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September 2, 2014 > HacktheHearst to expand public discovery of ancient treasures

HacktheHearst to expand public discovery of ancient treasures

Submitted By Kathleen Maclay

The Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, may be home to treasures that are thousands of years old, and a museum hackathon that kicks off September 10 aims to make the stellar collection more relevant and accessible than ever.

ÒHacktheHearstÓ is expected to produce new tools, including apps, which will enable easier, open-source exploration of the museumÕs digitized collections data and images.

ÒIt would take centuries to physically exhibit everything in our collections, given the size of our sole exhibition space,Ó said Michael Black, head of research and information systems at the Hearst Museum. The museumÕs approximately 3 million artifacts come around the world, with especially strong collections from North America, ancient Egypt, Africa, the ancient Mediterranean, Oceania, South and Central America, and Asia.

As a result of the hackathon, said Black, elementary school kids might not have to spend hours on a bus trekking to the UC Berkeley museum for a tour, or rummaging through an old-fashioned education kit that has been offered for years, but instead access much of the collection at their computer keyboards.

The competition is open to anyone interested in giving it a go Ð Silicon Valley computer programmers, high school students, architects, designers, museum studies students, and more. Not your conventional, mad-rush hackathon, it will start Wednesday, September 10 and participants will have access to the Hearst Museum collections for several days until the winning apps are announced on Sunday, September 21.

Museum officials are asking hackers to develop apps or user interfaces that facilitate interaction with digitized collection data by the public, especially students from kindergarten through college, researchers, Indian tribes and other heritage communities.

HacktheHearst participants will work with a dataset of object-centric metadata for more than 700,000 catalog records dealing with everything from Mexican Saltillo serapes and ancient Egyptian artwork to Native American basketry. Some 196,920 objects in the museumÕs collections have been digitally imaged so far.

The competition will begin with an introduction to the Hearst Museum from 4:30 p.m. - 9 p.m. on Wednesday, September 10, that will include presentations by experts on collection-use needs of university researchers, students and tribes, a look at the dataset and an introduction of the mentors from across the campus and elsewhere who will be available to advise the hackers. Teams will form then and will be able to work from the Hearst or from home.

Hackers also can attend an optional Thursday, September 18 discussion about museums and their role in the humanities, digital tools and resources Ð an area of research, teaching and creation that is concerned with the intersection of computing and the humanities disciplines Ð organized by the Bay Area Digital Humanities meet-up group. The program will feature presentations on several recent museum-focused projects.

HackTheHearst winners will be recognized for their contribution to the public service mission of the Hearst Museum, and receive some cool prizes, too.

ÒOne big thing weÕre offering are unique, private, museum-themed experiences,Ó said Black. ÒFor instance, participants are helping give the world virtual access to our collections, so we thought it would be nice to give the winning team personalized access to the physical artifacts that are of most interest to them, in collections storage areas that are normally inaccessible to the public.Ó

And in addition to customized, expert-led collections tours, other prizes include private lessons with experts on cuneiform writing, hieroglyphics, flint knapping and other collections-related topics. The cuneiform lesson, ÒThe First Day in Babylonian School,Ó will be led by Laurie Pearce of UC BerkeleyÕs Near Eastern Studies Department. The winner will be supplied with clay tablets and taught to write basic cuneiform, and be given a private tour of the museumÕs cuneiform tablet collection.

Among the event sponsors are EMC Corp., UC BerkeleyÕs Digital Humanities program, Research IT at UC Berkeley, the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), and CollectionSpace, a collection management system for museums.

To sign up for the hackathon, visit:

For more information, email or call (510) 414-2507.

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