Heritage in the Information Age

In his talk ‘Heritage in the Information Age’, Tom Pert, of the┬áRoyal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales, gave his audience an insight into how modern technology is benefiting the work of the RC, local history groups and individuals, and enhancing the interpretation of our heritage for a wider public.

Tom began by explaining that the RC is the research and national archive institution for the historic environment in Wales. It’s role is to ensure that the archaeological, built and marine heritage of Wales is authoritatively recorded. The RC also promotes the understanding and appreciation of this heritage within Wales and beyond.

With a quick statistical summary of the RC’s holdings, Tom demonstrated the wealth of materials that the RC holds: 3 million text documents; 67,000 drawings; 1.25 million photographs; 17,000 maps. They have brought together many valuable archives, such as seven aerial photography collections, which are held by the RC’s archive, the National Monuments Record of Wales. Many of these collections are being digitised and can be viewed on the RC’s online database and catalogue: www.coflein.gov.uk.

On the theme of ‘The Future is Participatory’ Tom explained how the RC is turning to the wider community to support their work through contributing time to particular projects. One example is the current crowdsource map geolocating project, Cymru 1900 Wales, where volunteers are recruited to record all place names featured on Ordnance Survey maps. Three hundred and seventy-one volunteers so far have logged between them 292,714 entries on the place names gazetteer. Working with community groups is increasingly important for the RC in order to develop new skills and enthusiasm at ground level, and also to access grant funds which would not otherwise be available for worthwhile projects. The Caersws information panel project is an example of such a collaboration.

Tom then turned to the use of modern technology in the interpretation of heritage information in research, education and tourism. Here are just a few of those he introduced us to: The technique of 360 degree sound audio recording which adds depth and a sense of place to oral history; augmented reality applications add computer generated graphics to the real view on smart phones and tablets to provide information and enhance understanding; ground scanning technology strips out groundcover such as woodland and scrub from images to reveal previously unseen archaeological sites; reflectance transformation imaging techniques use multiple digital photographs from multiple angles, computer-manipulated to reveal fine detail on surfaces such as finger prints on clay tiles, worn inscriptions or vellum document surface detail; iBeacons are 2pence piece sized transmitters which can be dotted around a historical site or community and direct information to smart phones or tablets via an app, such as are available at the National Slate Museum and the village of Nefyn. And then there was the virtual reality headset, and much more!

Tom’s overall message was that by working together with RC support, taking advantage of new technologies and a growing number of funding sources, communities can transform the way they present information about their own locality.