Press release

Discovery Project Awards: £14.5 million to transform online exploration of UK’s culture and heritage collections

Lloyd's Register Foundation is one of the partners in a successful bid to be part of UKRI's Towards a National Collection programme.

Tuesday, September 21 2021

Discovery Project Awards: £14.5 million to transform online exploration of UK’s culture and heritage collections
Arts and Humanities Research Council

We are pleased to announce Lloyd's Register Foundation is one of the partners in a successful bid to be part of UKRI's Towards a National Collection programme. The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has awarded £14.5m for 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 'Discovery 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.

The Heritage & Education Centre is part of the consortium called "Unpath'd Waters: Marine and Maritime Collections in the UK" led by Historic England.

The UK's marine heritage is extraordinarily rich. Shipwrecks date from the Bronze Age to the World Wars, bearing testimony to Britain as an island nation, and a destination for trade and migration. Aircraft losses, inundated monuments, ports and seaside resorts all tell personal stories of struggles and successes. Before the Bronze Age, a great deal of what is now the North Sea floor was forest, hill and plains, peopled by prehistoric communities.

This heritage, covering 23,000 years, is represented by collections of charts, documents, images, film, oral histories, sonar surveys, seismic data, bathymetry, archaeological investigations, artefacts, objects and artworks. But they are often dispersed, unconnected and inaccessible. This matters because the story of our seas is of huge interest to the UK public, and because our exploitation of our seas for food, leisure, trade and energy is intensifying. If we are to reveal new stories and manage our past effectively and in sustainable ways, we need to join up these collections and unlock their potential.

UNPATH aims to reshape the future of UK marine heritage, making records accessible for the first time across all four UK nations and opening them to the world. It will devise new ways of searching across collections, visualising underwater landscapes, and identifying wrecks and artefacts from them. UNPATH will also deliver tools to protect our most significant heritage, while inviting the public to co-design ways of exploring the archives in order to uncover previously untold stories and new questions to guide future research.

Read more about Towards a National Collection 'Discovery Projects' here.

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