DE-BIAS – Detecting and Cur(at)ing Harmful Language in Cultural Heritage Collections

Fotografie von Al Vandenberg
Untitled [school girls in a line] from the series On a Good Day by Al Vandenberg (photographer) - Victoria and Albert Museum, United Kingdom - CC BY. Quelle:

Project for an Inclusive Approach to Cultural Collections Description

Traditionally, the cataloging of historical objects held in archives, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions has been done primarily from the perspective of the majority community. The object descriptions that have evolved in this way over the decades have to a large extent excluded minorities and their identities and histories, or have described them in an inappropriate and inadequate way. In addition, from today’s perspective, they sometimes convey outdated views and contain terms that can be offensive and hurtful.

Today’s change in archival awareness and desire to update descriptions is countered by the challenge of the sheer size of many collections, the complexity of the undertaking, and, in some cases, a lack of knowledge or awareness.

To help archives identify and correct outdated language and support revisions, the DFF-led EU project DE-BIAS will develop a tool that automatically identifies and contextualizes inappropriate terms in five different languages and suggests contemporary terms.

As a basis for the tool, DE-BIAS will develop vocabularies focusing on three thematic complexes: a) migration and colonial past, b) gender and sexual identity, c) ethnicity and ethno-religious identity. In this context, the project will seek and promote close dialogue with minority communities and involve them in the development of the vocabularies. This will help to ensure that the current self-identifications of the communities involved are considered and accurately represented.

The tool will be integrated into Europeana, the European search portal to the archival holdings of over 5,000 archives, museums and similar institutions, and made available to individual institutions so that they can analyze their own records and automatically identify outdated terms.

Finally, the project is developing several resources and tools – including an online knowledge base and a staff training course – to ensure the long-term impact of the project.

Europeana Blog Posts on DE-BIAS

A QUEER TOUR in 21 objects

How can we use art to talk about history? Art and cultural objects from European archives can be used to reflect on historical events and break up traditional narratives. Hidden personalities and narratives that have been forgotten or neglected by history emerge from new perspectives. The online exhibition, curated by Dani Martiri of Queering Rome, was created as part of the DEBIAS project and can be viewed on Europeana.

DE-BIAS project enriches archives through community collaboration

The DE-BIAS project is working closely with communities to understand how to better represent their histories in the metadata of cultural heritage collections. Find out more about how the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision is collaborating with the Dutch Surinamese community.

Fotografie von Al Vandenberg

Address bias in your cultural heritage collections with the DE-BIAS project

DE-BIAS aims to detect and give context to harmful language in the cultural heritage collections aggregated in, while also supporting cultural heritage professionals to address bias in their own collections. Explore plans from the project’s capacity building programme.

Learning by doing: touching base with the communities of the DE-BIAS project

In a previous post, the DE-BIAS project shared the methodology that it has developed to co-create knowledge to ‘de-bias’ cultural heritage collections by working with different communities. Discover how the methodology was developed through meetings with the communities collaborating with the project.

Discover how DE-BIAS is developing a methodology for knowledge co-creation

How can we co-create knowledge to ‘de-bias’ cultural heritage collections? Discover a methodology being developed within the DE-BIAS project to support this aim, in cooperation with the project’s collaborating communities.

‘Nothing about us without us’: how the DE-BIAS project will explore participation, partnership and community engagement

As the DE-BIAS project gets underway, Cristina Da Milano from project partner ECCOM reflects on some of the project’s key concepts. Read on to explore the relevance of participation, partnership and community engagement – and the methodologies connected to their application – to the cultural heritage sector.