A starboard bow view of the three-masted barque Glenbervie (1866) with crowds of people, on the rocks at Lowland Point. G14146. © National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Gibson's of Scilly Shipwreck Collect

Introducing Unpath’d Waters – a new innovative project that aims to reshape the future of UK marine heritage

Dr Sara Perry and Andrew Henderson-Schwartz
21.09.2021

We’re delighted to announce our participation in Unpath’d Waters: Marine and Maritime Collections in the UK - one of five projects awarded £14.5 million by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Together these projects form the largest investment of Towards a National Collection, a major five-year research and development programme that aims to underpin the creation of a unified virtual ‘national collection’, dissolving barriers between the different collections of the UK’s museums, archives, libraries and galleries.

About Unpath'd Waters (UNPATH)

The UK's marine heritage is extraordinarily rich. Shipwrecks date from the Bronze Age to the World Wars, bearing testimony to Britain as an island nation, and a destination for trade and migration. Aircraft losses, inundated monuments, ports and seaside resorts all tell personal stories of struggles and successes. Before the Bronze Age, a great deal of what is now the North Sea floor was forest, hill and plains, peopled by prehistoric communities.

This heritage, covering 23,000 years, is represented by collections of charts, documents, images, film, oral histories, sonar surveys, seismic data, bathymetry, archaeological investigations, artefacts, objects and artworks. But they are often dispersed, unconnected and inaccessible. This matters because the story of our seas is of huge interest to the UK public, and because our exploitation of our seas for food, leisure, trade and energy is intensifying. If we are to reveal new stories and manage our past effectively and in sustainable ways, we need to join up these collections and unlock their potential.

UNPATH aims to reshape the future of UK marine heritage, making records accessible for the first time across all four UK nations and opening them to the world. It will devise new ways of searching across collections, visualising underwater landscapes, and identifying wrecks and artefacts from them. UNPATH will also deliver tools to protect our most significant heritage, while inviting the public to co-design ways of exploring the archives in order to uncover previously untold stories and new questions to guide future research.

Barney Sloane, Historic England’s Principal Investigator for Unpath’d Waters, says: “As an island nation, our maritime heritage is of fundamental importance to who we are. I am delighted to be leading one of the five Discovery Projects known as Unpath’d Waters. It will transform the way in which researchers and the public can access the huge variety of collections held in museums, universities, heritage institutions, commercial organisations and indeed by the public. The project will bring together expertise in digital humanities, computer science and marine heritage and will unleash the massive research potential of our shared maritime past”.

What MOLA is doing

Underpinned by the expertise of our long-running Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network (CITiZAN), MOLA will oversee public engagement and evaluation activities on UNPATH, and collaborate with other partners in immersing different audiences in maritime datasets and developing associated exhibitions.

Dr Sara Perry, MOLA’s Director of Research and Engagement and a Co-Investigator on Unpath’d Waters, notes, “The seas conjure up countless emotions in people – excitement, distress, curiosity, calm, mourning, suspense, and so much more. The archaeological record can help us to explore these emotions and open our eyes to the impacts of the marine world on our economy, our politics, our humanity. Unpath’d Waters offers us an extraordinary opportunity to bring Britain’s maritime heritage together in new and unexpected ways for different communities, and I am thrilled that MOLA will lead the project’s approach to audience participation in this work.”

Who else is involved?

Principal Investigator: Mr Barney Sloane, Historic Buildings & Monuments Commission for England (Historic England/English Heritage)

Project partners: Historic Environment Scotland, National Maritime Museum, the Universities of Bangor, Bradford, Portsmouth, St Andrews, Southampton, Ulster, York, Glasgow School of Art, National Oceanography Centre, Mary Rose Trust, Maritime Archaeology Trust, Nautical Archaeology Society, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, Wessex Archaeology, Welsh Government Historic Environment Service, Department for Communities Northern Ireland, Lloyd's Register Foundation, Manx National Heritage, Marine Management Organisation, & Protected Wreck Association.

Find out more about Unpath’d Waters and the other four projects on the Towards a National Collection website, and keep up to date on Twitter and Instagram with #NationalCollection and #DiscoveryProjects.

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