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AI and Archives: Current Challenges and Prospects of Digital and Born-digital archives

The National Archives UK and the British Library partnered for the second workshop of the AURA research network, which is funded by AHRC and the Irish Research Council (You can read about the first workshop of the network here). The workshop was held virtually.

This workshop explored the current challenges and prospects of digital and born-digital archives, focusing on access, ethics, emerging formats and AI by bringing together experts from a range of disciplines, including archival science, data and computer science and the humanities, with experts and practitioners from cultural heritage institutions.

80 applications were received. We selected 40 participants to enable interactive discussions.

On Day 1, the workshop aimed to discuss issues of access both from infrastructural and user’s perspectives. It also explored the ethical implications of the use of AI and advanced computational approaches to archival practices and archival research. On Day 2, the workshop explored the challenges of access to email archives and collaborative initiatives to overcome these challenges, as well as both infrastructural and cultural issues relating to web archives and interactive websites.

Each day included four short presentations, two interactive sessions and a round-table discussion. The workshop generated dialogue around key challenges that professionals across all sectors are grappling with, with a view to beginning to implement solutions.


(All times are in UK timezone)

Day 1

28 January, The National Archives UK:

11:00 – 11:10 Welcome to Day 1: Eirini Goudarouli, Head of Digital Research Programmes, The National Archives UK; Annalina Caputo, Assistant Professor, Dublin City University (10 min)

11:10 – 11:40 Chair: Patrick McInerney, Lecturer in Computer Science, Waterford Institute of Technology

  • Catherine Elliott, Head of Digital Services, The National Archives – Transforming how our users engage with the archive online (10 min + 5 min Q&A)
  • Bernard Ogden, Research Software Engineer, The National Archives, and Lora Angelova , Head of Conservation: Research & Audience Development, The National Archives – Towards Computer Vision Search and Discovery of our National Collection: Challenges and Prospects in Accessing Image Collections (10 min + 5 min Q&A)

5 minutes “break” – split the group in 4 break-out rooms

11:45 – 12:15 interactive session 1

Afternoon Break (1h and 15 min)

13:30 – 14:00 Chair: Larry Stapleton, Senior academic and international consultant, Waterford Institute of Technology

  • Lorna Hughes, Professor in Digital Humanities, Glasgow University – Lucky town, or lost in the flood?: the ethics of linking and searching community generated content (10 min + 5 min Q&A)
  • Nora McGregor, Digital Curator: European and Americas Collections, British Library – The evolution of the British Library Digital Scholarship Staff Training Programme: From HTML to Ethics in AI (10 min + 5 min Q&A)

5 minutes “break” – split the group in 4 break-out rooms

14:05 – 14:35 interactive session 2

Comfort Break (10 min)

14:45 – 15:30 Chair: Pip Willcox, Head of Research, The National Archives

Wrap-up: roundtable discussion


Day 2

29 January, The British Library:

11:00 – 11:10 Welcome to Day 2: Rachel Foss, Head of Contemporary Archives and Manuscripts, British Library; Larry Stapleton, Senior academic and international consultant, Waterford Institute of Technology; Mathieu d’Aquin, Professor of Informatics, National University of Ireland Galway (10 min)

11:10 – 11:40 Email Archives: challenges of access and collaborative initiatives

Chair: David Kirsch, Associate Professor, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland

  • Callum McKean, Curator for Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives, British Library and Jessica Smith, Creative Arts Archivist, John Rylands Library, University of Manchester – Working with ePADD: processes, challenges and collaborative solutions in working with email archives (10 minutes + 5 minutes Q&A)
  • Stephanie Decker (Professor of History and Strategy, University of Bristol) and Santhilata Venkata (The National Archives) – Finding Light in Dark Archives: Using AI to connect context and content in email collections (10 minutes + 5 minutes Q&A)

5 minutes break – split the group in 4 break-out rooms

Breakout Room facilitators:

Breakout Room 1 – Callum McKean; Breakout Room 2 – Jessica Smith; Breakout Room 3 – David Kirsch; Breakout Room 4 – Adam Nix

11:45 – 12:15 Interactive Session 1

Afternoon Break (1h and 15 min)

13:30 – 14:00  Emerging Formats, Interactive Narratives and Socio-Cultural Questions in AI

Chair: Nicole Basaraba, Postdoctoral Researcher, Studio Europa, Maastricht University

  • Lynda Clark, Post-doctoral research fellow in Narrative and Play at InGAME: Innovation for Games and Media Enterprise, University of Dundee, and Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator for Digital Publications, British Library – Collecting Emerging Formats: Capturing Interactive Narratives in the UK Web Archive (10 min + 5 min Q&A)
  • Coral Manton, Lecturer in Creative Computing, Bath Spa University – Women Reclaiming AI: a collectively designed AI Voice Assistant (10 min + 5 min Q&A)

5 minutes break – split the group in 4 break-out rooms

Breakout Room facilitators:

Breakout Room 1 – Lynda Clark; Breakout Room 2 – Giulia Carla Rossi; Breakout Room 3 – Coral Manton; Breakout Room 4 – Ian Cooke

14:05 – 14:35 Interactive session 2

Comfort Break (10 min)

14:45 – 15:15

Wrap-up: Roundtable discussion

Roundtable Participants:

Callum McKean; Adam Nix; David Kirsch; Lynda Clark; Coral Manton; Nicole Basaraba


On-line event


28th to 29th January 2021

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