Provenance in the Wild #1

I’m in London for  a number of meetings. Last week I had a great time talking with chemist and IT people about how to deal with chemistry data in the new project I’m working on OpenPhacts. You’ll probably hear more about this from me as the project gets up and running. This week I’m at a workshop discussing and hacking some next generation ways of measuring impact in science.

Anyway, on the weekend I got to visit some of London’s fantastic museums. I spend a lot of my time thinking about ways of describing the provenance of things particularly  data. This tends to get rather complicated… But visiting these museums, you see how some very simple provenance can add a lot to understanding something. Here’s some examples:

A very cool looking map of britain from the Natural History Museum:

Checking out the bit of text that goes with it:

We now know that it was produced by William Smith by himself in 1815 and that this version is a facsimile. Furthermore, we find out that it was the first geological map of Britain. That little bit of information about the map’s origins makes it even cooler to look at.

Another example this time from the Victoria and Albert Museum. An action packed sculpture:

And we look at the text associated with it:

and find some interesting provenance information. We have a rough idea about when it was produced between 1622-23 and who did it (Bernini). Interestingly, we also find out how it transitioned through its series of owners from Cardinal Montalto to Joshua Reynolds and then in was in the Yarborough Collection and finally purchased by the museum. This chain of ownership is classic provenance. Actually, wikipedia has even more complete provenance of the sculpture.

These examples illustrate how a bit of provenance can add so much more richness and meaning to objects.I’m going to be on the look out for provenance  in the wild.

If you spot some cool examples of provenance, let me know.


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