Southampton Institute for Arts and Humanities: Digital Infrastructure & Capability

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: School of Humanities

Abstract

The University of Southampton is home to world class collections, from physical archives of historical documents (e.g the Mountbatten, Palmerston and Wellington papers), through material cultures (ceramics, lithics and osteological material) to born-digital data on cultural heritage sites (from 3D to 4D surface and subsurface data) on land as well as underwater. These resources are drawn on by an international group of scholars from a range of disciplines, as well as industry and NGO groups. The collections are curated, conserved and generated through a suite of infrastructure resources and staff capabilities spread across the university.

This work has seen the creation of a range of significant cultural resources; from Roman Amphorae, to models of sea-level change and cultural response to providing instruction and quality assurance for major European cultural heritage and education projects developing 3D capabilities for the Museums sector. In turn we have innovated techniques and tools to help drive the digital revolution forward into new sectors and environments. The university has worked collaboratively and across disciplines with collections and organisations across the heritage, conservation and, increasingly, the cultural and creative industries. We have partnered with bodies such as Heritage England, Historic England. Historic Environment Scotland and the National Trust as well as national museusms such as the British Museum, National Museum of Scotland and the Mary Rose Trust.

This project allows us to refresh and build upon our capacity in such innovative and cross-disciplinary work in three specific areas. The replacement of our equipment will allow us to continue to investigate and digitise a wide range of maritime and terrestrial landscapes and the built environment. It will allow us to investigate and digitise a range of portable material cultures and paper-based archives, both our own collections and those of our significant existing partners. The replacement of our capacities to handle and visualise data and materials will allow us to continue to advance our research and to engage organisations and publics in innovative and field-defining ways as we do so.

The project also coincides and supports the launch of an ambitious agenda at the University of Southampton. The new Southampton Institute for Arts and Humanities, SIAH, promotes and broadens the capacities of our research and enterprise cultures. Our new digital strategy is a key driver in this first year and it matches essential internal investment in new Digital Humanities Labs and staff with a plan to more closely manage, and pool, our significant but dispersed digital skills and resources. The strategy will enable us to lead on high quality large-scale interdisciplinary and outward facing projects. The bid accords with this far-reaching but discipline-agnostic agenda. It provides researchers with the skills and digital tools that will allow them to continue to produce research that will support the creative, cultural and heritage sectors whilst also informing the major challenges of our time.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Postcard Pilot 
Description We joined visual content from the University library collections with aural content held by Southampton City Archives to create 6 pieces for the Museum in a Box. Postcards of Holyrood Church link to selections from oral histories, demonstrating the value of this technology for joining up archival resources held across the city to create accessible and evocative narrative experiences. We made a five minute film for the immersive cylinder purchased as part of the CapCo grant, that features the postcard as a research object. The film places archival objects in relation to digital renderings, soundscapes, a spoken narrative, and oral history content to create a pilot immersive experience. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact The work was achieved through knowledge exchange between the University, Southampton City Archives, Gods House Tower (A Space Arts), and a media company (Art as Media). The work tested the expertise, time and technology necessary to create content for this space - opening that up to the community beyond the University. The pilot material can be used in engagement and outreach activities, and models the creation of content through knowledge exchange between University and local archives, and arts and heritage organisations. 
 
Description This project has transformed the research capacity of Arts & Humanities at Southampton, and in so doing created a significant regional and national capability for others to draw on. The project requested funding to replace and update equipment that would enable research in three strategic areas:

1. Digitisation and investigation of portable material culture and paper-based archives
2. Digitisation and investigation of landscapes and the built environment
3. Data handling, visualisation and engagement

The selection of these areas was based on; research strengths within the University, strategic fit to national needs and potential for innovation and development. Support of each of these three domains has already seen a significant increase in research capability and skilled specialists. This has permitted digitisation work of objects and paper-based archives within the University, the city and at national institutions (the British Museum). New insights have been gained into prehistoric and historic sites (both above and below water) through deploying cutting edge technology, and development of new techniques. We have seen development of methods to acquire and integrate 3 and 4D data from a range a sources. Analysis and visualisation of these data would not have been possible without the new computational and immersive capabilities afford by this grant. These capabilities have been shared with groups from national heritage agencies (Historic Environment Scotland) to local artists.

The award has also accelerated development of the Southampton Institute for Arts and Humanities (SIAH), and with it the place of digital humanities within the University. SIAH, the Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute (SMMI), and the AHRC provided additional support to enable researchers to gain experience with new equipment and build networks. This has seen collaboration with the City Council and local Arts and Creative industry groups - opening up access to key archives and resources, creating new areas for research and addressing urgent needs with regards to conservation and monitoring.

The above fall within the anticipated outcomes of the project - there was established expertise, but a need for new equipment to meet strategic demand. There have also been a range of additional outcomes that while hoped for it was not possible to confidently predict at the start. Through the course of this project, and its connection to other research, the demand for specialists with these and related skills has becoming increasingly apparent. The ability to feed knowledge of these capabilities into postgraduate and undergraduate training is of considerable value, helping to build that increased capability and capacity. In addition, through deliberately focusing on breaking down barriers between traditional disciplines, opening up access to these tools and methods, as well as providing introductory training, we have seen identification of new research questions and interests; from how we view and interact with data in different disciplines, to technicalities related to acquisitions and long-term storage.
Exploitation Route The outcomes from this project have created a significant national facility for Arts & Humanities, as well as museums, galleries and archives-based research. These facilities can be directly engaged through collaboration, education and training. The digital assets created through work enabled by this project also open possibilities for creative response and re-use.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description This award is already having an economic and social impact. This can be most clearly seen in collaboration with local civic partners, arts and heritage groups. The increased capability and capacity to create digital twins, from built heritage to artistic works has fed into the city's bid to become UK City of Culture in 2025. Within this, links between health, wellbeing and access to cultural resources is firmly established, and has been written into the city's new cultural strategy. Beyond this, strong connections have been made with local creative industries looking at opening up access to resources and creating new opportunists for collaborative research. There has also been a significant academic impact with the University, with the Southampton Institute for the Arts and Humanities and the facilities created through this grant creating a new focal point for interdisciplinary research. This has seen an erosion of disciplinary boundaries and accelerated adoption/engagement with digital themes.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description 'Unpath'd Waters': Marine and Maritime Collections in the UK
Amount £2,908,923 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/W003384/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2021 
End 10/2024
 
Description AHRC Impact Acceleration Award
Amount £450,000 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2022 
End 03/2025
 
Description Reimagining Knitting: a community perspective
Amount £23,000 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2021 
End 06/2022
 
Description Digital Twins for cultural heritage 
Organisation Southampton City Council
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We have worked with the city council to digitise physical assets (both built heritage and archival material).
Collaborator Contribution Partners have made sites available, provided expert input with regards to conservation and heritage management as well as discussing strategies for future work.
Impact We have created 3D datasets of key heritage assets, as well produced rich media in relation to archival material.
Start Year 2021
 
Description Drones for data aquisition 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This training event looked at the equipment procured as part of the CapCo grant, its applications, legislation impact on its use and best practice. Eight members of staff attended, with additional training activities identified for the future. These familiarisation workshops are essential for increasing awareness of the research tools and methods at our disposal.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description IGLOO and immersive visualisation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An introduction to visualising data and creative processes in an immersive environment. Participants learnt how to use the Igloo: a 360 degree immersive audio-visual centre. Examples were given of ongoing work that uses the technology. Participants got to explore the technology and ask questions about how it relates/could relate to their fields of expertise and interests.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description IGLOO training 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This workshop introduced participants to equipment acquired through the CapCo grant and the potential of immersive technologies. This deliberately targeted people who might not have thought of using this sort of equipment or how it might relate to their research. The result was considerable interest and ongoing conversations as to how data visualisation can impact on interpretation and, more broadly, the role of digital humanities within current research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Laser Scanning and photogrammetry workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Training was given on the use of laser scanners for built environment and small object scanning. This was coupled with an introduction to photogrammetry and RTI, along with discussion of when each method may be appropriate. Over fifty individuals engaged with the training, which also produced data on local heritage assets. This helped to widen knowledge of the systems we now have access to, increasing research opportunities for the future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description RTI data aquisition 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Training was given in the new RTI equipment, looking at its operation and use, as well as potential research applications. The audience largely comprised those with a basic understanding of the technology, but whom were keen to better understand ints potential. Following the success of this workshop future activities were planned.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Workshop: 3D and 4D data generation in heritage contexts 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An event was held in Southampton to introduce participants to key approaches (and equipment available) for recording materials at a range of scales and how time is/can be incorporated. Applications for fields across Arts and Heritage were discussed. Participants asked questions and related the potential use for their particular research interests/areas of expertise.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021