Workshop on the Embodiment of Things

The Workshop on the Embodiment of Things (EoT 2021) was held online on 19 July and was co-located with the 33rd British Human Computer Interaction Conference.


  • Rebecca Hutcheon (The National Archives, UK)
  • John Moore (The National Archives, UK)
  • Eirini Goudarouli (The National Archives, UK)
  • Duncan Hay (UCL, UK)
  • Christian Sauer (University of Hildesheim, Germany)


The goal of the workshop was to bring researchers and practitioners from national and international cultural heritage (CH) organisations together with those from across HCI and related fields. We aimed to establish how an alertness to tertiary embodiment (mind-body-artefact) can provide the ground for bringing artefacts to life, catalyse collective knowledge production, enable collaboration, and encourage the creative integration of computational and archival thinking.

For example, in building on AI methods to create a visual search platform, the Deep Discoveries collaborative project at The National Archives fosters embodied interaction with national collections.

The Engaging Crowds project, which promotes public participation in heritage research, is an instance of how collaboration in virtual space engenders the creation and sharing of knowledge.

Both projects are funded by AHRC as part of the Towards a National Collection research programme.


In this workshop we explored how embodiment can be and has been applied to digital objects and practice in CH collections. We did this via three interwoven critical interventions: digital objects (digital collections, interfaces, tangible computing), situated interaction (how context shapes meaning) and virtual connections (collaboration and communication in digital rather than physical space (Computer-supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), crowd-sourcing and citizen research, knowledge-sharing).


Our focus on digital materiality and data as artefact was of distinct relevance to Cultural Heritage (CH) and Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) researchers and practitioners. With a particular focus on automation and on citizen research as two complementary approaches to understanding and engaging audiences with data at the scale of our collections, and linking them to other collections, we understand HCI as central to this work.

We welcomed papers from Early Career Researchers; the workshop will be a collaborative space in which to test theories and gain feedback on ideas. Significantly, this is a markedly interdisciplinary workshop, aiming to forge critical, theoretical and methodological connections between the fields of HCI and Digital Scholarship.

All accepted participants benefitted from having their position papers published in Electronic Workshops in Computing series (eWics) providing they meet the formatting requirements.


We invited submissions of short papers addressing themes including, but not limited to, cultural heritage and:

  • Digital mapping, spatial (dis)embodiment and spatial representation in large scale heritage collections and datasets: fuzzy geographies, geo-referencing, geographical information systems (GIS)
  • Interaction with models, simulations and digital twins
  • Creativity, co-creativity and co-production
  • Locative media and Spatial Computing (VR, AR, and MR)
  • Tangible computing, the Internet of Things, digital materiality, digital objects/artefacts, data as artefact
  • Bodies of information/digital bodies: Machine Learning and AI, exploring and visualising uncertainty and polyvocality in large scale heritage collections
  • The post-digital: unsettling the boundary between analogue, digital, and born-digital, between material and immaterial artefacts
  • Distributed experience, mediated presence, networks and networking (open linked data), individuality (personal devices), and community (crowd-sourcing, citizen research)


Simon Bowen, Tom Feltwell, Yu Guan, David de la Haye, Sarah Mander, Caroline McDonald, ‘Story:Web: Co-authoring Immersive Climate Change Stories using Museums as Big Data’

Story:Web is a concept that reconceptualises museum collections as big data, and makes them available as a resource for members of the public and heritage professionals to co-author stories about complex topics such as climate change. Creative commons sounds and images provide a complementary means to understand such topics at an emotive, multi-sensory, and personal level. Story:Web is also currently a web-based interactive demonstration, and expresses possibilities for the use of cultural heritage, digital technology, and creative media to stimulate thought and action on climate change.

Duncan Hay and Leah Lovett, ‘Animism and the Internet of Things: Walking Bodies and Talking Artifacts’

The Internet of Things (IoT) has brought objects that are not usually associated with connectivity into communicative play. Using technologies associated with IoT, it is now possible to strike up conversations with a host of everyday objects: speakers, kettles, even trees or stones. Taking as its starting point two practice-led IoT interventions in the public realm, The Listening Wood (Hampstead Heath, London 2018) and The Living Stone (Grasmere and Rydal, Lake District, 2019), this paper sets out to investigate the affordances of animism for understanding the relationship between people, technology and non-human actors in IoT networks. It asks, what explanatory power does the notion of animism have when brought to bear on the Internet of Things? And conversely, what does the Internet of Things have to tell us about the concept of animism and its colonialist underpinnings?

Andrea Kocsis, ‘Uncertainty in Crowdsourced Digital History Projects – The Operation War Diary’

The Operation War Diary was a collaboration between Zooniverse, the Imperial War Museum and The National Archives between 2014 and 2018. It involved thousands of volunteers who annotated more than 900,000 documents from the WWI Unit War Diaries. This paper aims to understand and mitigate different types of uncertainty in crowdsourced digital history projects through the case study of the Operation War Diary. It discusses how clustering methods can be successful in reducing ambiguities and fuzziness when dealing with geographical information.

Alda Terracciano, ‘Digital Interaction, Oral History and Archives in Geographies of Information Virtual Exhibition’

Geographies of Information: Celebrating 100 years of Information Studies is an online exhibition launched in March 2021 to mark the centenary of UCL Department of Information Studies. Originally conceived for the South and North Cloisters of UCL Wilkins Building, the exhibition was moved to an online digital platform in response to the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the history of the first School of Librarianship and the role that teaching has played in the creation of an international, professional workforce were conveyed through a virtual interactive space populated by digital objects and stories. This helped to defy the limitations imposed by physical access and geographical location, embracing digital interactive technologies for the creation of new constellations of information. This paper explores the participatory process employed in the creation and design of an exhibition marking the centenary of UCL Department of Information Studies.

Annika Wolff, ‘Framing Data Curation as Museum Practice’

This paper describes a potential approach for framing data as a museum practice. These principles may be used to help people who are deciding how to present data to make choices appropriate to the setting and context of use as well as making data easier for an audience to make sense of. This paper next considers different possible levels of engagement with data and its interpretation and use within data stories, starting from raw data sets, moving towards stories from data and finally how the act of embodying data as data drama or experiencing data theatre may lead to new perspectives on it. We briefly describe a case study that used some of these ideas for creating future personas, or SciberPunks, for sustainable and more-than human design scenarios.

Sarah Woolley, Tim Collins, Richard Rhodes, Fiona Polack, ‘Museums of the Future: Heritage Experiences in the Reality-Virtuality Continuum’

In this paper we reflect on the interplays and disconnects between real and virtual heritage experiences, and the fragmented nature of digital experiences. We consider the important engagement potential that virtual interactions bring to small less visible artefacts, like clay cuneiform tablets, and, with case study examples, we imagine museums of the future where engagements unite, blend and reinforce rich heritage experiences.