HER Forum 7 December 2011

On 7 December 2011, Chris Gosden gave a talk to about 70 local authority Historic Environment Record (HER) officers from all over England about the EngLaId project to delegates of the HER Forum Winter Meeting, held in the Birmingham and Midland Institute in Birmingham. The aim was to present the project to HER officers and obtain feedback from the audience. It was emphasised that the EngLaId project hopes to establish a two-way conversation about the possibilities and advantages of collaboration between the EngLaId project and HERs. The EngLaId project depends to a significant degree on data held by HERs, but, where possible, aims to use these data in such a way that HERs will enjoy maximum benefit from the information exchange, for example through feeding into HER Research Frameworks.

Chris first outlined the project’s main objectives. Highlighting the enormous potential brought by the increase in archaeological data since the 1990s, he stressed the importance of long-term and countrywide syntheses that ignore traditional period and regional boundaries. Such an ambitious approach is perhaps only possible in an English context, because the high standards with which data are recorded and made available for research in England – not only through HERs, but also through EH’s National Mapping Programme (NMP) and other data repositories such as the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), the Celtic Coin Index and the Early Medieval Corpus (EMC) of single coin finds – are unrivalled internationally.

Chris then explained that the project will take place on two scales. First, the project will analyse patterns on a national scale – based mainly on NMP, HER and PAS data – with the aim to identify broad patterns in land use and metalwork deposition. Second, the project’s researchers will focus on a number of case studies, initially selected on basis of NMP coverage in combination with other investigation types, although the boundaries of case study areas can be altered if HER officers feel that that will be more beneficial.

Suggested case study areas.

The output of the project, in addition to traditional scholarly publications including a monograph, will be a website that, through application of new technology derived from the Semantic Web, will provide a search function that links to existing on-line data repositories. It was stressed that it is NOT the aim of the EngLaId project to create a new data hub. The project will approach HERs for data, but only to be used for research and analysis. The eventual website will merely provide a search function to existing repositories where data are kept under their existing conditions of release. This approach also ensures that the EngLaId website will not become out-dated, and that HER data will be accessed and appreciated more widely.

After Chris’s presentation, there was sufficient time for discussion and debate.  Reactions from the floor were overwhelmingly positive, with several suggestions for slight improvements to case study area boundaries and specific possibilities for collaboration. In conclusion, Chris reiterated that his presentation to the HER forum was an invitation to establish a two-way conversation about the possibilities and advantages of collaboration. In this context, we welcome any further ideas and discussion regarding the EngLaId project, either through this blog or directly by email to the Project Administrator, Laura Morley (laura.morley@arch.ox.ac.uk).

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