Inventorying and managing cultural heritage data turns out to be a pretty complicated undertaking. The construction of a famous site may have lasted across different time periods, and its present location may span multiple districts. Buildings may be associated not only with famous architects but also with well-known residents. Or structures may have been constructed atop pre-existing entities.
Helping sort it all out is the work of The Arches Project, collaboration between the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) and World Monuments Fund (WMF). The Arches effort grew out of GCI’s and WMF’s work to develop MEGA-Jordan, a purpose-built geographic information system (GIS) to inventory and manage archaeology sites at a national level for that country. But for this more generic and open-source take at accommodating any country, region or other institution worldwide responsible for the protection of immovable cultural heritage, the focus expanded from the geo-spatial to the semantic.
“We became very familiar with the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model ontology,” says Alison Dalgity, who manages the Arches project on GCI’s side. The CRM provides definitions and a formal structure for describing the implicit and explicit concepts and relationships used in cultural heritage documentation. “We realized we needed something like that. Now, the GIS piece is only part of this – it’s nice to know where something is, but all the other relationships – the who, how, what and when and so on – have to be represented, too.”