Bespoke Open, Collaborative and Creative Approaches to Heritage Documentation (BOCCAHD)

Documentation systems are a bedrock for cultural heritage collections. They enable institutions to be accountable for their collections, for cultural heritage workers to find, describe and share the items in their collections, and for people to access the collections, research them and be inspired by them.

Recent work critically explores the ways in which those systems came to be, the limitations of their modes of description, and how those systems can be made more transparent, open, bespoke and participatory (see Hacıgüzeller et al. 2021). We look to bring together critical research and practices to explore methods of radically rewriting, opening up, and democratising heritage documentation, and ways of measuring how experimental documentation affects engagement, impact, and re-use across diverse audiences. We are inspired by the concept of Visible Storage, through which museum storage facilities are designed as behind-the-scenes exhibition spaces. We extend this concept to online spaces, and invite diverse participants to experiment with dynamic and participatory documentation practices designed to facilitate impactful digital and analog engagement with changing heritage collections.

The BOCCAHD project will develop a network of researchers and practitioners who want to explore critical ways of questioning, opening up, remixing and creatively engaging with heritage documentation. The grant will be used to facilitate a series of public-facing and internal workshops to share insights from project members’ and partners’ research and practice, culminating in the design and testing of a prototype Creative Cataloguing Application as a focal point for future collaborations across the project team and partner organisations.

Project Aims

  • Develop a network of researcher-practitioners working on creative approaches to heritage documentation
  • Experiment with capturing and presenting creative responses to collections in heritage documentation systems
  • Evaluate how online collection systems can benefit individuals and communities
  • Share and consolidate partnerships with Yorkshire-based heritage organisations
  • Develop ECR’s project management skills and provide a springboard for diversifying future grant capture

Project Objectives

  • Deliver a series of internal project workshops
  • Host 3 participatory workshops (Heritage Jam and 2x User Testing and Evaluation Workshops) to explore approaches to heritage documentation with public institutions, students, and community members.
  • Develop a collaborative blog to share our initial findings and provide a springboard for peer- reviewed co-writing.
  • Develop an open-source creative cataloguing application prototype for use by small heritage organisations interested in opening up their documentation systems for digital public participation and engagement.

Lead Academic at lead institution: 
Harald Fredheim, (Archaeology, York)

Lead Academics at other two universities:
Arran Rees (Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, Leeds)
Clare Fisher (English, Sheffield)

Other staff

Colleen Morgan (Archaeology, York)
Fran Allfrey (Archaeology, York)

Dibyadyuti Roy (Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, Leeds)
Liz Stainforth (Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, Leeds)

Kathryn Simpson (Digital  Humanities Institute, Sheffield)

Other partners:
Lucy Moore (Project Curator, Leeds Museums and Galleries)
Lynda Burrell (Creative Director at Museumand, the National Caribbean Heritage Museum, Nottingham) Michael Turnpenny (Head of Content and Public Engagement, York Museums Trust)
Jeremy Poynting (Managing Editor, Peepal Tree Press)

Interview with Lead Academic Harald Fredheim

What attracted you to apply for the Collaboration Fund?

The Collaboration Fund was a fantastic opportunity to explore the productive overlap between existing projects at Leeds, Sheffield and York – and to ground those in practice by working with local partner organisations. It is giving us the opportunity to break out of our normal collaborations within our departments and work with colleagues that we don’t otherwise have many opportunities to interact directly with.

What can your Collaboration Fund project deliver that wouldn’t be possible doing it as one institution?

While everyone involved in the project works on issues relating to the heritage sector and/or digital humanities, these areas are divided across departments and schools differently at each of our three institutions. So, working together across institutions is allowing us to bring in perspectives and partners that we wouldn’t be able to access independently. Working collaboratively with partner organisations is a really central part of the project and by sharing our partner networks, constructing the overarching team of academics and partner representatives has only been possible by collaborating across the White Rose Universities.

Why is your Collaboration Fund project is important now?

Digitising collections and engaging communities are among two of the most pressing concerns for heritage organisations at the moment. The BOCCAHD is giving researchers and practitioners the opportunity to explore the big ideas and little details of how this work could be done differently, as we’re working on practical projects in this area. It’s letting us share really practical tips and learn from each others experiences, while also challenging us to think differently and more inclusively. We think this work is really important now, but also that it will continue to be – and that’s why we’re hoping to use the project as a stepping stone for many future collaborations in the longer term!

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