Featured Abstract: March 13

Check in frequently this week to view featured abstracts, leading up to the symposium! We welcome your comments.

Featured Abstract: “Modeling: Perspectives, Objectives, and Context”
Daniel Pitti, Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, University of Virginia

Humanists, scholars and cultural heritage professionals (archivists, librarians, museum curators, and keepers of sites and monuments) share a common focus on artifacts, objects created by humans that provide the historical evidence for our understanding of what it means to be human. Cultural heritage professionals focus on preserving and facilitating access to selected artifacts, and scholars study the artifacts, from a variety of perspectives, and attempt to analyze and understand them.

Humanists have turned to (and become increasingly comfortable with) information technologies for practical reasons: the technologies allow them to achieve particular professional or scholarly objectives. Broadly speaking, those are preservation and access for the cultural heritage professionals, and analysis and understanding for the scholars. To facilitate achieving their objectives, the scholars and professionals seek to represent an artifact or class of artifacts, descriptive representation (for example, a catalog record) or content representation (for example, a TEI-encoded text). The ways in which any given artifact or class of artifacts can be represented is unlimited, but the mission of the cultural heritage professional and the disciplinary perspective of the scholar narrow the possible representations.

Modeling or representing artifacts digitally involves philosophical issues—metaphysical, epistemological, and even ethical issues—as well as quite practical issues. A particular technology’s capacity to represent artifacts will limit or direct its application, making it a better or worse servant to our objectives. Economy and efficiency must be a factor, both in the processing efficiency of a chosen technology, and the financial and administrative economy of creating and maintaining the representation data. Social context and objectives also have an impact on the modeling design and process. Representations that are created and maintained by a lone scholar, a small group of two or three working together closely, or a large distributed community, have their own specific design challenges. Finally, for both scholars and cultural heritage professionals, the desired audience must be an important social factor to be considered in the modeling process.

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