Define Digital Heritage : Part 03

Digital heritage objects from the point of creation, therefore, may be of two types: digitally born and digital surrogate (Parry, 2007, p68). ‘Born digital’ has been identified by UNESCO as that type of which “there is no other format but the digital object”. Therefore, any digital heritage contents created through digital media or digital tools without any references of analogue resources can be defined as ‘born digital’. Examples of, ‘born-digital’ heritage contents are electronic journals, World Wide Web pages and on-line databases. In this way, born digital has no parents of which they are a digital manifestation but has now become part of the world’s cultural heritage. On the other hand, ‘digital surrogate’ is a copy captured from an original or existing object for preservation, representation or research purposes. Captured images, 3D scanned objects, digital video of a ritual are a few of such digital surrogate objects.

Therefore, the content of digital heritage, by the definition from UNESCO (2003) may include a wide and growing range of formats such as texts, databases, still and moving images, audio, graphics, web pages and so on[1]. Digital heritage may exist in any language, in any part of the world, and in any area of human knowledge or expression. Many of these digital resources contain intrinsic value and significance, and, therefore, constitute a heritage that should be protected and preserved for current and future generations. However, due to the nature of digital-media, digital heritage is frequently ephemeral and requires purposeful production, maintenance and management in order to be retained. UNESCO, therefore, through a charter in 2003 highlighted the issue of preservation of digital heritage and made guidelines for its member states (UNESCO, 2003).

The UNESCO Charter (2003 : 1) states that, “Digital materials include texts, databases, still and moving images, audio, graphics, software and web pages, among a wide and growing range of formats ………… Many of these resources have lasting value and significance, and therefore constitute a heritage that should be protected and preserved for current and future generations”. The question remains as to which amongst these materials should be kept for future generations and how can they be selected and preserved. Moreover, interestingly, this current definition of digital heritage by UNESCO gives equal value to both ‘born digital’ and ‘digital surrogate’ objects. However, the digital surrogate may not contain any explicit message or value of its own but carries those of the original. Thus, digital surrogate acts as a tangible link with the past and possesses a different role from the born digital object. In that sense, Cameron (2008) argued that UNESCO’s idea of a digital heritage is a ‘paradox’ since “nothing is deemed more valuable than that which is inherited from the past”; at the same time, these newly created objects or media are in the discourse of loss.

Even the definition of digital heritage seems political (Cameron, 2008) and varies according to practice. In the light of prior discussion on the many facets of digital heritage, the following can now be considered as, the broad qualities of digital heritage:

  • Any unique resources consisting of the cultural value of human knowledge and expression created or converted into a digital form.
  • Digital heritage can be born digital (created digitally) or digital surrogate (i.e. made from analogue resources).
  • Contents of digital heritage can be in both 2D format (such as, text, image and video) and 3D format (such as, VRML model, navigational 3D environment etc.).


[1]Source:, dated 22.02.2009.

My Phd Thesis Abstract

Title: A Framework for Digital Heritage Interpretation

Abstract :

UNESCO (2003) refers to ‘digital heritage’ as any ‘born digital’ or ‘digital surrogate’ objects that contain unique resources of human knowledge and expression. ‘Heritage interpretation’, on the other hand, is considered as an effective learning, communicating and managing tool that increases visitors’ awareness and empathy to the heritage site or artefacts. In contrast, the definition of ‘digital heritage interpretation’ is still broad; so far, neither a method nor objective is evident within the domain of ‘digital heritage’ theory and discourse.

In most cases, digital heritage projects remain descriptive; their objectives are diverse while their works, at large, presume that technology delivers greater interpretation. Developed through a top-down approach with linear narratives, such projects assume end-users as unique entity and limit heritage to a mere consumable product. Although usage of new technologies may accentuate experience and visual fidelity, they only provide partial interpretation, as technology alone cannot offer the past from multiple perspectives.

This research thereby argues that, for better interpretation and experience of digital heritage, a comprehensive interpretive method is required. Instead of predefined instructional sequences or descriptive interpretation, it hypothesizes interpretation as an evolving ‘process’ that is participatory and contributive. The interpretive process that allows public participation as reflexive dialogic interaction with effective presentation, cultural learning and embodiment enhances end-users’ interpretation of digital heritage.

A review of theory and methodology from real-world ……….. [part removed for copyright issue] ………….. perspectives of end-users.

A comparative experiment was conducted among the controlled groups to compare the effectiveness of the aforementioned framework with conventional linear interpretation. Using Sompur Mahavihara, Bangladesh, a world heritage site as a case, different treatment models (experiment platforms) were developed and offered to two pre-divided groups. Following each experiment, end-users’ responses were collected through a semi-structured questionnaire. Collected data were then analysed to evaluate the changes on end-users’ interpretation level, and to justify the relative effectiveness of the interpretive process as well. Standard procedures from descriptive statistics with simple inferential techniques were used for quantitative data analysis, while self-reported narratives were examined through thematic content analysis.

With empirical evidence, this research demonstrates that the presented interpretive framework resulted in a higher level of interpretation of digital heritage among end-users as compared to the conventional linear method. Hence, this research justifies the hypothesis, and reveals ‘digital heritage interpretation’ as a process to present or communicate with end-users. An interpretive framework for digital heritage consisting of fifteen considerations under four aspects, therefore, summarizes the outcome of this research.

Define ‘Digital Heritage’

Since 1960s and early 1970s many historians have begun to use computers. Digital technology and tools has helped them to powerfully arrange ideas and promote unique analysis, presentation and access their finding of historical knowledge in online media. The term Digital history’ since then considered as a branch of the ‘Digital Humanities’ (Cohen & Rosenzweig 2006). It is also sometimes mentioned broadly to the use of digital media and tools for historical practice, presentation, analysis, and research. Cohen and Rosenzweig (2006) referred digital history as ‘the gathering, preserving and presenting the past on the web’. According to Wiliam G. Thomas (2008), digital history is an approach to examine and represent the past that works with the new communication technologies of the computer, the Internet network, and software systems.

‘Digital Storytelling’ refers to the act of ordinary people, by which they can tell their own real-life stories by using digital tools. Usually in this case, participants can tell their stories through login in a web portal and contribute through text, image or even recorded voice (e.g. However, ‘Digital story’ is defined by the ‘Centre of Digital Storytelling’ as ‘first-person video-narrative created by combining recorded voice, still and moving images, and music or other sounds’[1]. Additionally, the project named ‘digital storytelling’ launched by BBC (2009) allowed participants to tell their own story or experience in ‘short movie’ format[2].

The word ‘digital heritage’ itself is a popular word among people’s daily language, which seems a buzzword. The problem of buzzwords is that they are often ambiguous and elastic, open to different interpretations. For example, the book titled as ‘Digital Heritage: Applying Digital Imaging to Cultural Heritage Preservation edited by Lindsay MacDonald (2006) (figure 01); mostly talked about how to get the most out of the latest digital technology for extracting information from historical buildings & artefacts. This book loosely referred ‘digital heritage’ as digitalizing any cultural objects. Articles of this book basically highlighted digital photography and digital image processing tools and its application on documentation and conservation of cultural heritage assets, rather it provides any concrete definition of ‘digital heritage’. In index page; the keyword ‘digital heritage’ has been referred to pages no 460 and 555. But none of these pages offers any definition.


Book cover – Digital Heritage: Applying Digital Imaging to Cultural Heritage Preservation


Centre for Museology, University of Manchester maintain a blog named ‘Digital heritage’ which actually referred to a MA course titled as “Digital Heritage” for the Art Gallery and Museum Studies at the Centre for Museology (source:, dated 02.04.2010). Here ‘digital heritage’ has been referred as an emerging discipline, which includes the theory and practice of digital media in museums, galleries and other cultural institutions. There are also many websites referring ‘digital heritage’ (Google search keyword on digital heritage found 13,200,000 entries on dated 02.04.2010), mostly referring the term according to their own purpose and objective. For example the site called ‘’ refers digital heritage as digitalizing Appalachian culture and tradition (, dated 02.04.2010). By digitizing the Appalachian culture, it refers to a collaborative project between Western Carolina University (WCU) and communities in the Southern Appalachian Mountain region.  Students, staff, faculty and community members work together to produce high-quality essays, images, and multi-media presentations about Appalachian traditions, history, and culture. It has been also found that, some IT companies named their company as ‘digital heritage’ or ‘heritage digital’, serving different ICT solutions and software packages for clients


(Source:, dated 02.04.2010)


(Source: dated 02.04.2010)


[will be continue …………]

[1] Source:, access date 09.03.2010.


My poster for SmartDoc Heritage 2010

My poster (with my supervisor Tan Beng Kiang) accepted and published in SmartDoc Heritage 2011, Pennsylvania, USA.

Poster from Hafizur Rahaman for SmartDoc Heritage 2010
Interpreting Digital Heritage (Hafizur Rahaman, SmartDoc 2010)

Being a part of an ongoing research; this paper hypothesizes that ‘dialogic interaction’ through active participation helps to develop multiplicity in digital heritage content; hence enhance interpretation and enable end-users to attain the desired perceptual sense of place and culture. The main scope of this research therefore remains twofold. First by developing a methodological framework, which is likely to benefit interpretation of digital heritage by involving participants in a process that enables them to engage in a dialogic-interaction and collectively generate contextual perception (from cultural disposition of common spatial experience) of the past. Second, to conduct an explorative study to evaluate ‘interpretation’; perceived by end-users and measure the effectiveness of the aforementioned model. Thus, a successful completion of this study will contribute in both theory and practice in digital heritage consumption and dissemination.

Good luck for me 🙂