Imagine making this sort of data immersive and deeper. (Source: Boston Rare Maps)

Operating a major cultural heritage compilation project

Open Data, confluence of interests, community building, interconnection, contextualization, and data humanization are some of the efforts needed to put Time Machine Organization into practice

Torus Time Lab
Oct 3, 2019 · 10 min read

Open Data

Open data is data that has been made publicly available and can be used, reused, analyzed and shared with others. Open data is part of a movement that includes open source software, free hardware, open content creative work, open access to scientific publications, and free science — all committed to the notion that content must be shared freely.

It may not seem so, but the idea of widely accessible data, content and information is revolutionary. The widespread custom is still the privatization of information, or even selling data to benefit the few. Open data is a way of not just benefiting only a few, but as many people as possible. It has the power to create communities and alliances between public actors, educators, scientists, developers, organizations and governments.

What if we were talking about a project that sought to do the same with history? A project that would have the initiative to digitize the entire historical cultural heritage of a continent, build a gigantic Big Data from the past and make it accessible to everyone? This is the mission the Time Machine Project has taken on itself by organizing as a large network with hundreds of institutions targeting different countries and continents.

The Time Machine Project and its pillars

To recap the contents of the previous text: The Time Machine Project has some key areas of action, which they call “pillars of research and innovation”, which are 4:

  1. Address the scientific and technological challenges of AI, robotics, and ICT for social interaction, develop the big data of the past, and further advance these core technologies (Pillar 1).
  2. Implement the constituent parts of Time Machine infrastructure and management principles and processes for sustainable Time Machine communities in Europe and elsewhere (Pillar 2).
  3. Create innovation platforms in promising application areas, bringing developers and users together to explore scientific and technological achievements and thus leverage Time Machine’s cultural, social and economic impact (Pillar 3).
  4. Develop favorable conditions for reaching all target groups and guide and facilitate acceptance of the research results produced during the initiative (Pillar 4).

Over the last few meetings we have tried to get closer and show these pillars in more detail. We first explored Pillar 1, focused on Science and Technology. In the previous text we focused on Pillar 4, that is, in the action area dedicated to Innovation and Dissemination. And now let’s look at Pillar 2: Operations.

After all, how does Time Machine Organization work?

In our fourth meeting in the series of partnership between TORUS and Time Machine Europe, Gustavo Nogueira (Gust) welcomed Daniel Jeller. (Register here for the next warm-up meeting).

Daniel Jeller is an Austrian historian, information technology expert and Head of Scanning and IT at ICARUS, the International Archive Research Center in Vienna. In addition to managing digitization and technical equipment at ICARUS, his work today focuses on digitization technologies and the effects of the so-called Digital Age, increasing the use of computing technologies in all aspects of life, studying the history and the auxiliary sciences of history.

He began to address this topic while working as a digitizing technician at ICARUS, where he worked during his studies at the University of Vienna. In addition, he also works on various software projects in the Digital Humanities area.


The Time Machine Project basically has two different levels of infrastructure:

  1. The first is the coalition of different institutions and organizations united by common goals.
  2. The second is, in fact, the constantly evolving technology base that enables these different actors to achieve these goals.

“I believe the Time Machine’s main goal is to use the potential of many different technologies to create an infrastructure that enables the building of this Big Data from the Past. Our job is to make it possible.”

Daniel is referring here to the large network that makes up the Time Machine. One of the actors in this network is the institution to which it belongs, ICARUS, whose activities were the focus of our first meeting.

In addition to ICARUS, we mentioned Europeana and the European Data Portal. These are a set of projects and initiatives interested in what Daniel calls “Data Providers”, that is, making data from many different sources accessible and producing information and knowledge from them. Scientific projects that produce insights into the compiled historical data and offer research solutions in the ongoing analysis and production of this data.

“In the field of Digital Humanities we say that in any research you need to know what you are looking for and understand what you are looking at. For that you need to have the widest access to the most diverse sources of data and information. That’s what we work on at the Time Machine Organisation.”

Different Contents

Gathering and organizing data from the most diverse sources related to our past cultural heritage requires the participation of the most diverse specialists. This means that a next step in compiling the data is to look for ways to dive into it from these other knowledge lenses. To seek to be aggregated with the community of experts and researchers and in forming communities with access to this complex and diverse social memory. The projects developed by this large network seek a connection between these institutions and the entry of a new element: the public, by making these records available to anyone who wants to access them and thereby new communities.

“In this sense it seems to me that we can say that the community itself is part of Time Machine’s infrastructure. The joint effort of analyzing this data and translating this different knowledge from the past into our future is at the base of the project” — Gustavo Nogueira (Gust)

For Daniel, managing the interface between these different communities is a work in continuous progress, finding and refining the best strategies and practices. Each of these communities has its own specificities, forms of communication and areas of interest.

“This side of knowing how to deal with interpersonal relationships beyond interorganizational relationships is part of the challenge of pursuing such a large project. After all, we are dealing with lives themselves and not only want to provide information but also find ways to help and improve those lives.”

This is how we can understand that Time Machine is not only a technological structure, but also one of its foundations is the relationship between institutions and communities. These relationships, in fact, are the platform on which the whole set of learnings and knowledge are being organized.

Humanizing Data

Daniel tells us that Time Machine’s organization is based on pyramidal multilevel, so to speak. From institutions that provide the technical infrastructure to experts who volunteer to help digest the entire data set produced.

“It’s like we have two types of data graph. Light and Dark graph, if we may say so. Dark graph is one produced and curated by artificial intelligence. Light graph is one produced primarily by communities and curated by people and experts. We need these two sources to make this data accessible.”

“What Daniel is pointing to us is an initiative that seeks not only the action of algorithms, but also humans. Seeking a way to connect these perspectives” — Gustavo Nogueira

Although it is involved with the latest technological innovations, Time Machine seeks a greater interface with people. Hence the importance in the ways in which this compiled data is interpreted. For Daniel, people are at the center of this communication.

To be aware of this is to realize how human-machine relations are readjusting for the times to come.

“We are talking about science and technology and it is important to realize that the future is not just about machines, but humans at the heart of machine training.” — Gustavo Nogueira

Local Perspectives

Daniel tells us that while Time Machine works like this big data network that seeks to create a workflow: from scanning to metadata, from metadata to information available for access; it also realizes that the data has a belonging. These are information relating to specific places, people, and contexts in a time-space. From family origins and kinship networks, to maps, urban development and local art production.

Hence the importance of the Local Time Machine: local initiatives developed independently by a large network participants focused on specific locations. The data produced is later grouped in the larger interface, of course, but local effort comes first and sets an example of the power in focal actions.

Although we are talking about a distributed network it is important to understand the different nodes of this network. It is these Local Time Machines that together make up the Time Machine Organisation itself.

“One of the biggest challenges for historians and history itself today is that people search for anything on Google and tend to lose the context of that information. Data ends up being reduced to loose information. One of Time Machine’s goals is precisely to bring these local contexts to the data, get people to access the context along with the data.”

The large network formed by Time Machine is a continuously growing community. Not only for new partners and communities, but also for setting up new Local Time Machine that have their specific traits.

“This is another thing that I find interesting about the Time Machine: we are not trying to build a single story about our past, but from different perspectives from these Local Time Machine in different cities. As the photo shows, in different cities we are covering different moments of history from the available data and how they intersect as well. We start in Europe and in a next step it can extend to other parts of the globe “ — Gustavo Nogueira

See at the end of the text the Local Time Machine websites.


As Daniel pointed out, one of the great challenges of the present is the excess of data and information that comes to us, mainly via the Internet, and of which we cannot have the whole picture. This makes it difficult for us to gain a better view of the issues of the present, our knowledge of the past and, at the same time, the construction of the future.

More information does not necessarily mean greater knowledge. Nor does it mean that we are learning more from the amount of information that comes to us. Our difficulty here is in interconnection. How we can connect this data with access to others and be able to contextualize it.

The Time Machine Organisation’s role is also to provide tools to make this data known. Not only digitized and preserved, but also standardization, access and translation into knowledge.

In this meeting we understood better the efforts needed to implement a project to compile cultural heritage in large proportions. Confluence of interests, information and technology sharing, community building, interconnection, focus on local perspectives, and the importance of data humanization were some of the elements raised here and essential for moving such a large network forward. It’s important to take into account that infrastructure is built not only based on the latest technological innovations, but also considering human resources and having them as a major goal.

Learn more about the Local Time Machines:










As part of a partnership between TORUS and Time Machine Organization, and seeking to broaden access to Time Machine Conference 2019 learnings, we are holding a live online meeting with the keynote speakers who are part of the conference schedule. Meetings will be in English and you can access them by registering here:

Register here for free for the conference’s last online warm-up session. The next session is on October 3rd.

by Victor Hugo Barreto
contributions and translation by
Rodrigo Turra
edition by
Gustavo Nogueira (Gust)

Torus Time Lab

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store