Kim H. Veltman

Historical Interfaces for Cultures

Fourth International Workshop on Human-Computer Interaction, Tourism and Cultural Heritage (HCITOCH 2013): Strategies for a Creative Future with Computer Science, Quality Design and Communicability, Rome, September 26 – 27, 2013.



The rapid growth of the Internet has led to Big Data. Some assume that this challenge will be resolved simply by linked data and new algorithms in data mining: quicker word and image searches. With a rhetoric of a seeking a semantic web, an earlier vision of saving, scanning and linking everything is becoming focussed on profitable links to be sought (advertising, sales) and potentially dangerous links to be fought (terrorism). The current web includes past knowledge, but is focussed on aspects of the now (Who, What, Where).    

Historically, semantics was about meaning which, at the macro-level of words, was the domain of dictionaries. There was also a micro-level of meaning in terms of letters (alphabets, cabala), numbers (arithmetic, gematria) and symbols (hieroglyphs, glyphs, geometry), which were linked with the arts (grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric) and the sciences: acoustic worlds (music), invisible and visible worlds (alchemy, chemistry, phusis, natural philosophy, physics), and the heavens (astrology, astronomy). 

Scanning and making historical materials available online is a first step towards a web of the past, which will complement the current web of the present. We need to scan in not just the texts and images but also the links they contain. To understand this web of the past requires new interfaces with chronological, historical, relational and causal filters (When, How, Why). It needs more granularity in terms of letters rather than just words, and new links between words, letters, numbers, symbols, and images. The paper illustrates the challenges using examples linking letters and alphabets with astronomy.

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