Locating a National Collection - Heritage for All

Heritage for All helps the public to explore the parts of collections that are connected to familiar locations such as the ‘place where they live’, ‘places they remember’ or ‘places which they identify with’.

Maps of east London and Exeter have been created in order to test an approach in presenting collections at a local scale. The maps do not stick to a single theme or collection type but rather include diverse records such as literary references, buildings and monuments. The consolidation of collections is intended to offer opportunities for unexpected co-contextualisation and serendipitous discovery. For example, the layering of different records onto buildings, offers potential for open-ended exploration of neighbourhoods and provides a similar feel to social media such as a Facebook or TikTok’s ‘for you’ feed. Connections between records and familiar locations bring collections to life, piquing the interest of users and rendering objects significant.

What you can do with the maps

The maps display a large number of points in a relatively small geographical area, and so users who are familiar with east London or Exeter will get the most out of the maps. Points represent collection items and, by clicking on a point, the user can access a web page that provides more information on the item.

  • If you are familiar with east London or Exeter, zoom in on a street you have visited or an address you know.
  • If you are unfamiliar or want to try something different try looking for patterns in the points on the map. Why are there so many points in an unusual pattern along the river in London or to the north east of Exeter?
  • Open the filters by clicking on the icon in the top left, does the colour of the points offer any clues? Click on a point located in the river and open the web page, can you find out why?

East London was selected as it is an urban area with large numbers of Portable Antiquities Scheme finds. The majority of the finds have been recovered from the foreshore of the River Thames.

Heritage for All: East London Case Study.

On the other hand, Exeter offered an opportunity to test whether the approach works elsewhere in the UK and to present cultural heritage associated with rural locales alongside urban.

Heritage for All: Exeter Case Study.

The map will appeal most to those who are familiar with these areas. Connections between records and familiar locations bring collections to life, piquing the interest of users and rendering objects significant. A trait that extends beyond where people currently reside to encompass locations drawn from memory, genealogy and other forms of identity. The map therefore acts as a pilot, outlining what might be possible, with the long-term aspiration to extend the coverage nationwide.

What was involved in making the map

Like VisitPlus, Heritage for All was shown to focus groups that were representative of the UK public to gain feedback. A slide that illustrated the concept showed a London borough populated with picture and text previews of content such as findspots of ancient coins, extant and disappeared historic buildings, archival documents and literary references. Much of this heritage might be defined as ‘locally’ not ‘nationally’ significant. Participants greeted the potential for discovery and adventure through visits enthusiastically, commenting on the potential to inspire younger audiences where terms such as ‘disappeared’ or ‘vanished monuments and buildings’ piqued interest. A perceived drawback came in the platform’s potential for repeat usage, some asked why return after a handful of familiar places had been explored? However, the overriding response was that potential users found diverse collections connected to familiar locations hugely compelling. The passionate feedback Heritage for All evoked was likely influenced by renewed interest in local exploration resulting from travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic in place at the time the focus groups were held.

Heritage for All adopted a model akin to a Geographical Information System for the presentation of heritage whereby each location represents a single record. Focus groups demonstrated that the appeal of the map lies in connecting heritage to precise locations in a familiar physical environment. Toponyms that refer to a city or settlement are included as points but don’t provide this level of precision. Creating a map like Heritage for All relies on collections with existing coordinates or geographical information such as addresses, grid references or postcodes. Whilst data managed by historic environment organisations often contain coordinates, data from GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) do not. Furthermore, the approach applies more readily to urban areas - where a density of cultural heritage is available - than to rural areas.

Datasets and acknowledgments

The map contains the following datasets:

  • British Library (thanks to Victoria Morris)
  • Historic England Certificates of immunity
  • Historic England Heritage at risk
  • Historic England Listed buildings
  • Historic England Parks and gardens
  • Historic England Scheduled monuments
  • Historic England World heritage sites
  • Open Plaques (thanks to http://openplaques.org/data)
  • Portable Antiquities Scheme
  • Imperial War Museum memorials (Thanks to Callum Brogan and Andrew Davis)
  • Art UK (Thanks to Terence Gould and Katey Goodwin)