Transforming collections: the Archives Hub is part of the Towards a National Collection initiative

Our aggregator the Archives Hub is pleased to announce that they will be project partner in one of five major projects that are part of the Towards a National Collection initiative, a five-year research programme funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

This is a contribution by our Country Manager for the UK Jane Stevenson, explaining the project in details

The initiative aims at harnessing 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.

The Archives Hub will participate in this project :

Transforming Collections: Reimagining Art, Nation and Heritage project

Donald Locke 1972-4, Trophies of Empire © Estate of Donald Locke Courtesy of Tate | Claudette Johnson, Figure in Blue, 2018. © Claudette Johnson. Image Credit: Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre | Iniva_Rivington Place: Photograph by Carlos Jimenez, 2018 | Rachel Jones, lick your teeth, they so clutch, 2021. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist. Image courtesy of the artist and Thaddaeus Ropac, London.

Jisc Archives Hub will be working with a range of project partners, including the lead partner, the University of the Arts London, and the Tate Gallery. The  project is driven by the pressing need to address structural inequalities in the arts, and to engage in debates around contested heritage, to help reveal contentious histories imbued in objects and archives.

An arrangement of different castes including snake charmer, brick-layer, basket-maker, potter and wives. Gouache drawing. 28438i © Wellcome Collection.Generated by IIPImage

Reimagining Art aims to enable cross-search of collections, surface patterns of bias, uncover hidden connections, and open up new interpretative frames for art, nation and heritage. It will combine critical art historical and museological research with participatory machine learning design. We need to amplify marginalized voices and re-evaluate artists and artworks ignored or side-lined by dominant narratives. This project and the other projects that form part of Towards a National Collection aim to take us towards a distributed yet connected evolving ‘national collection’ that builds on and enriches existing knowledge, with multiple and multivocal narratives.

Untitled 1986 1987.21, Manchester Art Gallery © Keith Piper.

The role of Jisc Archives Hub will centre around:

  • Disseminating project aims, developments and outcomes to our contributors, through our communication channels and our cataloguing workshops, to encourage a wide range of archives to engage with these issues.
  • Working with the Creative Computing Institute, at the University of the Arts London, to integrate the Machine Learning (ML) processing into the Archives Hub data processing workflows, so that it can benefit for over 350 institutions, including public art institutions.
  • Providing expertise from over 20 years of running an archival aggregator and working with a whole range of UK archive repositories, particularly around sustainability and the challenges of working with archival metadata.

In order for a new narrative and framework to be realised, it is essential to tackle questions of scalability and sustainability.  Archives Hub has these principles at the forefront of our data ingest and discovery work. We can offer our own experience from 20 years of running a successful aggregator, that works with small and under-resourced archives as well as larger University and Museum archives.

We are also undertaking a project of our own that will encompass Machine Learning, looking at available tools and algorithms and how we might apply these to archives to increase discoverability. At the same time we will consider issues of bias and misrepresentation. 

Machine learning is an important part of Artificial Intelligence, something that potentially offers us so much, but at the same time, could easily compound our current ways of thinking and lack of diverse representation. We are at the beginning of the journey with this new intelligence, and we need to ensure that the archives community is part of the conversation and the learning, as we seek to understand the huge implications of this technology.

Mick Grierson, Exploring the Daphne Oram Collection using 3D visualisation and machine learning (screenshot). 2012. Mick Grierson, Parag MitalLondon © the artist.

The other projects of Towards a National Collections are:

The Congruence Engine: Digital Tools for New Collections-Based Industrial Histories

Our Heritage, Our Stories: Linking and searching community-generated digital content to develop the people’s national collection

The Sloane Lab: Looking back to build future shared collections

Unpath’d Waters: Marine and Maritime Collections in the UK

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