Cultural Open Data: Mash Up the Past, Explore the Future

Q: What do a thresher, a locomotive and a space sled have in common?

A: They’re all a part of Canada’s national science and technology collection, available to download on the Government of Canada’s Open Data Portal.

Our three national museums, the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, Canada Aviation and Space Museum and the Canada Science and Technology Museum released our first open data sets on the Government of Canada’s Open Data Portal in November of last year. With the second annual Canadian Open Data Experience (CODE) Hackathon fast approaching, the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation is looking forward to seeing the creative, surprising ways coders across the country will mash up data sets to create useful applications for Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

Museums have an important role to play in the open data sphere. As stewards of our shared cultural, technological, and scientific heritage, national museums have a duty to ensure their collections are accessible to Canadians from coast to coast to coast. By opening up our collection of more than 100,000 artifacts highlighting Canada’s achievements in science, technology and engineering, our Museums are excited to work with coders, researchers, universities, colleges, businesses, and communities to develop useful and interesting apps for all Canadians.

We encourage developers across the country to have some fun with this unique collection. The data sets cover everything from planes and trains, to tractors and toasters. Each object has more than 80 data fields, including images of the artifact. Already, coders have accessed our data sets to create new search portals for the Museums’ collections, as demonstrated by the Collections Explorer, created by independent coder An-Min Kuo of the Blue Factor consulting group. Moreover, history students in collaboration with Digital Humanities at the University of Ottawa are working with the museum to mine the collection data, producing a student exhibit on the History of Exploration and Surveying in Canada.

The release of open data has also made an impact within our museums. It represents a significant step forward in digital culture and “thinking digital”. It also serves as a base for new museum projects that are already in the works.

As you may have heard, the Canada Science and Technology Museum has recently been closed for extensive repairs. The physical building may be closed, but the museum is active across the county, and these data sets and their many uses help to open up our extensive collection of fascinating artifacts and to facilitate new forms of digital engagement for more Canadians than ever before.

Open Data opens up uncharted opportunities for our country. Our three Museums are excited to be part of the movement, and to be participating in the CODE Hackathon this week. We look forward to working with creative people to discover new and fascinating applications for open data. The possibilities are endless!

By Brian Dawson