Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Funds for historic preservation programs, particularly those dealing with identifying, cataloguing, and managing historic resources, are typically slashed when the economy sputters. Right now is such a time. In my previous post, I discussed ARCHES--a free, online, user-friendly, open-source geospatial software system developed by the Getty Conservation Institute and the World Monuments Fund that is purpose-built to inventory and manage immovable heritage to internationally adopted standards. Anyone can downloand and customize ARCHES to suit their needs.
Today I want to discuss a powerful, innovative but cheap technological tool that can aid authorities in their quest to create and/or update their historic resources digital inventory: online crowdsourcing. Simply put, online crowdsourcing allows someone to obtain needed services and/or content by soliciting voluntary contributions from the online public community rather than hiring employees or paying suppliers. Online crowdsourcing has been an extremely effective tool for preserving cultural heritage in many countries. For instance, the National Library of Finland is using online crowdsourcing to index its scanned archives. Similarly, the University of Cape Town in South Africa is using online crowdsourcing to transcribe collections containing the Bushman’s language, stories, and way of life. The National Geographic Society is using online crowdsourcing to analyze millions of satellite images of Mongolia showing potential archaeological sites in the hopes of discovering the tombs of Genghis Khan and his descendants. And an English non-profit organization has utilized online crowdsourcing and online crowdfunding—funds donated by the interested public online—to provide both finances and labor for an expert-led excavation of a Bronze Age causeway composed of millions of timbers in the Cambridgeshire fens. And perhaps most relevant to experiences of local governments in the United States, the City of Los Angeles has created a website, MyHistoricLA.org, that allows citizens to map and submit information about places of cultural importance to them which may not be architecturally significant (and thus escape the purview of preservation officials).
Drawing on the crowdsourcing experience of others, local governments and cities in the United States could create an online portal attached to their own digital inventories, or create an appended website like MyHistoricLA. This portal or website could offer training modules to citizens on cultural heritage recording practices and afterwards ask them to collect and upload descriptive information, statistics, pictures, videos, and maps on historic resources in their neighborhoods. The information uploaded to this portal could be screened and vetted by authorities before permanently adding it to the digital repository, ensuring quality control. In this way, local governments and cities could gather and preserve vast amounts of data related to their cultural heritage in a short period of time and at minimal cost. Furthermore, such a strategy also fosters civic pride, a sense of community, and a deeper, more tangible connection to the city’s past, particularly for younger generations who are adept at using technology. It also offers peace of mind knowing that if and when a disaster occurs that as much cultural heritage as possible has been preserved for future generations.