Undiscovered Heritage

In 2016, Historic England published a report ‘Assessing the value of community-generated historic environment research‘. The aims of the project behind the report were to assess:

  • The amount of historic environment research being undertaken by community groups.

  • The potential scholarly value that this research could offer to enhance research resources, in particular those used to support the planning system.

Key project findings included the lack of knowledge amongst community groups of existing research frameworks and the prioritisation of ‘heritage outcomes’ in projects, resulting in a relatively small amount of published research outputs.

The Heritage 2020 Framework identified two related priorities that sought to include a wider range of national and local communities in research and make research more readily and widely available. These priorities were paraphrased in the Framework document as ‘addressing undiscovered and under-appreciated heritage’ and ‘securing maximum value from discoveries by the private sector’.

The Heritage 2020 Discovery, Identification & Understanding working group identified two critical needs:

  • guidance to support the design of research projects
  • information on systems that will provide a legacy for that research and enable its reuse.

Research frameworks

Research frameworks help to provide an overview of current understanding, set out research questions and strategies and focus research effort. Historic England’s website provides an overview of what research frameworks are, what they cover and how they can be used.

Between 2015-2020, four other developments have helped to provide a focus for research activity in the historic environment sector and improve access to the research that is produced.

HistBEKE was a project to consult with the historic environment sector and start the process of developing a national research framework for the historic built environment to improve the strategic coordination of research, provide a research focus for investigations undertaken through the planning system and facilitate knowledge exchange.

You can find out more about the project and its recommendations here: HistBEKE

JPI on Cultural Heritage – Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda, 2020
This 2020 agenda builds on the 2014 strategy to facilitate a common understanding of research on cultural heritage and the worldwide challenges it must address amongst the JPI’s European partners. The agenda is organised around four priority areas for research and innovation in the field of heritage science.

Read the Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda 2020.

Strategic Framework for Heritage Science in the UK, 2018-2023
A framework with three themes of excellent research, a skilled and diverse heritage science community, and demonstrable social and economic impact that will enhance the UK’s rich and varied tangible and intangible heritage through the better use of science and technology for the benefit of society.

Find out more about the Strategic Framework for Heritage Science in the UK.

Heritage Information Access Strategy (HIAS)
A programme of interlinked projects designed to simplify and improve public access to heritage data held or generated by Historic England, by Local Authority Historic Environment Records and by other bodies. Find out more on the Historic England website.

Participatory research

Although there is a strong tradition of participatory research, there is a gap in guidance that will support communities to ensure a legacy for outputs from the projects, including digital resources and research data.

A number of projects are listed below in which heritage and research are seen as dynamic, social and relational; and as practice where different modes of knowing can be productively combined. They are shared here to inspire people to conceptualise heritage as collaborative research.     

CAER Heritage Project: https://caerheritageproject.com/
Cardiff University Archaeology department developed an awarding wining long term collaboration with the communities around an iron age hill fort. (Davies et al. 2019) (AHRC and HLF)

Transmitting Musical Heritage: http://musicalheritage.group.shef.ac.uk/
Musicians and academics collaborate on a journey into knowing heritage and its transmission which included music making and reflection. (Ball et al 2019) (AHRC)

Ceramic City Stories: https://ceramiccitystories.info/
A community-based research group set up a series of collaborations with academics of all kinds (Brookfield et al 2019) (AHRC and HLF and other smaller local pots)

Don’t Settle: https://beatfreeks.com/dont-settle/
Beat Freaks works with Birmingham City University and many different people of colour to transform Birmingham’s heritage by people of colour. (AHRC and HLF)

Inclusive Archive of Learning Disability History: https://inclusivearchive.org/
Academics from digital, social care and heritage contexts work with a team of learning disabled people to explore the issues and design a digital archive. (Brownlee-Chapman et al. 2017) (AHRC)

How should heritage decisions be made?: http://heritagedecisions.leeds.ac.uk/
A co-designed research project including academics, policy makers, heritage practisers and community activists (Bashforth et al 2017) (AHRC)

My Castle Gatewayhttps://mycastlegateway.org/
Academics, architects, the council, museums, Historic England, English Heritage community groups and many individual citizens collaborate to create an approach to public engagement which is a large-scale long-term open inquiry into the pasts and futures of a historic part of York. (City of York Council)

Community archaeology

CIfA (the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists) has produced a suite of guidance to support the process of community archaeological research and investigation, including guidelines for excavation and recording, and publication and dissemination.

Please note that some of these resources are due to be reviewed in the near future.

CIfA website: Introduction to Standards and Guidance in Archaeological Practice

Ensuring a legacy for research data

Trusted digital repositories are a way of securing a legacy for research data. They provide reliable, long-term access to digital resources. The ‘trustworthy’ element comes through certification. A list of digital repositories is available here: https://www.re3data.org/

But guidance on structuring research data, from research project design through collection to deposit is also helpful. For the historic environment, OASIS facilitates the flow of information from historic environment recording and research projects through all stages of reporting, publication and archiving. OASIS welcomes information from anyone undertaking fieldwork relating to the archaeology and built heritage of England, and shares this information with the relevant local and national bodies.

OASIS (England) is inclusive of all types and techniques of historic environment investigations relating to the terrestrial and marine environments, covering all aspects from earliest prehistory to 20th century, built heritage research through to geophysical survey.

Building on the success of the previous project, OASIS has recently been redesigned to help data producers (including archaeological contractors and consultants, community groups, academics, architectural historians and independent researchers) share their findings with historic environment curators and interested parties.

The OASIS form gathers key information about the investigation and its findings and enables data providers to:

  • share their information with local authority Historic Environment Records or Historic England (when relating to scheduled monuments and the marine historic environment);
  • upload digital copies of completed project archive reports (grey literature);
  • upload associated spatial data defining project extents;
  • contribute research results to the corresponding Regional Research Frameworks;
  • share details about archive deposition to the relevant museum or records repository; and
  • improve communication between local authority and national heritage services, contractors and archives.

Find the OASIS website and recording form here: https://oasis.ac.uk/

Recent work linked to the Centenary of the First World War has also led to the development of useful guidance. For instance ‘Saving the Centenary’s Digital Heritage: Recommendations for digital sustainability of FWW community commemoration activities’ by Agiatis Bernardou, Lorna Hughes and Leo Konstantelos of University of Glasgow.

Looking to the future, a continued focus on helping researchers to make their research data meet FAIR principles and available under Open Access licences will maximise the accessibility and benefits of research.