EPOCH - Excellence in Processing Open Cultural Heritage
This Network of Excellence has collected information on the use of ICTs in cultural heritage and performing research on toolkits for creating cultural heritage applications. EPOCH also helped spreading excellence through dissemination and training activities, studying the socio-economic impact of cultural heritage, and exploring mechanisms for ICT deployment in heritage organisations.
- Project type: Network of Excellence
- Start Date: 15 March 2004
- Funding: € 7 880 000
- Number of Partners: 92
- Project co-ordinator: The University of Brighton, UK
- Contact: David Arnold
Cultural heritage presents very demanding end-user requirements for information and communication technologies. ICT are used to enhance preservation and scholarship, providing tools for large collections to be preserved, catalogued and searched effectively, or producing high-quality digital representations of cultural artefacts that can be accessed and investigated by researchers worldwide. Technology also helps bringing history to life. Digital reconstructions and applications for remote access enable visitors of (virtual) museums to interact with cultural artefacts and to enjoy new experiences.
To better exploit these and other opportunities of ICT for cultural heritage, more knowledge is needed about the complex interplay between technology and the cultural sector. Exploring these relationships has been the role of EPOCH. The network brought together partners from university departments, research centres, heritage institutions, such as museums, galleries and national heritage agencies, and commercial enterprises, together endeavouring to overcome the fragmentation of current research in this field.
EPOCH had three main areas of activity. First, to foster integration within the cultural heritage sector, through activities such as technology watch and case studies that demonstrate applications of ICT within the sector. Second, to set up a joint research agenda, defining research needs and aiming to fill in missing links in the production chain. Finally, the network was committed to spreading best practices through support for events, publications and a substantial training and mobility initiative.
The NEWTON tools
Core technical research in EPOCH aimed at defining the architecture, components and design guidelines for a common infrastructure to support production of applications involving digital versions of tangible cultural heritage content. Surveys conducted as part of the project's work have revealed needs in the pipeline for processing heritage data. These are now being addressed by new tools (NEWTONs) developed by EPOCH:
- 3DKIOSK, covering the entire chain of steps in 3D processing
- AMA, providing a flexible Open Source tool support for mapping existing datasets, as archaeological excavation data and museum collections
- CIMAD, exploring the implementation of a framework for smart cultural heritage environments supporting distributed and mobile on-site applications, from data capture to public dissemination
- IMODELASER, integrating laser scanners and imaging devices
- UPGRADE, developing software and best practice concerning the exploration and mapping of underwater archaeological sites
- CHARACTERISE, creating a 'Scene Population Toolkit' to place intelligent, multilingual avatars into virtual scenes, powered by speech synthesis
EPOCH Research Agenda
The production of the EPOCH Research Agenda has been another milestone of the project. It analyses the current state and future directions of research in ICT specifically inspired by the needs of the cultural heritage sector. The report highlights the need to focus on inter-disciplinary research involving cultural heritage and ICT professionals. Five scenarios of work situations involving cultural heritage professionals and the areas of ICTs that require additional research were identified:
- Scenario 1: Site excavation - Virtual Excavation Support Teams
- Scenario 2: Community museums - Hybrid Eco-museum & Community Memory
- Scenario 3: Educational experiences - Heritage classrooms without walls
- Scenario 4: Heritage management
- Scenario 5: Environmentally endangered sites - Large-scale industrial heritage site
The discussion of research implications is structured around the business processes typically undertaken by cultural heritage professionals. These include: capture of cultural heritage data; documentation; user created content; intelligent tools; digitisation of legacy metadata; search and research, including semantic and multi-lingual processing; visualisation and presentation; specific issues for web access and dissemination; mobile, distributed and networked systems; and long term preservation and upwards compatibility.
A horizontal integration perspective is present in EPOCH's centres of collaboration for providers of ICT-based services for the cultural heritage sector. They aim at better articulating their expertise and complementary competencies, needed for bringing the rich and diverse European cultural heritage into the digital age.
The EPOCH Network of Excellence has promoted the integration of research efforts in five vital subfields:
- Field recording and data capture
- Data organization, provenance and standards
- Reconstruction and visualization
- Heritage education and communication
- Planning for sustainability of heritage projects
By providing a clear organisational and technological framework, EPOCH's work has the potential to improve the effectiveness of efforts at the interface between technology and cultural heritage. The benefits will be felt not only by the cultural institutions themselves but also by their end-users, i. e. society at large.