Nov 30, 2009

Google to Create Digital Archive of Iraq's National Museum

A detail from one of the exhibitsGoogle has announced it will create a digital record of the Baghdad museum's collection, and will make the images available online by early next year.  As Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive announced last week, "The history of the beginning of - literally - civilization... is preserved in this museum."  Over 14,000 images have been taken, allowing the Iraqi public, and the rest of the world to see the images. 

Rod Norland notes in an article for the New York Times that the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had already digitized part of the collection, and created a website, the virtual Museum of Iraq.  So there is some duplication here.  A few things to take away from the announcement.

First, it seems like a good idea to digitize these objects, and make the images available to to public generally.  However many other museums are unlikely to take this step, at least in the short term.  We don't know how expensive an undertaking this was, as the costs are born by the US State Department and Google.  But museums also will fear the loss of revenue from their own publications.  As many museums prohibit photography, often the only way to take home a photographic souvenir of the visit is to purchase the shiny museum publications.  Of course part of the impetus for this digitization project is to make these work accessible—at least in a digital way—to members of the public who are unable to visit the Baghdad museum.

Secondly, I wonder what procedures google followed with the project.  Are these high-resolution images which will be useful for scholars?  Will these images contain information on the history of the objects? When they were excavated? Where they were unearthed?  And finally, will these images be made available to the various stolen art databases.  If another tragedy were to befall this important museum, will these images be useful to help prevent the sale of artifacts? 

  1. Rod Nordland, Google Chief Announces Plan in Baghdad to Put Iraqi Artifacts Online, The New York Times, November 25, 2009.
  2. Google to digitise Iraq artefacts, BBC, November 24, 2009.
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