One of the key principles in designing Arches has been the consultation and incorporation of internationally adopted standards for heritage inventory, heritage data management, and information technology. The incorporation of such standards has aided in the creation of a generic system for heritage inventory and management anywhere in the world, and it has anticipated the potential for information exchange across separate deployments of the Arches system.
Heritage inventory standards
Growing out of best practices in heritage documentation in a number of countries, particularly in Europe, a set of standards has been developed for the inventory of archaeological, architectural, as well as movable cultural heritage. These standards took form after a multi-year conversation about the inventory of heritage places and have represented an important milestone since their completion. Their goal has been to identify those “core,” or essential, items of information that should form a part of any cultural heritage inventory.
The Core Data Index to Historic Buildings and Monuments of the Architectural Heritage was prepared following a survey of architectural inventories in Europe in the early 1990s and was adopted by the Council of Europe in 1992. The Core Data Standard for Archaeological Sites and Monuments was the result of collaboration between the International Committee for Documentation (CIDOC) of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) and the Council of Europe. A CIDOC working group, consisting of members from around the world, collaborated with other heritage organizations including the Council of Europe to survey archaeological inventories and arrive at a standard for the inventory of archaeological heritage, which was adopted in 1995. Both standards are available online.
The standards were designed to incorporate cross-references to other items of information about heritage places, and to enable them to be related to larger ensembles of which they form a part. These designs have reached their full potential in modern geospatial information system like Arches. CIDOC is now undertaking final editing of a combined standard for the inventory of both archaeological and architectural heritage known as the International Core Data Standard for Archaeological and Architectural Heritage. For the Arches project, this combined standard has been used to construct a data model for managing Heritage Assets and as the basis for selecting data fields for the system. Organizations who deploy Arches may customize the data model and those data fields to meet their particular requirements.
The CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model (CRM) is an ontology for cultural heritage that has been developed continuously since 1996 by CIDOC’s CRM Special Interest Group. As a carefully constructed ontology, the CRM aims to provide ways to represent all possible concepts and relationships between concepts in the cultural heritage domain. This allows disparate and localized information to be described in a way that can be commonly understood. This potential has been realized extensively, as a large number of data structures that are maintained by institutions around the world have already been mapped to the CRM. In 2006 the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted it as standard ISO 21127:2006 (“Information and Documentation: A Reference Ontology for the Interchange of Cultural Heritage Information”).
Use of this model allows for a self-contained representation of cultural heritage information, which is often not true of traditional databases that rely on implicit conventions and external knowledge. By enriching data with semantic content, the CRM allows for new pieces of knowledge to be inferred, and it provides for a powerful way of searching within, as well as across, databases. And these benefits of the CRM also contribute towards easier data migration to newer systems, and data preservation in time.
The CRM was initially created as a tool for museums, libraries, and archives, but it is also applicable to the domain of immovable cultural heritage. Arches incorporates a default mapping of its core data structure to CRM classes and properties. This will ease integration between Arches and other systems compatible with the CRM, between separate implementations of Arches, and between related information management systems. Users of Arches will be able to customize and extend these mappings, and to share them with the Arches community. The development of Arches has also benefited from the understanding of many concepts in cultural heritage as it has been enshrined in the CIDOC CRM.