All posts by Wesley ter Weele

Meeting Rijksmuseum PK-online

On 16 December 2013 we had a meeting with Rianneke van der Houwen at the Rijksmuseum. In this meeting we learned a lot about the digitalisation of the Rijksmuseum prints and especially the annotating process. The whole digitalisation program started six years ago with the demand of the Dutch government to digitally register the objects that are in possession of a museum. At this moment 180.000 prints are digitalised and in the current pace the whole collection will be finished around 2027.

The most important part of this meeting was our visit to the annotators-office. We got the chance to have an inside look into the annotating process. This is especially valuable for our project because now we have a better understanding of the kind of information that actually gets digitalised. First of all there is the software that is used for annotating. This is a program called Adlib. With this program the annotators can mention who created the print, where it was made, what is depicted etc. Adlib also gives them the opportunity to create references to other sources, like Wikipedia or STCN (Short-Title Catalogue Netherlands).

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The annotating process is, of course, not perfect. Time restraints especially limits the information that gets annotated from a print. Most annotators have a certain minimum of prints that they need to annotate, this limits the time they can spend on a single print. The negative consequences of the time limit is that the annotation of a print with a lot of different icons will not mention most of these icons. Usually an overarching word is used for a group of icons, like the name of a certain game board instead of all the icons on the board.

The information that gets annotated is also dependent on the annotator. What he or she perceives as the most important part of the print will get annotated, while other parts will not. One of the problems with this is that you can never know what people want from a print. So the subjectivity severely limits the search possibilities of the print database. The expertise of the annotators limits this problem to a certain extent. They’re knowledge gives them the opportunity to look at what was probably important to the creator of the print. Symbolic figures and their role in the print for example will be noticed by the annotator. In this way important icons from our perspective on the creator will almost always be annotated. But this still leaves out the icons that the annotators now perceive as unimportant.

It is good to see that there is some basic information that almost always gets annotated if it is known. This is information about the year it was created, the creator and the overall subject. To get this common information available in a good and clear way for anyone searching the Rijksmuseum online archive is just one step. Down the line it would be great to get really specific information of a print available for someone searching for it. This would be especially valuable for professional (art-) historians. As we have seen there are certain limits on achieving this with the annotating process. Still there is a lot of information being annotated and getting this available for visitors of the Rijksmuseum online prints collection is what we want to achieve.


Humanities researchers depend in their research on the efficiency and effectiveness of the search functionality provided in various cultural heritage collections online (e.g. images, videos and textual material). The Rijksmuseum Prints collection, with over 600.000 prints, is one of those collections. The search results within the current search implementation is primarily centered around information of individual objects. Humanities scholars, on the other hand, search for more complex results based on deeper reflection over clusters of artifacts and concepts. This project aims to answer to the demands of these scholars. In order to do this we need a novel semantic search approach.

In this project we hope to generate this new search approach through the clustering of search results based on semantic patterns in linked cultural heritage data.  We will be able to rank the semantic patterns by their importance for each specific art-historical genre. We believe that, in this way, we will ultimately help in providing the necessary functionality for the formulation, refining and answering of humanities research questions.

Public kick-off embedded research projects

In order to get more acquainted with other projects that combine the humanities and computer sciences, we decided to visit the Public kick-off embedded research projects, which hosted a lot of projects doing just that.

We were welcomed by Rens Bod, Professor of Computational and Digital
at UVA, who claims that the humanities are ‘booming’ in ICT research. Our own project and the projects shown at this kick-off, certainly shows that this claim isn’t an empty one. One of the main aims of these projects, again according to R. Bod, should be to make concrete products that actually lead to something practical. Implicit on the background was valorization; the research done should lead to commercially viable products.

The valorization aspect, and more general the expected results of the interdisciplinary projects, wasn’t always clearly represented in the projects. This could have been the result of the early stage in which the projects are still in. Another reason could be that the aim of some of the projects seemed primarily to lead to results for the humanities , but not so much for ICT, or the other way around. With respect to our own research it seems important to me to keep this in mind. The research should lead to valuable information or products for both the disciplines. We should also emphasize that the goal of the interdisciplinary aspect of this project is to complement each other in order to get more valuable research results.

Some projects stood out in their relevance for our own project. Crowdsourcing for cultural heritage is one of those projects. Especially interesting for our project was the focus on ‘discovering and describing the best practices for crowdsourcing projects conducted by cultural heritage institutions.’ This includes targeting relevant information in order to annotate items in online collection. An aspect that is especially important in our research. Another project was interesting because of their good combination between history and ICT: Sailing Networks: Mapping Colonial Relations with Suriname’s seventeenth-century sailing letters. The balance between the humanities and the ICT division was especially good, something that we also strife for.

All in all the many projects that were presented today are a good example of the increasing cooperation between the humanities and the computer sciences. Hopefully the cooperation of these disciplines will also be evident in the results of these projects. One of the goals of our project is to do just that.