E project at Open Knowledge. OpenGLAM is focused on promoting free and open access to digital cultural heritage held by Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums, while DM2E is building the tools and communities to enable humanities researchers to work with manuscripts in the Linked Open Web. Before joining Open Knowledge, she worked at the National Library of the Netherlands, where she was involved in several large-scale European research projects, such as IMPACT in the area of digitisation and SCAPE in the field of digital preservation.


marieke-guy-roundedMarieke Guy, project co-ordinator at Open Knowledge. She is just completing work on the LinkedUp Project through which she supported a series of competitions aiming to get people to reuse open and linked data relevant to education. Many of the LinkedUp Catalogue datasets have come from the GLAM community and many of the tools developed have been museum related. Prior to working for Open Knowledge she spent 13 years at the University of Bath based at UKOLN, where she worked on a variety of Cultural Heritage projects including Cultivate, Exploit and IMPACT – a mass digitisation project which aimed to improve access to historical text. Marieke is co-ordinator of the Open Education Working Group and writes a blog about Remote Working.