Locating Communications Heritage: engaging the mobile user

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Science and Technology Studies


Imagine you are on a journey across Britain. The landscape you pass through is rich in historical meaning, yet the knowledge of this history is compartmentalised: some lies in everyday experiences and memories, some lies in scholarly monographs, some is found on display (and even more, behind the scenes) in our great museums. We live in an old country - but its meaning can be disconnected and hidden. Surprisingly this situation is true even for the aspects of our lives that seem so modern, so vivid, so everyday: the communications technologies that we use to organise our lives.

Locating Communications Heritage aims to reconnect the history of communications and relevant information technologies to the mobile user. What if we go on our journey again but this time a mobile application can tell us about the history of communications around us? As your train arrives in Paddington station the application pulls up an image of a telegraphic apparatus held in the Science Museum, and relates the story of a crime solved by the rapid exchange of information. Passing down the Oxford Road in Manchester would reveal that only a hundred yards west lies a room in which one of the first electronic stored-program computers operated. The application brings up an image of the object and - drawing on the best scholarship and curatorial insight - its meaning is illuminated. Object, history and place are brought together.

Last but not least a channel will be opened up so that the public's experiences and memories of communications and information technologies can contribute to the ongoing reinterpretation of their histories. An aim is that the full potential of citizen mobile in the cause of history of communications will be tapped.

Locating Communications Heritage will pilot a project to make this journey possible.

Locating Communications Heritage is a collaborative project between an academic historian of science and techology, the curator of computing and information at the Science Museum, and commercial partners, British Telecom and Illumina Digital. It seeks the understand what needs to be accomplished to make the mobile application described above possible. The application will be designed. A pilot project will be run, revealing the potential strengths and weaknesses of the application. Finally, we intend to reflect on the experience for the benefit of academic audiences, exhibit design, object interpretation, and future application development.

Planned Impact

Impacts can be divided according to four user groups

1) Science Museum and Museum Professionals

The pilot will be an experiment in user engagement that will be an opportunity to learn what works in delivering and receiving information on communications herirage to its multiple audiences, specifically mobile audiences that may not otherwise visit the walled-in collections. The Science Museum is at the early stages of planning a major new permanent exhibition, the Making Modern Communications gallery (planned opening 2014), which is envisaged to have a major interactive component. The success of the pilot, and the quality of the process of design, operation, reflection and dissemination, can therefore have a major direct impact on the presentation of digital heritage in the UK, and beyond. Museum professional will learn from the project experience through presentations at professional meetings and via other relevant routes (for example, in-house seminars and project website and blog)

2) Public Audiences and Sources

The interactivity built into the pilot will allow a dialogue to be opened between scholars and curators of communications and related information technologies on the one hand and, on the other, a broader public who can contribute experiences, stories and evidence. Much of the latter knowledge and expertise is highly local in character, and mobile geo-located projects, such as piloted through Locating Communications Heritage, will provide an extraordinary opportunity to reveal and preserve such content. There is evidence to show, too, that such engagement increased public knowledge and interest in history of objects, including technological collections.

3) Academic history of technology, and academic institutions

Following from the last point, academic history of technology can benefit enormously from tapping sources of local historical knowledge and expertise. Academic historians of technology benefit, too, from the wider audience for scholarly history that is opened by novel, well-designed and operated channels of communication. UCL, already a Beacon of Public Engagement, develops further the skills and knowledge needed to communicate research underway at a world-class (very high ranking in relevant RAE fields) institution.

4) Technology and New media companies

The advantage to BT is twofold: not only are key parts of BT's own heritage made available, accessible, interpreted and made significant for a broader audience, but also the project depends on the application of technologies at which BT are at the cutting edge. Likewise, innovative companies such as Illumina Digital gain from the experience of involvement in the project, especially through building a working relationship with heritage organisations and scholars.

Specific channels of communicating impacts include:
a) Active dissemination to museums networks such as the Science, Technology and Industry Specialist Subject Network for museums with science, technology and industrial collections; the BT Connected Earth partnership of 11 museums across the UK; museums within the NMSI family such as National Media Museum at Bradford and National Railway Museum at York.
b) Findings on technology development and creative partnerships with cultural institutions will be shared via the Technology Strategy Board's Knowledge Transfer Network for the Creative Industries and the JISC Strategic Content Alliance workshop programme.
c) Papers at conferences, such as Museums and the Web or the annual British Society of the History of Science conference.
d) Creation of a public online blog that will allow partners to share and communicate the research to external networks.


10 25 50
Description The grant allowed us to develop a prototype app exploring history of telecommunications, with partners Science Museum, BT Archives and Illumina Digital. The prototype app was designed, built and user tested.
Exploitation Route This is a very fast moving area of modern culture. The partner organisations made use of their experience.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The project was to design, build and user test a prototype app for history of telecommunications. The experience informed further work partners Illumina Digital and Science Museum.
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Economic

Description case study for Contributing to the Creative Economy, 2011
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Description case study for Contributing to the Creative Economy, 2011
Impact As a special case study in the ?Contributing to the Creative Economy? section of the AHRC Annual Report 2010-2011. http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/News-and-Events/Publications/Documents/Annual-Report-2010-11.pdf
Description inclusion in Impact of AHRC Research 2010/11
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Description selected to be case study in AHRC public report on Impact, 2013
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Description Deepened productive relationship with Science Museum, BT Archives and creative industries, Illumina Digital. 
Organisation Illumina Inc.
Department Illumina Digital Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Information taken from Final Report