DIGITAL STORYTELLING AS A HERITAGE INTERPRETATION TECHNIQUE

-       AN APPLICATION ON CAVAFY MUSEUM IN ALEXANDRIA -

 

Prof. Nashwa Fouad1 and  Duaa Samir Ali2 

1Tourism Studies Department, Alexandria University, Egypt, nashwafouad1@yahoo.com  

2Tourism Studies Department, Alexandria University, Egypt

ABSTRACT

Telling a story was always considered as an essential tool in communication throughout the history of mankind. Nowadays, new technologies have contributed tremendously in developing storytelling methods in so many scientific fields. A few years ago, the term digital storytelling was born and has spread dramatically worldwide as a technique used in the cultural heritage interpretation (Rizvić and Tsiafaki, 2015).  It also became one of the best technological solutions that small and medium-sized museums can adopt because of their affordability and efficiency. Cavafy museum is considered one of the smallest and neglected museums in Alexandria. So, adopting digital storytelling technique could add a value to the presentation and promotion of that museum's collections through using an innovative manner.

The descriptive analytical approach was employed in this paper to describe the concept of digital storytelling as a new technique in heritage interpretation and to explore the museum's general atmosphere, as well as, the presentation and interpretation methods used in it. The key results of the paper indicated that Cavafy’s Museum is neglected and suffers from a lack of innovative technological interpretation methods that could present or interpret the artistic value of it. Thus, the paper proposed a model for adopting digital storytelling as an interpretation technique in Cavafy's Museum.  

Key Words: Digital storytelling, heritage, interpretation, Cavafy’s Museum.  

 

1    INTRODUCTION

The core essence of cultural heritage is the shared social values which can be preserved, presented, interpreted, and passed to future generations. Also, heritage interpretation importance lies in its ability of building bridges between audience and history through presenting historical knowledge in an artistic and entertaining manner. According to the Anglo-American definition, heritage interpretation aims at "creating synergies between past cultural heritage and contemporary creations; live arts and crafts should be promoted in order to encourage dialogue between generations and the integration of cultural heritage in local daily life'' (Dal Falco and Vassos, 2017, p.3).

Recently, advanced applications have been used in presenting cultural and archaeological objects.  For instance, virtual reality applications were used to present the remains of important heritage sites and also some video games were programmed to raise the archeological awareness of the users. The main common element in most of the advanced technologies related to heritage interpretation is storytelling, as without telling the visitor or the viewer the right story using the right methodology, the main goals of the interpretation process cannot be reached (Rizvic, 2014). 

The selection of Cavafy's Museum specifically; was due to its unique features of representing the whole life of an artist in his own apartment, which also had witnessed the creation of most of his artworks. However, the museum is considered one of the smallest and most disregarded ones in Alexandria. Therefore, applying digital storytelling technique would help to shed light on its importance and presenting it in an innovative manner.   

In this respect, the paper will answer the following questions:

§  What are the advantages of applying digital storytelling technique for small and medium-sized museums?

§  How could the artistic value of Cavafy's Museum be presented and interpreted through digital storytelling technique?

 

2    literature review

 

2.1     The Digital Storytelling Concept

The term “digital storytelling” is defined by Miller (2008) citied in (Rizvic and Tsiafaki,2015,p.6) as "a narrative entertainment that reaches the audience via digital technology and media.” Also, Miller argued that "digital storytelling techniques can make a dry or difficult subject more alive and engaging to the viewers". Besides, Glassner (2004) citied in (Rizvić and Tsiafaki, 2015, p.6) explained digital storytelling as "an interactive experience, where the audience member actually affects the story itself". From the previous, digital storytelling can be defined as a mean which could affect the audience emotions through presenting an entertaining information via digitalized media, using a narrative manner.

  Digital storytelling can be applied to many fields like environment, health, sciences, culture, and humanities. As for adopting digital storytelling for cultural heritage, three main aspects must be taken into consideration including educational, cultural mediation and tourism aspects.  Firstly, as storytelling offers a wide access to information and knowledge through a user-friendly way. So, this type of activity can generate interest, attention, and motivation to learn more about cultural heritage through simplifying difficult concepts and making them more understandable. Secondly, digital storytelling can work as an effective tool for engaging visitors with museums. This aspect of implementing digital storytelling is considered a vital element nowadays as it offers an educational and also an entertaining source of knowledge in museums. Thirdly, cultural heritage is a vital component of the tourism product and it could be better presented by using digital storytelling. On the other hand, visitors also have the opportunity to tell their own travel story by using accessible, easily produced and distributed tools (Brouillard et al., 2015).  

Thus, digital storytelling is considered a new technique that may support the heritage interpretation process in museums (Valtolina, 2016).    

 

2.2     The Importance of Adopting Digital Storytelling for Museums

It must be noted that museums' technological era has been ongoing for decades. The beginning of the 21st century was considered the beginning of the investigation of innovative information and communication technologies, particularly innovative data visualization techniques which could be used to display and interpret collections. However, these advanced technologies, whether they are web sites, mobile apps, or multimedia installations, require significant funds and expert technicians.  Yet, only large museums can afford the investment in interactive technologies, as solutions based on virtual and augmented reality technologies to enhance what visitors can see through 3D reconstructions of the real scenes. On the other hand, smaller museums suffer from lack of fund as they are always trying to reduce offered services, which may result in a reduction in the number of visits (Valtolina, 2016). 

Besides, many museums lack interactivity features while displaying artifacts, as they depend largely on observation and information panels with strict rules of behavior. Therefore, the perceived experience of visiting museums will definitely not be as entertaining as it should be. However, in the last few decades, technology offered new approaches towards presenting heritage and experience through innovative tools (Dal Falco and Vassos, 2017). Thus, a technique that may help museums to present its collections using innovative manner with a reasonable budget can be framed into storytelling. Generally, a story could support the interpretation activities of museums' collections and also it could help in linking the artwork with its historical background (Valtolina, 2016).  

The fundamental component in managing the story is the implicit graph of the story through which the story trajectory could be developed gradually, this is also known as drama management which is being conducted in the process of programming video games. This can be applied on heritage through developing an interactive narrative system, which may help in integrating all historic elements and characters within the present visitor experience before, during and after the visit (Dal Falco and Vassos, 2017). Also, key storytelling techniques such as setting the scene, building to a climax, or twist in the tale, are familiar to most of us through books and theatre.  Although museums are known for presenting only facts about history and displayed objects, they could utilize some aspects of historical events to revitalize the visitor's curiosity to discover more about history by using an entertaining technique like storytelling (The British Museum, 2018).

Based on the above, the adoption of an interactive digital storytelling method for museum could help in developing an integrated relationship between objects and visitor experience. Also, digital technologies have the power to transform museums from just a physical space into virtual lives of related characters and stories, which may affect the visitor experience and make him fully immersed within the story of the museum's artifacts (Dal Falco and Vassos, 2017).

Moreover, digital storytelling has the ability to build and support the museums' brand identity, as one of the main roles of museums is to transmit cultural and historical knowledge to the audience. Thus, storytelling process and its various activities can assist in strengthening the identity of a museum through asserting on its unique features and value (Mossberg et al., 2011; Rontani, 2015).

 

2.3     Different Forms of Digital Storytelling

 The history of storytelling in the digital era dates back to the beginnings of using personal computers and networks, where hypertext was the first form of it (Brouillard et al., 2015). Hypertext narratives, which are associated with the Internet, offer great possibilities for integrating a large amount of digital cultural heritage into a narrative format (Ryan, 2005). However, the different forms of storytelling range from the hypertext model to real-time generated narrative using advanced systems.  According to Hartmut Koenitz, the purpose of developing expressive narrative forms in digital formats is to promote a different and potentially better understanding of the complex world and a new way to share experiences with others (Koenitz et al., 2015).

Besides, the interactive digital narrative has become very popular in virtual cultural heritage applications, as it offers an interactive and immersive experience to visitors.  Digital storytelling also implies a transition from the traditional linear story told by means of film language to a more complex and multi-dimensional one (Chenu et al., 2014; Dvorko, 2015).

 

2.4     Tools of Digital Storytelling

Implementing digital storytelling on cultural heritage requires specific tools for data indexing, structuring, media processing, editing and publication on several digital devices. Digital storytelling tools can range from web to desktop applications (Brouillard et al., 2015).

Firstly, digital storytelling requires a system which is capable of managing digital collections. This can be a combination of two systems including a Digital Asset Management System (DAM) and a Collection Management System (CMS). A DAM system is specialized in the storage and distribution of digital objects in different resolutions and formats, so that they can be used by other applications. A Collection Management System (CMS) is a system which is used to create and store descriptive and administrative data about the objects in the collection. These systems exchange data with the client's applications, for instance: (websites, web applications, mobile apps, or interactive mapping), also this can be accomplished through using an "Application Programming Interfaces" or APIs, as Clarke (2004) clarifies that API is considered a tool that makes it easier for developers to use certain technologies in building web and mobile applications (Brouillard et al., 2015). 

Secondly, creating rich interactive documents is considered a new mean of content editing, as it offers great possibilities for integrating heritage content into a narrative form.  It also consists of two main steps including: the elaboration phase of video units, and the development phase which could result in producing the web reading interface. Thirdly, linking the content to a specific place, e.g. mobile geo-located media in mobile devices may offer great possibilities for implementing this phase (Danks et al, 2007; Brouillard et al., 2015). 

 

2.5     Framework for Adopting Digital Storytelling Technique for Museums

As for the framework of adopting digital storytelling techniques in museums, there is a lack in the academic research on this topic. However, Volantina (2016) and Dal Falco and Vassos (2017) proposed a frameworks which aimed at providing users with an advanced spreading strategy based on a storytelling method.

The following is a suggested framework based on the previous studies (Volantina, 2016 ; Dal Falco and Vassos, 2017):

The main steps of the suggested framework are:

       Step 1: Aggregation and Organizing historical data: this step acts for integrating cultural data through a cloud structural design*[1]which could scale according to the museum’s needs and dimensions. Also, historical data and accurate information is considered an essential element in this step, as historical background should include information about famous figures that had lived at the site of the museum.

      Step 2: Building the story: this step is important for making the process of creating stories possible by using a graph-based tool. Besides, materials like texts, images, videos or other stories can be retrieved by the author to use them as a basis for structuring the story.

      Step 3: Presenting the story: this step is responsible for providing users with stories that can be accessed through a personalized story structure defined by the domain experts. This can differ according to the user’s profile and context of use, like PC, laptop, tablet, smartphone, TV, multi- touch screen, etc. or using immersive digital experiences which are based on the use of virtual and augmented reality technologies. The vital element in this step is to develop an interactive experience as this can be accomplished by the interaction design specialists and applications' developers to implement the story scenario using interactive tools within a physical, digital or a hybrid space. Furthermore, branding the museum's identity through storytelling technique can affect the identity of the museum tremendously. Thus, integrating this technique in a branding process could have a great impact on potential visitor's perceived image of the museum.

        Step 4: Continuous evaluation must be done to make sure that the model is achieving its main objectives, particularly for the target audience.   

 

2.6     The Historical Background of Cavafy's Museum

       Alexandria as a tourist city has witnessed several historical periods which are represented by museums. Yet, not all Alexandria museums are well-known and presented in an appropriate tourist manner. One of these undervalued museums is Cavafy’s Museum. Cavafy’s Museum, also known as Konstantinos Petrou Kavafis, was dedicated to the memory of a famous Greek poet named Constantine P. Cavafy. Cavafy was born in 1863 in Alexandria to Greek parents. His father was a merchant who traveled a lot, but after his father's death, he and his family were forced to travel to Liverpool in England. However, due to financial problems, they came back to their home in Alexandria. In 1882, after some political and war disturbances, Cavafy's family had to travel again to Constantinople. In 1885, Cavafy came back to Alexandria where he lived the rest of his life. In the 29th of April 1933, he died and was buried at Al- Chateby area in Alexandria (The World's Poetry Archive, 2012; the Official Website of Cavafy’s Archive, 2018).

      After his death, his apartment was turned into a cheap hostel. However, his relatives and friends managed to save his works, pictures, and furniture with the help of Stratis Tsirkas, who was also a Greek poet and a lover of Cavafy's works (Alexandria Governorate Website, 2014).  On the 16th of Nov. 1992, the apartment was turned into a museum that represents Cavafy's life, furniture, works, library, old pictures, and sketches. It also contains a number of Cavafy’s poems translated into 20 languages by nearly 40 different scholars. Besides, there is an entire room in the museum named after Stratis Tsirkas, which contains his pictures and some of his works (Alexandria Governorate Website, 2014). It must be noted that The Hellenic foundation for culture is the main responsible for managing the museum.

     About 154 of his poetry works were published. However, he wrote other dozens of incomplete poems. Most of his famous poems were written after he reached forty years (The World's Poetry Archive, 2012). Some of the themes of his poetry works include subjects related to: Uncertainty about the future, sensual pleasures, the moral character and psychology of individuals, homosexuality, and a fatalistic existential nostalgia. These themes were drawn from his personal experiences, along with a deep and wide knowledge of history. In 1904, he wrote one of his most important works, "Waiting for the Barbarians" poem (Kato and Iwasaki, 2017). He also wrote Ithaca poem which was inspired by Homeric return journey of Odysseus to his home island (The World's Poetry Archive, 2012).

 

3    Methodology

To answer the paper questions, a descriptive analytical approach was employed based on a mixed methodology. First, the paper described the concept of digital storytelling as a new technique in heritage interpretation, its importance, advantages, forms, tools, and then the paper proposed a framework for implementing digital storytelling in museums. Second, an unstructured interview was conducted with the curator of Cavafy's Museum, who works in this position for more than 25 years. The interview was conducted on the 17th of Oct 2018 to investigate three main dimensions of Cavafy's Museum including the museum's administrative body, Visitors’ numbers, and the future plan of managing the museum. Finally, the observation method was used to explore the museum's general atmosphere, presentation and interpretation techniques.

 

3.2 RESULTS AND DISCUSSION  

       Concerning the interview, the curator of the museum clarified that the Hellenic Center for culture is the main association responsible for managing the museum, and there is no other links between the museum and other parties related to the ministry of antiquities or the ministry of tourism. As for the number of visits, the curator declared that there are no clear statistics for the numbers of the audience who visit the museum monthly or annually. However, the curator declared that he sends the sales of tickets every three months to the Hellenic center for culture which manages the museum and approximately 200 visitors (foreigners and Egyptians) visit the museum every three months. Furthermore, most of the visitors are from Greece, which is the homeland of Cavafy. Besides, the interviewee added that the museum also sells poetry's books to the visitors who are interested in reading Cavafy's poems or other famous poets' books.

As for the future plan of the museum, the curator explained that the museum doesn't have any current or future written management plans. Despite that, the museum organizes events related to the art of poetry, and on some occasions, it invites some famous poets to attend those cultural symposiums. However, the curator clarified that the last event was about a year ago, so there is no clear plan for organizing these events regularly.

So, it is obvious that the museum lacks the sufficient attention from the Hellenic Center and from other parties that could assist in evolving it.

As for the observation of the museum's general atmosphere and available interpretation methods, the researchers perceived the following:

 

3.2.1 Museum's location and general atmosphere

        The museum's location couldn't be reached easily, and there are no signs or boards that show the directions to the museum. The general atmosphere has the ability to make the visitor feel nostalgic, as the apartment contains Cavafy's own furniture, his own books and pictures. Yet, there are no clear interpretation panels that clarify the surrounding artifacts, as well as, Cavafy's belongings. Furthermore, the current panels are written in only the Greek language, which cannot be understood by all the visitors.

 

3.2.2 Museum's presentation and interpretation methods

Cavafy’s Museum isn't one of the famous museums in Alexandria and it isn’t promoted by the Egyptian Tourism Authority in any way. It was observed that the local visitors who came to the museum while conducting the interview didn't know that there is a museum like that in Alexandria, and they only came because they were crossing accidentally the museum street (The Egyptian Tourism Authority Official Website,2018).

Moreover, the unique values of the museum's objects and Cavafy's personal belongings cannot be understood or perceived by visitors because of the absence of an effective interpretation strategy. This is clarified by the following photos taken by researchers during the observation

 
 

 

4    Conclusion and Recommendation:

Based on the previous results, it can be concluded that digital storytelling can be one of the most important techniques to present and interpret heritage values; as it considered an affordable solution for small and medium-sized museums like Cavafy’s Museum in Alexandria city. In addition, this technique offers a valuable historical content through a suitable technological solution. Also, it is obvious that despite the historical and artistic value of the Museum, it doesn't adopt any creative or innovative interpretation methods. It is also unknown by visitors and it lacks the adequate funding which is necessary for promoting and presenting its unique value. Thus, integrating the museum into the tourism promotional campaigns of Egypt in general and Alexandria, in particular, will inevitably have a tremendous impact on raising the awareness of the audience of the importance of this museum. Furthermore, it needs adequate funding and proper management and adoption of the suitable techniques and methods for the museum as this is considered one of the most vital elements in heritage presentation and interpretation.

           The suggested model for adopting digital storytelling technique in Cavafy’s Museum is an attempt to present and interpret the historical and artistic value of the museum in an innovative manner and may result in adding a value to the museum as one of the must-see attractions in Alexandria.

 

5    A Proposed Model of Implementing Digital Storytelling Technique on Cavafy’s museum:  

 The following model illustrates how to utilize the main aspects of digital storytelling to present Cavafy’s Museum heritage value in an innovative way.

 

§  Step 1: Aggregation and organizing historical data: this step could be done through the selection of a team by the Hellenic center for culture. The team can include historians, researchers, domain experts, programmers, authors, interpreters and marketers. Then, developing the historical knowledge about Cavafy's life and his famous published and unpublished poems, in addition to all the artworks which were inspired by his poems, as most of these works are being displayed in a room in the museum itself.  

§  Step 2: Building the story: this step could be done through the adoption of a digital asset management system which is capable of storing, managing and distributing digital objects through different formats in order to be used via various applications and platforms. Afterwards, building the story with the help of drama management field. This step can be conducted by authors and interpreters. Using imagination features in the story could be entertaining to visitors rather than the traditional display of facts. 

§  Step 3: Presenting the story: this step could be done by developing the interactive experience with the help of domain experts and programmers. This can be done by designing graphs to represent each part of the story and adapt it to be responsive to visitors’ profiles. This helps in making their experience more interactive. On the other hand, integrating other forms of interactive technologies in the model like, augmented reality could assist in enriching the content and also supporting visitors' experiences. Also, marketers can develop a brand that reflects major elements of the museum's identity like, the nostalgic atmosphere, main themes of Cavafy's poems and his favorite belongings which still exist in his apartment.

Most importantly, this brand and marketing efforts must be achieved with collaboration between the Hellenic Center for Culture and the Egyptian Tourism Authority. This may result in marketing the museum as one of the must-see attractions in Alexandria.

§   Step 4: Continuous evaluation with the help of the Hellenic Center for Culture and the Egyptian Tourism Authority. This may assist in tracking any obstacles that could appear during the implementation process of the model.

The following figure represents the model:

Figure 1: A Proposed Model of Implementing Digital Storytelling Technique on Cavafy’s Museum

 

 

 

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WEBSITES:

 

The Egyptian Tourism Authority official website (2018), Retrieved from: http://www.egypt.travel/ar/    (Accessed on 12 Oct.2018)

The British Museum Official Website (2018), Retrieved from:  www.britishmuseum.org/ (Accessed on 20 Sep. 2018).

Alexandria Governorate Official website (2014), Retrieved from:  www.alexandria.gov.eg/index.htm (Accessed on 12 Sep.2018).

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[1] * * Cloud computing is a recent trend in IT that moves computing and data away from desktop and portable PCs into large data centers. It enables convenient and on-demand network access that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction (Mell and Grance, 2011; Jadeja and Modi, 2012).