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Provisional Semantics: Addressing the challenges of representing multiple perspectives within an evolving digitised national collection

Pringle, Emily; Mavin, Helen; Greenhalgh, Tate; Dalal-Clayton, Anjalie; Rutherford, Ananda; Bramwell, Jane; Blackford, Katie; Balukiewicz, Kim

The final report on Provisional Semantics: Addressing the challenges of representing multiple perspectives within an evolving digitised national collection summarises the aims and objectives and research questions for the project, which were to ask:

  • What methodological, ethical and practical changes do heritage organisations need to make to accommodate the multiple and provisional interpretations necessary for a sustainable digitised national collection to genuinely represent UK Heritage?
  • What methods and approaches that engage intellectually and practically with the ‘decolonial’ agenda can heritage organisations employ to produce search terms/catalogue entries and interpretations fit for purpose for an evolving digitised national collection?

The research built on and challenged past work undertaken by the participating organisations; Imperial War Museums (IWM), the National Trust (NT) and Tate and adopted a qualitative case study approach. Focusing on the structures, practices, policies, collections, and cultures of these three case study organisations provided relevant settings within which collaborative approaches to cataloguing and reinterpreting collection items could be tested. The methodology adopted for the project drew on practice-led research and action research, enabling the research team, who were themselves predominantly practitioners, to gain insights and knowledge through undertaking actions, interrogating, analysing and reflecting on these actions and applying the knowledge gained to shape the project and their working practices going forward.  These insights in turn informed the findings and recommendations documented in this final report alongside conclusions drawn from a commissioned practice and literature review (due to be published in Autumn 2022) and feedback from external stakeholders. Furthermore, Provisional Semantics provided an opportunity for the research team to examine the value and constraints of project-based working as a means of addressing the issues at the heart of this research.

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