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2016-11-15 13:52

Preserving material while allowing for change


Preserving digital material over time is not always simple. Development is not limited to technology; changes in language and culture can mean that, in the future, how historic material should be interpreted is not always clear. The research project PERICLES contributes to solutions that will benefit society at large.

The EU-financed research project PERICLES intends to find solutions to the challenges that arise in the work to ensure that digital material continues to be accessible in environments where technology and language change over time. As a part of the project, a tool has been developed in which semantic change is surveyed so that future generations will be able to understand linguistic nuances in documents from today.  Professor Sándor Darányi leads a research group at the University of Borås that has participated in this part of the research project.

”Culture and values change, and when values in an area shift, the language around the question also changes, as well as what types of feelings different concepts or meanings awaken. Examples of feelings’ being stirred up by changes in different word choices or phrases can be, for example, women’s suffrage, homosexuality, and how we describe those with dark skin. Norms and values have changed within these areas, and that means in turn that words connected to them awaken newer kinds of feelings than before – for better or worse,” he says.

Extensive material

Researchers at the University of Borås have, among other things, participated in the development of a tool that makes it possible to survey language changes. The result is a three-dimensional map that looks somewhat like pictures of lava fields. The tool is one of several that, together with extensive training material, have been developed over the past four years. Both the tools and the training material are intended to benefit society at large.

PERICLES has been funded by the EU and is conducted in collaboration with other universities and experts within different aspects of digital preservation and information analysis as well as commercial actors and organisations in the public sector with digital material such as art, archives, and scientific data.
Training material presenting the tools, knowledge, and results developed by the project can be found here in the PERICLES Modular Training Package (external link).

”PERICLES is nearing its end, and it is important that we ensure that the important work that has started within the project continues even beyond the project’s end. We have, therefore, created a set of engaging online training material that will provide easy access to some of the knowledge gained within the project to a broad range of audiences including practitioners in the field, students interested in the topics, and educators who may wish to include this material in their own educational programmes. To enable continuation of the work, even the tools that have been developed in the project have been designed to be open source, so that they can be used and further developed by interested parties,” says Nasrine Olson, Senior Lecturer and leader of the project’s Work Package for Training which, among other things, deals with the development of training material and arrangement of other activities that enable knowledge sharing and broad access to PERICLES results.

Useful for many

In conjunction with the Göteborg Book Fair in September this year, a workshop was held as a part of the project’s outreach efforts; a number of the tools developed as part of the project were presented. Those who participated in the workshop represented many different types of organisations. Two of those who participated were archivist Karl Olsson from the Swedish government agency the Geological Survey of Sweden Karl Olssonand Niklas Liljestrand, systems development manager the Society of Swedish Literature in Finland.

“On my own it’s been difficult to take in all the information about the project, so it’s very good that we had the opportunity to come and meet the researchers. The questions that PERICLES researchers deal with have been discussed among archivists for many years, but without anyone presenting a solution. Complex data cannot just be picked up on a whim, but requires that you take the right approach in the creation of the information,” says Karl Olsson.

Niklas LiljestrandNiklas Liljestrand continues:

”In our organisation, we actively seek solutions to preserve our digital material over time. I believe it is rather common that it is first in retrospect that we start thinking about how we can take care of things long-term, while at the same time we continuously build up new systems. I hope that the tools and methods the researchers in PERICLES present will be able to help us work in another way.”

The September workshop was one in a line of activities that Nasrine Olson and her colleagues plan during the autumn in order to spread the results from PERICLES, both to society at large and in the research world. Apart from a number of workshops directed towards businesses and organisations, such as the one in September, a seminar is planned at the end of the fall on the theme of digital material preservation and a doctoral course will begin in which research students from different institutions will be given the opportunity to learn more about the research that has taken place in PERICLES.

Text and photo: Helen Rosenberg

Translation: Eva Medin