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In the journey to safeguard and celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Malta, the allocation of 1 million Euros from the EEA Norway Grant fund marked a significant milestone for Heritage Malta.

Half of this grant was dedicated to the establishment of a cutting-edge Digitisation Unit, a pioneering initiative for Heritage Malta. This endeavor marked the beginning of a long-term project aimed at digitising an extensive array of items from the Malta Maritime Museum’s collections, encompassing paintings, navigational instruments, boat building tools, ship models, badges, weapons, uniforms, as well as intangible cultural heritage assets.

The newly established Digitisation Unit now boasts state-of-the-art equipment designed to capture super-accurate digital representations of tangible cultural heritage treasures entrusted to the agency. This includes the utilisation of various techniques such as ultra-high res still image capture, 3D laser scans, photogrammetry, and videography. Notably, even intangible cultural heritage is not left behind; it is meticulously digitised, primarily through the use of recording studios where memories and oral histories are preserved. Over the past four years, more than 200 hours of memories from ex-Dockyard workers have been documented. 

The utilisation of innovative tools like artificial intelligence enhances the accessibility of this digitised data, making it available to the widest possible audience. You will find a whole section of this exhibition dedicated to the ex-Dockyard workers memory project.

The significance of digitising cultural heritage is multifaceted. Firstly, it serves as a formidable means of preserving and protecting fragile and invaluable artifacts, documents, and artworks. Physical materials are vulnerable to deterioration over time due to environmental factors, wear and tear, or unforeseen disasters. In contrast, digital copies ensure the enduring legacy of these cultural treasures for future generations.

Furthermore, digitisation leads to increased accessibility and widespread dissemination of cultural heritage. It transcends geographical boundaries, allowing people from around the world to explore and study these treasures without the constraint of physical proximity. This democratisation of access fosters education and a deeper appreciation of our cultural riches. These digitised 3D assets are not merely stored away but are presented to the public through innovative digital tools such as virtual reality headsets, gamification, and holograms, making the exploration of cultural heritage engaging, enjoyable, and educational for all visitors.

Moreover, digitisation facilitates research, analysis, and curation. Scholars, historians, and curators can study and analyse digital replicas to gain deeper insights and conduct their research with greater efficiency. Lastly, digitisation has the power to enhance cultural exchange and collaboration on a global scale. Sharing digital collections across borders and institutions fosters deeper understanding and collaboration in preserving and celebrating our shared cultural heritage.

The digitisation of the national collection has resulted in a wealth of digital assets that are showcased in the section of the exhibition dedicated to the Dockyard collection, an integral part of the Malta Maritime Museum collection. This collection was extensively digitised as part of this project.

A pivotal outcome of this project was the development of a Collections Management System (CMS). This software solution is utilised by Heritage Malta to catalog, organise, and oversee the national collection, ensuring its comprehensive care and management. The CMS offers a structured and detailed documentation system, enabling the creation of comprehensive records for each item in the collection. It also plays a crucial role in maintaining inventory control, tracking the location, condition, and movement of collection items, thus ensuring their security and preservation. Moreover, the CMS enhances accessibility, enabling staff and researchers to efficiently search and retrieve specific items, while also supporting reporting and analysis, thereby aiding in research, decision-making, and collection development. Furthermore, the system ensures compliance with legal and ethical standards related to ownership and repatriation issues.

In an exciting development, the digitisation project has birthed the eMuseum platform, a web-based solution that makes the national collection within the CMS accessible to the general public through the internet. This initiative allows online access to all the exhibits featured in the exhibition, along with their related record information. Soon, more Heritage Malta collections will be added to this platform.

However, at the heart of the digitisation project lies not just advanced hardware and software but a team of highly trained professionals who spearhead the digitisation efforts. Their dedication and expertise are instrumental in preserving and sharing Malta’s cultural heritage with the world.

In recognition of their unwavering commitment to excellence, the Digitisation Unit achieved the prestigious ISO 9􏰇􏰇􏰁:􏰀􏰇􏰁5 certification in 􏰀􏰇􏰀􏰀. The unit is actively engaged at a European level, representing Malta within the Commission Expert Group on the common European Data Space for Cultural Heritage (CEDCHE). It is also a partner in three ongoing Horizon projects focused on the digitisation of cultural heritage. The Norway Grants were the seeds that nurtured the inception of the Digitisation Unit, and in the four years since its establishment, the unit has grown and flourished, now poised to digitise the entire national collection, ensuring that Malta’s rich cultural legacy remains vibrant and relevant in the digital age.