Connecting Histories

The workshop concluded with a visit to the Special Collection in the Bodleian Library, where participants had a chance to explore some remarkable Early Modern material

RunCoCo staff have just returned from a very engaging and stimulating workshop where participants met to develop ideas for a collaborative project involving local historians and record offices in academic research.

The workshop, organised by Abigail Williams and Jonathan Healey, is the first step towards creating and running a major project which will combine the skills, experiences and efforts of different types of participants. Questions that were discussed included what such a project would involve, who might participate and what digital components should be considered, amongst other things. It is obvious that non-academic researchers and archives have a lot to offer, and part of the workshop was used to find out more about what kinds of skills, information or benefits they might want to gain and consider how this could be provided. Ideas that came up include skills enhancement workshops (for example palaeography training), talks and events, and opportunities to raise awareness of the local archives. The need for archives and record offices to show that the archive is being used and can generate revenue was recognised as one that cannot be ignored. It was suggested that the opportunity to be part of this kind of collaborative research project would be appreciated, and it was agreed that recognising everyone’s contribution to the project would be important.

As there was general approval of the idea to run this kind of project, the project team will now go on to draw up a proposal for a pilot phase. This will include working more closely with local archives and record offices to identify the type of material to work on, and to define the research questions to address. It is presumed that the discussions started in the workshop will continue, and thereby influence the development of the project proposal.


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Crowdfunding Community Collections

One question that RunCoCo has been asked repeatedly relates to costs. How much does it cost to run a community collection project? Some assume that because you can benefit from the input of dedicated and hard-working volunteers, there are no costs involved. However, as anyone running a community collection knows, it is not free. How much it costs depends on what kind of project it is and how it is run, what support you can draw on and what resources you have. Even if volunteers are happy to give their time for free, you may need to provide refreshments for when they are working, and you may want to offer to cover their travel costs or provide transport. There may be costs associated with using a venue, advertising your events, and printing publicity and information materials, not to mention the need for digitisation equipment, computers and space to store the collected material. There are ways you can minimise thes costs, and RunCoCo are happy to share our experiences and tips with anyone planning a new project. Nevertheless, there is no getting away from the fact that resources are needed, and access to funding makes it easier to cover this need.

How you get the necessary funds will vary. We are currently involved in a new initiative where we are looking at whether we can fund local community collection events thorugh crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is not a new idea, and is used in many different contexts, from start-up business seeking investors to individuals asking for support to cover medical bills. The University of Oxford has recently set up ‘OxReach‘, a new crowdfunding platform for researchers who seek philanthropic funding for projects that do not naturally fit with either research or commercialisation funding. In contrast to projects and initiatives seeking substantial grants from one main funder, the crowdfunding campaigns seek to get a large number of people to donate a small amount of money each.

Lest We Forget is a crowdfunding campaign that seeks funding to support local community collection events. The idea is to generate enough funding to be able to provide training, equipment and other support to local groups, schools and associations who want to digitise material relating to the First World War. The campaign will launch on June 5th and go on until July 5th. In addition to running the campaign, we will be reflecting on the experience of doing so, and share our experiences here. Keep an eye out for our future posts. And do support the campaign by telling others about it. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@ww1centenary, #WW1collectionday), and feel free to share our posts with colleagues, friends, and family.

About the Lest We Forget project

Back in 2008, Oxford University launched The Great War Archive, a mass-digitisation project that successfully gathered over 6,500 materials relating to the First World War held by the general public. Building on from this success, Lest We Forget is a brand new initiative to save as many more pictures, letters and memories as possible through community-based collection days across the country. We are currently seeking to raise £80,000 to fund training days for local volunteers, acquire equipment, and offer outreach events.

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Linguamania – crowdsourcing languages

How many languages are spoken in an Oxford museum on a dark Friday night in January?  

That may seem like an odd question to ask, but it makes more sense when put into the context of the Ashmolean Museum ‘Linguamania’ event. ‘LinguaMania’ is one of the themed evening events arranged at the museum as part of their LiveFriday series. With the aim to “to bring alive the museum’s multicultural world through the art and science of language, this particular event featured a variety of language-related activities and exhibits.

One of the activities on the night was run by the Language Landscape project which is crowdsourcing samples of language. Anyone who wants can make a recording and add it to the Language Landscape map at The recording may be of someone speaking their native language or a language they have learned, and the topic can be anything they choose to share.

A busy event at the Ashmolean Museum

What makes Language Landscape different to many other language recording projects is that it is mapping where the recording was made, not where the language is from or where the speaker was born. This means that the collection shows the use and variety of languages – not only across different countries or regions but also in one place, possibly even at one time (like at the LinguaMania event). This offers a small, but important, insight into language diversity and illustrates the richness of our current cultural landscape.

To return to the question at the top: it may not be possible to give an exact number, but the Language Landscape recording activity at the LinguaMania event resulted in 68 recordings which feature at least 40 different languages/dialects/varieties (some of which are the first on the Language Landscape map!).

To explore the recordings made on the night, and many, many more, please visit the Language Landscape website And do make and add your own recordings!

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Using online resources

Running a Community Collection usually means that material is collected in digital form to be use in some way. The material may form part of an archive, be used for research, be turned into educational material or much more. To mark the Remembrance season, this page lists some examples of how material that we have collected through our First World War projects is being used. Some examples of related resources are also included. Explore the links and get inspired to do something with digital material today.

Online archives

Explore the archives or share your own material.

  • Great War Archive (
    Our first community collection (closed for new additions). An online archive with material contributed by members of the public. Part of First World War Poetry Digital Archive ( which contains material by and about the war poets, including manuscripts, letters, pictures and more.
  • Europeana 1914-1918 (
    A very large international online archive containing stories and objects shared by the public, material from archives and libraries and links to additional resources.
  • Oxford at War (
    A new and growing collection of material related to Oxford during the period of the First World War.

Look for information about someone

If you are sharing a personal or family story through a community collection, you may also be interested in seeing what information about that person already exists online. You may also be able to  add your additional information to expand what is already available.

  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission (
    Find war dead. Search by name, date, regiment and more. Find information about person, their service number and where they are buried.  Sometimes additional information is available.
    – Enter information (only one term is needed) and press ‘Search’
    – Explore the result. You can sort the table by clicking on, for example, ‘Date of death’ or ‘Regiment/service’.
    – Click on the name to see more details.
  • Lives of the First World War (
    Find people who were involved in the war, add more information.
    – Type in name and service no (if known. Can be found through Commonwealth War Graves Commission for those who died)
    – See what is available (more information about how to use the site, add material and more can be found on the site)
  • Oxford Roll of Services (
    Listing all University members who served.
  • Wikipedia
    A lot of information about people, places and events. See, for example:
    – An image gallery of noteworthy people from Southern England who fought in World War I. Use the mouse wheel to move through the gallery. Clicking on some images will show a larger version.
     – A list of noteworthy people, born in Oxfordshire or adjacent counties, who took part in World War I but for whom there doesn’t seem to be a (freely reusable) photograph. Click the links on the right to read Wikipedia biographies of each solider. If you know of a photograph of any of these people, please email

Contribute to research

Having large archives of material is very useful for researchers and others interested in a topic. The material can be made more easily accessible, however, with the help of human input. A number of projects ask people to, for example, transcribe hand-written documents to make it easier to find relevant passages and identify key information. Examples include:

  • Europeana Transcribe:
    View images from the Europeana archive and type in the text that you can see. Choose the language and type of document that you want to see.
  • Measuring the ANZACs:
    Transcribe first-hand accounts of New Zealanders from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps circa World War I.
  • Operation War Diary
    Annotate and transcribe war diaries from the First World War

Educational resources

Primary resources can be a very powerful resource for learning and teaching. Here are some examples of online educational resources that draw on material from community collections

  • First World War Poetry Digital Archive (
    Tutorials, films and timelines to help you learn more about First World War poetry and related topics.
  • World War One Centenary: Continuations and beginnings (
    Short articles, audio and video recordings and an extensive Resource Library providing links to freely available, open resources from across the world.

Online exhibitions

Here are a few examples how material form an archive (Europeana 1914-1918) has been used to create an online exhibition.

Films and podcasts


  • Children of the Great War
    A unique split screen film installation focusing on 13 of the participants who shared their family history from The Great War. The installation toured galleries, museums, and community centres, after its premiere at BFI Southbank. Created by AgeExchange
  • “Meeting in No Man’s Land”
    Feature-length film created by AgeExchange as part of their project where German and British elders exchange family histories from The First World War.

Films from the period of the First World War

The European Film Gateway has digitised a large collection of films and newsreels from the period of the War. To see all the material, explore the EFG 1914 project site. Some examples:

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Illustrations in support of Public Engagement with Research Awards

Child wearing a WW1 cap, plays with a WW1 telephone

“Halo, aký príbeh mi rozpovieš?” [“Hi, what story can you tell me?”] Inclusion of family faces, and children especially, are key for the interest of the news broadcasters in the Europeana 1914-1918 roadshows, like this one at Univerzitná knižnica v Bratislave, Bratislava (2013) – 1.

The Oxford University team involved in Europeana 1914-1918 have entered the Vice Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards (projects), 2016. Click on each photograph to see illustrations of some of the impact of the outreach and engagement activities as part of the work to crowdsource First World War family history from local communities and online, (using the principles of “The Oxford Community Collection Model“): Continue reading

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Crowdsourcing: the essentials

This post was written by Liz Masterman for the ‘News from Academic IT” blog and kindly cross-posted here.

The term ‘crowdsourcing’ crops up almost daily in the media, but it’s probably a fair guess that many people have only a general idea about how it works. In this article we look briefly at some of the characteristics of crowdsourcing initiatives, illustrated by four current and past projects conducted at the University:

Galaxy Zoo

The first stage of classification in Galaxy Zoo

Zooniverse is a platform that supports a number of crowdsourcing projects led by Oxford researchers. The original project, Galaxy Zoo, invited the public to help classify over a million galaxies. Current projects include Penguin Watch and Shakespeare’s World.

The Medieval Texts Translation Project is a by-product of Fiona Whelan’s doctoral research. It brings together scholars, academics, students and amateurs to translate medieval texts in order to make them more accessible to both the academic community and the general public.

Art UK (previously Your Paintings) is a collaboration between the Public Catalogue Foundation and the BBC to tag digital copies of paintings in public collections around the UK. Dr Kathryn Eccles of the OII has been researching the ‘virtual volunteers’, or ‘taggers’, taking part in the project to explore their motivation and find out what impact participation has had on them.

The Great War Archive ran a campaign to build an online collection of family memorabilia to accompany an archive of digitised manuscripts by major poets of the First World War. Contributions were collected both electronically, with members of the public uploading images to the website themselves and face-to-face, through ‘roadshows’ to which people brought their artefacts to be photographed or scanned by the project team.

Which comes first: the crowd or the source?

It’s possible to distinguish two main approaches to crowdsourcing, which differ from each other in their starting-points: content and crowd.

1. Content as the starting-point
This approach covers ‘a diverse range of activities and projects involving the public doing something to, or with, content’ (Dunn and Hedges 2014). The output from such activities can be some form of improvement to the content (e.g. Medieval Texts, Art UK) or, when the crowd is participating in research, a body of research data (e.g. Zooniverse).

Percy Matthews sketch

Sketch by Percy Matthews contributed to the Great War Archive by his grandson

2. The crowd as the starting-point
In this approach the public is asked ‘to help contribute to shared goals’ (Ridge, 2014): for example, by contributing artefacts to a collection, or by recording actions or behaviours. Once again, these goals can be either content (a collection of artefacts: e.g. Great War Archive) or research data (e.g. the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch).

These two models are, of course, a simplification, and a number of variations can easily be identified. For example, digital images of memorabilia contributed by the crowd to the Great War Archive may serve as valuable sources for historians of the period.

All projects great and small…

One of the most striking characteristics of these crowdsourcing projects is their difference in scale. Galaxy Zoo attracted hundreds of thousands of contributors from across the world, yet Medieval Texts Translation achieved striking success with just a handful of contributors. Furthermore, technology (and the funding for it!) need not be a barrier: while Zooniverse and the Great War Archive run on purpose-built platforms, Fiona Whelan used an assemblage of free and open-source tools for her translation project: Google Docs, WordPress and Titanpad (a collaborative writing app), together with social media (Facebook and Twitter) to reach her community of volunteers.

Zooniverse projects

A selection of projects on the Zooniverse platform

Blazing the trail

Two projects in particular have eased the way for other organisations and individuals to follow in their footsteps.

With funding from Google, Zooniverse has developed a platform on which crowdsourcing sites can be set up very quickly and at no cost. It is currently hosting 10 live projects.

A key legacy of The Great War Archive is the Oxford Community Collections Model and an accompanying service, RunCoCo, which helps those who wish to build digital collections using a combination of online crowdsourcing and targeted face-to-face interaction. The model has been used with a wide range of subsequent projects, both large and small, including Europeana 1914-18, Europeana 1989, Great Famine Voices, the Woruldhord collection of teaching materials for Old English and the Lower Umpqua Community Historical Archive.

The role of the crowd: collaboration and consensus

Medieval Texts poem

Extract from a poem in the Medieval Texts Translation Project

It can be tempting to focus on the eye-catching images and arresting texts that abound on crowdsourcing sites: colonies of comical-looking penguins, a soldier’s helmet pierced with shrapnel, a landscape so vivid one could step right into it, or the tale of the witch with her cow-sucking bag. But in many ways the real stars of the show are the members of the public who contribute their time, effort, ideas and artefacts. Their role vis-à-vis the research community is an active one: they are considered members of that community: ‘citizen scientists’, even though they may have few or no academic qualifications themselves.

Scientific decisions are often made on the basis of consensus. In Galaxy Zoo each galaxy is viewed by 40 volunteers and the final classification is determined on the basis of the majority judgement. The Medieval Texts Translation Project used a collaborative writing tool which supported discussion of, for example, vocabulary and interpretation. This enabled participants to engage with the project in different ways according to their preference; some would translate a whole poem from scratch, while others preferred to edit and comment on the translations already made.

Art UK

From the ‘Tagger’ page on Art UK

Both Fiona (from interacting with her participants) and Kathryn (through her research) emphasise the importance of building a sense of community among the volunteers in a project and, crucially, a sense of ownership in the collective work and of making a positive contribution to current and future scholarship. In Galaxy Zoo, this was taken to its logical conclusion in naming volunteers as co-authors of a research paper reporting the discovery of a new astrophysical object. (Interestingly, this discovery provides a strong argument against replacing human crowds with computers, even though some efforts have been made in that direction, such as the automated tagging of artworks.)

Even where participation doesn’t lead to scientific discovery, participants in crowdsourcing projects can derive great personal satisfaction from the experience. Contributors to the Europeana 1914-18 collection filmed for Irish TV news spoke of the gratification of being able to share a family treasure and the story associated with it with the world. In her research with the Art UK taggers, Kathryn found that participation increased their engagement with museums and galleries and a way to see paintings from galleries which they were unable to visit for themselves. Not only did they also grow in confidence in looking at art, they also found that their use of language improved overall. And for some, tagging fulfilled a therapeutic function, providing a welcome distraction from difficult personal situations. Virtual volunteering therefore, can open up possibilities for ‘anywhere, anytime’ volunteering, and with it a sense of purpose and personal value.

Ridge, M. (2014). Crowdsourcing our Cultural Heritage. London: Routledge.
Dunn, S. & Hedges, M. (2012). Crowd-Sourcing Scoping Study: Engaging the Crowd with Humanities Research. Arts & Humanities Research Council.

This article has been compiled from notes made at ‘Crowdsourcing for Impact’, a forum held on 4 March 2016 at IT Services as part of Academic IT’s annual Engage programme. The speakers were Dr Grant Miller (Zooniverse), Kate Lindsay (Great War Archive) and Dr Kathryn Eccles (Art UK research project). The convenor was Dr Ylva Berglund Prytz, who also presented on behalf of Dr Fiona Whelan. All interpretations and errors are mine.

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Suggested reading

Those interested in community collections, First World War material or history research may want to look at this article by our colleague and friend Dr. Stephen Bull. As the first in a series of three articles on crowdsourcing, Stephen discusses user-generated content (UCG) as ‘new history’.  Some nice examples from the work we have been doing for the last few years – crowdsourcing First World War material.

There is a genuine case to be made that, in the digital age, ‘User Generated Content’ (UGC) is ‘new history’. Its beauty is twofold: much of it has never been shared outside of a family or personal context, and now, being seen publicly for the first time, it can be marshalled into categories and mined for research.

Bull, Stephen (2016): Europeana 1914-1918: Showcasing Crowdsourcing and User Generated Content as The ‘New’ History

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IT Innovation

Webbanner120x400pixelsMany organisations and companies are aware that their members can have creative solutions to challenges and problems that the organisation is facing, but that they may find it difficult to get these raised and funded. As of last year, the University of Oxford is running a crowdsourcing scheme to encourage its members to offer ideas for small start-up digital projects that will bring benefit to the University.

A couple of times each year, the scheme launches a challenge and invites students and staff to share their ideas related to a particular theme (an open category is also included to allow for good ideas not matching the current theme).

A dedicated platform has been set up to allow staff and students to post their ideas, comment on and discuss them, and form teams for collaboration. The aim of this is to encourage open discussion, emerge ideas from across the University, and inspire collaborations between otherwise dispersed teams or units. Submitted ideas are evaluated by the IT Innovation Panel which consists of senior members from all divisions of the University. A shortlist is drawn up, and shortlisted ideas are invited to submit a project proposal where they show how their idea could be implemented as a project. The proposals are presented to the Panel which then decides which ones to fund.

Over its first year, the scheme has funded 25 innovative projects led by staff or students. The projects range from small projects involving one student working on something over the summer, to projects involving a team of participants from several departments working together for up to a year.

The Oxford IT Innovation Challenges forms part of the University’s IT Capital Plan and is administered by staff from IT Services (including RunCoCo).

More information:

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Crowdsourcing for impact – a forum

A crowdCross-posted from the blog for the Engage programme: Digital technologies for public engagement, knowledge exchange and impact (University of Oxford)


Crowdsourcing is an increasingly popular concept, and crowdsourcing projects appear in many areas. As part of the 2016 Engage program, we will be running a panel session around the question of how crowdsourcing can be used for outreach and public engagement.

When: 4 March, 2-4pm
Where: Thames Suite, IT Services, 13 Banbury Rd

In the session, we will be hearing about a range of crowdsourcing projects, from small-scale projects run by a single individul to large projects involving a team of researchers and thousands of contributors. We will explore how projects have engaged with their audiences and what impact that has had. There will be time for discussion and opportunity to share thoughts and experiences, both in the session and over coffee afterwards.

To book a place, please register at the IT Training Courses website


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Working with local museums

Being placed in Oxford, RunCoCo are fortunate to have a number of excellent museums more or less on our doorstep. We do enjoy working with these when the opportunity arises. This summer we had the pleasure to be involved with the Museum of Oxford in their community collection of objects for their 40 years, 40 objects exhibition (see previous post). This autumn we were invited to the Museum of the History of Science to support their First World War community collection. The museum was running a series of events to tie in with their ‘Dear Harry’ exhibition, and decided to go with an idea we have had for a long time: running a community collection event in the Museum.

Community collection event in the gallery

Community collection event in the gallery

The History of Science Museum is based in the world’s oldest surviving purpose-built museum building which naturally poses some challenges when it comes to running an event which involves a large number of staff and visitors as well as digitisation equipment and computers. It is not only a question of finding the space for it all, making sure there is room and facilities to receive a potentially large number of visitors, but also the issue of how to incorporate the digital element. Seemingly simple matters like getting access to electric sockets pose a challenge in a 17th Century building. Luckily, the Museum team were able to meet the challenges and put on a very good event.


Digitisation crew at work

For RunCoCo, working with our local museums offers an opportunity to adapt our ideas about procedures and practices to different contexts. That in itself is not different from working with any organisation. What is different, however, is that working locally we can have a more immediate link to the physical space where an event is to take place, and we usually meet with the local team several times over a period of time. When we work with remote organisations, we communicate over email, phone, and online. If we meet, it is only for an intense planning and training session over a couple of days or less. Although that works very well, and offers the organiser an opportunity to focus on planning their event without distractions, it is interesting to also have the opportunity to work in a different way, engaging with the event organiser and their space over a longer period of time.

For the event at the Museum of History of Science, we first met with the organisers on a couple of occasions to discuss their ideas for the event and talk about how to make it all happen. We also provided two training sessions, one for event organisers and one for event volunteers. Although these were held in the Museum, they were open also to participants who were not involved in this particular event. This is part of the strategic plan to spread community collection expertise and encourage further collection initiatives. At the actual event, RunCoCo were there to lend a hand, and as it was a local event it was easy for the organisers to borrow some of our digitisation equipment.

The community collection day at the Museum of the History of Science went very well and both visitors and staff found it a rewarding experience. From RunCoCo’s side, the best feedback is to hear that the Museum may be thinking about doing it again. Next time they will not need our training and support but know exactly what to do and how to make it work for them. That is, of course, exactly how it should be, but I for one must admit that it will be hard to stay away if I hear that there will be another community collection event in one of our local museums. Where is the volunteer sign-up sheet, please?


The first Museum of the History of Science collection event was held on the 26th of September. The RunCoCo training sessions were supported by the Van Houten Bequest through the strategic funding for Oxford’s First World War Centenary

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