Launch of major £14.5m projects in the Towards a National Collection research programme 5 Oct 2021

Towards a National Collection is a five-year Arts and Humanities Research Council funded research programme, exploring how thousands of disparate collections could be better connected in the future, for use by both academics and the public. After some initial pilot projects and events, AHRC has announced that it will invest £14.5m in five projects, using and developing emerging technologies, including machine learning and citizen-led archiving. Each project involves collaboration between a higher education institution and GLAM sector organisation and has up to a dozen partners from the UK and beyond. Tate, V&A, British Museum, BFI, National Museums of Scotland, National Trust, The Art Fund and Van Abbemuseum are among those involved. The five projects are:

  • ‘The Congruence Engine: Digital Tools for New Collections-Based Industrial Histories’ – led by Science Museum Group and creating a prototype toolbox for everyone interested in industrial histories.
  • ‘Our Heritage, Our Stories: Linking and searching community-generated digital content to develop a people's national collection’, led by the University of Glasgow.
  • ‘Transforming Collections: Reimagining Art, Nation and Heritage’. Led by the University of the Arts London, with museum partners including Birmingham Museums Trust, Manchester Museum and Tate, the project addresses the idea that a national collection cannot be imagined without addressing structural inequalities in the arts, engaging debates around contested heritage, and revealing how contentious histories are innate in objects. The aim is to surface suppressed histories, amplify marginalised voices, and re-evaluate artists and artworks ignored or sidelined by dominant narratives.
  • ‘The Sloane Lab: Looking back to build future shared collections’, will look at the vast collections of Sir Hans Sloane in public institutions, including the British Museum, British Library and Natural History Museum. Led by University College London and TU Darmstadt, it will create ‘the Sloane Lab’ – a digital online resource open to researchers and the public.
  • ‘Unpath'd Waters: Marine and Maritime Collections in the UK’ will explore, and link together histories of the sea from Bronze Age wrecks to modern seaside resorts. Led by Historic England and English Heritage, it will make many records available for the first time.

Outcomes of each project will provide evidence-based policy recommendations that will guide digital investment policy within the UK. AHRC’s Executive Chair Professor Christopher Smith said “this moment marks the start of the most ambitious phase of research and development we have ever undertaken as a country in the space where culture and heritage meets AI technology. Towards a National Collection is leading us to a long term vision of a new national research infrastructure that will be of benefit to collections, researchers and audiences right across the UK.” Towards a National Collection, TaNC (twitter thread), TaNC, (project detail), Museums Journal