Preserving Global History Through Digitisation
New advances in technology occur on a seemingly daily basis.
15:24 01 September 2020
History-changing moments are created through political activism and climate change is shaping the way our world looks, life as we know it seems to be evolving at a rapid pace.
Using photography and videography, we are able to capture these events in more detail than ever before, documenting them forever and using them to educate our future generations of the importance each one represents.
But what about the world before modern technology? Historical events from all over the globe played a significant role in the growth of human civilisation, yet capturing them in image form wasn’t nearly as simple as it is now. Instead, many of these past events were captured in painting form using watercolours.
However, as time goes by, these beautiful paintings that hold such significance in showing us the way the world once are at an increased risk of fading, losing their vibrancy, and the story they are telling along with them.
Luckily, one man has the answer.
Javad Marandi is one of the founders of the Marandi Foundation, an organisation that offers educational opportunities and access to arts and culture for disadvantaged young people from all over the United Kingdom.
One of the four key areas that the Marandi Foundation works within is cultural history preservation, and Javad and his team have been working to support a website called Watercolour World which does exactly that.
This fantastic website takes watercolour paintings that pre-date 1900 from all over the globe and uses modern technology to transform them into a digital format, saving them in an online library and making them accessible to people from anywhere in the world to enjoy.
Through the process of digitisation, these important paintings are saved from eventual decay or being placed in inaccessible storage, and are freed from their dusty restraints of museum or library walls, giving them a new lease of life and preserving global history along with them.
How is it Done?
Digitally preserving a watercolour painting is a fairly straightforward process, but it’s one that requires a keen eye for detail to get it right.
The first stage is to use either a high-quality scanner or camera to copy the image and then upload it digitally to a computer. Scanning is usually the preferred method since it picks up the colours of the painting with better detail, however, the sheer size of some paintings requires a photograph instead.
Once the image has been captured and uploaded, special design software such as Adobe Photoshop is used to slightly adjust the saturation and brightness to get the colours of the digital image as close to the original painting as possible.
A little cleaning up of any scanned corners and fuzzy paper textures from blank spaces on the painting and the job is done!
What you’re left with is a near-perfect digital replica of the original watercolour painting that can be used to show us the way the world was before 1900 and the invention of photography, giving us a valuable insight into historical events that might otherwise have been forgotten.
Let’s take a look at some of the paintings Watercolour World has to offer us in terms of global history.
Through photography, we know precisely what Kings, Queens, Politicians, and other history-making figureheads look like. However, go back a few hundred years and finding an image of the people that played their part in shaping the world becomes a trickier task, especially without a trip to a museum.
But, thanks to Watercolour World and their preservation of global history through digitisation, it’s now as straightforward as opening your internet browser.
Take this portrait of Princess Charlotte, who later went on to become Queen of Würtemberg for example. This painting dates back to between 1788-1828, long before photography was possible, and gives us an accurate portrayal of the Princess’ appearance.
The digitisation of this painting also gives us the opportunity to view it outside of tt’s usual location of Buckingham Palace in London, offering us a glimpse of something that would ordinarily be incredibly hard to gain access to.
Landscapes have also changed dramatically over the course of the past century, and some of the digitised painting in Watercolour World’s online library can show us exactly how much the scenery we’re familiar with has been affected by human activity and climate change.
For instance, this collection of paintings that show how watercolour shaped the British coastline gives us a rare glimpse into how some of the more famous beach towns in Britain once looked, dating all the way back to 1822 in some cases.
Through these images, we can see how much of the land has eroded away over time and how buildings and piers have been dotted along the coastline, making them a valuable education resource and a fantastic reference point for anybody interested in the history of their country.
The way in which we travel the globe has also changed immeasurably over the course of the last 120 years, and while we’re now familiar with planes, trains, and cars, we can look back at historical forms of travel using these digitised watercolour paintings.
This 1832 painting by Henry Byam Martin entitled ‘Gentlemen on Their Travels’ is such an example and shows several men rowing a canoe across Lake Simcoe in Canada. Much more associated with sports than travel nowadays, travelling across the lake in a canoe would have been their only option and is certainly a far cry from the boats you’d use for the journey today.
There is so much history that has shaped the world that we know today, and although it continues to change and evolve all the time, it’s the historical events, the people that caused them and the innovative ways in which we used to live that helped pave the way for the modern world.
Preserving chapters of global history through digitisation helps us to remember these essential stories, and helps to make sure they are remembered forever.