Democratising Digitisation:
Empowering culture from the community up

A. Dix1, R. Cowgill3, J. S. Downie3, C. Bashford3, M. Twidale3, M. Reagan4, S. McVeigh5 and R. Ridgewell6

1 Computational Foundry, Swansea University, Wales, UK
2University of York, UK
3 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA
4 Krannert Center, UIUC, USA
5 Goldsmiths, University of London, UK
6 British Library, UK

Presented at Cultural Heritage and Social Impact: Digital Technologies for Social Inclusion and Participation, 24 February 2021

Download position paper (PDF, 116K)


Until comparatively recently to be 'cultured' was the mark of the elite, separating them from both peasant and nouveau riche.  Even in current academic language and media 'culture' is often a term used about others "youth culture", "European culture"; indeed, this is almost by definition – according to the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy culture is often "too pervasive to be readily noticed from within".   More progressive views upend these distinctions helping grassroots communities claim their own cultural heritage. 

When it comes to the digitisation of cultural heritage there are still wide gaps.  Crowdsourcing can harness community effort, but often sucking data into centralised repositories.  Projects to create resources close to communities often fall into disuse once external funding ends or a local champion leaves.  There are rich resources in treasury boxes, filing cabinets and community museums, but missing out from the benefits and exposure of being part of the rich growing digital network. 

This presentation describes new work focused on local musical society archives in Yorkshire and Belfast and also the locally-based audience communities at University venues in York and Illinois.  We plan to combine high-quality professional digitisation of some archive material with more basic digitisation using off-the-shelf hardware by members of the musical societies.  We are seeking to both serve the direct communities involved, but also use this as a springboard to understand more general needs and challenges.  What are the appropriate processes, tools and infrastructure that empower and engage communities but also create collections that can feed into scholarly study?  Indeed, is it possible to marry local autonomy and expert authority?

We believe it is possible to bring these together and we look forward to this opportunity to discuss new modes of scholarship rooted in models of social capital and common ownership that enrich through active engagement.

Keywords: musicology, performance history, community data, digitisation, digital archives, digital humanities, ephemera, concerts, linked data, open data


Democratising Digitisation: Empowering culture from the community up from Alan Dix





Alan Dix 8/4/2021