Announcing cornishmemory.com – a new resource for Cornwall’s audio-visual heritage

cornishmemory.com logoSince November 2014 some of my time has been spent working with Azook CIC,  a “not-for-profit social enterprise dedicated to growing cultural confidence amongst Cornish communities by connecting people with their cultural heritage”. Initially working on the MemoryFish project looking at fishing heritage in Cornwall, I began to help them rebuild cornishmemory.com so that it would have capacity to display tens of thousands of historic photos, films and audio recordings from around Cornwall. Many of these items have been digitised from private and pubic collections with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of Azook’s Re:collect project.

The new version of cornishmemory.com is built using an open source platform called Omeka, which is designed for “scholars, museums, libraries, archives, and enthusiasts”.  I customised it for their needs and populated it with over 31,000 items, assisted by many open source tools along the way, such as LibreOffice and OpenRefine.

There are lots of improvements and additional functionality planned for 2016 (Creative Commons licensing, metadata enhancement, temporal searching, Google site search, more content, etc).

Visit cornishmemory.com if you are interested in any aspect of the the history of Cornwall.

It’s All About The Photos

It’s been a busy time for me recently, with much of my recent work focussing upon historic photographs and photogrammetry.

I have been working with the Morrab Library in Penzance to build a digitisation facility so that they may begin, with a volunteer workforce, to scan their wonderful collection of historic photographs. There are about 12,000 photos in the collection, ranging from 19th century glass plate negatives, to recent prints covering the whole of Cornwall. I have collated their Microsoft Works databases (one for each collection) into a single database, undertaken a data cleaning exercise, and mapped fields into Dublin Core metadata element set. The entire database was then imported into Omeka which is running on a local web server. I have tweaked Omeka and the environment in which it runs so that large TIFF files (up to 1GB) can be uploaded, with JPEG derivatives being created, the original TIFF being stored on a different server (separate from Omeka, with dual redundant disks and external backup) with the original filename (the photo’s accession number) being preserved. You can’t be too careful.

Whilst it isn’t designed out of the box to be a cataloguing tool, Omeka is doing exactly what we need. The user interface is well-designed and sufficiently easy for some elderly people to grasp quickly. The customisation to store unaltered original scans on an abstraction layer works well. Automatic database backups are also placed on the same server.

I have also begun working for an organisation called Azook, where I am the Project Officer for a project called MemoryFish. It will collect unpublished historic photos, films and recordings from private collections, documenting the history of the fishing industry in Cornwall. The initial areas are Falmouth, Newlyn and Newquay, and photos will be published on cornishmemory.com.

Then there’s the digital archaeology. I have been working for Cornwall Archaeological Unit and St Piran Trust on the recording of the now fully excavated St Piran’s Oratory. With the help of colleagues at Archaeovision we have processed a point cloud consisting of nearly 300 million points. This project is ongoing, but here is a taster of the work in progress.

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And in other news, in December 2014 I walked into a hairdressers and came out with short hair. It’s the shortest I’ve worn it since I was 17. Here’s the evidence.

Tom with short hair
Tom with short hair

And I’ve retired my famous trademark brown velvet jacket, replacing it with…. an almost identical copy. Some things should never change!

Digitisation Studio

I’ve always enjoyed digitising things – 3D scanning, 2D scanning, extracting scratchy audio from 1/4″ reel-to-reel tape, resurrecting a Betamax machine to transfer long-forgotten clips into modern archivable digital formals, turned oral history recordings on cassette into mp3, you name it. I have scanned and catalogued more photos than I can count.

Finally, I now have the space for my own digitisation studio, which I have begun to construct. It currently consists of a sturdy copy stand with LED lighting, Canon DSLR, Epson scanner, and a decent TEAC cassette deck. There is a trusty Mac sitting at the centre of it for control, capture and editing, as well as a Soundcraft mixing desk for audio input. Coming soon is a turntable (with 78rpm stylus) and an ex-studio VHS machine. On the wish list is a Betamax player.

The copy stand, as well as useful for capturing larger and more fragile items, also allows for me to have a Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) rig set up for the surface capture of small artefacts. My recent FTTP (direct fibre-optic) internet connection allows for fast transfer of very large digital files quickly.

More details soon on my full capabilities.