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Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

In the hands of the user: online engagement and user contributions to RCAHMS’ digital archive Canmore


In the summer of 2009 the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS, launched an upgraded version of its online archive, Canmore. The archive was completely redesigned and new interactive features were included which now allow users to personalize searches and, importantly, for the first time contribute original text and images.

RCAHMS was set up in Edinburgh over a century ago: the institution’s brief is to identify, survey and analyse the historic and built environment of Scotland, and to preserve, care for and add to the information and items in its national collection. RCAHMS seeks to promote understanding, education and enjoyment through interpretation of the information it collects and the items it looks after, and to inspire learning and intellectual curiosity in Scotland’s national culture and identity at home and worldwide.  Access to RCAHMS’ material is through its search room, however these days most users access the record through the institution’s digital archive, Canmore. This brings together uniquely valuable survey information and collections material, including data as well as images, on more than 280,000 archaeological, architectural, maritime and industrial sites throughout Scotland.

RCAHMS’ experience of digitization and networking practices is the focus of my PhD, a collaborative doctoral award now in its 3rd and final year, funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council and part of the Beyond text programme ( The research project, which is entitled ‘In the hands of the user’, is being conducted through a partnership between the University of Edinburgh’s School Of Education and RCAHMS and looks at patterns of online participation and learning through museums’ and archives’ digital collections in the light of web 2.0 developments.

A virtual ethnography of RCAHMS’ online archive Canmore in the first year since opening up to user contributions is an important component of the doctoral study. This demonstration will focus on findings from this work: the archive’s functionalities will be illustrated and, more importantly, examples of users’ contributions will be examined and discussed in terms of the model of user engagement they reflect, and its significance in the wider context of digitization and online networking practices for cultural heritage institutions.


Demonstration - show your project


michela clari's picture
I am based in Scotland and I am currently working on a doctoral research project in the School of Education at the University of Edinburgh, UK. My research is funded by an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award through a partnership between Edinburgh University and the Royal Commission on the Ancient...