2021 - 2023


Stories at the Museum around Artworks

‘Oral History – Stories at the Museum around Artworks’ (OH-SMArt) is a long term initiative to significantly improve the digital research chain around using Oral History and spoken narratives, with research into artworks and museums as a use case. Holding unique audiovisual recordings about artworks in their archives, museums have a severe backlog in disclosing and sharing this information, because of the laborious workflow of storing and transcribing, the sensitivity of some of the material, and the lack of tools to use and reflect upon the content. These are generic problems for all researchers engaging with spoken narratives. An improved and user friendly deposition workflow that automatically connects to an automatic speech transcription service will resolve a significant part of this problem. Additionally, the improved workflow enables the development of new tools that especially aim at facilitating reflection by contextualizing the source material with layers of user interpretations, placing the researcher’s viewpoint into perspective. Opening up the behind the scenes of museums in a smart way, OH-SMArt advances research with spoken narratives around artworks and contributes to existing digital research infrastructures with domain-wide applications for knowledge development.


Museums in the Netherlands have a severe backlog in disclosing and sharing information
from spoken narratives and oral history (OH) records because of the laborious workflow of storing and transcribing the material and at times the sensitivity of the subject. These are generic problems for researchers engaging with spoken narratives. As a result, artwork and conservation focused interviews with artists, assistants and museum staff are seldom shared, poorly accessible, generally unknown to other researchers and at the risk of becoming obsolete. However, spoken narratives and filmed practices around artworks provide a wealth of information that may be important to research as it allows for reflective practice of researchers in the interpretation of and conservation of artworks. This illustrates the importance of adapting the existing infrastructures to the needs of museum research, offering a welcome opportunity to strengthen and better connect the infrastructures.

OH-SMArt focuses on three aspects: new methods to archive, disclose and link information from audiovisual data; new tools to support reflexive research; and ways to disseminate the results and engage user groups for long term use.

  1. OH-SMArt will diminish the laborious workflow of transcribing and providing
    metadata to audiovisual material and will connect hitherto unknown information to
    cultural heritage collections and archives in the Netherlands. This requires improved
    transcription tools and automatic speech recognition (ASR) integrated into the OH
    data deposition workflow, and connection between the repository services of
    DANS-KNAW and CLARIAH, adhering to policies around sensitive material, which is
    currently not possible.
  2. In addition, a new instrumentalized methodological approach to engage reflexivity is designed, based on combined SSH methods, to collect user interpretations and
    archive these alongside the primary source to reflect the dynamics of doing
    research. Consulting a source in a context of various other interpretations is vital for
    conscious management of our cultural heritage. It provides better insight into the
    ways in which artworks live in museums and at cultural heritage sites. Diverse
    viewpoints help value and manage our cultural heritage in a more inclusive way.
    This results in transparency in interpreting data and attributed values in research,
    which is relevant for re-use of data in all SSH disciplines.
  3. To structurally engage scholars and museum professionals to help build a rich body of information, e-learning packages and workshops are developed to disseminate results, test usability and find suggestions for refinement of the automated tools. This way, OH-SMArt helps the use of spoken narratives in research catch-up with current developments in the digital humanities, facilitating optimal knowledge exchange.