360° Panoramic Imaging and Digital Preservation

In the early twentieth century, many people considered the painted panorama obsolete as new media innovations such as film became the vogue. Consequently, it almost faced extinction and was nearly erased from cultural memory. This occurrence should serve as a gentle reminder to those involved in 360° Panoramic Imaging projects that as hardware and software evolve, and with “industry-standard” file formats changing or becoming obsolete, precautions need to be taken to safeguard these digital cultural heritage projects for future generations—in regard to both content and value to the history of media arts. What is considered industry standard today may be obsolete tomorrow. For instance, since I began working with 360° Panoramic Imaging, the file format for display on the web has changed three times, from QuicktimeVR to Flash to HTML5. In order to ensure the longevity of the project’s digital assets, sustainability issues need to be addressed, especially in regard to migrating files to future storage and access systems so that the media objects retain their integrity.

The field of digital preservation is still in its infancy and there is no definitive approach to preserving our digital heritage—only recommendations and models at this point in time and the approach to preservation and conservation is likely to evolve as new technologies and methodologies develop. In 2003, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted a Charter on the Preservation of Digital Heritage concerning the “understanding that this digital heritage is at risk of being lost and that its preservation for the benefit of present and future generations is an urgent issue of worldwide concern … that the disappearance of heritage in whatever form constitutes an impoverishment of the heritage of all nations.”

The strength of this Charter is that it recognizes the fragility of cultural products existing within the digital environment, which can easily become obsolete or extinct unless appropriate preservation and conservation actions are taken. An aspect of the Sacred Spaces of New England project is to create a sustainable model that can withstand the ever-changing technological environment of the web and contribute to the digital heritage preservation conversation.

Click here to read UNESCO’s Charter on the Preservation of Digital Heritage.

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