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Researchers win funding for exploration of culture and heritage collections

03 Nov 2021

Manchester researchers are part of a team awarded one of only five ‘Discovery projects’ funded by the AHRC as part of their new scheme, Towards a National Collection

Discovery Projects

£14.5m has been awarded in total to transform online exploration of the UK’s culture and heritage collections through harnessing innovative AI to connect the UK’s cultural artefacts and historical archives in new and transformative ways.

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.

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: Linking and searching community-generated digital content to develop the people's national collection, includes University researchers in History (Professor Hannah Barker) and Computer Studies (Professor Goran Nenadic and Dr Rize Batista-Navarro), along with colleagues at the University of Glasgow and The National Archives. Other project partners include Tate, British Museum, Association for Learning and Technology, Digital Preservation Coalition, Software Sustainability Institute, Archives+, Dictionaries of the Scots Language, National Lottery Heritage Fund, National Library of Scotland, National Library of Wales, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland and  Wikimedia UK.

In the past two decades communities have adopted digital technologies to gather and record 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). CGDC has proved extraordinarily resistant to traditional methods of linking and integration, for lack of infrastructure and the complexity of the content. Our Heritage, Our Stories will bring together a powerful partnership, including researchers in digital humanities, archives, history, and computer science with world-leading archive development to dissolve existing barriers and develop scalable linking and discoverability for CGDC.

The project will make CGDC more discoverable and accessible whilst respecting and embracing its complexity and diversity by co-designing and building sophisticated automated tools to discover and assess CGDC 'in the wild', to link it and make it searchable. This new accessibility will be showcased through a major new public-facing CGDC online Observatory at The National Archives where people can access, reuse, and remix these newly integrated collections.