Museum Studies Program
The George Washington University
MSTD 297 (Summer 2010


Digital Imaging For Museums
Policy and Practice


Dr. Robert Leopold
National Anthropological Archives and Human Studies Film Archives
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution



About the course

This course is designed for museum professionals who expect to manage a digital imaging project or program. It examines current issues relating to the creation of digital surrogates of museum collections while providing guidance on imaging standards and initiatives in a rapidly changing field. Although the course emphasizes imaging program management more than technical skills, participants will learn enough about digital imaging to help them recognize and produce high quality images. One session is devoted to introductory, hands-on work with Adobe Photoshop, the premier tool for creating digital images. The course also examines such issues as the role of imaging in collections management; the preservation of digital information; the costs associated with managing digital assets; digital images in online exhibits; the online display of culturally sensitive images; and intangible cultural property rights.

Requirements, grading, office hours

READINGS. All of the required readings are available online. There are also two supplementary web pages: Short List of Digital Imaging Resources and Ethics of Exhibiting Culturally Sensitive Materials Online.

TERM PAPERS: There are three options: 1) a critical, comparative study of two or more imaging programs not represented in the class readings (which will generally require that you interview imaging program personnel); 2) a mock grant proposal to fund an imaging program at a cultural heritage organization, based on a needs-assessment interview with key administrative staff; 3) a final project that applies classroom readings and lectures to present and/or future employment or professional goals.

A precis of the term paper is due June 10. Your precis should identify the institutions you plan to write about in your paper. If you plan to conduct an interview for the grant-writing option, please discuss your project with the appropriate individuals before you submit your precis. Papers are due Wednesday, July 1. Late papers will receive a reduced grade.

At least once in your lifetime you should read Plagiarism: What It Is and How to Recognize and Avoid It.

20%  Class participation (attendance, engagement, preparation, active participation)
30%  Mid-term exam (based on assignments and lectures)
50%  Term paper (15 page minimum)

Office hours are by appointment only.


Getting Started: Selection Criteria for Digital Imaging Projects (May 27) 

How do digital images enhance access to collections? How do digital images enhance collections management? What are the differences between digital libraries, archives, and museum collections? What does the public expect from digital museums?

Topics include: Selection criteria; digital libraries vs. digital collections; digitizing projects vs. digitizing programs; working with outside vendor; identifying model imaging programs.


Also recommended


Hands-on Digital Imaging (June 3)

Introduction to Adobe Photoshop. Topics include: File size and resolution, cropping, rotating, levels and curves, color adjustments, unsharp mask, adjustment layers, save for web options, correcting and repairing images, iImage file formats, Camera RAW, automatic adjustments, watermarks, actions, batch processing, TIFF headers, ICC profiles, profile-to-profile conversions, densitometer and other Photoshop tools.


  • Frey, Franziska S. and James M. Reilly. Digital Imaging for Photographic Collections. Rochester, NY: Image Permanence Institute, 1999. [PDF]

Good descriptions of imaging programs:

Also recommended


Imaging Equipment, Standards and Quality Control (June 10)

How to select digital imaging equipment. Differences between expensive and inexpensive flatbed scanners and digital cameras: What does money buy? How to keep your imaging project from becoming obsolete before it's finished. Topics include: file formats, color management (ICC Profiles), file compression, master images and low-resolution derivatives.


Also recommended:


Managing, Safeguarding and Preserving Digital Assets (June 17)

Image filenaming conventions, metadata, folksonomies, controlled vocabularies, cataloging and social tagging. The longevity of digital media; digital preservation; the costs associated with preserving digital assets; models for charging for image rights and reproductions.

Readings about image collections management:

Also recommended:

Readings about preserving digital assets:

Also recommended:


Sharing Resources and Developing Online Exhibits (June 24)

Topics include Collections Management Systems, shared digital repositories, and national consortiums of online digital resources.


View these online databases / collections management systems. Try performing a search for "Japanese art" in each one.

View these online exhibits:

Useful blogs:

You may also wish to view the Best of the Web winners at the Museums and the Web 2009. (To view the winners for previous years, simply replace the current year in the URL.)

Also recommended:

  • Stephenson, Christie and Patricia McClung (eds.). Delivering Digital Images: Cultural Heritage Resources for Education. Getty Research Institute, 1998.
  • Stephenson, Christie and Patricia McClung (eds.). Images Online: Perspectives on the Museum Educational Site Licensing Project. Getty Research Institute, 1998.
  • Zorich, Diane M. 1999. Introduction to Managing Digital Assets: Options for Cultural and Educational Organizations. Los Angeles: Getty Information Institute.


Museum Collections, Cultural Property, and Contested Access to Museum Assets (July 1)

How do cultural heritage institutions make policy decisions about placing their collections online? What models exist for the online display of tangible and intangible cultural property? How do policy decisions relate to archival and museum practices regarding public access? Who decides, and who benefits from these decisions?


Also recommended:


Last updated: May 23, 2010