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

Context

The Congruence Engine is a three-year research project starting in November 2021 that will use the latest digital techniques to connect industrial history collections held in different locations.  It is one of five ‘Discovery Projects’ funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council under the ‘Towards a National Collection’ funding stream.

Aim

We will create the prototype of a digital toolbox for everyone fascinated by our industrial past to connect an unprecedented range of items from the nation’s collection to tell the stories about our history that they want to tell; we will ask: What was it like then? How does our past bear on our present and future?

Until now, historians and curators have become used to a world where it has only been possible to work with a small selection of the sources – museum objects, archive documents, pictures, films, maps, or publications, for example – potentially relevant to the history they want to explore. We hope to overcome this major constraint on the histories that can be created and shared with the wider public in museums, publications and online.

The project will unite in collaboration a unique combination of skills and interests. Here, digital researchers will work alongside professional and community historians and curators.

Through 27 months of iterative exploration of the textiles, energy and communications industrial sectors, the project will tune collections-linking software to make it responsive to user needs. It will use computational and AI techniques – including machine learning and natural language processing – to create and refine datasets, provide routes between records and digital objects such as scans and photographs, and create the tools by which the historian and curator participants will be able to enjoy and employ the sources that are opened to them.

The new narratives they create will be expressed in the project’s mobile digital exhibition space, on its website and in a slew of popular and academic outputs.

Project partners

National Museum Wales, National Museums Northern Ireland, Birmingham Museums Trust, The National Archives, National Trust, the V&A, BBC History, BT Heritage & Archives, Grace's Guide to Industrial History, Isis Bibliography of the History of Science, Society for the History of Technology, Saltaire World Heritage Education Association, Whipple Museum of the History of Science (Tools of Knowledge Project), Wikimedia UK and Manchester Digital Laboratory (MadLab).

Co-Investigators

Co-Investigators include researchers at:

Science Museum Group, The British Film Institute, Historic England, National Museums Scotland, Tyne and Wear Museums and Bradford Museums, and the Universities of Leeds, London and Liverpool, and UCL.

The Congruence Engine is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Towards a National Collection: Opening UK Heritage to the World fund.

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