Five amazing research projects linked to museums, galleries, libraries and archives

Over the last decade, a number of museums, galleries, libraries, archives and heritage bodies have been designated as Independent Research Organisations (IROs), enabling the AHRC to support an increasing number of outstanding projects based in these organisations.  AHRC’s support for the IROs has led to a wide range of benefits: for the organisations themselves, including in-house researchers, the university-based researchers who work with them, and crucially for the general public and the UK as a whole.

In this blog post, we take a look at five amazing AHRC-funded research projects connected to museums, galleries, libraries and archives which are helping to generate new insights, uncover hidden gems and bring the benefits of research to the wider public.

Moving towards a virtual ‘national collection’

Towards a National Collection is a major five-year £18.9 million investment in the UK’s world-renowned museums, archives, libraries and galleries, to help dissolve barriers between different collections, and to extend researcher and public access beyond the physical boundaries of their location.  The programme will take the first steps towards creating a unified virtual ‘national collection’ designed to benefit researchers and audiences by making the UK’s museum, library and heritage collections increasingly discoverable.

Adding new layers to Hokusai’s story

Katsushika Hokusai / Public domain

 ‘Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave’, turned out to be one of the blockbuster exhibitions of the summer of 2017 at the British Museum. And while many people love and recognise The Great Wave by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, few people know much about the artist, his life and how his work reflected the times he lived through. A team of researchers, funded by the AHRC, enabled the British Museum to take this exhibition to the next level by shedding new light on Hokusai’s personal beliefs and his spiritual and artistic quest through major paintings, drawings, woodblock prints and illustrated books. In fact, many of the works had never been seen before in the UK.

Refugees: Forced to Flee at IWM London

Opening in 2020, Refugees: Forced to Flee is rooted in cutting-edge research, funded by the AHRC and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), that explores the decisions and consequences faced by those whose worlds have been turned upside down by war over the past 100 years.

Combining new research and real-life experiences with over 80 photographs, oral histories, documents and objects – many of which will be displayed for the first time – the exhibition will question why conflict forces people to leave once safe places.

Using data to rethink the Industrial Revolution

The storage void of the British Library national newspaper building at Boston Spa in West Yorkshire. Copyright: The British Library

Living with Machines is a major five year inter-disciplinary research project led by the British Library, the Alan Turing Institute, and researchers from universities including Exeter, University of East Anglia, Cambridge and Queen Mary University of London, that plans to use data science and artificial intelligence to analyse the human impact of the industrial revolution.

The project is set to be one of the biggest and most ambitious humanities and science research initiatives ever to launch in the UK, and will help revolutionise the way historical sources are analysed, as well as provide vital insight into the debates and discussions taking place in response to today’s digital industrial revolution.

Tracking visitor behaviour at museums

Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland

The Romantic Scotland exhibition featured paintings from the National Galleries of Scotland and collections from Historic Environment Scotland, to highlight and celebrate the ‘Romanticism’ movement, and depict how artists in the 19th century saw Scotland as a wild and beautiful place. The exhibition opened at Nanjing Museum in the People’s Republic of China in 2017, and on its opening day 38,000 people joined a live webcast.

As well as helping to promote Scotland as a tourist destination, the research, funded by AHRC, explored how Chinese visitors responded to the exhibition and an app was developed to help track visitor movement and measure their responses. New techniques for showing exactly where people go in exhibitions and exactly what they look at, will be of use to a number of UK museums and galleries.

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