Digital cultural colonialism: Measuring bias in aggregated digitized content held in Google Arts and Culture

Inna Kizhner, Melissa Terras, Maxim Rumyantsev, Valentina Khokhlova, Elisaveta Demeshkova, Ivan Rudov, Julia Afanasieva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

In February 2011, Google launched its Google Art Project, now known as Google Arts and Culture (GA&C), that currently hosts approximately six million high-resolution images of artworks from around the world, with an objective to make culture more accessible. We demonstrate that GA&C has experienced dramatic growth in recent years and includes artworks for almost every country from the UN member list. However, we document a noticeable lack of balance in the aggregator, with some countries and institutions being prioritized, and a major proportion of the holdings featuring content that resides in the USA. Moreover, after examining Russian and French collections, we see the dominance of artworks from their capital cities in GA&C, while art from provinces is clearly underrepresented. Finally, we find a dominance of art from the 20th century with some emphasis on artworks demonstrating a break in canon or ‘otherness’ of non-Western countries. The discrepancies that we observe give evidence to support previously posited ideas of digital cultural colonialism. This may be due to a lack of data transparency or availability of previously digitized content in the countries with a lower representation in the portal, or an unintentional digital amplification of conventional traditions of art collection and interpretation that dominate museum displays in larger Western cities. We call for explicit statement by platforms on their collection and selection criteria and the need for researchers to understand the biases emerging from aggregated digitized content.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberfqaa055
Pages (from-to)607-640
Number of pages34
JournalDigital Scholarship in the Humanities
Issue number3
Early online date19 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Google
  • Google Arts and Culture
  • digital humanities
  • digital cultural heritage
  • digitisation


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