'According to Interpol, the illicit antiquities trade is the 3rd largest illegal industry in the world after illicit trade in drugs and arms.'
Eric Kansa, from the Alexandria Archive, gave a presentation called 'Open Knowledge and Heritage: Moving the Past to the Cultural Commons' at the DV Fellowship the other day. It was a fascinating discussion about the Institute's plans to build a cross-platform archive for archaeology and world history that aims to preserve and promote our shared, global heritage. According to the website, 'The AAI has the capacity to store far more maps, pictures, and artifact information than traditional publication and make them accessible worldwide through simple Internet searches. By removing barriers to information, we encourage innovative research and enable people from all walks of life to explore the past and think creatively and critically about its relevance to the present.'
Kansa spoke about the potential for human beings to collaborate with one another, drawing from as many sources or perspectives of history in order to gain more meaningful pictures of the past. He said that, because the past is only meaningful in context and because the past is a resource that is often politically contested, the Alexandria Institute believed in global public access to these knowledge sources, rather than seeing the past as a 'treasure' of war or personal affluence.
For this massive undertaking, the Alexandria Institute is collaborating with XSTAR project at Chicago University to develop an intuitive interface to view, search, and analyze archaeological and historical information. XSTAR which stands for "XML System for Textual and Archaeological Research", is being developed as the xml standard for archeological documentation on the Internet.
The Institute is currently using Creative Commons licenses for its content, but Kansa says that they may have to develop a "cultural heritage license" that is more specific to the archeological context of publication around the world. They are working with Jason Schultz at the Electronic Frontier Foundation on issues such as data "abstraction" (data that isn't copied but rather extracted and compiled from scholarly publications) in order to avoid copyright limitations and to provide an alternative to those organisations that still want to retain copyright to their data.
I think that this will be a critical issue for the Creative Commons movement. It is essential to promote the knowledge about our past as a global, public commons, so that we can have the opportunity to rip, mix and burn ideas about the past that fit with our own sense of identity. Because as Kansa says, 'our past, our culture, is and always has been a source of our creativity.'
I can't but think that if we remove that spark by privatising our shared history, we will be less human as a result.