This panel looked at three different ways in which archives and museums are attempting to convey non-textual qualities of items or objects. This included capturing the texture and depth of three-dimensional objects through digitisation and in-exhibition replication, and identifying the chemistry of individual collections and what this reveals about their creation.    

Andy Beeby, Richard Gameson and Richard Higgins, Durham University, and Kate Nicholson, Northumbria University

An unlikely combination of chemists, historians, librarians and conservators at Durham have joined forces to study the composition of pigments used to illuminate medieval manuscripts: literally shining light upon the technologies used by medieval scribes. We are carrying out a comprehensive study of pigments deployed in manuscripts produced in the British Isles up to the Renaissance, a topic that has not yet been addressed in a coherent manner.

Any techniques employed need to be non-­contact and cause no damage to the precious and often fragile manuscripts. Our methods of choice, reflectance spectroscopy and imaging and Raman spectroscopy all look at light scattered by the pigments, providing unequivocal forensic evidence as to their identity. High insurance valuations of manuscripts effectively prohibit any movement to laboratory based instrumentation: equipment has to move to the books. Our early work on manuscripts of Durham Cathedral Library was facilitated by moving cumbersome research instrumentation to Palace Green Library, a luxury not possible for work at other UK libraries.

We have constructed dedicated high-­performance instrumentation, designed for portability and flexibility yet retaining research-­level sensitivity, readily transported by train or car and requiring minimal set-­up time: typically less than 30 minutes.  Our capability is exemplified by 15 visits and the examination of over 80 manuscripts in libraries across the UK in the past year, indicating the proficiency of our team.

Accessible archiving of the spectroscopic data is essential, and the results from these works are being integrated with the current digitisation of Durham Priory’s library, which has started with the surviving manuscripts and printed books at Durham Cathedral and University Libraries. The results of analyses will be integrated with the digital images of the manuscripts studied, increasing the available information content and demonstrating the potential of the International Image Interoperability Framework.

Natalie Watson, Alfred Gillett Trust

The Alfred Gillett Trust is Somerset-based charity that preserves and promotes the heritage collections of the Clark family and C & J Clark, which was established in 1825. The collection holds over 100,000 items relating to the shoemaking industry, local history, Quakerism and geology.

The archives’ location on the doorstep of Clarks HQ in Street, Somerset means that the staff can visit the site in person and get first-hand experience researching and handling the collections. Access, however, is a major problem for staff within the global company. For shoe designers and product development teams at the company’s offices in Asia and America, a quick trip to the local archive is not possible. In an increasingly digital age, it was decided that online access to the company’s collections was needed and the idea for the digitisation project was born.

In 2013 the Trust made a successful business case to receive £500,000 from the company for a 3-year project to catalogue and digitise a selection of its business collections and provide global access for staff to the collection. In 2014, a second business case was approved to extend the project to 2020 and widen the scope of the collections being digitised, bringing the total company investment to £1m.

The aim of this project is to make the heritage collections of Clarks available to staff in the UK and overseas for research and inspiration by: photographing the collection of 25,000 shoes; digitising over 2,500 films and audio recordings; photographing over 18,000 pieces of Point of Sale; and creating a text-searchable library of over 1,800 shoe catalogues, in-house publications and company newspapers. It is hoped that the Trust will be able to open access to the digitised collections to the public in the near future.

This paper will explore how the business case was made for the investment in Clarks’ heritage collections and how the issue of global access to a local collection was solved with the use of online collections management systems. It will also focus on the issues surrounding the management of fragile and sensitive collections and the standards for digital curation which were developed.

Sam Sportun, Manchester Museum

Inclusive access is an important objective for interactive developments for Museums and Galleries online and in the gallery. The development of a haptic interface, Probos ™ and digital touch replicas were a response to this challenge. The haptic interface uses objects that remain inaccessible to our visually impaired visitors, due to being displayed within a case and being too fragile to be used in a handling session. The interface consists of a touch enabled computer interface which allows the user to make a physical connection with the scanned object, exploring the topography in a 3-dimensional digital environment. This is achieved through a tactile feedback stylus.

Henshaws Society for Blind People worked with us; choosing the museum objects and guiding us so that they could navigate the new 3D digital space which was created. Sound and images are added to enhance the experience in a series of ‘rooms’ exploring the objects history, manufacture etc. Additional objects have been added from Yale Peabody Museum and The British Museum.

Another well-known use for digital scans is the production of replicas. Through research with Loughborough University, a digital touch replica of an Ancient Egyptian Stela was produced for the gallery. The stela has strategically placed sensors, which trigger sound and image files allowing visitors to interrogate complex themes in a self-guided intuitive exploration. Information can be updated and a number of narratives can be added.

Both digital interactives have been used at external events; such as Manchester Museum wellbeing sessions at local Manchester Hospitals and local schools and most recently the Grange School for Autism. These digital interactives retain a physical connection with the museum collections which is important because every object has a corporeal presence; it reinforces our learning and engages another sense.