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Taipei digitally archiving historical documents, relics

Initially looking at the satellite photo of downtown Taipei on the screen, there is nothing strikingly different from Google Earth. In fact, it is Google Earth. But then Lin Shih-che overlays an aerial map of the same area taken 65 years earlier and Chiang Kai Shek Memorial disappears. In its place, Lin, a researcher with Academia Sinica’s Geospatial Information Science Lab points out that a school, a park, and, it appears, a few residences.

And that’s not all. The archived geographic records go back to 1900. Naturally, a hand-drawn map must suffice for that year. Collectively these maps from different eras have all been fitted to seamlessly overlay on top of each other and a switch lets users toggle between them. It’s a fun exercise as much as it is educational. Did you know that Songshan airport was already in use in 1940, but it was only a single major runway at the time?

Lin is part of an effort to completely digitalize public records from around the country for the government’s National Digital Archives Program (NDAP). Along with Academia Sinica, the government has set up several institutional projects with the Academia Historica, the National Central Library, the National Museum of History, the National Museum of Science, National Palace Museum, National Taiwan University, and Taipei National University of the Arts.

Academia Historica has been charged with digitalizing national government archives and presidential documents while Academia Sinica is focusing on plants, shellfishes, maps, Formosan aborigines, the Taiwan Provincial Consultative Council, diplomatic and economic records, historical and cultural relics archaeological data, rubbings, archaic texts, rare books, ethnological data, the Grand Secretariat Archives, and Mandarin and Formosan language archives.

The library project, naturally, is dedicated to preserving local historical archives, newspapers, journals, and periodicals held there, as the National Museum of History is working to preserve its collections including artifacts, calligraphy and painting, specimens, archives and research information.

The collection of the National Museum of National Science to be archived includes zoological collections, algal collections, fungal collection, botanical collections, geological collections and anthropological collections. The National Palace Museum, meanwhile is looking to digitalize 60,000 artifacts, calligraphic works and paintings as well as the 190,000 Ching archival documents it has in its collection including a variety of jade pieces, ceramics, porcelains, rare books, tapestries, embroideries, ritual bronzes, ancient calligraphic works and paintings from the Stone Age to the present.

It’s fourth year into the first five-year run of the program, researches have come up with ways to not only save the masses of collected content into digital form, but also to make it user-friendly, fun and education for residents. There is also an attempt to find commercial purposes, such as applying the Fly Through Taipei City to global positioning systems.

Making the collections interactive, they hope, will make them fun and useful teaching tools and inspire kids to learn about Taiwan’s heritage. The results, so far, are all on display at Taipei City Hall, but many of them, such as Fly Through Taipei City and the Historical Photo and Audio Virtual Book are in the process of being placed on the Web.

Another part of the project is the Historical Photo and Audio Virtual Book which, in addition to organizing digital archives of the old nostalgic historical photographs, gives them text and audio as an informative way for others to appreciate the heritage. The Virtual Book is built on the Digital Museum of Historical Photographs in Taiwan archiving collaboration by Taipei National University of the Arts (TNUA) and Academia Sinica.

Already completed are four interactive books: Weddings in Old Taiwan, Sketches of Old Train Stations, Small Town Stories and Old Streets and Houses in Taiwan. Each photo sits on a virtual page along with background and has a button for an audio commentary. Once finished, users can “turn” the pages with their fingers and move on to the next image.

The Calligraphy Jukebox, is a digital archive of traditional music put together by TNUA. Incorporating a visual element, users first use a real calligraphy brush to write a Chinese character that is a key lyric for different songs. The jukebox then plays the songs in which the lyric lies.

The “History Merry-Go-Round,” another development with TNUA, is an interactive digital art presentation devise that uses image recognition and analysis technique. It projects relevant images and randomly generated interactive questions and answers onto a circle on the floor of the display area. Visitors tap their feet on the floor to answer the questions and the system grades the answers.

Another interactive display that uses art, the “Immersive Chinese Painting: Catching the Gibbons” projects Pu Hsin-yu’s famous painting, the Ten Gibbons onto a wall and animates the gibbons in the painting. The gibbons, however, are all in the right places. Visitors use a banana which is traced by image detection technology to attract the gibbons to the proper locations in the painting and sets them there.

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