Institute for Digital Culture

Research areas

The Institute’s research themes are iterative and responsive, rather than rigid and prescriptive – and we expect them to evolve as different points of strategic need emerge.

Our first cycle of themes is intended, therefore, as a set of provocations and points of departure – ways of plotting these different co-ordinates of change within digital culture research.

Who uses digital sound archives?

  • Partnering with the Archives and Special Collections of the University Library and their new National Lottery Heritage Fund sound heritage project.

Since 2018 the University of Leicester has been the Midlands Hub for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) project. This project, led by the British Library with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, aims to preserve many thousands of ‘at risk’ sound recordings from across the UK. With an impressive 125 collections and 4,000 individual recordings, the East Midlands Oral History Archive (EMOHA) is undoubtedly the premier large-scale oral history archive for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, covering life in the region since the late 19th century. 

Having recently secured further funding from the NLHF, the University is now poised to sustain the work of the Midlands Hub and create a centre of excellence for sound archiving. In addition, Archives and Special Collections (A&SC) at the University has recently acquired a new Digital Preservation system, into which the EMOHA collection will be migrated, Arkivum.

Essential to the long-term sustainability of the archive is informed, evidence, forward looking understanding of the ‘use cases’ for digital content of this kind, but also how changing cultures of online behaviour, copyright and licensing, as well as linked-data technology are and might define the role of specifically the University’s archive, but more generally sound archives in the twenty-first century.

As the University begins to develop the skills, knowledge and infrastructure required to follow this vision, this F100 doctoral project will investigate and question the ways in which digital sound archives are accessed, understood and used by our communities. This work will use the Leicester case as a means to explore not just the role of digital sound heritage within memory and collecting institutions, but what role archives such as this have in collecting and understanding sound culture and heritage today.

How to lead digital change?

  • Partnering with Culture24, the national agency supported by Arts Council England to deliver digital skills development for the arts, culture and heritage sectors.

Since 2017 the University of Leicester has led One by One – an international consortium of academics, cultural organisations, technologists, professional agencies, funders, and policy makers that uses situated action research to help build digitally confident museums. 

This F100 doctoral project will work within the expanding ‘One by One’ consortium to understand the importance of a situated and culturally contingent view of digital leadership and change within cultural heritage organisations, with the aim of exploring digital skills building and institutional digital transformation in a national context. 

The consortium’s previous work helped make possible the UK government’s Digital Culture Compass (DCC) launched in February 2020 – the tool to be used by cultural and heritage institutions to understand their digital capability. 'One by One’ also co-authored for DCMS and ACE the ‘Digital Charter’, which sets out the guiding principles for all digital projects across the UK culture sector.

Looking out from its initial UK-US collaboration, this work now seeks to listen to, learn from, and partner with other settings internationally. As it does so, the principles around digital transformation, digital leadership and digital literacy relevant to a UK and US context are being re-situated, re-imagined and re-assembled. 

Acting as a model of knowledge exchange, this research will combine supervisory insights in marketing management studies and museum studies, with the sector leadership of project partner Culture24 – an organisation funded by Arts Council England to support and develop digital skills and capacity in museums and other cultural organisations. Culture24’s ‘Let’s Get Real’ collaborative action research programme has for over a decade seen more than 150 museums and other cultural organisations work together on tackling digital challenges.

What role for digital storytelling?

  • Partnering with Barker Langham, a leading international cultural agency working on major cultural master-planning projects in the Middle East and China.

The act of ‘storytelling’ remains a core organising principle for cultural heritage interpretation. Even with their systematic stores and archives of collections, their classified and tagged data-sets, and their architectural categorisation of themes and subjects within their physical spaces, cultural heritage venues and sites still return, compellingly, to ‘narrative’ as the principal means to engage, excite and empower its audiences.

And yet, despite the pervasiveness and innate orthodoxy of the narrative approaches, the cultural differences around story-based interpretation are less well understood and documented. As much as a linear narratives (or multiple narratives) are woven through exhibition and performance spaces, and as much as these spaces have come to define themselves (and their work) in narrative terms, less clear is the way in which the construction of these narratives changes (or is expected to change) in different cultural and national settings around the world.

The challenge is seen most markedly by those practitioners and designers that are able to work in inter-national and trans-national settings. Moving between interpretive work in the global north and global south, between North American, Europe, the Gulf and China, it becomes crucial for these professionals to recognise the expectations (for both visitor and institution alike) around ‘story’, ‘voice’ and ‘narrative’. What is shared across cultures, but also, crucially, what is importantly different? Furthermore, given the (always) cultural contingent development of technology, how is digital media changing (at difference paces, with different idioms, to different ends) these traditions of story-telling in cultural heritage contexts?

This Centenary scholarship brings together insights into cultural inclusivity and global market difference, with leading practice in exhibition and interpretation design. This project will look ambitiously at a set of real-world live international projects, currently being managed by the project partner (Barker Langham ), to understand digital storytelling in an international and trans-national context.

Barker Langham create exciting and sustainable projects across the globe. Clients include museums, historic sites, government departments, academic institutions and the commercial and charitable sectors. It works as expert advisor and mentor to the UK Heritage Fund, the European Union and UNESCO worldwide. Barker Langham has an ongoing relationship with the University of Leicester and are committed to working with both cultural organisations and universities to forge links between academia and practice, and to foster the next generation of cultural heritage professionals.

Why connect national digital collections?

  • Partnering with Art UK and Collections Trust, two leading UK bodies responsible for standards and delivery of the nation’s digital collections.

Today, museums across the UK still struggle technically to deliver their obligation (under the Museum Association Code of Ethics) to ‘preserve and transmit knowledge, culture and history’. Data exchange continues to be hindered by: a lack of agreed standards for cataloguing and data exchange; bespoke and siloed implementations of commercial collection management systems; limited technical resources and limited funding; lack of APIs. Museum collections consequently remain difficult to share between institutions, or upload to national aggregators, let alone take advantage of new cloud-native technologies to support data transformation and enhancement using AI and Machine Learning.

From 2022 the University of Leicester is partnering with ArtUK and The Collections Trust to confront and address this need. Its aim is to develop the technical foundations for a radical transformation of data sharing and connectivity across UK cultural institutions.

This Centenary scholarship will centre a doctoral researcher within the heart of this developmental work, having the opportunity to be embedded within both external partners. This research has the potential not only to explore, evidence and critique the operation and specification of a national museum data repository, but to consider and test its value and impactful use.

As research partners: Art UK brings together over 3,400 UK public collections, all underpinned by legal agreement, on one platform to showcase the nation’s art to a global audience of 4m annual users; The Collections Trust helps museums capture and share the information that gives their objects meaning. Its standards and advice are used around the world to make museum collections accessible.

Wellcome Trust Creative Engagement Fellowship

Funded by the Wellcome Trust’s ‘Institutional Strategic Support Fund’ (ISSF), the Institute for Digital Culture is partnering with Attenborough Arts Centre to support a six-month creative Fellowship.

Open to practitioners of any art form (including visual, digital, sound and performing arts, film, literature and music), the ‘Creative Engagement Fellowship’ (CEF) aims to explore how hosting creatives within academic contexts can support innovative approaches to public engagement.

Our first CEF brings together academics, doctoral students and technician staff within the School of Geography, Geology and the Environment with digital artist, Rosa Francesca – whose work experiments with biofeedback and facial recognition to find innovative ways for people with limited mobility to make music and art.

The project will circle around the theme of the ‘future of fieldwork’ – and will reflect upon what tools, protocols, frameworks, or vocabularies we can begin to create that will enable field practices continue to trend towards being more inclusive – especially for neurodiverse and learning disabled students and staff.

As well as hosting the Fellow in its Digital Culture Studio, the Institute will support the team in developing and sharing outputs that can impact upon the practice of cultural and heritage organisations that use fieldwork practice.

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