Cambridge Experimental Videodisc Project



Introducing the new web version of the of the Naga project

Like similar projects of its time, videodisc technology was not taken up with any enthusiasm in Britain. The sophisticated player that we used was difficult to get hold of and institutions did not have a wider use for it. However, our experience with migrating the Earls Colne database to the web made us keen to try to do so with the Naga project.

In 2001, Richard Boulton, who had worked with Martin Porter in the past, and Sarah Harrison began the difficult task of converting the videodisc and database into a web version. It has been done as a faithful copy of the original system. The images and sound tracks were all downloaded from the videodisc and made into jpeg, mp3 and mp4 files. The data was converted into XML and edited to include images and sound. The new online version is in html. It should be simpler to use as the data structure has been much improved by Louise Boulton.


Link to the Naga data


'The Men Who Hunted Heads - The Nagas of Assam'

is the complete film made by Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf for the BBC in 1970 which we indexed from his diary in the database.

Description of the original project

This project ran from 1985 to 1992 and involved the following people: Michael Bryant, Sarah Harrison, Anita Herle, Julian Jacobs, Alan Macfarlane and Martin Porter. It was funded with small grants from: King's College Research Centre, Cambridge; Leverhulme Trust; Nuffield Foundation; Economic and Social Research Council; University of Cambridge.

Nature of the materials

- 6500 black and white field photographs; 1350 colour photographs of museum objects; 150 sequences of moving film; maps, sketches, painting and 72 minutes of sound.

- about 5000 pages of text, including much unpublished historical material (field notes, tour diaries, letters, thesis), as well as some published materials. All of this concerns the Naga peoples of the North-Eastern frontier of India and Burma.

The original materials are in English and German, and cover the period from 1850-1980. The materials were obtained from various private collections, Pitt-Rivers Museum and Archive, School of Oriental and African Studies, Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Museum of Mankind and other archives.

The transcripts are currently deposited in the Department of Social Anthropology at Cambridge.

Access to the collections

These materials were made available in the following ways:

- a Museum Exhibition which lasted from 1990 to 1992 in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge (see Guide & Articles)

- The Naga videodisc (optical disc) which contained the visual materials as described across.

- The Naga database (hard disc) the data and indexes to the data were contained in a database (some 24 megabytes in size), which was accessed by a probabalistic information retrieval system written by Martin Porter.

There is also a book written by Julian Jacobs, in association with Alan Macfarlane, Sarah Harrison and Anita Herle, The Nagas, Hill Peoples of North East India: Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter (Thames and Hudson, 1990).

- the related software was the Cambridge Database System (CDS) a probabilistic information retrieval system based on the MUSCAT (Museum Cataloguing system), written by Martin Porter.

[Also developed was 'Videoscript', a program to provide 'authoring' facilities on a videodisc player in combination with an Amiga microcomputer written by Michael Bryant. ]

Reports and accounts

Annual reports on the project were written from, 1985-1989 to Nuffield Foundation and Economic and Social Research Council (final report to ESRC deposited in the British Lending Library).

There are a number of accounts of the project and how the data was selected, the computer software etc.