“We have a tendency to see heritage as being to do with concrete, physical objects”, says Laurent Romary, a researcher who is a member of the Inria project team Almanach and who specialises in natural language processing.
But in order for these objects to be studied by as many people as possible, this tangible heritage has to be available in digital form.
Et c’est tout l’objet du projet européen Parthenos, qui se termine fin octobre.
This was the aim of Parthenos, an EU project which came to an end in late October.
It was set up four years ago by DARIAH (Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities), a European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC), which develops digital methods in the human sciences, and Clarin (Common language resource and technology infrastructure), which focuses on the development and distribution of resources and tools for language processing. The Parthenos project brought together 16 partners (academies, universities, research centres and infrastructures, etc.); the majority of these specialised in the humanities, but there were others, like Inria, from the digital sphere, who Laurent Romary, director of DARIAH between 2014 and 2018, saw only fit to involve in this new project.
“At a European level, aside from the two ERICs (DARIAH and Clarin), there were also a number of other initiatives aimed at enhancing digital capabilities in the humanities, such as ARIADNE (Advanced Research Infrastructure for Archaeological Dataset Networking in Europe) in archaeology; CENDARI (Collaborative EuropeaN Digital Archive Infrastructure) in history; or the EHRI (the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure), which deals with the Holocaust”, explains Laurent Romary.
The idea behind Parthenos was to bring all of these strands together behind one political vision and to pool our resources. Our aim was to develop training components for digital technology, in addition to a proper digital environment with networks for hosting data at a European level, formats and international standards.
The bulk of the expertise provided by Inria related to this point, tasked as they were with overseeing the working group on standards. “It might be a rather dull subject, but it’s one that is absolutely essential”, stresses Romary. “We think we know digital technology because we are able to use Word or an internet browser, but when you start working on digital material - sound, images, spectrometric information, etc. - the right methods have to be used in order to ensure that the data is processed in the right way and is reusable. That’s what standards are for.”
Step by step towards digital
In order to meet the needs of humanities researchers as closely as possible, Inria and its partners used research scenarios as a basis, detailing their digital progress on a platform, which they baptised the SSK (Standardisation Survival Kit). This involved drafting a step-by-step guide, which outlined the digital resources to use and the vigilance points to be aware of for each of the 27 research scenarios identified thus far. These related to the production of a dictionary and 3D objects, but also included the handling of spectrometric results and the creation of metadata.
“We began with workshops lasting two to three days, during which the researchers set out their research scenarios on paper. We then formatted these on the SSK platform”, explains Laurent Romary.
The goal is for all researchers to be able to understand and use these methods, thus avoiding fragmentation. With that out of the way, researchers will be able to process their data in an Excel document, without having to worry about archiving or it being used by their peers.
For even greater efficiency, the platform, which is currently hosted within the very large research infrastructure Huma-Num, is free to access, with researchers able to make contributions and to add their own scenarios. It also features a training platform relating to use of digital methods in the humanities, which was also developed as part of the Parthenos project.
A broader scope
“This project provided solutions to problems facing our partners in the humanities, but we also stand to benefit from it as well”, explains a contented Laurent Romary. “Through it, we were able to develop a comprehensive understanding of how data is managed on a large-scale. Furthermore, I was appointed head of data for Inria in March, and I launched a widespread survey among researchers aimed at identifying their practices in order to see how Inria could develop a data policy in the years to come. All of that stems from Parthenos.”
The project itself will have no “identical” follow-up, but it has opened up a number of other avenues, including in history and archiving. What’s more, the SSK platform, developed under Inria’s guidance, could well find its place in any such new developments, helping to push further ahead with the use of digital technology in order to study and protect heritage, and in the humanities more generally.
This project was funded by the European Commission under the H2020 program with the call “H2020 – EU.220.127.116.11. – Developing new world-class research infrastructures”.