Towards a National Collection

Posted by j.laird on 21 September 2021 - 2:00pm
'Discovery projects'
Image from Towards a National Collection

£14.5m awarded to transform online exploration of UK’s culture and heritage collections through harnessing innovative AI.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has awarded £14.5m to the research and development of emerging technologies, including machine learning and citizen-led archiving, in order to connect the UK’s cultural artefacts and historical archives in new and transformative ways. 

The announcement today of the five major projects forming the largest investment of Towards a National Collection, a five-year research programme, reveals the first insights into how thousands of disparate collections could be explored by public audiences and academic researchers in the future.

The five ‘Discovery Projects’ will harness the potential of new technology to dissolve barriers between collections - opening up public access and facilitating research across a range of sources and stories held in different physical locations. One of the central aims is to empower and diversify audiences by involving them in the research and creating new ways for them to access and interact with collections. In addition to innovative online access, the projects will generate artist commissions, community fellowships, computer simulations, and travelling exhibitions.

The investigation is the largest of its kind to be undertaken to date, anywhere in the world. It extends across the UK, involving 15 universities and 63 heritage collections and institutions of different scales, with over 120 individual researchers and collaborators. 

Together, the Discovery Projects represent a vital step in the UK’s ambition to maintain leadership in cross-disciplinary research, both between different humanities disciplines and between the humanities and other fields. Towards a National Collection will set a global standard for other countries building their own collections, enhancing collaboration between the UK’s renowned heritage and national collections worldwide.

Our heritage, our stories

The SSI is a partner on the project “Our heritage, our stories”, led by Professor Lorna Hughes who is a member of our Advisory Board.

About the project: 

In the past two decades communities have gathered, recorded, and digitized their collections in a form of 'citizen history' that has created a truly democratic and vast reservoir of new knowledge about the past, known as community-generated digital content (CGDC). However, CGDC has
proved extraordinarily resistant to traditional methods of linking and integration, for lack of infrastructure and the multilingual, multidialectal, and multicultural complexity of the content.

Our Heritage, Our Stories will dissolve existing barriers and develop scalable linking and discoverability for CGDC, through co-designing and building sophisticated automated AI-based tools to discover and assess CGDC 'in the wild', in order to link it and make it searchable. This new accessibility will be showcased through a major public-facing CGDC Observatory at The National Archives, where people can access, reuse, and remix these newly-integrated collections.

The project will make CGDC more discoverable and accessible whilst respecting and embracing its complexity and diversity. Through this, it will help tell the stories of communities through their rich collections of CGDC, which are at present hidden from wider view. By dissolving barriers between these and showcasing their content, the project will help centre diverse community-focused voices within our shared national collection.

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