Project RetroDig is launched at Heidelberg University

As a case study in the field of digital cultural heritage the project RetroDig develops infrastructure and workflows for retro-digitalisation and academic analysis of paper-based documents. The Project RetroDig concentrates on retro-digitalisation and academic analysis of analog records focused on preserving information. Retro-digitalisation also signifies standardised   digitalisation of analog media and transformation of information to machine-readable data for large scale computation and analysis.

The present and so far unpublished documentation of the Roman fort excavation in Heidelberg-Neuenheim in the 1970s were reprocessed. Data from area of interest was all analog so far. Due to the course of the excavations, where researched records are mostly irrecoverable going to be destroyed, only the documentation of records is the only way for ongoing studies. Production methods, storage conditions, environmental influences and also the simple touching of paper documents are reducing the span of life and threaten the recorded data upon it.

Ziziphus - Screenshot

Fig. 1: Retro-digitalisation of the excavation diary; editors draft for annotation of text and image section with person name markings; source: excavation dairy “Heukemes” of the excavation “Kastellweg 1975” Kurpfälzische Museum Stadt Heidelberg ©.

The goal of Digital Cultural Heritage project RetroDig is the extraction of a best possible digital copy. Thereby the analysis and extraction of the contained information shall be proceeded at very little effort. The information will be stored as future secured interoperable data for prospective usage in the field of Digital Humanities. In order to do so, already developed digital tools will be used, modified and provided as a cheap and lasting open-source solution (see figure above). The results of the case study can be used disciplinary in research and teaching – the developed infrastructure, however, can also be used interdisciplinary in other academic fields.

Within the project work flow, the first task was scanning the archive inventory containing hundreds of separate drawn excavation plans and handwritten field notes as well as revised and verified photographs. After that, standardised scanning of archival footage with calibrated settings and meta-data enrichment of scanned data in the Tamboti Ecosystem began. The archival footage is now to be fully digitalised by transcribing the scanned handwritten notes. The digitalised data is based upon the Extensible Markup Language-Standard (XML), which is the base for further textual data analysis (see figure below). In the last step, all data will be added to the Tamboti Ecosytem, where they will be permanently available for further evaluation, presentation and publication of the results of the excavations. RetroDig is a cooperation of the Junior Research Group Digital Humanities and Digital Cultural Heritage, and the Heidelberg Research Architecture (HRA) at the Cluster of Excellence Asia and Europe in a Global Context, in joint collaboration with the Kurpfälzische Museum of the City of Heidelberg.


Fig. 2: XML file from transcribed text out of the scanned handwritten notes, JRG DH/ HRA ©.

Within our next steps, we are developing a digital edition of the so far unpublished excavations of the Roman fort in Heidelberg-Neuenheim. And we co-operate with the project HyperImage [7] in order to generate powerful image-text-multimedia annotations within exhibitions in a context of museal presentations with interactive applications via touch screens.







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