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 room will be available to attendees from 09:30. Presentations begin at 10:00, and close at 17:00. Lunch will be provided at 12:15.

On arrival at the Royal College of Music, attendees will need to sign in at Reception, and will then be guided to the East Parry Room by our stewards. The East Parry Room is on the 4th floor of the building, and lift access is available.


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.



Sonic Objects in Museums: A Philosophical Turn by Eric de Visscher, Andrew W.Mellon Visiting Professor at Victoria & Albert Museum Research Institute.

Digitising the tangible, from local to global

MINIM-UK / Richard Martin & Gabriele Rossi Rognoni, Royal College of Music

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) / Rodolphe Bailly, Philharmonie de Paris

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

Art UK / Katey Goodwin

Art UK have been digitising artworks in public collections for 15 years, to help provide greater access to the art we all own. Having catalogued all the oil paintings in public ownership in the UK, they are now embarking on a major project to digitise the nation's sculpture, both in our public collections and outside in our streets and parks. Project Manager for the sculpture project, Katey Goodwin, will explain how Art UK is approaching this ambitious initiative.

Europeana / Tom Miles, The British Library

Tom Miles will give a brief overview of the Europeana Sounds project that ran from 2014 to 2017; and, also, will take a look at Europeana Music which was developed and launched during the project.

Digitising the intangible

LOLA and networked performance / Matt Parkin, Royal College of Music

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?

LITMUS: Linked Irish Traditional Music / Lynnsey Weissenberger, Irish Traditional Music Archive

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.

Google Arts and Culture / Natasha David and Suhair Khan

Music-focussed aspects of the Google platform for dissemination of cultural heritage information.

Victoria and Albert Museum / Marta Ajmar and Marion Crick

An overview of current works at VARI, the museum's research institute, and its Content / Data / Object project.

Back to reality—from digital back to physical?

Tudor Partbooks / Julia Craig McFeely, University of Oxford

The Tudor Partbooks project undertook the reconstruction of two partbook sets that are currently unusable, one because of the loss of one of the books, and the other (the subject of this paper) badly damaged by acid burn-through. The paper will discuss the decisions behind the techniques employed in the digital repair work on the Sadler Partbooks (GB-Ob Mus.e.1–5), and the often complex process of forensic reconstruction of the books to a point where they can now be read in their entirety and studied paleographically.

MUSICES, and 3D scanning of instruments / Frank Bär, Germanisches Nationalmusem

The project MUSICES – Musical Instrument Computed Tomography Examination Standard – was funded by the German Research Association (DFG) and was carried out by Germanisches Nationalmusem in Nuremberg and Fraunhofer Development Center for X-Ray Technology in Fürth with support from national and international partners. The project’s aim was the development of Recommendations for the 3D-CT of musical instruments and other cultural assets, in order to make this technology better accessible for research. The talk will describe the project, its achievements and a sneak preview of the MUSICES website where all data can be retrieved.

Arvedi Laboratory for Non-invasive Diagnostics at the Violin Museum of Cremona / Piercarlo Dondi, University of Pavia

The presentation will focus on the use of image processing and 3D modelling techniques for the study of historical violins. Results of the analyses conducted on 17th - 18th century instruments held in Museo del Violino of Cremona (Italy) will be presented, beside with some examples of Human-Computer interaction applications designed for scientific dissemination.

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?