Digital Tools in the Service of Difficult Heritage: How Recent Research Can Benefit Museums and their Audiences

A white logo with turquoise detail on a blue-grey background with the word 'yarn' written underneath.


With the support of the AHRC we are bringing together academics at the University of Leeds with the National Holocaust Centre, the Thackray Medical Museum and the Science Museum to explore the ways in which digital tools can support the co-production of museum exhibitions with diverse audiences. The project – Digital Tools in the Service of Difficult Heritage: How Recent Research Can Benefit Museums and their Audiences – which is a follow-up to the team’s previous AHRC ‘Cultural Value’ project ‘Experiencing the Digital World‘, will run from February to October 2016. Whilst the previous study uncovered the potential for using digital engagement in this context, the new project seeks to test how this might work in practice. Regular updates will be posted on our blog.

The three partners, all of whom were involved in the original project, are currently redeveloping their digital strategies in the light of the original project’s research findings, with the aims of broadening the demographic range of their visitors, and seeking new and better ways to engage visitors, particularly in the exploration of ‘difficult’ histories, challenging subjects and traumatic experiences. This follow-on funding project will allow our partners to achieve these aims, ensuring that they realize the full impact potential of the original project in a way that could not be attained on their own. Moreover, it will generate synergies with other areas of expertise within the academic team, not explicitly invoked in the original project, that will significantly enhance its reach in ways that had not previously envisaged.

The National Holocaust Centre is currently focused on working with ethnically-diverse groups of primary-school children to explore the legacy of the Holocaust in contemporary debates on social discrimination and prejudice. The Thackray Medical Museum is developing a new exhibition on childbirth and its attendant risks, which it wishes to be informed by the experience of its visitors. The Science Museum is looking to work with disabilities support groups on an exhibition about the impact of the First World War on our understanding of disability and mental illness.

In order to develop these exhibitions, the project will make use of the Yarn Digital Platform, developed during another AHRC project led by Simon. Yarn is an open-access digital resource that allows anyone to search and collect on-line resources and to combine them with their own media (film, photographs and other ephemera) in order to tell their own stories, make new archives, be creative, start new projects and do their own research.

The project team will work with each museum to exploit the potential of digital engagement, and specifically the Yarn tool, to co-produce online exhibitions and supporting digital materials with appropriate community groups that the museums are seeking to reach, while also providing an opportunity for each to learn from the experience of the other museums involved in the project.

Publications and outputs

See all publications and outputs on the project website

Project website