KUrate: Koç University Digital Collections Curation Project

As the project title KUrate suggests, it derives from the combination of the initial of Koç University, KU, and “-rate” from “curate,” which sums up our activities in regard to curating holdings in archives and museums at Koç University as well as the implementation of new Website interface empowered with outreach activities in the past year.

The main objective of this project is to provide primary sources to the scholars, researchers, and students in a more efficient way through a well-functioning platform. The KUrate project serves as a showcase for cultural heritage collections as well as a platform for the partnerships, collaborations and individuals’ projects. All of them are open access and free of charge for academic purposes.

Our collections feature a variety of materials such as manuscripts, prints, photographs, slides, maps, newspapers, posters, postcards, sound files, and more. You can find an image of an ancient monument dating back to 2,000 BC in an archaeology collection or recordings of city sounds of Istanbul. Variety of subject matters is another feature, such as local history and urban life, music, arts, architecture, archaeology, and history.

Digital libraries and collections have quickly become the norm in all levels of education, from primary school to universities since they combine technology and information resources to allow remote access to primary sources as well as educational content, breaking down the physical barriers. Especially at times of such as these, allowing unrestricted access to knowledge that has been locked in archives is critical to the democratization of information accessibility. But this is not the only benefit: we can sum up good reasons why different interests groups should be invited to use such platforms as the KUrate.

With a heightened amount of choice, we give access to multiple contents with a potentially infinite number of resources and selections at hand. The main limit for traditional libraries is represented by physical space: primary sources, when not digital, consume a lot of time to figure out where and how to get. People often have to visit the archive and walk round in search of a particular material with archivists. Thanks to Internet and cloud storage, we overcome this limitation, expanding students’ horizons in learning and offering scholars and researchers quick access to the primary sources. They can access an enormous amount of knowledge and share contents with others, facilitating the expansion of education and learning. This also help fighting against deterioration.

The digital storage of the primary sources in archives, is a way to solve the problem of deterioration. Fragile photographs or ancient documents have to resist several handovers and consultations, with the risk of being subjected to breakages or other damages. Thanks to the digitizing of materials, it is possible to access contents how many times a student needs, using formats (mp3, digital images, online textbooks, etc.) which are definitely much safer to use. The OCLC CONTENTdm, infrastructure that we use as database, provides an easier information retrieval. Over the years, digital libraries have developed a range of search features – such as boolean and proximity operators, truncation, etc. – that facilitate the access to information and data collections, allowing students to perform sophisticated searches for a variety of queries. Another aspect of this infrastructure, thanks to the linked data and intuitive search engine technologies –for example, ranking or automatic term expansion– even novice users can start using our digital collections accomplishing their searches independently. And, as the digital collections grow larger, the level of sophistication of these searching features increases exponentially.

Instant access to research sources and educational content in this project is another component: As long as an Internet connection is available, our collections are accessible anywhere and at any moment using a simple technological device, such as a PC, a tablet or even a smartphone. This means researchers and students can consult online books, images, videos and all the other educational contents without having to wait and go to the nearest physical library. They can do it in a formal environment, for example at school, or they can relax at their homes getting an instant access to the information they need. Increasing number of visitors to our platform compared to the previous year’s numbers, from 223,970 to 700,840, indicates that improving Web interface with our KUrate project has made a great impact on user-friendliness during COVID-19 as it points out why providing free access to archive holdings has been critical at this time.

If we look more closely at our holdings, under the ethnography and traditional craftsmanship we have two main collections: The “Josephine Powell Slide Collection” includes more than 32,000 slides. During her professional works as freelance photographer in Anatolia, she photographed Turkish nomads and villagers. Other ethnographic archive is “Ulla Johansen Anatolian Ethnology Collection”, which includes images, notes and diaries, and an extended genealogical map of nomadic Yörük tribal families collected during the fieldwork of ethnologist Ulla Johansen in Turkey in 1956-57.

In the field of archaeology, “Hatice Gonnet-Bağana Hittite Collection” offers a wide range of sources on the subjects of ritualistic, cultural, social, and mythological aspects of Anatolian civilizations, as well as linguistic development of the Hittites. Hittitologist/Archaeologist Hatice Gonnet Bağana donated her archives focusing on Anatolian civilizations.

Another collection in the archive which has a historical and architectural significance is the “Mehmet Nihat Nigizberk Collection of Architectural Photographs and Drawings”. The collection consists of various materials of the architect such as photographs, photo cards, notebooks, plans and architectural drawings related to specific historical buildings and also construction and restoration projects in North Africa, Asia Minor and the Middle East. These archival materials, which bear witness to the Late Ottoman and early republican era in Turkey, reflect the conditions of the historical monuments (primarily examples of Anatolian Seljuks, Ottoman, Mamluk and Arab architecture) and also applications of architectural practices in construction and restoration as well as social and cultural environment of the period.

Developing partnerships with institutions is another key element in this project. Our most notable and productive collaborations are with those of GABAM (the Koç University Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center For Late Antique and Byzantine Studies) and Friends of Music Society in Athens. Byzantine music, art and architecture constitute an important part in our collections. GABAM Byzantium Monuments Photographs Archive consists of the images from Byzantine historical architecture located in Istanbul. Another project conducted by GABAM and Friends of Music Society in Athens is Byzantine Music Instruments collection, the first database in its field. “Cahide Tamer Historic Buildings Restoration Projects Collection”, which is added to the library’s archive with the initiative of GABAM, mainly comprises images and documents related to the restoration projects which were held between 1940s to 1980s regarding almost every historical monument in Istanbul and Byzantine monuments, such as Hagia Sophia or City walls are among them.

Among the collections which we have integrated into Europeana, the LoCloud, the Ankara Orchard House Collection of the VEKAM (Vehbi Koç and Ankara Research Center) Museum, is formed of ethnographic works on everyday life which reflect the tradition of “vineyard house living”: their spatial and social attributes form an indivisible part of the culture of 19th century and early 20th century Ankara. Pieces of copper goods, money purses and Çanakkale ceramics are in display. The Sounds of Istanbul is another Europeana-integrated collection, is one of the student projects by Pınar Çevikayak Yelmi from the Design Department at Koç University. This collection has later been evolved to the “Soundsslike” project (soundsslike.com), a crowdsource project for ordinary people so as to upload their own sound recordings. The main aim of the project is to raise public awareness of urban and cultural sounds and to protect these sounds as a collective work. The Byzantium Musical Instruments Collection, recently included in Europeana, as well as in the process of the integration into RIdIM, Répertoire International d’Iconographie Musicale.

Another byproduct of the KUrate project is the publication of a two-volume catalogue for the Manuscripts collection consisting of 685 works in 342 volumes which constitutes a valuable source covering a variety of fields, including Turkish poetry, law, geography, astronomy, medicine, philosophy, logic, music, mathematics, chemistry and especially in terms of language and cultural history studies. Sufism, especially Anatolian / Ottoman Sufism (Bayrami, Melami and Mevlevi paths), Turkish literature, Islamic morality and ethics, Islamic law, Qur’anic works, fatwas, hadiths also constitute the main contents of the manuscripts.

Collections are also used as exhibitions: based on Josephine Powell Slide Collection, “What Josephine saw” was one of the exhibition was held at Koç University, Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations and “A Nomad’s Art: Kilims of Anatolia” at George Washington University Textile Museum.

To add value to our project, we also organize online workshops with experts of their fields, e-learning tools about archives, webinars with academicians, training programs and talks for public audiences which are directly related to the collections which has been our main focus of the project. Creating digital exhibitions parallel to our digital collections enables us to highlight specific themes with the curation of related archival materials in our collections. Through our efforts with these webinar series, exhibitions and talks, we endeavor to raise awareness on how to preserve, curate, and present cultural heritage collections, and increase the use of our holdings. We hope to connect us to more sources and partnerships through this project.