From Drawer to Screen

The Documentation Project

... an extensive information system on Norwegian language and culture

Museums and Collections

At the four Universities in Norway there are many museums and collections that contain information on a wide range of aspects of Norwegian language and culture. The Viking Ship Museum at Bygdøy, Oslo, and the historical museums and the museums of natural history in Bergen, Oslo, Trondheim, and Tromsø are well-known. However, there are other, less well-known collections that are comprehensive and important. Some of these are: Norsk Folkeminnesamling (the Norwegian Collection of Folklore), Norsk folkemusikksamling (the Norwegian Collection of Folk Music), Myntkabinettet (the Collection of Coins and Medals), Runearkivet (The Runes Archives), and large collections of place names and other aspects of the Norwegian language.

Databases for Language and Culture

The Documentation Project is a nation-wide project which was given the task of transferring the various collections from paper to computers. The project was started at the University of Oslo in 1991; since 1992 the Universities of Bergen, Trondheim, and Tromsø have also been part of the project.

The information of interest is located in various archives and collections - in the form of manuscripts, catalogues, pamphlets, books, or on index cards. The aim of the project has been to convert this information to an electronic format. The digitised material forms the basis of an extensive information system describing Norwegian language and culture. The system offers modernised working methods, providing the various professional fields with improved tools for study and research. Through these databases the material is preserved for posterity and accessibility to the material for the public is increased.

Job Training Programs

The most time-consuming part of the project was the computerising of written, paper-based material. In this work, the Documentation Project joined forces with arbeidsmarkedsetaten (the Labour Market Administration). Through various employment programs, small registration groups were established in the counties of Buskerud and Vestfold (in the south-eastern part of Norway) as well as larger registration centres in the northern counties of Nordland and Finnmark. The groups in the south-eastern part of the country consisted of five to ten people who were trained in and were gaining experience of computers and registration work. This work experience improved the participants' competence and increased their chances of securing a permanent job later. More than 50% of the participants obtained regular employment after a period of work with the Documentation Project.

Re-adjustment Through Purposeful & Planned Education

The registration centres in North Norway were large units with thirty to eighty employees. The centres were established as a result of co-operation between, on the one hand, local authorities and trade and industry in the municipalities of Indre Salten, Mo i Rana and Sør-Varanger, and, on the other hand, Arbeidsdirektoratet (the Directorate of Labour), Kommunaldepartementet (the Ministry of Local Government), Næringsdepartementet (the Ministry of Industry) and the Universities. The people at these centres were offered higher education in exchange for half-time registration work for the Universities. The courses were planned according to local needs, the goal being subsequent employment in the ordinary labour market. Local trade and industry and public institutions were also given the opportunity of procuring places at these courses to train their own candidates.


Our knowledge of times past is based on finds and information gathered from private collections and archaeological excavations. At the museums in Bergen, Oslo and Tromsø this information is registered and systematised in various archives. The most important archives are the acquisition records and the topographical archives. The acquisition records give an overview of all the objects received or charted by a museum while the topographical archives contain written information on the surroundings in which historical artifacts, sites and monuments were found, information which is systematised topographically. These archives have now been digitised as part of the Documentation Project. This provides a complete electronic overview over historical artifacts and structures in the museums' collections. The project is also developing systems for computerised registration of information at the excavation site. Furthermore, there are plans for linking the databases for historical artifacts, sites and monuments to electronic maps and photographs. Digital information provides us with a better system for keeping records of these objects and makes it possible to juxtapose information that would previously have taken months or years to systematise. The new information system for archaeology makes it easier for other interested parties to find their way in the archives. These might include school teachers and students, researchers in other fields and individuals interested in local history.


The universities have large collections (paper archives) of the Norwegian language in documents that range from Medieval times up to the present-day newspaper era. Here we find information on orthographic forms, vocabulary, grammar and language use. This material forms the basis for the publication of dictionaries. This material is also important in its own right as a source of information concerning the Norwegian language, history, and culture. Large sections of the archives have been digitised by recording facsimiles (electronic images) of all the documents along with relevant information. In addition, a body of texts has been constructed by optical reading of complete literary works and transcripts of medevial documents given the SGML mark-up (Standard Generalised Mark-up Language). The system allows a word to be seen in a contemporary as well as historical context. With a few simple computer commands, one can easily obtain examples of how the word was used in the original texts. The lexical databases and electronic text collections increase the accessibility of information about the Norwegian language, history, and culture for the benefit of research, teaching, and general knowledge.