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Utopian DH Project 1: An Ecumenical Resource for Church History

(Prompted by a tweet from Tim Hitchcock, this is a series of short blog posts on imaginary / future resources in the Digital Humanities)

When charting the history of the west, churches, cathedrals and abbeys provide spectacular material evidence. Their art, architecture and archives not only formed notions of aesthetic beauty but are testament to the social and economic powers that formed the notion of ‘western civilisation’.

Within the UK, there have been plenty of projects that have digitised aspects of this tradition3D representations of Yorkshire abbeys, church plans online, catalogues of stained glass, directories of funerary monuments.

But such projects tend to be unconnected, restricting analysis to local and regional debates within specific disciplinary areas.

So what’s really needed is a project that joins these items together, so that churches are seen in a larger context. A corpus of stained glass should not be seen be isolated, but situated itself in the context of everything that is (or has been) around it in that church – the sculpture, architecture, the events, the archives.

Of course, this is not really one project. Rather it’s a shared approach, an intellectual infrastructure that allows for all this data to be allied seamlessly; for networks of intelligent chains to be made between different resources. It’s not a monolithic project with a start and a finish, but built piecemeal by different projects in many different places.

For this to happen, for users to be offered to interlinks and connections, we need to use Linked Data in more effective ways. This means creating a whole range of metadata that draws on the intellectual elements that join such projects together; elements like style, geography, time, topic, biblical reference, liturgal practices. Difficult work, fraught with problems, but the end result would be worth it.

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