Digital history & historiography

From Digitized Sources to Digital Data, Behind the Scenes of (Critically) Enriching a Digital Heritage Collection

Digitally available repositories are becoming not only more
and more widespread but also larger and larger. Although there are
both digitally-born collections and digitised material, the digital heritage
scholar is typically confronted with the latter. This immediately presents
new challenges, one of the most urgent being how to find the meaningful elements that are hidden underneath such unprecedented mass of
digital data. One way to respond to this challenge is to contextually enrich the digital material, for example through deep learning. Using the
enrichment of the digital heritage collection ChroniclItaly 3.0 [10] as a
concrete example, this article discusses the complexities of this process.
Specifically, combining statistical and critical evaluation, it describes the
gains and losses resulting from the decisions made by the researcher at
each step and it shows how in the passage from digitised sources to enriched material, most is gained (e.g., preservation, wider and enhanced
access, more material) but some is also lost (e.g., original layout and
composition, loss of information due to pre-processing steps). The article concludes that it is only through a critical approach that the digital
heritage scholar can successfully meet the interpretive challenges presented by the digital and the digital heritage sector fulfil the second
most important purpose of digitisation, that is to enhance access.

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