Use Case Collection vs Objects Cultural Heritage

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Laura Hollink and Marieke van Erp

(Curator: Satya Sahoo)

Provenance Dimensions

Primary: Attribution Secondary: Imperfections, Understanding, Trust

Background and Current Practice

Museum collections consist of objects from diverse origins. The method of acquisition varies per object. Some objects were acquired separately, whereas others were acquired in a collection of objects. It may be the case that for a collection of objects the provenance is known, but the provenance of the individual objects is not known or only known partially. Still, in order to interpret the individual object’s cultural significance it is important to know as much about the object’s provenance. When this is the case, partial uncertainty about the provenance of the object interferes with the interpretation of the object.

Currently museum search engines will only index provenance of objects if the provenance of the object is literally described in the object’s meta-data.


Provide a means to quantify and deal with partial information about the provenance of an object in a collection.

Use Case Scenario

A museum acquires a collection of drawings that were collected by a professor in art history in the 1920s. It is known that the drawings were made sometime between the 16th and the 18th century in different countries. It is also known that the art historian had a preference for Dutch drawings from the late 16th/early 17th century. For some of the drawings, the full provenance is known, for some not.

A user is interested in 17th century Dutch drawings and submits a query to the museum search system. The system returns all possible drawings from the 17th century.

Problems and Limitations

How to determine which drawings are relevant for a query using both collection and object provenance?

Although not every object in the collection is described as detailed as some others, general information about the collection may provide clues to the provenance of the individual objects. If the system does not take the collection’s general provenance into account, objects that may be relevant are missed, providing the user with incomplete results. It may bar the user from encountering possibly relevant object for which the user could provide more information (for example, if the user recognises the signature of the artist and knows that the artist lived in the 17th century she can add this information).

Unanticipated Uses (optional)

Could also be applied to any type of collection: documents, flickr photos

Existing Work (optional)