The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Sunday, September 19, 2021

Saving Our History: The Vast Digital Resource That Documents Our Past

Over the course of the past century, there have been many historical moments that changed the world and shaped it into what we know today.

But, while it’s incredibly important to revisit these and educate ourselves further about them, we often forget to look even further into the past and learn more about the beginnings of human history and the events that took place centuries ago.

The main reason for this is because the references seemingly don’t seem to exist beyond dusty books recollecting the stories of what happened, and sourcing any reference points or anything that can help make the accounts clearer can be a difficult task to carry out.

However, thanks to the work of Javad Marandi and the Marandi Foundation, this is quickly becoming a thing of the past, and looking far back into our global history is now easier than ever.

The Marandi Foundation was established in 2017 and works across four key areas; Mental health and wellbeing, providing access to education for disadvantaged children, national and public art institutions, and cultural history preservation.

Javad and his team have been working with Watercolour World, a website that creates digital copies of watercolour paintings that date back to before 1900, to build a digital library of historical paintings that is accessible from anywhere in the world and are 100% free of charge to use.

The Digital Library

Creating a digital library of historical paintings serves multiple purposes. It can be used to educate, inform, and as a reference point for anybody interested in learning more about the history of the human race.

One of the most beneficial things it can be used for is as a free source of educational material to help inspire students and help them understand the events that took place with more clarity.

A picture is worth a thousand words after all, and whilst written accounts help to tell the tale, the emotions that a painting portraying the events that took place evokes can really add to its gravitas.

Take this collection of paintings that depicts the war in Crimea, for example. Painted from an eyewitnesses account, you really get the feeling for what was happening, while the accompanying written recollection of events takes us further on this particular journey into history.

This digital resource can also provide us with information about the way the Earth looked long before modern technology made it easier to document the world around us.

An example of this is a collection of paintings that depict Australia, as drawn by convicts. Completely unrecognisable compared to the bustling Sydney landscape we’re familiar with nowadays, the paintings show us how Australia would have looked 200 years ago before advances in architecture changed the way it looked forever.

Learning from the Past

It’s not just historical events that these digitised paintings are able to document for us. We can also use this resource to learn more about climate change and the impact it has had on our planet over the past century.

Landscapes painted back in the 1700s and 1800s give us a clear indication of how rising temperatures and sea levels have affected coastlines and Arctic environments and give us the opportunity to reference them against current photographic evidence.

Likewise, paintings of animals that have become endangered or extinct over the past 120 years give us a reference point to use as we attempt to battle climate change and the human activity that has lead to their demise.

These digitised paintings allow us to learn from the past in so many ways, and it’s for this reason that preserving them in this format is essential as we move forward.

Why Preserve Paintings Digitally?

You might be wondering why we need to preserve paintings digitally. If they are already hundreds of years old, surely they can survive even longer just as they are, right?

One of the issues with watercolour paint is that it needs to be kept in very specific conditions in order to retain its vibrancy, and over time prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause it to fade away, along with the story it’s telling.

This is why watercolour paintings are often hung in darker, dusty corners of museums and libraries, or put into storage and eventually end up being forgotten about. And with this treatment, the enjoyment and information that the paintings provide us with are lost.

So, by capturing and preserving them digitally, the paintings are given a new lease of life and can continue to tell their story, educate and inform us without any risk of damage occurring to them.

A digital resource of these paintings also makes them accessible to people from all over the world and gives us the opportunity to enjoy and learn from them without needing to travel far and wide to the locations they are physically housed in.

How is it Done?

Producing a digital copy of a watercolour painting requires a good eye for detail. The first stage is to use a high-definition scanner to capture the image, but as you can imagine, some of these paintings are incredibly large so sometimes a camera might be used instead.

Once the watercolour painting has been captured, the file is uploaded to a computer and run through digital photo-editing software, such as Adobe Photoshop. Not much alteration is needed aside from slight adjustments to the saturation and brightness levels to get the colours as close to the original image as possible.

Some slight corner trimming may be carried out to crop out any dark, blank edges created by the scanner, and occasionally some texture correction will be carried out on the blank spaces of the watercolour paper.

It’s then saved and uploaded to Watercolour World’s digital library for everyone to access and enjoy.

Final Word

The way we shape the future will be inspired by what we’ve learnt from the past, and the work that Javad Marandi and Watercolour World carry out by preserving watercolour art helps us document our past in a more efficient way, gives more life to the stories that are told about historical events and helps to make sure that our history is kept safe for future generations to learn from.

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Saving Our History: The Vast Digital Resource That Documents Our Past

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