In 2017 the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney launched a new crowd-sourcing initiative to identify and document the Woodhouse Photographic Archive using the online platform Flickr. The archive contains 1800 glass plate negatives primarily taken in Greece between 1890 and 1910 by former Honorary Curator and amateur photographer William J Woodhouse (1862-1937). In itself, the archive is a rich source of documentary images of archaeological sites often before large scale excavation, pre-industrial Athens, and the social history of villages including feast days, markets and farming activities. There are also nearly 300 images of Woodhouse’s family and home life in the Blue Mountains and Gordon NSW. The decision to upload all 1800 images to Flickr in their mostly undocumented state was an experiment, not only in crowd-sourcing a wide range of expertise and community knowledge for the archive’s documentation but also to digitally connect the archive with the communities where it holds the most value. This paper will introduce the Woodhouse archive and its contents, before analysing the curation of the crowd-sourced content a year after the launch of the project.
The strategies employed for uploading the archive follow a trend for museums to increasingly seek digital volunteers, often under the banner of ‘citizen-science or variations thereof,’ in what has been traditionally ‘behind-the-scenes’ work of volunteers physically within the museum space. Recent scholarship has shown that digital volunteers connect with collections and offer their labour, expertise and time with similar motivations as those that physically enter the museum space. Flickr in particular has facilitated networks of active commentators, sharing their own content and developing social groups around places or themes of interest, which museums have actively sought to embrace. This paper will review the volunteering communities and wide varieties of expertise that have participated to date in the Woodhouse Flickr project and demonstrate the value to museums in targeting previously established active social networks.
The verification processes for crowd-sourced knowledge and the challenges it presents have been the subject of some discussion on the future of GLAM institutions in the digital environment. The methodologies for the verification of information contributed to the Woodhouse Flickr project include a variety of digital platforms, most significantly GoogleMaps, as well as an experimental expedition to ground-truth content in Greece. The results of this expedition exceeded the primary aim of verification and spawned some unexpected and incredibly rewarding connections between the photographs and the current occupants of the sites pictured. This paper will present the results of these differing methodologies and conclude with an analysis of the often cyclical connections and new collaborations afforded through making collections not only available to but a participatory experience for communities.