Humanities Image Database Project

The Humanities Image Database Project was conceived by the Advanced Information Technology Group in cooperation with the Digital Services and Development Unit. Both organizations are affiliated with the Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Project Goals:


The Participants

The driving force behind the Humanities Image Database Project was the faculty in the various scholarly disciplines lumped under the term, "Humanities." The one thing all the participating faculty members have in common is that they all use images in either their instruction or research or both. All participating scholars have expressed an interest in using digitized images and the World Wide Web as an instructional resource. They have also shown interest in sharing their collections with other faculty members here at the University.

In order to assess their needs, individual interviews were conducted to gain more information about their image collection.

The Image Database Software

Currently, a commercial image database project, Cumulus, created by Canto Software. This is a client-server package that runs on a Mac operating platform. Five clients have been purchased for this initial phase. This database software also comes with a searchable web interface. This component is currently installed for global viewing.

The Tools

Outreach Resources

For the Humanities Image Database Project, an instructional web site has been constructed to help the participants use the software. A section on how to index images is also included, as well as access to the searchable online thesauri: Library of Congress' Thesaurus for Graphical Materials and Getty's Art and Architecture Thesaurus.

The Digital Services and Development Unit also acts in an advisory role for faculty and departments interested in digitizing images and providing access to image collections on the Internet. In that role, DSD has compiled a list of Questions to Consider Before Building an Image Database.

The Future

Future goals include movement away from the CGI templates provided by the Canto Company, in favor of a more information, subject and disciplined centered interface.

Data is being collected to determine what features should be included in the proprietary database. Current research focuses on combining multiple image collections, all with varied format and content, into one search interface, using the Dublin Core fields to coordinate the data. Future research will look into creating an online collection mechanism, allowing faculty to add to the database.

A little More About the Project

How many students and/or faculty are affected by the project?

The project is it's initial cataloging and digitizing phase. Scholars are choosing controlled vocabulary and data structures to aid in the indexing of their images. One professor is using the Cumulus Browser to display the images in his class of approximately 40. Other scholars involved in the project are not yet ready to use the software in instruction and publication.

Five client applications have been purchased for use by faculty in the various departments of the Humanities. This is not to say that it is always the case that one faculty member only is working on the database. The project in Art and Design is being developed to incorporate the work and collections of several instructors, and will include images pertaining to the art of photography, graphic design and industrial design.

How many different departments and colleges are affected?

Has the project received demonstrable and significant national or international attention?

Two individual projects in particular have the potential to gain significant national and/or international attentions. One project, instrumented by Mara Wade in the Germanic Language and History Department hopes to compile a searchable database of the University's collection of German Emblem books. She has already communicated with a number of her colleagues and all have expressed a great interest in the provision of archival quality images and text, as well as a globally accessible image database that will allow scholars not only access but also to expand the digital collection to include German Emblem books housed in other libraries throughout the world. Approximately three-fourths of the collection of about 2000 images and text sets have been cataloged, and we are now facing the challenge of digitizing these rare and fragile materials.

Another project which has the potential to gain attention is the work being done by David Prochaska in the History Department. Dr. Prochaska is analyzing the content of several thousand post cards produced in the early twentieth century and originating from developing countries. His work focuses on relations between native and non-native inhabitants of the country, the employment, class, and gender roles. Until the arrival of the Canto Cumulus software, Dr. Prochaska could not simultaneously view his digitized images with the textual data captured for it.

Has the project had programmatic consequences -- instructional or research? -- For the faculty member's unit?

All participants are eager to use the image database technology, along with the World Wide Web to distribute their images for instructional as well as research purposes. Professor Jean-Phillipe Mathy in the French Department is now publishing homework assignments on the Internet using his images; his students have ready access to the images and the associated text and are then able to email a response. Mara Wade hopes to facilitate international communication of Emblem scholars. But perhaps the project with the most potential to have consequences on instructional programming is the work being done in the School of Art and Design. Nan Goggin and Joe Squire, both professors in the School of Art and Design, are will be combining the image collection of the departments of Industrial Design, Graphic Design and Photography in to one unified database.


go to Humanities Image Database Page

go to Digital Services and Development Unit Homepage