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Open Knowledge Foundation and BBC sign Memorandum of Understanding

Sam Leon - November 27, 2013 in Featured, News

On Monday of this week, the Open Knowledge Foundation signed a memorandum of understanding with the BBC. The BBC also signed separate memorandums with the Europeana Foundation, the Open Data Institute and the Mozilla Foundation.

Laura James, CEO of the Open Knowledge Foundation, signs the MoU with James Purnell, BBC Director of Strategy and Digital.

The signing is an important step in cementing the relationship between the Open Knowledge Foundation and one of the world’s largest broadcasting organisations. It also marks a new commitment on the part of the BBC to embrace open data and open standards. James Purnell, Director of Strategy and Digital at the BBC, said that this memorandum signalled that the BBC was “here for audience’s interests and not just the BBC’s” and that through it the BBC plans to find “find new ways to engage audiences”.

The signing ceremony was a formal recognition of the work the five organisations had done together and paved the way for future collaborations, some of which are already in the pipeline. In January 2014, for instance, the Open Knowledge Foundation, alongside the BBC and the Wikimedia community, will be coordinating the first ever “speakerthon”. Using the BBC’s vast radio archive, participants will tag and select snippets of notable individuals’ voices in order to upload them to Wikipedia articles as open content. Developers at the BBC are keen to use the crowdsourced data to tag other parts of the archive and automatically identify where else a given individual is speaking. This initiative is a great demonstration of the kind of benefit open data and open content can have for an organisation like the BBC. It allows them to simultaneously use their rich digital archive to improve existing open resources like Wikipedia, whilst developing new and innovative ways to harness the power of their audiences to improve their own digital assets (in this case through crowdsourced voice identification).

Collaborations like the “speakerthon”, which enable audiences to be contributors as well as consumers of broadcast media, can be a cause for concern for cultural institutions, especially those like the BBC which were born in the heyday of industrial one-way broadcasting. I commend the BBC for taking these first steps to re-configuring the traditional relationship it has with its audiences in allowing them a more participatory role.

That is not to say that the idea of open is somehow alien to the BBC, quite the opposite. The BBC has a long history of supporting technological innovation and using the benefits it bring to improve access to information. Indeed, in its Charter the BBC sets two of its central purposes: “to sustain citizenship and civil society” and “to help to deliver to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies”. In signing the memorandum of understanding on Monday, the BBC is affirming that it sees open data, open content and open standards as the key to connecting these two principles that are so deeply entrenched in its DNA.

As Bill Thompson, Head of Partnership Development at the BBC archive, said on Monday the memorandum marks only the first step in a long conversation between the five organisations. The challenge is to turn these words into actions and concrete collaborations that will unlock the potential of the BBC’s vast archive of culturally and historically-significant material.

What kind of collaborations between the BBC and the Open Knowledge Foundation would you like to see? What do you think are the possibilities for audience participation and technological innovation using open data at the BBC? Send us your ideas in the comments.

Tate Opens Catalogue

Sam Leon - November 2, 2013 in Featured, News


The Tate – the institution that houses the United Kingdom’s national collection of British Art, and International Modern and Contemporary Art – have opened up the data about its holdings of works wholly owned by the Tate itself. The “Concise catalogues entries” dataset has been published under a Creative Commons Zero license in order to facilitate wider re-use of this data by researchers and the general public.

More information on the release and access to the dataset can be found here.

Getty Release Second Batch of Open Content

Sam Leon - October 16, 2013 in Featured, News

Pencil, charcoal, ink and wash from the sketch books of David, Jacques-Louis, see more at

Pencil, charcoal, ink and wash from the sketch books of David, Jacques-Louis, see more at

Back in August we posted an announcement that the Getty Museum had released 4,600 digitised images from its collection as open content. Earlier today the Getty Research Institute took their Open Content Programme up a gear, by making a further 5,400 images openly available from its Special Collections. The manuscripts, photographs and drawings now available for users to download and re-use at no cost includes pages from the sketch books of influential 18th Century French painter, Jacques-Louis David, as well as 19th century photographs of Mayan and Aztec ruins. The openly available collection can now be fully searched and viewed here.

The content releases bring the total number of open images in the Getty’s Open Content Programme above 10,000. On the Museum. Writing on the Getty’s blog Andrew Perchuk gives some insight into the Getty’s motivation for embracing open content:

We hope the Open Content Program will accelerate this democratization process, enabling not only scholars but also students, artists, designers, and anyone who is interested to work with rare materials to produce new artworks, designs, and erudition that extend beyond the confines of the academy and the museum.

We couldn’t agree more! You can read more about the release over on the Getty’s blog.

Finnish National Gallery Launches Open API

Sam Leon - October 7, 2013 in Featured, News


The Finnish National Gallery has just launched its open API that enables developers to build third-party services with the Gallery’s metadata. The Gallery, which manages 36,000 artworks, has made all its metadata available under a CC-0 license all of which can be downloaded as a single data package. You can read more about the new open data release in Finnish here.

The news follows the recent release of a number of digitised works from the “Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland” collection now available from Wikimedia Commons.

Last year, the first Open Knowledge Festival was held in Helsinki, Finland with a stream of workshops and hackdays dedicated to open cultural data. Since then participants have established a Finnish chapter of OpenGLAM under the AvoinGLAM name with the express purpose of building greater awareness of the cultural commons in Finland.

OpenGLAM Switzerland Workshop, OKCon 2013

Sam Leon - September 19, 2013 in Events/Workshops, Featured


Photo above taken by Maarten Brinkerink, CC-BY-SA

One of the first events to take place at this year’s Open Knowledge Conference was an OpenGLAM Workshop for Swiss cultural institutions and the wider open culture and heritage community to develop an action plan for launching OpenGLAM activity in Switzerland.

Representatives from the Swiss Federal Archives, the Swiss National Library, and other GLAMs from several European countries gathered alongside directors of digitisation and restoration companies, members of and Swiss Wikipedians.

The early presentations focussed on the importance of measuring the impact and uptake of open cultural data projects in order to make the case more at a political level for openness in the cultural heritage sector. Maarten Brinkerink of the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision spoke on the topic of metrics for open data:

Joris Pekel, Coordinator of the OpenGLAM Working Group and Community Coordinator for cultural heritage at the Europeana Foundation, built on Maarten’s talk and looked at how Europeana’s Google Analytics could be used in the quest for measuring open data impact and uptake. Joris also stressed to the institutions present the importance of high-quality metadata for the discovery of cultural resources on the web. His presentation can be viewed below:

The afternoon session focussed on how the Swiss cultural institutions present could begin to form a community to set the agenda for open data in cultural heritage and begin opening up more data and more of their public domain holdings.

Micha Reiser of the Swiss Wikimedia chapter talked in detail about how memory institutions could engage Wikipedians and support them in writing articles for Wikipedia and getting their content on Wikimedia Commons. His slides can be seen below:

Beat Estermann of Bern University of Applied Sciences presented his report on the readiness of Swiss galleries, libraries, archives and museums and existing sentiment within the sector. This was followed by a presentation of the proposed roadmap for establishing a Swiss OpenGLAM group in the coming months. Beat’s slides can be seen below:

Next there was an opportunity for all those present to suggest what to focus on next and discuss in more detail the specific barriers to and drivers for openness within their institutions. A short bar-camp exercise where all those present posted their questions and concerns led to one and a half hours of in-depth discussion on the following issues:

  • How to reach broader audiences with open data and content releases
  • Specific legal and technical issues and how to address and share information on these
  • Ways to reach the Wikimedia and Wikipedia communities
  • Where to find resources and documentation on case studies and statistics relating to open data and cultural heritage
  • How to get open data success recognised internally within a cultural institution
  • How to realise quick open data and open content wins!

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Photo above by Maarten Brinkerink, CC-BY-SA

The discussion led to a number of important action points including a commitment from the project team behind to enrich and improve the documentation section on the site to include more resources for GLAMs thinking of opening up. The group was also in agreement around the plans to start a Swiss OpenGLAM group, based on the OpenGLAM Principles. We look forward to seeing the initial pilot projects, events and data releases from the Swiss, all of which will be covered on

The workshop in Switzerland was the fifth workshop of its kind with the goal of catalysing sustainability communities of open data evangelists who have the skills and support to push the open culture agenda forward. It was good to see those who had been present at previous workshops looking on from a distance reflecting perfectly the geographic breadth of this growing movement to make more of our cultural heritage accessible to all:

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Open Culture at OKCon, 16th-18th September 2013

Sam Leon - September 2, 2013 in Events/Workshops, Featured


At the Open Knowledge Foundation’s forthcoming annual conference in Geneva open culture activities will be well represented. A series of talks and presentations will be given on a variety of aspects of the movement to open more of the world’s cultural heritage data and content.

Jill Cousins, Executive Director of the Europeana Foundation, will give a keynote on her pioneering work persuading Europe’s cultural institutions to adopt open licenses for their metadata. She will be joined by Merete Sanderhoff from the Danish Statens Museum for Kunst as well as the winner of the Open Humanities Awards: Bernhard Haslhofer who will present his work on an open source tools for working with digitised maps. The session entitled “Building the Cultural Commons” will also include presentations from two prominent researchers Anna Gold and Nicole Beale looking at how open data can benefit smalls museums and universities in particular.

On Monday an invite-only session with representatives from Swiss cultural institutions will be convened in order to kick-start more OpenGLAM activity in the region and raise awareness about the value of open content and open data in this field. The main conference will benefit from a round-up of what was achieved on that action planning session.

For more information on OKCon itself and to see what else is happening across the 3 days, visit

Getty Releases 4,600 Images as Open Content

Sam Leon - August 13, 2013 in Featured, News, Uncategorized

A depiction of a banquet by 17th Centruy Italian artist, Morazzone, one of the many scans now in the public domain

A depiction of a banquet by 17th Centruy Italian artist, Morazzone, one of the many scans now available as open content

Yesterday the J. Paul Getty Trust launched its Open Content Program which saw the release of 4,600 high-resolution scans of works from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles as open content. This means that the digital images in this new release can be downloaded and re-used without restriction and without the need to get permission. The initial release can be browsed here.

The renowned institution has publicly committed to open up the digital images of all works they own and that are in the public domain or to which they own the rights. Getty president and CEO, Jim Cuno, said of the Open Content Program and the Getty’s commitment to openness:

The Getty was founded to promote ‘the diffusion of artistic and general knowledge’ of the visual arts, and this new program arises directly from that mission. In a world where, increasingly, the trend is toward freer access to more and more information and resources, it only makes sense to reduce barriers to the public to fully experience our collections.

The Getty joins a growing cohort of leading cultural institutions taking steps to open up their public domain holdings on the web. Recent years have seen similar releases from the Walter’s Art Museum, The British Library and the Rijksmuseum. OpenGLAM — the Working Group at the Open Knowledge Foundation dedicated to opening up cultural content and data from Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums around the world — is collecting examples of open collections on the site. If you know of ones we haven’t listed, get in touch via the public mailing list.

We were pleased to see representatives from the Getty at the launch of the US arm of the OpenGLAM Working Group back in March of this year and we hope that the experience of coming together with other institutions keen to see more of their colelctions shared online helped to bolster their support for open content.

On their website their Getty have also signalled that this is the first in a series of open content releases under their Open Content Program. Plans are in the works to release documentation from the Getty’s Conservation Institute’s field projects as well as their world famous vocabularies for describing cultural objects.

It’s fantastic to see an organisation of the Getty’s size and stature making such a move. We hope this will motivate other organisations to take such a bold and positive step towards an open cultural commons which everyone is free to enjoy and re-use. We would also urge the Getty to go further in their Open Content Program and actually start labelling the digital copies of their works available through their website with a Creative Commons Public Domain Mark to further reduced the barriers to re-use.

Canada Through a Lens: the British Library Colonial Copyright Collection

Sam Leon - July 1, 2013 in Curator's Choice, Featured


Phil Hatfield, British Library Curator in Canadian and Caribbean Studies, and Andrew Gray, British Library Wikipedian in Residence, kick off our brand new Curator’s Choice series by taking a look at the fascinating array of photographs in the British Library’s Canadian Colonial Copyright Collection.

‘The Wrestlers’, deposited in 1905 by R. H. Trueman [copyright number 15767]. We all hope the bear was trained… – Source

Copyright collections – those aggregations of published material accumulated by libraries as a result of copyright deposit laws – can provide a unique view of the world; especially when they have the opportunity to add photographs to their holdings. With minimal curatorial involvement in their selection and collection, as well as few gate keepers beyond the administration fee required to register copyright, you could say that such caches of material are a rare thing – a photographic world selected by myriad photographers themselves.

This is the format of the British Library’s Colonial Copyright Collection of Canadian photographs, over 4,000 images registered for deposit and collected by the Library between 1895 and 1924. By and large the contents of the collection have been copyrighted as a result of the quality of the shot, the potential to make money from the photograph or, most likely, a mixture of both. These photographs were then accessioned by the British Library and left relatively untouched until a series of works were begun on them in the 1980s.

Why would such a collection end up in London? The answer hangs on an arcane piece of British copyright law, the colonial copyright legislation of the nineteenth century. To be frank the law was a lame-duck: it attempted to extend a part of British law to the Empire and ensure the comprehensive collection of intellectual property from beyond the metropole but in both areas it was fairly ineffective, with only a few territories taking it seriously.

‘The Living Union Jack’, deposited in 1898 by Sarah Elizabeth Charlton [copyright number 10301] – Source

One of the Dominions that did take the law seriously was Canada (even if a little belatedly, the copyright act was passed well before 1895). This resulted in writers, musicians, sculptors, cartographers and photographers being able to copyright their works by registering the intellectual property with the Department of Agriculture in Ottawa. The formalities involved were not too arduous: some paperwork, a payment equivalent to 5d and the submission of two copies of the work in question – one of which was to be shipped across the water to London.

From this hotchpotch of imperial muddling, colonial making-do and individual protectionism developed a collection of photographs that covers the length and breadth of Canada, preserving the work of well known photographers and Canadian photography’s grass roots. Even better, it appears the grass roots of Canadian photography had a great sense of humour, but more on that later.

It is worth noting that the collection covers an important period in Canadian history. Between 1895 and 1924 new provinces join the Confederation, one of Canada’s most influential Prime Ministers is in office, the First World War changes huge numbers of Canadian lives and the country itself becomes increasingly independent and influential on the world stage. All of this is depicted in the collection with national events treated to local interpretations and international conflicts given a uniquely Canadian perspective.

Left: One of the many portraits of Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s first francophone prime minister and often considered one of the country’s greatest statesmen. Deposited in 1906 by William J. Topley [copyright number 16871] – Source. Right: The Prince of Wales has another portrait taken, this time with a sneaky photobomb. Deposited in 1919 by the Freeland Studio [copyright number 36419] – Source

Postcard showing German U-Boats as caught tuna, titled, ‘A Good Haul’. Deposited in 1917 by William Springett [copyright number 32613] – Source

The fire at Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, deposited by H. O. Dodge in 1899 [copyright number 10448]. Fires are a frequent topic in the collection and were a common danger in Canadian cities between 1895 and 1924 – Source

‘A Century Run or Bust’, deposited by Fred L. Hacking in 1900. One example of the comedic sketches found in the collection – Source

The bulk of the collection, however, is composed of what bound together the Canada its citizens knew; old cities, new towns, transport networks, the peoples inhabiting each province, and so on. Canada’s largest cities are depicted on grand scales or sometimes very intimately while other parts of the country, such as Moose Jaw (Saskatchewan) or Stettler (Alberta), are photographed in the act of laying the foundations of a settlement. Of all the transport subjects available to photographers the railroad seems to have most captured the imagination, fittingly given the train’s popular status as a nation building technology and the role of the camera in laying the foundations for Canada’s railways. However, the train is not the only method of transport fascinating and facilitating photographers in the collection; ships navigate seas and rivers, cars and motorcycles are shown making their first marks on the country, while airplanes are used to achieve new views of the landscape.

Homesteaders set out from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Deposited by Lewis Rice in 1909 [copyright number 20797]- Source

The wreck of an artillery train at Enterprise, Ontario, deposited by Harriett Amelia May in 1903 [copyright number 14100] – Source

The Early Grey party at ‘Big Tree’ in Stanley Park, deposited in 1906 by Fricke and Schenck [copyright number 17684]. Cars are only occasionally seen in the collection, British colonial figures are more common – Source

The things that seem to grab these photographers’ attention the most, though, are people, their cultures, movements, habits and achievements. Sport forms a great part of the collection, with everything from lacrosse to football to skiing covered and a few Stanley Cup winning teams thrown in for good measure. Canada’s indigenous peoples and the cultures of newly arrived migrants also caught the eye of many an anthropologically minded photographer, providing a sense of how dramatically populations across Canada were changing as ‘The Last Best West’ filled in.

This ski jump is one of the many winter sports photographs in the collection. Deposited in 1905 by William Notman and Son [copyright number 16097] – Source

Ottawa’s 1911 championship winning team with a much smaller version of the Stanley Cup. Deposited in 1911 by Alfred George Pittaway [copyright number 23753] – Source

One of Arthur Rafton Canning’s many photographs of First Nations groups near Lethbridge, Alberta. Deposited in 1910 [copyright number 23387] – Source

Sechelt Indians enact Christ’s nailing to the cross, deposited in 1901 by the Edwards Brothers [copyright number 12287]. A number of photographs in the collection reflect attitudes that have changed during the twentieth century – Source

There are also sideways glances at the development of metropolitan Canada and its increasingly affluent middle classes, with subjects from plumbing to lecherous husbands captured through the lens. The middle classes were often the target audiences of these photographs, meaning what we see through the lens are various interpretations of what this social group wanted to see.

One photograph from a large selection produced to promote modern plumbing (note the model’s expression). Deposited in 1921 by William Stairs, Son and Morrow [copyright number 38511] – Source

‘The Stork’s Visit’ from a series titled, ‘Courtship and Wedding’, deposited in 1906 by Arthur Lawrence Merrill [copyright number 17208] – Source

Part of a series of stereoscopic photographs telling the story of Mr. Turtledove’s fancy for the French cook. Deposited in 1906 by Arthur Lawrence Merrill [copyright number 17212] – Source

With this being the golden age of the postcard too it is easy to imagine the collection’s photographs of famous explorers, early tourist sites, beauty spots and local celebrities circulating around the country or, indeed, the Empire, with addresses and messages on the back. Even more potentially ephemeral are the great number of photographs of cats in the collection. It would appear early twentieth century Canada was little different from the Internet in its visual taste and that a photograph of a cute kitten or humorous cat would get you along way.

Left: Joe Fortes, a Vancouver resident who devoted all of his time to teaching children how to swim. This photograph was used as part of the Canada Post stamp issued in 2013 to mark the 150th anniversary of Joe’s birth. Deposited in 1923 by Pride of the West Knitting Mills [copyright number 41838] – Source. Right: Roald Amundsen, photographed after his navigation of the Northwest Passage. Deposited in 1906 by John Francis Sugrue [copyright number 17023] – Source

The collection contains a lot of photographs of cats, with varying degrees of cuteness / scariness. Deposited in 1896 by I. M. Bogart [copyright number 8754] – Source

Given the broad content of the collection it is pleasing to write that these photographs have been digitized and made available under a Public Domain license; so the Internet now has a few extra photographs of cats to go around. Canadian photographs copyrighted before 1949 are now out of copyright meaning this was an opportunity for the British Library and Wikimedia UK to collaborate and digitize this unique collection of Canadian historical photographs. The results of this collaboration have been released in high quality, with TIFF and JPEG files that can be viewed and downloaded via Wikimedia Commons or the British Library’s ‘Digitised Manuscripts’ tool.

To our minds this is a great resource for historians of Canada and photography, those with an interest in the places and people depicted, and many writers and bloggers looking to furnish their most recent article or post. In fact, the range of potential uses has already exceeded our initial ambitions. For example, one of the cat photographs featured on a conference poster in Tokyo, showing the wide geographical reach and multiple new lives of digitized collection items.

Please go on and put the collection to good use and if you do anything particularly innovative the authors would love to know.

Part of a photographic series on performing animals, deposited by John A. Brown in 1920 – Source

Dr. Phil Hatfield is Curator for Canadian and Caribbean Studies at the British Library, you can find more of his work on the British Library Americas Blog. Previously he was an ESRC funded Collaborative Doctoral Award student working with this very collection, making it something of a labour of love over the past six years. A review of the thesis can be found here.

Andrew Gray was the Wikipedian in Residence at the British Library from 2012-13, and has worked with Wikimedia projects since 2004. He currently works as a librarian in Cambridge.

Learn more about the “Picturing Canada” collection on its Wikimedia Commons page, and see the images, almost 4000 uploaded so far, in the Wikimedia gallery here.

This post is part of our Curator’s Choice series, where each month we shall feature a special post 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.

Announcing the OpenGLAM Advisory Board

Sam Leon - June 24, 2013 in Featured, News

We’re very pleased to announce the first OpenGLAM Advisory Board.

Made up of a distinguished and diverse cast of open culture advocates from across the cultural heritage sector the Advisory Board will provide guidance to the OpenGLAM Working Group and give feedback on key strategic issues.

The current Advisory Board is 7 members strong and includes Dan Cohen, Jill Cousins, Michael Edson, Paul Keller, Alexis Rossi, Merete Sanderhoff and Kat Walsh.

Michael Edson, Director of Web and New Media Strategy at the Smithsonian Institution, who will serve on the Advisory Board said:

“GLAMs are essential to the wise conduct of democracy, and openness is essential to the wise conduct of GLAMs. I am profoundly happy to be joining my friends and colleagues on the OpenGLAM Advisory Board, and to work with them on behalf of the open knowledge community.”

A full list of the Advisory Board members and their respective biographies can be found below:

###Dan Cohen

Dan Cohen

Dan is the Founding Executive Director of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), where he works to further the DPLA’s mission to make the cultural and scientific heritage of humanity available, free of charge, to all. Prior to his tenure, Dan was the Director of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. At the Center, Dan oversaw projects ranging from new publishing ventures (PressForward) to online collections (September 11 Digital Archive) to software for scholarship (the popular Zotero research tool). His books include Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (with Roy Rosenzweig) and Equations from God: Pure Mathematics and Victorian Faith.

###Jill Cousins

Jill Cousins

Jill is Executive Director of the Europeana Foundation, responsible for the running and management of; the flagship portal of the European Union that brings together the content of the Archives, Audio visual collections, Libraries and Museums of Europe. She is also Director of The European Library, a vertical content aggregator for national and research libraries in Europe for the researcher. She has many years experience in web publishing including the commercial publishing world as European Business Development Director of VNU New Media and scholarly publishing with Blackwell Publishing.

###Michael Edson

Michael Edson

Michael is the Director of Web and New Media Strategy at the Smithsonian Institution. In addition to developing the Smithsonian’s first Web and New Media Strategy and its multi-award winning Web and New Media Strategy Wiki, Michael helped create the Smithsonian’s first blog, Eye Level, and the first Alternative Reality Game to take place in a museum, Ghosts of a Chance. Michael is also a driving force behind the cultural commons concept which aims to make hundreds of millions of GLAM resources freely available for users to build upon. Michael is an O’Reilly Foo Camp veteran and was named a Tech Titan 2011: person to watch by Washingtonian magazine.

###Paul Keller

Paul Keller

Paul is copyright policy advisor and vice-chair of Kennisland, an Amsterdam based think-tank focussed on innovation in the knowledge economy. Paul is an expert on open content and data licensing with a special focus on the cultural heritage organizations, the music industry and the creative industries. He is public project lead for Creative Commons in the Netherlands and serves as Collecting Societies Liaison for Creative Commons International, where he has been instrumental in negotiating cooperations between Creative Commons and various collective rights management organisations. Paul is also coordinating the copyright related aspects of Images for the Future, one of the biggest digitization projects for audio-visual heritage in Europe and he is one of the the architects of the copyright licensing framework for Europeana, the flagship portal of the European Union that brings together the content of the Archives, Audio visual collections, Libraries and Museums of Europe.

###Alexis Rossi

Alexis Rossi

Alexis works at the Internet Archive, an online library that offers permanent access for researchers, historians and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format. She currently manages all aspects of Internet Archive collections work for movies, audio, TV, and books, and runs the Wayback Machine project. From 2006-2008, Alexis managed the audio and video collections and Open Library, as well as working on the Open Content Alliance, and the Zotero/IA project. Alexis has been working with Internet content since 1996 when she discovered that being picky about words in books was good training for being picky about data on computers. She spent several years managing news content at ClariNet (the first online news aggregator), worked as the Editorial Director at Alexa Internet, and as Product Manager at Mixercast.

###Merete Sanderhoff

Merete Sanderhoff

Merete is an art historian whose special field of expertise is open access to digitized cultural heritage. Since 2007, she has worked at the Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK), the National Gallery of Denmark, as researcher and project manager, leading a number of projects providing open access to the museum’s digitized collections, and using digital media to freely share knowledge and resources with fellow institutions as well as users. Among her latest projects is SMK’s contribution to the Google Art Project and the release of a selection of highlights from SMK’s collections for free download under a Creative Commons license. Merete stands behind a pilot initiative that unites 11 Danish art museums in developing a shared mobile platform, inviting users to co-create, share and reuse cultural content. Her publishing list includes a book contesting the canon of art history, several exhibition catalogues, and research papers. She is contributing editor of an upcoming Sharing is Caring anthology due to be published in the winter of 2013-14.

###Kat Walsh

Kat Walsh

Kat works on issues surrounding the licenses and other projects affecting the legal and policy interests of the Creative Commons community. Kat’s background is in free culture, free software, and free expression, especially where they involve copyright and patent. She is the 2012-13 chair of the Wikimedia Foundation, and a board member since 2006. Kat was previously a technology policy analyst at the American Library Association.

Let’s Map Open Correspondence Data!

Sam Leon - May 16, 2013 in Digital Humanities, Featured, Open Humanities

At the Open Knowledge Foundation we seek to empower people to use open data and open content in ways that improve the world.

In part this is about the provision of tools, such as our world-renowned CKAN open data portal, but it’s also about bringing people together who are passionate about making a change and giving them a space whether that’s online or face-to-face to wrangle open data, write code and take action together.

At the recent Open Interests hack participants developed a suite of apps that help us understand lobbying in the EU and how money is spent. A couple of weeks ago Open Data Maker Night in London people wrangled data from local authority websites to find out which companies receives the lion’s share of the Greater London’s Authorities resources. Across our various Working Group mailing lists people from all over the world are debating, sharing data and experimenting with code in a huge variety of domains from open science to open government data.

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At bottom this is about bringing people with bright ideas coming together to collaborate around open content and open data to build things that have transformative potential.

##The Open Humanities Hangout

Over the past few months a group of people interested in open culture, including myself, have been getting together on Google Hangout in order to build stuff with the vast amount of open cultural data and content that’s out there.

In the cultural sphere much of the transformative potential of open lies in widening access to our treasured cultural heritage whether that’s classic literary texts or the paintings of the great masters. But as ever it’s not only about opening up huge amounts of data and content, there’s already a hell of a lot of that already on the Internet Archive and Wikimedia Commons, this is also about empowering people to actually use this material in ways that they deem valuable.

So on the Open Humanities Hangout we’ve tried to do things that address both these challenges:

In order to address the problem of access we’ve held hangouts on how to run a book scanning workshop and how share the works we’ve digitised online. On another occasion, we collectively reflected on how to evangelise about opening up cultural resources and distilled the results in a set of principles which we then shared and discussed on a public mailing list.

In terms of building stuff to help re-use, we’ve built an app that helps you to get to know Shakespeare better called Bardomatic. We’ve hacked on an annotation tool for public domain texts called TEXTUS trying to make it easier to use and deploy on Word Press. We’ve created interactive timelines of the great Western medieval philosophers helping to improve and de-bug the Timeliner tool in the process.

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##The Challenge: Mapping Networks of Correspondence

I want more people to join the Open Humanities hangouts – more Java Script coders, more designers, more literature students, more bloggers… anyone who loves the humanities and wants to see the great works of our past accessible and re-usable by everyone regardless of their background or location.

I’m putting forward a challenge for our next set of monthly Hangouts based on some of the great work some of the Open Humanities Working Group members have been doing around open correspondence data and open booking scanning.

I’m challenging the Open Humanities Hangout crew to construct a workflow that will enable *anyone to turn a published set of letters and turn it into a visualisation of a network of correspondence.*

One of the great success stories of the so-called Digital Humanities is the wonderful Mapping the Republic of Letters project, a collaboration between Stanford and Oxford Universities that visualises the networks of correspondence of early modern scholars. The beautiful and insightful visualisations that have been created in the process have captured the imaginations of technologists and humanists world wide.


I want to see a million Mapping the Republic of Letters project. I want it to be as easy as possible to map the correspondence of historial figures, so that anyone can do this. This includes the first year school students wanting some beautiful images for their coursework and the scholar who will use much richer data to give a more through, in-depth and academic visual story for a research paper.
I want the underlying tools to be open source and well documented and perhaps, most importantly, I want the underlying data, that collection of metadata about who sent what when to be open for everyone to use and add to.

This effort doesn’t require the existence of a huge repository of data about letters that we tap into (although this might merge in the process). This is about small sets of open data, sourced and formatted in appropriate ways by passionate groups of people all around the world that can be combined and connected easily using open source web-based components.

##How do we begin?

To my eyes, this effort will involve the documentation of at least 4 steps:

  1. Scan in a published collection of letters
  2. Turn this scans intro structured data that contains relevant information on respondent, date, location
  3. Geo-code all those locations
  4. Visualise the results on a map

We’ve already made some progress on steps 1. – 2. and there’s a wealth of information already available on how to do your own scanning and OCRing including manuals on how to build your own scanner. For 3. – 4. there’s already some brilliant information over on the School of Data. However, I want to see this information synthesised into a single point — so any student, teacher or researcher can get all the information on how to go from that collected volume of letters of so-and-so on their shelf to a beautiful visualisation.

##What might result if we’re successful?

Well for one, I hope that a beautiful and insightful set of visualisations might emerge about the correspondence of a number of important figures all over the web. But perhaps a longer term goal is to stimulate the creation of databases of correspondence that are open to everyone to use and add to. To begin with we’ll be constrained to the published volumes of correspondence in print, but if we get enough people contributing we can re-combine these published volumes in all sorts of interesting ways filling in gaps and ultimately creating datasets that might enable us to map whole networks of correspondence for a given period.

##Get involved

So the challenge is on. The next Open Humanities Hangout will take place at 5pm BST on Tuesday May 28th. If you’re thinking of joining ping me a quick message on!