Cultural Connections: Building a Humanities Bridge Through Linked Open Data

The World Wide Web, as accessed through the internet, is an information space system created by Tim Burners-Lee in the late 1980’s that is a document driven information source powered by the use of uniform resource locators (URL’s) and connected by hypertexts links. The use of the World Wide Web has dramatically effected the way the entire world accesses and processes information. However the design of the World Wide Web has its limitations. While information is made accessible through a variety of sources, the document driven technology that supports the connectivity of information is not always helpful. Burners-Lee, in the same year, also supported the idea of what he describes as the semantic web. The semantic web is an additional layer of the World Wide Web where data from web pages is organized and tagged in a manner in which it can be read and connected by computers. What then can be done with this organized data from web pages and how can it be used by the average internet explorer? Burners-Lee suggests the use of linked open data as a means to create multi-faceted connections built on this type of event based cataloging, or tagging. Europeana Labs describes linked open data as “a way of publishing structured data that allows metadata to be connected and enriched, so that different representations of the same content can be found, and links made between related resources.” [1]

Although the use of linked open data on the semantic web is a practical approach to organizing and making data searchable in a more meaningful manner, its impact can have profound influence in the way museums approach their missions and use of their collections. By digitizing and implementing the use of linked open data in museum collections, the power to share and collect information has the potential to reach users in a new way.

James Cuno, the former director of the Art Institute of Chicago and now at the Getty, speaks strongly on the importance of open linked data and the sharing of information via digitized collections. He describes in a keynote address Museum Computing: An Approach to Bridging Cultures, Communities and Science, at the 2014 Pacific Neighborhood Consortium (PNC) Annual Conference and Joint Meetings at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan, on October 23, 2014, about the positive nature of digital information. Cuno supports the idea that “cultures have as many similarities as they do differences. And our differences arise not by nature, but by the limitations of our experience of the world. Our world today is large, multiethnic, multilingual, and multipolar. Our dialogue about art and culture must also grow richer and more diverse; it must go beyond borders.”[2]

Cuno describes that with the release of the linked open data form of the Art and Architecture Thesaurus at the Getty Research Institute, they have had profound results in the way open content programs have reached multiple sources. Cuno gives an example of this influence with open linked data by describing the Europeana, “a portal of information and images from more than 2,000 cultural heritage institutions in Europe, that began using the Linked Open Data version of the Getty’s Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) to make it easier for users to search and browse its large, varied, multilingual data repository.”[3] Although Europeana presents a searchable interface for internet explorers to use, it should be noted that linked open data on the semantic web does not have a common searchable interface for general internet explorers to use. Google, using their own engineers and {system writers} have implemented the use of linked open data through the implementation of knowledge graphs that appear alongside regular search results pages. These knowledge graphs compile more specific information in regard to the searchers specific needs. However, as the Getty continues to work with several international partners and institutions, including the Academia Sinica in Taipei, to make the AAT increasingly multilingual and multicultural, and [that] the benefits to users around the world begin to grow exponentially “with greater accuracy, depth, and reach.”[4]

In a separate article entitled Beyond Digitization- New Possibilities in Art History, James Cuno further describes the outreach digital technology can have on visitor experiences. He supports the idea that museums have already seen first-hand how new “digital technology, protocols, and platforms can enhance visitors’ experience.”[5] It has already been established that newer technologies and digital tools can provide an effective means for online explorers to access information on individual artist and art works, thematic topics, and most importantly for altering the public perceptions of the museum in the public’s mind. [6] Cuno goes on to further support the idea that new digital mediums “gives visitors new agency in their engagement with art. High-resolution images allow the discovery of the tiniest detail. Technical images capture objects under infrared light and X-ray. 3-D objects can be digitally manipulated, and artworks from far-flung collections can be compared side by side.”[7]

Whether a scholar, teacher, or the general internet explorer, there are many different types of visitors that use collections online. Linked open data assists in connecting users with information in more efficient and accessible ways. Museums and institutions that share their collections through the use of linked open data can act as catalysts for building cultural bridges and connecting ideas. As the world continues to use the internet as a significant source of information, museums that use linked open data to share their collections can begin exposing knowledge and engaging users in a way not previously seen online.

Zachary Qualls, Graduate Student, Museum Science & Management, Curatorial Track  (pictured in photo)

University of Tulsa, April 2017

[1] “Europeana Linked Open Data.” Europeana Labs. September 21, 2016. Accessed April 06, 2017.

[2] Cuno, James. “Beyond Borders: Humanities in the Digital Age.” The Getty Iris. October 22, 2014. Accessed April 5, 2017.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Cuno, James. “Beyond Digitization: New Possibilities in Art History.” The Getty Iris. January 29, 2015. Accessed April 5, 2017.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

Works Cite

Cuno, James. “Beyond Borders: Humanities in the Digital Age.” The Getty Iris. October 22, 2014. Accessed April 5, 2017.

Cuno, James. “Beyond Digitization: New Possibilities in Art History.” The Getty Iris. January 29, 2015. Accessed April 5, 2017.

“Europeana Linked Open Data.” Europeana Labs. September 21, 2016. Accessed April 06, 2017.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Amy Bradshaw says:

    After listening to Tim Burners-Lee speaking on linked open data and performing research on, as well reading Zachary’s insightful blog post, I am most certain that the museums’ use of linked open data is the way of the future.
    In accordance with Tim Burners-Lee, institutions must “make it, demand it and spread their ideas.” He refers to the sharing of raw data.
    In order to perform this major task, individuals in their institution need to expand outside of their silos. Linked open data really is about connecting it all together. It is about people doing their little bit and then connecting all information. The connection is a huge power! The results of the connection will help the museums’ websites to receive higher traffic, be more accessible to the public; thus, online collections will see a higher rise in web search results.
    Visiting was my first realized interaction with linked open data. Indeed, I wish linked open data was around in 1998. During this time, I began studying Art History. The richness of layers upon layers of data seems almost magical.
    The accessibility of higher resolution images, detailed information about the artist, locations of the artist’s current and previous exhibitions, bibliographies and user annotations, will definitely enhance the public’s use; specifically the students’ research.


    1. Zachary Taylor says:


      I completely agree with you on wishing that innovations and constructiveness like LOD had been available 15 years ago! It would have been a lot easier in some instances for online search-ability. I wonder how ideas like LOD effect the way current students in Art History and other humanities fields gather information and use that information in 2017!!??


  2. Jenny Keller says:

    “the idea that new digital mediums “gives visitors new agency in their engagement with art.” – absolutely! The most immediate instance I can relate to are the recent additions to Google searches that pull up in search results. The information isn’t necessarily what I was looking for, but as a supplemental bonus it’s amazing! I can imagine the possibilities for art databases – it’s staggering if not overwhelming to think about.


  3. Amanda Vestal says:

    I love the idea that linked open data will allow both scholars and your average website visitor the opportunity to make broader connections with objects across collections. This is an amazing way for new discoveries to be made and for people of all backgrounds to be able to interact more with objects in museums.


  4. Hailey Helmerich says:

    Zachary you tackled this broad and complex topic wonderfully. I know working so closely with the Gilcrease Collection you have a deep appreciation and understanding of this topic and it comes through in your essay as well as your presentation. I am glad you bring up Link Open Data as a way to bridge gaps both culturally and geographically. This will surely be an invaluable tool as certain items leave larger, “universal” museums and are returned to their country of origin but remain accessible to scholars and museum-guests alike via Linked Open Data. I also love that you point out the opportunity for new discoveries that having collections online provides– comparing artwork side by side from museums in different continents as well as the ability to zoom in on the closest details through high definition imaging. Very exciting things happening in the museum world, glad we all get to be apart of it!
    Hailey Helmerich


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