The CFT Tattoo Knowledge Databases

Part collections catalog, part discussion group, part internet archive, the CFT’s Knowledge Databases will form the backbone of our educational mission. They will be a way for scholars, tattooers, collectors, and others to come together to offer their wealth of knowledge in a dynamic fashion. Keywords relevant to the study of tattoo history and culture will make finding pertinent archival materials much quicker than search engines that are not custom-tailored. As more archival materials are uploaded, the databases will become a “one-stop-shopping” environment for doing tattoo history and culture research.

There will be three CFT Knowledge Databases with search capability across all simultaneously, or the researcher can choose just one or two.

Our text database will feature any and all texts about tattooing. From ancient manuscripts to contemporary blog posts, we’ll have bibliographic information for each. The power of the CFT comes into play, however, with our annotation and discussion features associated with each bibilographic entry. We’ll have our team of scholars annotate these texts to alert researchers to potential problems or particular benefits. In an archived discussion module associated with each text, any subscription-level CFT user can also weigh in on the merits or problems of any given source, referenced to page number and/or specific quote. When things are out of copyright or we can license the content, we’ll also offer a full-text version for ease of access and reading.

Our image database will feature images of tattoos, tattoo designs, artifacts that have to do with tattooing, and other related visual materials, all keyworded with relevant terms. As with the text database, we’ll have scholar annotations and the capacity for CFT users to contribute to discussion about each image. All images that are not in the public domain will be licensed for use. Additionally, if someone might want to use an image for a tatt00 project like a publication or a film/video, most images will be available either for free or for a small licensing fee (depending on what the owner of the image prefers).

Our oral history database will be developed in phase 2 of our project, as this will be the most difficult (and expensive) to build. We’ll create an archive of tattoo-related oral history, both audio-only and audiovisual files. Some of this oral history exists already, but not necessarily with proper permission for use (there are a lot of legalities surrounding the recording of people’s speech). We’ll help arrange for permission and not only license exisiting recordings, but commission new ones. We’ll allow for annotation linked to specific timecode in the recordings, so one does not necessarily need to listen to an entire recording when seeking something small.

Here are a few case studies to help you understand why the CFT’s Knowledge Databases will be useful to researchers:

1) An outdated book: With older textual sources, one often wonders whether the scholarship is still relevant. As research progresses, and new archival material comes to light, conclusions can change and purported facts can be corroborated or disproved. But despite problems, some older texts still serve as incredibly important and useful sources. Our annotations can help researchers determine what is still valuable in these older materials.

2) An Internet article: How many of us have had the experience of coming across a surprisingly useful article on a small blog or in a tiny online newspaper and forgot to bookmark it (or lost the bookmark to it)? Google searches result in frustration, as because of search-engine optimization by bigger websites, the search results fail to bring up what you are seeking. Our database will archive items from these more fleeting forms of publishing, providing links and, when possible and with proper permission, archiving the articles with screen captures. Sometimes internet-based publishing disappears due to websites closing, so in the event an article no longer exists we might still retain an archived version.

3) A museum artifact: Many museums have a few things related to tattooing in their collections. Sometimes they appear in online collections databases; other times we only know about them from on-site visits. With digitally available items, it can be hard to keep track of which museum might hold which particular object of interest. It is also time-consuming and frustrating to have to visit dozens of different websites to pull up various artifacts related to one’s research. We plan on partnering with diverse museums around the globe to bring all these disparate items into one custom collections catalog. Consider this part of the Knowledge Databases a world museum of tattoo artifacts in public collections through pictures.

4) An Instagram or Facebook picture: As with Internet articles, how many of us have seen a picture flit by while browsing an Instagram feed or a Facebook group and thought, “Wow, that would be great for my research project”. Then several months later when one returns to pull up said image, it becomes nearly impossible to find, buried in a flood of images, if one can even remember which social media feed it had appeared on. Social media has allowed for an incredible wealth of images related to tattoo history and culture to be shared and uploaded but offers dreadfully poor search capacity. We hope to remedy this by obtaining permission for use from many of those who upload these images (provided the uploader has, in turn, permission to publish the image in question on social media in the first place—unfortunately many images on the Internet are not shared with permission).


Who gets to access the Knowledge Databases? The Knowledge Databases will be available to anyone who uses our subscription service. (Students and low-income researchers are always welcome and encouraged to apply for free one-year accounts).

Where will you acquire the materials for the databases? All of our advisory board members have extensive personal collections that range from bibliographic materials to reams of esoteric xeroxed articles to documentation of tattooed images to oral history recordings. We are also partnering with private collections to license and/or document archival materials not in the public domain. Museum and institutional library collections also have many relevant items for which we can arrange use. Lastly we hope to partner with internet repositories that house archival materials from academic articles to contemporary photographs.

Why three Knowledge Databases, not just one? Different types of materials have different needs for digital preservation and cataloging. This also allows for more versatile browsing capabilities, for example if someone merely wants to watch videos or browse images.

Will I be able to download or purchase texts, images, or audio/video files from the Knowledge Databases? In some cases, items will be available for free; in others, where a licensing arrangement was necessary to secure the materials for inclusion there will be a fee for different levels of use. In a small minority of cases, items may be screen-viewable-only if the source will not allow for further use.