Use Case Different Levels Cultural Heritage

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Laura Hollink and Marieke van Erp

(Curator: Satya Sahoo)

Provenance Dimensions

  • Primary: Understanding (multiple levels of description)
  • Secondary: Trust (Reliability), Interoprability

Background and Current Practice

Online cultural heritage collections may contain art objects and structured metadata. Provenance of the art objects, such as information about who created it and which people have owned it over the years, provides information about the cultural meaning of the object. In addition, provenance information of the metadata is needed to determine if the metadata is reliable or biased. For example, metadata created by contemporaries of the artist gives a different perspective than metadata created by the current museum curator. More and more, metadata is now created automatically; it is extracted from text or other sources. In these cases, the reliability and perspective of the metadata depends on the sources it was based on. When, where and by who were these sources created? Provenance of these underlying sources is therefore needed.

Currently, collections contain only one level of provenance, namely the provenance of the art objects. Provenance of the metadata of those objects, and provenance of the sources on which the metadata was based, are rarely recorded.


Provide a means to deal with the historical record of art and cultural heritage objects at different levels. Including the following three levels: the object itself, its metadata, and the sources on which the metadata was based.

Specially, in this use case, find cultural heritage objects based on only a particular category of metadata related to that object.

Use Case Scenario

A researcher, maybe an historian, investigates the events around the end of the colonial era. She searches the annotated collection of a cultural heritage institute for object, such as drawings, sculptures and books, created in the relevant period. She needs to distinguish between different views on the data. Therefore, she makes a distinction between drawings made by Indonesians and drawings made by the Dutch colonizers. Moreover, she wants to base her selections only on metadata created by Indonesians. Part of the collection is annotated automatically, for example by entity extraction from text. In these cases, she wants only those items of which the automatic metadata was based on Indonesian resources.

Problems and Limitations

We have identified provenance at three levels: provenance of the museum objects, provenance of the metadata of those objects, and provenance of the sources on which the metadata was based. The latter is especially important when the metadata was created automatically.

One thing to note is that in theory the levels of provenance can go on endlessly. We could, for example, record the provenance of the material on which the sources are based. In practice, this is not feasible. In this use case we argue that we need provenance of the sources on which metadata is based, especially if we are dealing with automatically created metadata. Further levels of provenance do not seem necessary at this point.

Not only text extraction algorithms but also human art experts base their metadata on external sources. There is nothing that prevents us from recording the provenance of the sources used by human art experts.

Technical Challenges:

  • The metadata is not all digitized or digitized at differing qualities. For example, some information may be in databases while other information consists purely of scanned items.
  • Many objects have metadata that is multilingual.
  • Determining at what level the metadata is applicable.

Existing Work (optional)