National Competency:  Digital Development of Ethnographic Content

„…material ethnography without illustration cannot be done…” [1]

/ János Jankó /

For many years, the Museum of Ethnography has been engaged in a specialised programme focused on the issues of digitisation, development of an electronic collections management system, and research aimed at ensuring its ever-expanding digital content is used in as broad a manner as possible.  Given the conscious development of technological resources the museum has pursued over the past few years—an approach it has also incorporated into its long-term plans—the institution’s photographic studio and digitisation facilities today represent some of the best in Hungary, making the Museum of Ethnography a leader in the field.  Moreover, the training and experience of museum staff working in this area have reached a quality level that permits the transmission of knowledge of a kind that is currently in high demand in the profession.  Among the challenges public collections currently face, digitisation and management of digital content constitute two of the most important.

Recognising the demand, the Museum of Ethnography strives to share both its practical experience, and its knowledge of the relevant sources through various co-operative projects.  It was among the first, for example, to initiate participation in the Public Collections Digitisation Strategy (Közgyűjteményi Digitalizálási Stratégia or KDS), a programme aimed at promoting increasingly broadly based activity on the part of the museum sector with a focus on education.    One clear goal has been that museum collections be published as widely as possible using high-quality records.  As part of this goal, the institution has made several hundred records available to domestic and international aggregation portals, thus adding to the freely available storehouse of Digital Public Treasures (Digitális Közkincsek).  In every case, these cultural assets were published with NoC-NC ‘No Copyright – non-commercial use only’ exploitation rights.

The Museum of Ethnography is home to the largest collection of material on traditional Hungarian culture and folk art anywhere in the world.  In addition to several hundred thousand artefacts, this collection includes an even larger body of photographs, drawings, and prints; several hundred thousand pages of documents; and even films and audio recordings.  It is also the largest and most complete source on the folk art of the Carpathian Basin.  The systematisation and publication of the museum’s unparalleled collection based on sound scientific principles and in searchable format will form the foundation for a Folk Art Knowledge Centre, a facility capable of serving society in a manner that meets basic cultural needs and promotes cultural strategic activity on the part of various societal actors.  In the spirit of the Year of National Unity and in accordance with the guidelines expressed in the Hungarian Constitution, specifically:

Both natural resources—with particular reference to arable land, forests, waters, biodiversity, including in particular native plant and animal species—and cultural assets form part of the nation’s shared heritage, whose protection, maintenance, and transmission to future generations are the responsibility of the state and all its people,’ [2]

the Museum of Ethnography is committed to formulating—within the framework of the ‘development of newly created digital ethnographic curatorial content’ national competence task heading it co-ordinatesa futuristic, long-term plan known as the Székelyföld Museums Heritage Protection Pilot Project.  The programme, which has targeted the collection and digitisation within a consolidated system of all ethnographic collections in the hungarophone zone, is currently acting under co-operative agreements with five Székelyföld museums.  Accordingly, working on a partnership basis, the Museum of Ethnography has made its own photographic equipment available to its Transylvanian colleagues and provided them with assistance in the form of specialised training.

The fundamental goal of the national Ethnographic Content Digital Development competence task is to develop virtual knowledge centres constructed on authentic material.  Our institution is expending considerable research to ensure that these incorporate diverse genres and that the quality material produced will be available to as broad a stratum of society as possible .  Potentially, our Folk Art Knowledge Centre, specialised Ethnograpic Collections Management System online database, Folk Art Motifs Archive, and other cultural strategic activities will make up the interdisciplinary aspect of the project.  The institution’s commitment, the practical form of implementation being granted, is to a professionally based, inter-institutional co-operation that will form the backbone of both the competence task, and all other related projects.

[1] Quoted from a proposal by Jankó János to the director of the National Museum discussing the difficulties involved in professional publishing.

[2] Magyarország Alaptörvénye [the Constitution or ‘Fundamental Law’ of Hungary], Article P.