Delphi project exposes PAHMA's collections to the world

UC Berkeley iNews, September 2, 2008

Patrick Schmitz

The Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology (PAHMA) is the oldest and largest anthropological collection in the western U.S., with some 3.8 million objects spanning nearly 2 million years of human culture. But with just 4000 square feet of exhibit space, only a tiny fraction of the Museum's collections are available for public viewing. Anthropologists and educators around the world want access to the collections for research and teaching, and the Museum is eager to expose the depth and breadth of their collections to the public. For Michael Black, the Museum's Head of Research & Information Systems, the obvious solution was a web-based collections browser. Unfortunately, the Museum lacked the financial resources, staff, and technical expertise to develop such a system. In fall 2007, a group of graduate students in the UC Berkeley School of Information (I School) were looking for a museum partner for their Master's final project. They wanted to apply Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques — specifically, the kind that are currently driving the booming enterprise search sector — to the cultural heritage sector. The students brought technical expertise in NLP, information architecture, database design, and web technologies, balanced with expertise in user-centered design, needs assessment, and information visualization. An IST contact working with the Berkeley Natural History Museums (BNHM) consortium connected PAHMA and the I School students, and the Delphi project was born. read more on