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Towards a National Collection: Opening UK Heritage to the World - Pre-call Announcement

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UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has recently announced a new five-year research programme Towards a National Collection: Opening UK Heritage to the World, funded under the Strategic Priorities Fund. The programme, led by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), aims to benefit researchers and audiences of all kinds by making the UK’s unparalleled museum, library and heritage collections increasingly discoverable as a unified ‘virtual collection’.  

The programme aims to have a transformative impact on:

  • Digital search and cataloguing tools for collections, and related technologies and methodologies.
  • Research capability: through enhanced researcher access and new cross-collection search tools, researchers will be able to exploit the potential of the nation’s research assets in innovative ways, addressing radically new research questions and thereby maintaining UK global leadership in inter-disciplinary research.
  • Public access and public engagement with heritage: the programme will generate research-driven public-facing outputs, including major new exhibitions and immersive installations; extend public access beyond collections’ physical location, nationally and internationally; and facilitate wider and better-informed public engagement.

Early activity on the programme has already begun, with the recent appointment of a Programme Director following a competitive process, and the commissioning of a number of smaller-scale ‘Foundation’ projects, which are scheduled to complete in 2021. A separate announcement on the Programme Director appointment and Foundation projects will be made shortly.

The most substantial part of Towards a National Collection,  will comprise up to five large-scale interdisciplinary ‘Discovery’ research projects, and AHRC will soon be launching a call for these.  Each of these Discovery projects will involve a core collaboration between one or more UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and one or more of AHRC’s Independent Research Organisations (IROs), as well as an element of further collaboration with local and regional cultural, third sector or community organisations. It is anticipated that each project will be funded at approximately £3 million (80 per cent fEC) for a period of up to 42 months, with up to five projects being funded and the total funding envelope for all Discovery projects not exceeding £15m.

As well as addressing some of the specific physical, digital and organisational solutions needed to bring together disparate and yet complementary collections across the UK, AHRC are determined that the Discovery projects will together add up to more than the sum of their parts, working in a complementary way to demonstrate the value of unifying collections across types and geographies, and creating public-facing outputs that can be displayed to, and tested with, large-scale audiences across the country.

The full call specification will be published in April 2020 with the closing date in the Autumn. Successful projects are expected to start between June and September 2021.

To share further details on the remit and objectives of the programme as well as to facilitate early exchange of ideas for discovery project proposals, we will be organising two introductory meetings (each half a day long) on:

  • 4th March in London
  • 11th March in Edinburgh.

If you wish to attend, please complete the online SmartSurvey form.

The closing date for applications to the Introductory Meetings, is 17:00 on Monday 17 February. We aim to achieve a good spread across institutions, expertise and career stages and will be confirming places w/c 24 February.

Opening Dates

Call Opens: TBC

Closing Dates

Closing Date: 17/02/2020

(closing date for applications to the Introductory Meetings)

How to make an application

Further Information

Following the full call launch in April 2020, we will be organising a number of further open events with the focus on the call.


For further information, please contact National.Collection@ahrc.ukri.org.

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