Giza 3D: International Collaboration

Triad statues as discovered by the Harvard University--Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition July 11, 1908 Photograph by Badawi Ahmed
Triad statues as discovered by the Harvard University--Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition July 11, 1908 Photograph by Badawi Ahmed

The other day I was reading an article from the L.A. Times archives called Explore Ancient Egypt by Pressing Button.  The article was written in 1989 but could have been published today.

While reading the 1989 article, my eyes paused on the following passage:

“But, Roehrig adds, the cost of the computer systems is still out of reach for many Egyptology departments, and many academics are reluctant to release the information that they have built their careers on. “When people have spent a huge amount of time doing research and they have an article that doesn’t get printed for five years, it is often very hard to persuade people to give you any detailed information until it is actually out in print.”

  • Twenty-one years later, is this still an issue in 2010, the era of ‘crowdsourcing’?
  • What will it take to gain participation from international scholars and experts in the assemblage of Giza 3D?
  • Also, how will Giza 3D attribute credit to owners of the different pieces of research?

Peter Der Manuelian, Giza 3D project head, Giza Archives Project Director at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) and Philip J. King Professor of Egyptology at Harvard University was kind enough to answer my questions.

Note there’s a special call to action for you Egypt addicts at the end of this post.

PDM:  Since 1989 there is certainly still a sense of proprietary “ownership” of research, and that’s not such a bad thing. After all, scholars who invest countless hours and resources, or come up with intriguing or revolutionary conclusions deserve to be the first to announce their results, and to get full credit for them.

But the Internet and the acceleration of shared information in recent years have also created new attitudes about sharing data. Archives, institutes, and even individuals with collections are flinging their doors open as never before, at least in electronic form, so we are living in a new golden age of access.

But at the same time, we bear a heavy responsibility for sustainability and preservation, because in many ways, the data have never been so fragile.  It makes you wonder if the Egyptians weren’t on the right path after all: their inscriptions carved on stone are still with us, 4,500 years later, whereas my email from last week or a corrupted digital photo is already gone!

To give you one example of changing attitudes, take the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Many museums post only their top 10 or 100 objects online. Sometimes they feel that the descriptive data for the rest of their collection might not be vetted sufficiently by their curatorial staff. At the MFA, the entire collection is online; that’s 450,000 objects! The images and information are seen as a work in progress, but one that is much more useful shared with the public than hidden away under the pretext of waiting for “perfect data.”

At the Giza Archives Project, we have found that our partners have been more than willing to share their materials. Copyright always remains with the host institution. The posting online of photos and other documents often acts as “advertising,” and could even result in modest revenue, should someone wish to pay for reproduction rights to publish a photo.  When a user clicks on our web link called “Click here to order a publication quality version of this image,” the Giza website automatically generates an email with the appropriate photo ID number and addresses it to the rights and licensing department of the institution in question.

Example of Giza 3D International Collaboration
Example of Giza 3D International Collaboration; the tomb chapel of Nefer reconstructed digitally by Dassault Systèmes from fragments at Giza and all over the world.

Our museum, university, and institute partners are located in Berkeley, Berlin, Cairo, Giza, Hildesheim, Leipzig, Philadelphia, Turin, and Vienna:

Berkeley, CA:
• Hearst Museum of Anthropology

Cairo:
• Egyptian Museum;
• Supreme Council of Antiquities

Berlin:
• Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (“Ältägyptisches Wörterbuch Project”);
• Ägyptisches Museum

Giza:
• Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA)

Hildesheim:
• Pelizaeus-Museum;
• Stadtarchiv, Hildesheim

Leipzig:
• Ägyptisches Museum, Universität Leipzig

Philadelphia, PA:
• University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Turin:
• Museo Egizio di Torino;
• Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali

Vienna:
• Kunsthistorisches Museum;
• Ägyptologisches Institut der Universität Wien.

These institutions had a direct hand in excavating at Giza. But beyond these “major players,” there are still many more museums and institutes with Giza objects, photographic collections, or other archives.

I would like to make a general request for all institutions or individuals with Giza holdings to contact us about adding their materials to the Giza website.

Our ultimate goal is to preserve and post the world’s collected archaeological knowledge about the Giza pyramids, and we can only accomplish this challenge with the help of the world community.

For example, how about all those tourists who glided over Giza in the Graf Zeppelin in early April 1931? Are there aerial photos of the Pyramids stashed away in attics in Germany or elsewhere in Europe? We want to hear from those people!

Graf Zeppelin over Khafre pyramid, looking east April 9, 1931 Photograph by Mohammedani Ibrahim
Graf Zeppelin over Khafre pyramid, looking east April 9, 1931 Photograph by Mohammedani Ibrahim

Well I’m glad I asked!  Ten-four Peter.

Allez you Egypt addicts– please leave a note in this blogpost’s comments section if you think you have something to contribute to Giza 3D! You can also upload images to give us an idea if you like.

Best,

Kate

P.S. Volcano willing, I’ll be hanging out at the MFA with Peter next week for some live blogging.  Stay tuned . . .

P.P.S.  See my interview with Peter about what excites him the most about Giza 3D.

  • I found this article quite fascinating and what wonderful findings it would be if others do have images and articles stashed away and can share them with you, with the world. That would be so grand~

  • Hi Mary Howell, after seeing first-hand some of these old photos at the Harvard visualization center, I can tell you it’s amazing what’s in store for us all with Giza 3D! Stay tuned . . . Kate

  • Collaboration is essential in this new era of Egyptological (and art historical) research! With the availability of computers, hosted databases, and other electronic means to share data and images, it is rather selfish to hoard information. I wrote a recent blog post on the importance of collaboration in academic research that you might find interesting: http://artofcounting.com/2010/06/22/collaboration-in-this-new-era-of-art-historical-research/#more-99
    What Peter and the Giza Archives project is doing is simply inspiring! I interned in the Egyptian department at the MFA almost a decade ago and remember them busy at work in a basement room even then. Thrilled to see what they have accomplished and eager to see what they do next. Brava!

  • Hi Amy, many thanks for your thoughtful comment and link-share. What a small world that you too know the MFA basement room!

    I’ve been working on the software and industry side of things for years, so it’s interesting to read your art history perspective on database management and its importance. If it’s not already on your radar, you may be interested to learn about Exalead and the possibilities its Search Based Applications could offer Egyptology and the Art world. Here’s a post that shows how SBA is being used in the travel industry. Up to you and other Egyptologists to figure out how it’d be useful to your field. What do you think?

    http://blogs.3ds.com/perspectives/2010/07/13/get-on-the-road-this-summer-with-an-sba/

    Best,
    Kate