Cultural Data Analytics Grant to Tallinn University


The Tallinn University project Cultural Data Analytics/CUDAN is the first humanities project in Estonia to receive funding from the Horizon 2020 ERA Chair programme. This interdisciplinary project of digital culture studies that focusses on cultural big data, its analysis and responsible use, received 2.5 million Euros. The project has two main goals: developing interdisciplinary methods of cultural data analytics, and creating an Open Lab that would enable joint research and development projects with partners from various sectors and cultural fields.

Contemporary world is characterised by the fast digitisation of culture, and the explosive growth of digital cultural data, both due to the expansive digitisation of cultural heritage, as well as the creation and usage of new digital services. Therefore, it is increasingly important to have systematic and easy access to this expanding mass of digital cultural data. Furthermore, it is important to develop new analytical methods to interpret the new complex datasets in order to use these to build new kinds of cultural services and to use it for cultural policymaking.

“The world is increasingly digital. Thus, a humanitarian expertise is vital to understand the working processes and new meaning making practices within our datafied society,” says one of the initiators of the project, Professor of Cultural History Marek Tamm from Tallinn University. The Tallinn University research project CUDAN has set its sights on developing the field of cultural data analytics in Estonia and internationally, e.g. access to cultural data, collecting and responsibly sharing said data, and developing innovative analytical methodologies.

Open Labs – a new form of cooperation

One of the goals of the project is to create a new cooperation platform promoting co-creation with multiple partners. The leaders of the project describe it as a physical and mental space – a place where partners from the public and private sectors meet to work on digital cultural data and use it to develop new cultural services. “Assembling all the possible viewpoints and research interests helps us understand the dynamics of contemporary culture. In addition, we get the opportunity to connect the analytically gained knowledge to practical activities: designing public cultural services and developing the policies connected to the creative industry,” says leader of the project, Professor of Media Innovation at Tallinn University, Indrek Ibrus.

The Cultural Data Analytics Open Lab is part of the development of a larger cooperation and development platform Open Labs at Tallinn University. The Tallinn University Open Labs will enable cooperation of students and researchers with organisations and the public sector, as well as other interest groups and communities, thus contributing to the larger innovation system and public value creation in Estonia.

What is digital cultural data?

The goal of the project is to collect and analyse digital cultural data from Estonia on quantitative (big data) and qualitative levels. The term ‘culture’ is understood in its widest sense in the project and stands for all practices of meaning making (from popular to high culture). Cultural data is the data created during these practices. “It means working with data that is ‘born’ digitally in our everyday online practices, as well as earlier cultural heritage that is currently being digitised (print media, photography, films),” said Ibrus.

The analysis of digital cultural data, and its application in developing new cultural policies has become very important, especially given the social, cultural and political tensions we are facing in the 21st century: polarisation of opinions, fragmentation of the cultural space, the spread of fake news, the vulnerability of certain social groups to the radicalisation, lack of dialogue in information bubbles, etc. The interpretation of the big data concerning these processes and the varied cultural norms has become a challenge. Therefore, one of the goals of this project is to use the expertise of Tallinn University researchers in the field of culture studies to create new complex analytical methods.

Responsible data handling

The availability of digital culture will also increase the cultural literacy of the public, as well as promoting the culture and digital service industries in Europe. We also aim to help cultural institutions and ICT enterprises to cooperate, share data and use it for wider development. This brings about challenges regarding the spread and use of data in a responsible manner. To handle this, the cooperation between researchers, organisations and the public sector in creating new regulations for the responsible and ethical management of cultural big data is vital. Therefore, CUDAN seeks to find the best possibilities to use cultural data in a way that is responsible and creates public value. In the long run, the project aims to develop a creative, yet ethical innovation system for the use of digital cultural data.

Digital culture and the e-state

Estonia is one of the best places in the world for digitally collecting and analysing cultural data. The state has set a strategic goal to fully digitise our cultural heritage, which means the entire heritage will be digitally analysable in the near future. The digital infrastructure of Estonia, as well as the competences in cultural analytics, digital technologies, media and the creative industries at Tallinn University help the project advance.

In return, the project will help Estonia continue developing its benchmarking e-services. Expanding its success in e-governance to the field of culture is vital to maintain the image and capabilities of an innovatively thinking and constantly developing state. The project is defined internationally by our very reputable academic board featuring the President of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences José van Dijck, Professor of the City University of New York Lev Manovich, Professor of LSE Robin Mansell, lead researcher at Microsoft Research Nancy Baym, Curtin University professor John Hartley, etc. The board also features prominent state officials and entrepreneurs from the ICT sector.

The Horizon 2020 ERA Chair project CUDAN will last for five years (2019-2023). The project is led by three academic units of Tallinn University: Baltic Film, Media, Arts and Communication School, School of Humanities, and School of Digital Technologies. In addition to the European Committee, the project is co-funded by the Republic of Estonia with the funds from the European Regional Development Fund.

Original post by Tallinn University

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