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Archive Digital Projects 2018 - 2021

Did you know we hold over 1.6 million items in our archive? Our archive brings together items held previously by Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland prior to the creation of Historic Environment Scotland. We currently have around 530,000 digital images available to view online, meaning the majority of our collections have only been available to those able to visit us in Edinburgh.  We want to digitise, and make available online, much more of our collections.  

In 2017, through investment funding, we were able to pilot a new approach to digitisation to significantly increase accessibility of our archive material. In that time 175,000 images were made available online. Through continued investment we were able to develop the Archive Digital Projects until 2021 to carry on this work.

Opening up our archives

Our aim is to make our heritage accessible to all. By increasing our volume of digital material and making content available online we hope to make Scotland’s National Record for the Historic Environment as accessible as possible. By 2021, the Archive Digital Projects team will make 750,000 digital items available online.

Our work will allow for:

  • Improved management and care of both physical and digital collections

  • Improved long term preservation of data

  • Improved collections knowledge

  • Reduction in inaccessible and invisible archives

Discovering our archives

We are cataloguing and making accessible thousands of born-digital items from our digital archive, covering both archaeological and architectural projects across Scotland.

Our digital archive contains over 400 file formats, and includes photographs, CAD (computer aided design) drawings, video footage and spatial data.

We are digitising our physical collections which are currently uncatalogued or only available in-house, making these accessible to the public on Canmore.  

We link our collections to our site and event records, making them discoverable from multiple access points.

We anticipate our work will generate around 20TB bringing our total to 70TB of digital archive material.

By transferring this data into our digital repository we will ensure long-term preservation and access.

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Press Releases

We have promoted the digital project through a variety of platforms. Some of the highlights are listed below:

Our Progress 

In 2017-18 we digitised several of our collections including:  

  • Properties in Care Photo LibraryThis is a vast image library, containing more than 250,000 images, that was used to manage photographs taken in the course of caring for our properties over the twentieth century. We have chosen the best 50,000 images for digitisation.
  • Scottish Development Department (SDD) - As part of their work, SDD investigators took photographs of the historic buildings and sites of Scotland. We have digitised more than 70,000 of these images. We have collated some highlights from this collection, which you can view in our online gallery.
  • Aerial Photography - HES, when it was one of its predecessors, began taking aerial photographs of Scotland in 1976. We now have over 150,000 aerial images available, showing Scotland from 1976 until today.
  • List C Survey - Following changes in listing, a survey was carried out to record all the C-listed buildings. We have made these 25,000 images available.
  • Mounted prints relating to a number of archaeological collections including excavations at The Howe, Jedburgh and Machrie Moor. 

Last year (2019-2020) the collections identified for digitisation include:  

  • Ordnance Survey Record Cards - These formed the basis for all our site records and contain useful information as well as drawings and photographs. There are around 117,000 cards to be digitised.
  • Estates Exchange Catalogues - At the end of the nineteenth century, many large estate owners started selling off their land and houses. These catalogues are a record of these estates and the people who lived and worked on them.
  • Scottish Power photographic albums - This is a collection of 201 photo albums, showing the construction of power stations around Scotland.
  • More images in our Properties in Care photo library

This year (2020-2021) we are digitising the following collections:

  • Property Services Agency photographs - This collection comprises of approximately 80,000 negatives, recording buildings in Scotland that were managed by the UK government. 
Since the beginning of this project we have been able to ingest 326,915 new digitised images that are now available for online consultation via Canmore. 
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When will this material be available online?

We are currently ingesting our collections remotely, and as such are working at reduced capacity. The digital projects team will work to make these collections available as soon as possible. The predicted date that these collections will be made available is:

  • Properties in Care photographic library (material digitised in 2018-2019): February 2021
  • Scottish Power: March 2021
  • Estates Exchange Catalogues: March 2021
  • Property Services Agency: October 2021 
  • Ordnance Survey Cards: January 2023

Please be aware that while these materials are being processed and ingested they may be unavailable for public consultation. The projects team are happy to help with any enquiries regarding these collections and their availability. We appreciate your patience while this project is underway.


Processing our Born-Digital Archive

The processing of our digital archive accessions backlog began in March 2019. So far we have processed 51,181 files and added 35,906 of these to our digital archive. 

The digital archive backlog contains mostly photographs, from projects such as historic building surveys and archaeological evaluations, various archaeological reports and other word-processed documentation, video footage, computer-aided drawings and plans, databases, geospatial data, laser scan data, 3D models and more. It is our aim to make as much of this material about Scotland's historical environment as accessible to you as possible.

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Before any Digital Archive material could be made accessible online, we first had to undertake some scoping work to understand the extent of the material we hold in our accessions database. Across nearly 500 individual deposited collections, we identified over 300,000 digital files, in over 400 file formats, ranging from 1997 to 2017. 

In order to process the Digital Archive accessions backlog, we must:

  • Assess the suitability of every digital file for inclusion in the archive

  • Identify corrupt or obsolete files

  • Identify proprietary file formats which are generally unsuitable for long-term preservation

  • Ensure we have the appropriate license agreements in place prior to archiving

  • Catalogue every accession in accordance with international cataloguing standards to ensure discoverability

This work has helped to inform our appraisal and disposal policies, our in-house catalogue description standard, and our digital preservation programme, through collaboration with the core Digital Archive.  

Primarily consisting of archaeological project archives, the accessions backlog also contains some architectural and maritime archive material. Most of the accessions material can be catalogued in our existing collections as further accruals, while some material warrants the creation of new collections, such as the Nautical Archaeology Society Collection and the Rebecca Shaw Archaeological Services Collection. Collections which we regularly add material to include: AOC ArchaeologyHeadland Archaeology LtdCameron Archaeology Ltd, and Scotia Archaeology Ltd.

Some notable projects archived thus far include:

  • 551 5/16/24 Archive from archaeological works at Macallan Distillery, Craigellachie, Moray
  • 551 359/104 Archive from Carpow log boat excavations at Carpow Bank, Perth and Kinross
  • 551 5/10/156 Archive from standing building survey and watching brief at Vaults, East Market Street, Edinburgh 
  • 551 104/32/9 Archive from an archaeological survey of a wreck on the Island of Fuday 
  • 551 437/4 Archive from Roan Head Boom Buoy Vessel Project, Scapa Flow, Orkney 
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For any specific queries or for more information, please contact Hannah Smith, Archive Digital Projects Manager: