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With the appointment of Prof. Lioba Theis to the chair of Byzantine art history at the Department of History of Art at the University of Vienna in 2005, the "Digital Research Archive for Byzantium" (DiFaB) was initiated.

The main task of the project is to collect digitally the rich visual material at one of the oldest and largest departments of art history, whose collections are unique exactly in the Balkans and all other areas influenced by Byzantine culture. The collections are composed of the teaching and research material of a number of reputable Department chairs including Josef Strzygowski, Karl Swoboda, Otto Pächt and Otto Demus.

A main catalyst for the creation of a database was the opportunity to incorporate into the digitalisation project the significant private slide collection of the art historian Horst Hallensleben of Bonn, which cover the same cultural area. This digitalisation of this material is highly urgent as the physical slides themselves are in early stages of discoloration because of age and fungal decay due to the airtight glass frames.

The images are of great documentary value, as they show monuments upon which great changes have been made throughout the history of their photographic documentation. Earthquakes, fires, intentional acts of war and lack of care have lead to the partial, or even complete, destruction of these monuments. But even preservation measures have caused loss on the original object.

During the first two years, DiFaB contributed to the larger, university-wide project "UNIDAM" based on the "Easy Datenbank" from the company Programmfabrik. Together, a data input form specially designed to fit the needs of the Department of History of Art was developed, which also allowed for geographic synonyms in multiple languages.

The University of Vienna initiated a new project in 2007 with the goal of creating a single, university-wide archiving system for digital assets. The system developed called PHAIDRA (Permanent Hosting, Archiving and Indexing of Digital Resources and Assets) is a product of the Central Information Technologies department (ZID) of the University of Vienna and was ready for use in April 2008. PHAIDRA represents the implementation of the Open Access policy of the University of Vienna and offers enormous potential for the development of collaborations. As early adopters of PHAIDRA, the DiFaB staff was instrumental in developing the user requirements for the faculty of cultural and historical sciences. The exceedingly successful teamwork with PHAIDRA quickly lead to the rash implementation of metadata standards for cultural sciences and of a controlled, categorised vocabulary. Aside from project-specific standards, DiFaB was able to make the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names (TGN), the Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) and the Union List of Artist Names (ULAN) available to the entire University community.

PHAIDRA, and thus DiFaB's scientific contributions, will soon become a part of the Europe-wide EUROPEANA-Portal.


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Department of History of Art
University of Vienna

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