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.
Professor Christopher Smith, Executive ChairArts and Humanities Research Council
Bradford is delighted to announce our participation in Unpath’d Waters: Marine and Maritime Collections in the UK – one of five projects awarded £14.5 million by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Together these projects form the largest investment of Towards a National Collection, a major five-year research and development programme that aims to underpin the creation of a unified virtual ‘national collection’, dissolving barriers between the different collections of the UK’s museums, archives, libraries and galleries.
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.
The UK’s marine heritage is extraordinary. 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.
At Bradford, a research team is working on the seismic datasets that allow us to explore “Doggerland, the vast, and previously habitable, land that lies beneath the southern North Sea. Using these data, the researchers will generate a computer simulation of how the land was inundated and allow the user to explore those lands lost to climate change
Barney Sloane, Historic England’s Principal Investigator for Unpath’d Waters, says: “As an island nation, our maritime heritage is of fundamental importance to who we are. I am delighted to be leading one of the five Discovery Projects known as Unpath’d Waters. It will transform the way in which researchers and the public can access the huge variety of collections held in museums, universities, heritage institutions, commercial organisations and indeed by the public. The project will bring together expertise in digital humanities, computer science and marine heritage and will unleash the massive research potential of our shared maritime past”.