Digital Museum Collections

This Digital Museum Collections Syllabus and course was conceived as a “museum internship” and a collaboration between CoDA, the Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley (Hearst), and the Near Eastern Studies Department of UC Berkeley (NES). The goal of the course was to provide students with best practice workflow and skills to classify, describe, and digitally document archaeological and museum collections for improved access and long-term preservation. The study objects were selected from the Hearst-Reisner Egyptian collection of the Hearst, an impressive collection from George Reisner’s explorations in Egypt, between 1899 and 1905. Most of the finds are impeccably documented with excavation context data in fieldnotes, maps, plans, and photographs, that are also part of the Hearst-Reisner collection. This resource includes the syllabus and the complete program with scheduled activities and meetings.

Course Description:

This course is aimed at teaching how to classify, describe, and digitally document archaeological and museum collections for improved access and long-term preservation.

The course will cover the full digitization process for historic documents – texts, photographs, and graphic materials, as well digital imaging of archaeological artifacts.

Digital collections can serve a variety of purposes:

  • baseline information essential for managing cultural resources;
  • contextual information necessary for understanding archaeological museum objects;
  • research materials for use by museum staff, researchers in history and archaeology, and other scholars;
  • information for museum-based educational activities, such as exhibits, curriculum development, publications, and websites.

The adoption of more efficient tools to digitally document archaeological and museum collections along with the creation of appropriate metadata and documentation standards, ensure that archaeological information is accessible and preserved in the long term. Participants to this course will be exposed to state-of-the-art imaging and data management techniques while learning practical and effective protocols that can be applied to a wide variety of museum materials.

Objects of study for this course will be two tomb groups from the Hearst-Reisner Egyptian collection. This collection is the result of George Reisner’s explorations at many Egyptian archaeological sites (Coptos, Shurafa, El Ahaiwah, Deir el-Ballas, Naga ed-Deir, and Giza). Between 1899 and 1905, Reisner collected approximately 17,000 cataloged objects, that were later donated by Phoebe Hearst to the present Hearst museum. Most of the finds are impeccably documented with excavation context data in fieldnotes, maps, plans, and photographs, that are also part of the Hearst-Reisner collection. The objects range in time from Predynastic to Coptic times. The Predynastic section constitutes the largest predynastic collection outside of Egypt. The great part of this collection has never been published after Reisner’s original work of early 1900.

Student Outcomes

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate a general understanding of the fundamental concepts of digital documentation;
  • Have gained a familiarity with the history of the Hearst/Reisner collection, specifically the archaeological contexts that will be selected for the digitization;
  • Understand and apply the concepts and rules of digital documentation to produce born-archival digital collections that are accessible and long-term preserved;
  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of how to study and document a museum collection as a complex body of information that includes artifacts, context of provenience, historical documents, and modern information (acquisition, cataloging, restoration);
  • Have actively collaborated on the writing of descriptive metadata from the digital production.
  • Have gained skill and experience in at least one advanced technique of digital documentation of museum collections;
  • Collaborate to produce a web resource for the class/project to share the plan and progress with museum stakeholders.