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Digital Humanities: Digitisation

An introduction to digital humanities

What is digitisation?

Digitisation is the process of converting physical objects into a digital format. The resulting process is a digital representation of the original item. 

Some applications for digitising objects include: 

  • Preserving fragile physical items and cultural artefacts
  • Making cultural artefacts more widely accessible
  • Converting physical items to digital format for computational analysis

Tools and techniques used in digitisation

Tools:

  • Scanners
    • Scanners are pieces of electronic equipment that create a digital representation of an image or document for data input to a computer, cloud location, or a portable storage device.
    • Used to digitise Honi Soit, the University of Sydney's student newspaper.
  • Digital cameras
    • Digital cameras use image sensor chips that capture the incoming light from the thing being photographed. This is turned into electronic signals – pixels – each one gets stored as a number.
    • Used to digitise archaeological fish-bones.
  • 3D scanners
    • These scanners analyse a physical object and collect data on its shape and appearance, which is then used to construct a 3D model. These scanners can be based on different technologies and specialise in scanning particular objects.  
    • Used to digitise objects from the British Museum.
  • Audio and audiovisual recorders
    • As the name implies, these can read audio or audiovisual tapes respectively, which can range from cassette tapes to vinyl records or VHS tapes. In order for these to be digitised the original tapes are played through equipment linked to a computer to convert it into a digital file. 
    • Used to digitise many of the recordings in the PARADISEC collection.

Techniques:

  • Photogrammetry
    • Generating 3D digital models from measurements and surface point data sourced from 2D photographs.
  • Scanning paper based items 
    • Ensure you capture the whole image in the scan. Any information on the reverse side of a page should also be scanned. 
    • Image capture standards will vary depending on what is being scanned. Text heavy items, for instance, might be scanned at a lower resolution than a page with images. A general rule is to scan at 600 ppi, 24-bit colour and save as a TIFF file. 
  • File formats and versioning
    • There are various file formats for images, however the most common formats are JPEG and TIFF.
    • When digitising, you should save a master copy in TIFF format and create JPEG copies for use online. For more information, see our guide on using the best file format.  

Relevant guidelines and standards

Examples of digitisation

Support

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