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A workshop to lead us into the homestretch

by Yiannis Avramides, World Monuments Fund

In June, the Getty Conservation Institute and World Monuments Fund organized a two-and-a-half-day workshop about Arches, the last turning point ahead of the release of version 1.0 of the software this September. The goal of the workshop was to share technical information on the ongoing development of Arches, and to gather feedback from participants on the requirements for supporting deployment of the software at an institutional level. The workshop took place in Hertfordshire, England, and drew participants from institutions around Europe, including English Heritage, the Flanders Heritage Agency, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, the United Kingdom’s Archaeology Data Service, the German Archaeological Institute, the City of Zurich, and researchers from academic institutions in Berlin, Florence, Leuven, Southampton, and York. We received many expressions of interest, and 18 participants were selected based on their potential to benefit from an in-depth look at Arches, and to contribute valuable feedback for the development community.

Arches workshop participants pose in front of Shendish Manor, the venue of the workshop, for a commemorative group photo (photo: Martin Newman)

Arches workshop participants pose in front of Shendish Manor, the venue of the workshop, for a commemorative group photo (photo: Martin Newman)

The workshop was organized at a time when the development of Arches, an open-source software system for managing inventories of cultural heritage sites, has reached an important milestone. Arches now contains a complete data structure, which follows a “graph” model that is based on standards about core information regarding heritage sites, and which is, additionally, mapped to a formal ontology for cultural heritage. The use of a formal ontology provides meaning to the individual pieces of information that make up the database, and is a key way in which Arches will help institutions organize, protect, and preserve heritage information in the long term.

Workshop participants had the chance to preview Arches on their own computers (photo: Yiannis Avramides)

Workshop participants had the chance to preview Arches on their own computers (photo: Yiannis Avramides)

Over the last year, data management professionals from English Heritage have contributed invaluable expertise to the Arches development effort. This workshop represented a great opportunity to share these accomplishments with more colleagues from English Heritage, the public body that is responsible for the care of the historic environment in England, and for keeping the record on the country’s architectural and archaeological heritage. Phil Carlisle, Data Standards Supervisor for English Heritage, said “The workshop provided an opportunity for the project team to showcase a beta version of the system to demonstrate the underlying principles behind the approach being taken especially with regards to the graph model and the CIDOC CRM. Everyone at the workshop was extremely positive and excited about the potential for using Arches in the future. From my own point of view it was great to see a system which shows how useful data standards and ontologies can be when they’re implemented from the outset.”

Members of the Arches community took turns presenting the latest progress on the software (photo: Martin Newman)

Members of the Arches community took turns presenting the latest progress on the software (photo: Martin Newman)

Following the workshop, important work remains to be done on Arches over the rest of the summer. The goals are to refine the way that users interact with the database, and to create tools and processes for importing data into a new setup of Arches. You can see all the latest activity here. For those who are looking for the next opportunity to see Arches live, a half-day information session will take place in conjunction with the CIPA 2013 International Symposium, which will be held this September in Strasbourg, France. More details on this opportunity are available here.

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