(screenshot via Youtube)

LOS ANGELES — One of the loveliest sites on the web belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, a database of all of UNESCO‘s World Heritage sites, from famous locales like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to the lesser-known underground river of Puerto-Princesa, Philippines. Amongst these sites are also historic and cultural institutions, like the tulou of Fujian, China and Aushwitz-Birkenau, in Poland.

What enables important cultural heritage sites to continue to exist and be visited each day is the work of conservators. While curators and writers are often heralded for their ability to educate the public on issues of cultural importance, conservation professionals play a more behind-the-scenes role in ensuring that humanity’s heritage continues for future generations to appreciate and learn from.

YouTube video

The Arches Project is an open source mapping platform designed specifically for the work of cultural preservation. Developed by the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) and the World Monuments Fund (WMF), Arches emerged out of work to create the Middle Eastern Geodatabase for Antiquities (MEGA), a rich  inventory of archaeological sites in Jordan. The data take the form of a visual map, making it easy to understand for the casual visitor, but MEGA also contains tools and information for cultural conservation, like current conditions and monitoring schedules, and search features.

A screenshot of an overview of conservation sites in the UK.

Due to high interest in the system, GCI and WMF developed a version that’s open source and therefore free for other conservators to use and modify. According to their site, Arches is designed to work with international standards for inventory and data management, meaning data collected on the site should be able to work with other databases. They’ve placed the code up on a Bitbucket repository, meaning that there’s potential for future conservators to modify the code for their own needs and perhaps even build upon and improve the existing software. And in true open source fashion, they have what looks to be a fairly active discussion forum for users.

This article was written while participating in the USC Annenberg / Getty Arts Fellowship Program.

AX Mina (aka An Xiao Mina) is an author, artist and futures thinker who follows her curiosity. She co-produces Five and Nine, a podcast about magic, work and economic justice. 

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