Exploring Weaving Structures in the Andes: Reflections on the Creation of a Digital Archive
Abstract:In this article, we describe the challenges encountered in creating a digital archive for Andean textiles.1 Developed at Birkbeck, University of London, within a three-year Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-funded project (2009–2012) titled “Weaving Communities of Practice. Textiles, Culture and Identity in the Andes: A Semiotic and Ontological Approach,” this archive goes beyond providing a mere repository for digital documents. Our focus has been to improve accessibility by enriching the data related to textiles' production (consisting of texts, images, and videos) with information describing the social, historical, and cultural contexts. This allows researchers in the area of textile studies to gain new insights that go beyond the immediate functional utility of cloth. We have also addressed practical aspects, such as providing a platform for museums to manage and showcase their collections, introducing local weaving repertoires into educational curricula, and offering regional weavers a venue to protect their cultural patrimony from piracy.
At the heart of the system is a knowledge base, the core of which is an ontology mapping the knowledge of domain experts into a machine-readable format. The development of the ontology is crucial for the provision of contextual information, which on this scale is new for Andean textiles. Other important components of the system, the editors Sawu-3D and InaSawu, are tools for modeling, visualizing, and capturing the semantics of the complex patterns found in Andean textiles. While traditionally art historians have focused their analysis on the iconography of textiles, this project's emphasis on local weavers' techniques opens up new ways of understanding and classifying textiles. This system is our contribution to preserving the rich cultural heritage of Andean weaving.