A Culturally Widening Web - Websites Of The Year 2005

By Caroline Lewis | 01 January 2006
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Shows a photo of a small girl using a computer.

2005 saw masses of culture and heritage going digital, from the People's Network to the sixth century village of West Mucking. © Museums, Libraries and Archives Council

The last year, 2005, has seen a remarkable number of cultural digitisation projects both launched and secure funding. A plethora of fantastic websites devoted to hidden histories, art and archaeology have been made available to the public, and the World Wide Web is a better place for it.

It’s been a particularly good year for multicultural Britain on the Internet, with several new websites devoted to telling the story of people whose roots lie outside this country.

Untold London, launched in October (Black History Month), celebrates the capital’s diverse communities by documenting all the exhibitions and archives that relate to other cultures. It was built and designed by System Simulation and the 24 Hour Museum in partnership with the London Museums Hub, and is edited by Kate Smith.

Kate said the aim of the site is two-fold: “Firstly to find out what is there, and let people know where to find it. Secondly to hold up a mirror to museums so they can see what isn’t there, that ought to be.” See full story

Shows a drawing of a Black man in a pulpit.

Untold London looks at the history of London's diverse communities, uncovering people such as this preacher in St Giles' Church from the 1860s. Courtesy London Metropolitan Archive.

In February, another interesting government-funded (by Culture Online) project went live: Plant Cultures. Situated on the website of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, it’s dedicated to tracing some of the UK’s favourite plants and spices back to their South Asian origins. With its huge archive of stories and pictures, it also lifts the lid on the world of Asian culture. See full story

An online resource for locating Sikh heritage in England was launched in June. The Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail, developed by the Maharajah Duleep Singh Centenary Trust and English Heritage, points out all the museums, galleries and sites where you can find strands of Sikh history. See full story

In addition to these terrific new resources, a collaboration between At-Bristol, Channel 4 and Culture Online gave individuals and community groups help to create their own websites. The national initiative, called ORIGINATION: INSITE is aimed at getting more of the voices of Britain’s incoming cultures online. See full story

Shows a photo of an Asian man in blue overalls on an allotment.

Plant Cultures looks close to home as well as far afield.

Other aspects of British heritage had a big year, too.

The Imperial War Museum and the UK National Inventory of War Memorials, again in conjunction with Channel 4, put a database of First World War memorials online in November, before the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The online record now serves as a living memorial, with the facility for users to upload pictures and text related to names that mean something to them. See full story

The University of Glasgow carried out a similar project - a digital Great War Roll of honour remembering those that served who had been part of the institution. See full story

Veterans Awareness Week (July 4 – 9) in the 60th anniversary year of World War Two saw a Living Museum in St James’s Park, and an evocative document of events there is now available on the Ministry of Defence website. The 24 Hour Museum compiled a special WW2 section, as well, with a host of articles and features on everything from National Archive bomb maps to the D-Day Landings.

Shows a black and white photograph of Winston Churchill delivering a speech in London. He is lit from a bare bulb behind his head and is holding a trademark hat in the air.

Churchill, pictured giving his final address in the 1945 election campaign at Walthamstow Stadium, delivered some of the most famous speeches in British political history. © Imperial War Museum, London

An iron curtain descended on the net in March, when Churchill’s famous post-war speech about the division of political ideology in Europe was made available to hear online at www.churchillspeeches.com. See full story

Including images of the city’s iconic bombed cathedral, Coventry’s Herbert Museum created the Footsteps in Time website with the input of children, and funding from, among others, MLA's Renaissance in the Regions project. The simple but effective site takes visitors on a tour of local landmarks, with photos and pictures, and gives the history of the city back to Anglo Saxon times. See full story

The Museum of London followed up in September with a website allowing users to explore the capital’s historic objects by postcode: The Postcode Project.

Historic parts of the seabed are being mapped out online, too, in the Wreckmap Britain 2005 project. Introduced during National Archaeology Week in July, the project asks divers to record by any means possible shipwrecks found while they are underwater around Britain. The findings will go towards an online map of shipwreck locations, compiled by the Nautical Archaeology Society. See full story

Shows a graphic depiction of a village from the sixth century.

The virtual sixth century village on PAStexplorers.

Above ground, young archaeologists were given a great treat when Culture Minister David Lammy launched PAStexplorers.org.uk. The website holds a database of major finds brought to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and explains history to children through the objects, in a fun and accessible way. They can even go on a virtual dig at Anglo Saxon village, West Mucking. See full story

In October, David Lammy launched another useful resource brought to you by the Museums Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) – The People’s Network. The site is a gateway to three services, Enquire, Discover and Read, which bring libraries and librarians to you wherever you are, online. See full story

The art world kept up with the times, too, in particular with a double delivery from Tate. Carousel was launched in August, displaying 2,000 works from Tate’s collection. Users see a changing, random selection from which they can choose their favourites and curate their own online gallery. See full story

Visitors to Tate’s site can also ‘reverse interview’ Tracey Emin about her work in another interactive resource launched in May (click here). See full story

shows a head and shoulders shot of a woman with shoulder length hair.

Tracey Emin on Tate's website. © Tate

Some of the greatest works of art in the UK were put into a multimedia catalogue by The Royal Collection, also during Museums and Galleries Month. The e-Gallery holds such prized pieces as drawings by Da Vinci and Michaelangelo, and paintings by Rembrandt and van Dyck. See full story

Another famous name was the subject of a brilliant new website for adults and children that went live in time for November 5. The 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, when Guy Fawkes and his cohorts attempted to blow up Parliament, is celebrated with the site www.gunpowderplot.parliament.uk, commissioned by the Parliamentary Archives and put together by the 24 Hour Museum, the History of Parliament Trust and e-learning specialists mwr. See full story

So, a cracking year all round on the cultural web, and that’s before mentioning the awards won by Talking Books and the Science Museum’s Making the Modern World, or indeed the latest developments in the British Library’s Turning the Pages section (Alice in Wonderland; Plans to Digitise World’s Oldest Known Bible).

Shows a graphic of bearded men's heads stuck on poles.

400 years after the plotters failed to blow up Parliament, the 24 Hour Museum collaborated with the Parliamentary Archive on an info-packed site about the plot. © Parliamentary Archives/ 24 Hour Museum.

Going by the funding and plans announced this year, 2006 also promises to be a bumper year. We can’t wait to see the results of the Crystal Palace Fans’ Centenary Project for example, and the Royal Naval Museum’s planned 20th Century Navy Archive.

It all goes to show, the web is bringing a vast range of arts, heritage, history and culture to where it belongs – not locked away in collections, but on show for everyone, everywhere.

The next step, announced by David Lammy in Bristol in November, is to get an action plan underway that will bring a coordinated European cultural information space into being.