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Cultural Data: Possibilities and Limitations of Digitized Archives

Publication data:

Oliver Grau, ed., with Wendy Coones and Viola Rühse, Museum and Archive on the Move. Changing Cultural Institutions in the Digital Era (Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter, 2017), 259-276.


Digitization of cultural heritage over last 20 years has opened up very interesting possibilities for the study of our cultural past using computational “big data” methods. Today, as over two billion people create global “digital culture” by sharing their photos, video, links, writing posts, comments, ratings, etc., we can also use the same methods to study this universe of contemporary digital culture.

In this chapter I discuss a number of issues regarding the “shape” of the digital visual collections we have, from the point of view of researchers who use computational methods. They are working today in many fields including computer science, computational sociology, digital art history, digital humanities, digital heritage and Cultural Analytics – which is the term I introduced in 2007 to refer to all of this research, and also to a particular research program of our own lab that has focused on exploring large visual collections.

Regardless of what analytical methods are used in this research, the analysis has to start with some concrete existing data. The “shapes” of existing digital collections may enable some research directions and make others more difficult. So what is the data universe created by digitization, what does it make possible, and also impossible?

Article  2017