Digital Humanities and Musical Heritage workshop

Attend our conference on 2nd July 2018, exploring major projects that address the digitisation and dissemination of musical heritage.

About the workshop

Digital resources are playing a key role in transforming access to museum collections, enriching the experience provided by physical displays by providing different ways of encountering and interacting with ‘heritage’: the possibility of virtually aggregating objects from different museums, hard-to-reach collections and storage supports the making of new connections, narratives, and perspectives and dramatically expands the opportunities for everybody to engage with the material past. Thanks to the ease of access and friendly layout, most platforms are also evolving from being oriented only towards specialists to addressing non-specialised users, encouraging unprecedented numbers of people to take an active role in being ‘curators’ of heritage.

Musical heritage offers outstanding potential for these developments. Musical heritage presents complexities that always posed major issues in traditional displays: the close connection between the tangible and intangible dimensions, the need to rely on images, sounds and multimedia to relate and develop stories, the requirement for immersive experiences to communicate effectively, all come together in stretching the potential of current technical resources.

At the same time, the digital interpretation of musical heritage poses challenges that remain hard to overcome for many institutions: issues of technical accessibility, high costs in maintaining and running complex infrastructures, fragmentation of resources in small projects which disappear in the digital space.

Over the past two years, the Royal College of Music Museum has launched and delivered the MINIM-UK project, a partnership with the Horniman Museum and Gardens, the Royal Academy of Music, and the University of Edinburgh that – generously supported by ResearchEngland – addressed some of these issues creating the largest resource in the world that aggregates data on the musical instruments in the heritage collections of a single nation: over 200 collections have contributed records of around 20,000 objects, while a team of cataloguers has travelled the country creating digital records of hard-to-access objects. These records include video- and sound-recordings as well as images and texts, and are made accessible online for free exploration and for creating bespoke curated resources. Since the launch of the project the resource has become the basis for digital exhibitions and academic curricula and has attracted over 12,000 individual users. The project also opens an otherwise hard-to-reach international dimention to medium- and small-collections as its records are also harvested by major international platforms such as MIMO and Europeana.

This one-day conference presents a variety of perspectives on major projects that address different dimensions of the documentation, dissemination and conservation of musical heritage, or which provide promising methodological models that could be applied to music. It is aimed at starting new discussions that will stimulate further expansion and articulation of the MINIM-UK project and, moving beyond musical instruments, can address the broader challenges of the digital dissemination of musical heritage.

Where and when

The conference takes place on 2nd July 2018, in the East Parry Room at the Royal College of Music, London.

The conference begins at 10:00, and closes at 17:00. Lunch will be provided at 12:30.


The conference is free to attend, and users can register through the Royal College of Music's events page. Spaces are limited therefore early booking is encouraged.

Note: The £1.99 booking fee can be waived using the promotional code 'digital' at checkout.

Attendees also receive a free ticket to our concert The Gift of Music – Uncovering the RCM Collection, commencing at 18:15 in the Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall.


Among the questions that will be explored are:

  • Can both the tangible and intangible aspects of musical heritage be maintained throughout the process of collections management?
  • How can we help performing arts collections ‘punch above their weight’ and maintain visibility in the rapidly proliferating digital realm?
  • What lessons can be learned from the realm of the visual arts, and from other parallel fields?
  • How do we ensure that the dynamic aspects of intangible heritage are captured effectively through digitisation, are preserved appropriately, and can be re-used?
  • What challenges do intellectual property rights present?
  • How can projects with a local reach connect with global digital projects?
  • How can we link musical heritage into the wider cultural sphere?
  • Linked Data has the potential to be a powerful tool: how can it be grasped?
  • Dealing with limitations and developing usefulness: how can ‘static’ object records, usually consisting of text and possibly images, be made more useful to both researchers, and brought to life for the general public?

Our keynote speakers are:

  • Richard Wistreich - Director of Research, Royal College of Music
  • Eric de Visscher - Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professor, V&A Research Institute

Featured projects include:


Presenting a virtual museum featuring 20,000 instruments from 200 of the UK’s musical instrument collections, on a platform that takes advantage of the interactive context of musical instruments, and ‘siloing’ the approach to cataloguing for maximum local impact.

MIMO (Musical Instrument Museums Online)

The development of the MIMO project, unlocking musical instrument collections from across Europe.

LITMUS: Linked Irish Traditional Music

LITMUS is a 2-year Horizon2020 project at the Irish Traditional Music Archive working to build a linked data ontology to better express what occurs within oral transmission, focusing on Irish traditional music and dance.

Art UK

Perspectives on national projects from Art UK, whose mission is to open up public collections for enjoyment, learning and research, and support public collections to show their artworks online. Their latest project three-year project will focus on sculpture of the last thousand years. All objects will be recorded and most will be photographed, some in 3D.


Europe-wide aggregation of musical heritage and culture through Europeana Sounds, and the Europeana Music Collection.

RCM Studios - LOLA and networked performance

LOLA low latency technology helps students at the RCM make music in real-time with musicians all over the world, and is being used to research how musicians interact and build relationships at a distance without meeting, in an ongoing project led by Dr Tania Lisboa entitled Rehearsing and performing in cyber space: a focus on communication and interaction. How could this technology be used to link important historic instruments?

MUSICES, and 3D scanning of instruments

The Germanisches Nationalmuseum (GNM), together with the Development Center for X-ray Technology (EZRT) of the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits (IIS) in Fürth, is developing a standard for three-dimensional X-ray computed tomography (3D-CT) musical instruments. The MUSICES standard will formulate the conditions for scientifically relevant and practice-oriented reproductions of musical instruments.

Tudor Partbooks

This three-year project – a collaboration between the Universities of Oxford and Newcastle funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council – will digitize all the extant manuscripts of Tudor polyphonic music from c.1510-1590 preserved in partbook format (where each vocal part is written in a separate book).

Arvedi Laboratory for Non-invasive Diagnostics at the Violin Museum of Cremona

The study and characterization of historical musical instruments conserved in the Museum through the use and implementation of advanced non-invasive diagnostic techniques, with equipment that can be easily transported and used, which will serve to obtain information on the historical materials used by the great master violinmakers such as Antonio Stradivari or Andrea Amati.