Thursday, April 15, 2021

Making open access photos of ancient cultural heritage available via Flickr: a few thoughts by Dan Diffendale

Making open access photos of ancient cultural heritage available via Flickr: a few thoughts by Dan Diffendale

Daniel P. Diffendale is a Mediterranean archaeologist whose interests lie primarily in the first millennium BCE central Mediterranean. His current primary research focus is the use of volcanic building stone in the architecture of the city of Rome in antiquity. Since April 2007, he has shared his photographs in open access via Flickr. His over 10 000 photos are now widely used by scholars, either for their courses or for their publications. Klinai asked him to present his approach and his motivations.

Let me start by addressing audience. Who are my photos for? Everyone, really, I hope. I hear from educators at various levels, especially university instructors, that they’ve used my photos in class, which is always lovely to hear, and I’ve had requests for use in books and articles. But I hope that they are also accessible to students directly, as well as to a wider public that has at least a baseline understanding of Mediterranean antiquity. One of my goals in making my photographs available is to expand the range of what’s accessible online. I’m not sure many people, even a lot of specialists in various part of antiquity, fully understand just how incredibly much ancient material culture is preserved. Even if what is preserved amounts to, at best guess, perhaps 1% of what once existed, it’s still a vast amount of material. And I’m trying, not always successfully, to allow people to access more of that variety—things like organic materials, cookpots, the “imperfect” or the just plain weird—and to see things that don’t make it to the textbooks or the popular retweet factories.

Why Flickr? Well, I joined Flickr way back in 2007, but that was not my first attempt at sharing photos of antiquities. I think it was some time around 1998 when I added a section to my Geocities site to host photos of Roman sites and artifacts in Britain, taken during a family vacation there. My cataloging impulse goes way back; when I was a kid my dad used to take me to photograph trains in the next town over, and I’ve got boxes full of train slides that I suppose I could scan someday. (This is a good place to thank my dad for giving me my first hand-me-down cameras, a 110 film camera—I think a Vivitar—and then a 35mm Pentax, and for teaching me the rudiments of light and composition).

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