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The Congruence Engine: Digital tools for new collections based industrial histories

The Congruence Engine is a three-year research project that started in November 2021. It is using the latest digital techniques (including AI) to connect industrial history collections held in different museums and archives across the UK.  

It is one of five ‘Discovery Projects’ funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council under the ‘Towards a National Collection’ funding stream. 


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 are working to overcome this major constraint on the histories that can be created by curators and historians, whether they do history for fun or as a job.

The project is uniting in collaboration a unique combination of skills and interests. We have established that, however sophisticated the digital techniques you use, the human factor is always essential to the creation of usable digital data and interpretations. We call this combination a ‘social machine’. In this, individuals and groups motivated by personal and professional interests can work to enable programs to work at scale on data relating to multiple collections. This will make it possible, for example, to link together similar objects between collections; to connect objects to pictures, films and archives, or to link items from any collection to the historical or contemporary literature that describe, and make sense of, them. 

Through 27 months of iterative exploration of the textiles, energy and communications industrial sectors, and via some 40 individual investigations, the project is applying many digital techniques – including topic modelling, named entity recognition, surprising phrase detection, digital mapping, annotation, and generative AI – to collections as diverse as oral histories, photographs, maps, films, archives, machines and other museum objects, and records of historical places. 

The new narratives we are creating will be expressed in the project’s digital exhibit, whose first version was shown at the Discovery Museum, Newcastle 28th October - 25th February 2023, on our website and in a slew of popular and academic outputs.

In 2025, there is an opportunity for interested people to get involved with trying out the techniques we have developed. The main focus is on the city of Bradford. Do get in touch if you’d like to be involved. Please e-mail us at: 


Follow the Congruence Engine Blog for updates on the progress of the project, featuring news about what we’re discovering, and sharing discussions between project members. 

For an in-depth resource on the project and its aspirations, please see the special issue of the Science Museum Group Journal 


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 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. 


Please email Tim Boon, Principal Investigator.

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