O'Donnell, Michael
Dept. of Artificial Intelligence
University of Edinburgh

Dept of AI
80 South Bridge
Edinburgh EH1 1HN


Strand: computational

Title: Modelling Culture: Information Representation in a Museum Context.

I am at present working on a project (the ILEX project) which is building virtual museums -- web-based museum galleries. This system allows users to browse through museum galleries, looking at photographs of artifacts, with associated labels, which describe the object and relate the object to the culture from which it arose. These labels are in natural English, and are generated from the underlying database using an SFL model of language.

One of the problems we have in this task is that museum databases essentially describe artifacts, who made them, when, and in what style. However, for most curators and visitors, museums are not about artifacts, they are about cultures: a museum is an institution through which cultures, past and present, distant and near, can be presented, illustrated and compared. The artifacts are only the tokens through which cultural patterns and structures are focused, the instruments and products though which our cultures operate.

Without explicit representations of cultures, our system cannot describe the culture, or make comparisons between cultures. For this reason, I have started looking at how we can enrich our museum information base with explicit representations of some cultural structures. To focus the discussion, I will focus on the representation of a particular sub-culture, the Art-Deco movement, representing such aspects of this movement as their typical techniques (or activity sequences), materials, and appearances.

The expression of this cultural information in artifact descriptions will then be briefly described.