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A digital database for all kinds of information on the Dutch settlement in West Bengal (17th to 19th century) that connects the past with the present through satellite-images is now available at one's fingertips.
The user-friendly website dutchinchinsurah.com would be beneficial for travellers, enthusiasts and urban planners.
Dubbed as a "one-stop-shop" for data (oral, visual, written), the interactive website takes back one to 1607 when Dutch began settling in Chinsurah, a suburb less than 50 km from Kolkata, on the banks of the Hooghly river.
Built on the geographic information system (GIS) platform, the website helps to unravel the layers of history and makes it relatable to the current scenario by aligning geographic data to a specific location (known as georeferencing) in Chinsurah.
"This inter-disciplinary venture combines digital humanities and social sciences and enables one to find meaning in history and explore how it can drive positive development today. It is a one-stop-shop for everything on the Dutch in Chinsurah," said conservation architect Aishwarya Tipnis, who led the project.
The cultural mapping of Chinsurah's tangible and intangible shared cultural heritage was initiated by the Netherlands embassy and involved the digital humanities initiative of the Presidency University.
Its major outcomes are documentation and mapping of the heritage, creation of a timeline, an archive of oral history, comprehensive database of the Dutch Cemetery and community development for dissemination of the Dutch heritage in Chinsurah.
For example, the parallel timeline offers a glimpse of what was happening in India 400 years ago and what transpired with the Dutch in Bengal while the historic overlays use old maps and satellite images to show how an existing area in Chinsurah looked centuries ago.
Another interesting feature is the graphic mapping where one could glean an idea on the relationship of vehicular traffic and landmarks, ecological diversity, religious landmarks, social spaces and so on.
"The idea is not to bring back the old Chinsurah or freeze it in time. If we want any development in tourism and urban planning, then it should respect its history. The site provides a way of how to go about things in the future. Urban planners and municipalities can take cue when they design anything new," Tipnis said.
The virtual tour also gives updates on the status of preservation of monuments and around 95 heritage edifices are marked on the maps that link up to the Netherlands's archives for further inputs.
In addition, nuggets of data narrating the Dutch and Bengal connection through the eyes of locals have been captured in short videos. A tourism brochure was also unveiled.