It was announced earlier today that The National Archives has received “big data” funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to support two new projects, one transforming how we understand and use current legislation and the other, revolutionising how historic individuals can be identified across large digital datasets.

The National Archive UK
The National Archive UK

Justice Minister Simon Hughes, who has responsibility for The National Archives said: “This funding reflects the increasing importance of data and technology to research in the humanities. The National Archives’ is ideally placed to respond to the Big Data agenda, with world class expertise in data exploration supported by its specialist knowledge of historic records and the statute book. These projects when complete will offer researchers powerful new tools to open up their fields”.

Just over £550, 000 will support the Big Data for Law project to provide new open data, new tools and new research methodologies for the study of UK law. For the first time ever, researchers will have the kit required to map and interrogate vast amounts of current legislation – estimated to be at least 50 million words with over 100 000 words added or changed every month.

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Richard Heaton, Permanent Secretary and First Parliamentary Counsel said: “We know people find legislation difficult. They struggle with the volume and complexity of the statute book, and with the language and structure of legislation. This research will help us better understand how people use law, and will give us the detailed insights we need to deliver good law.”

A second grant also worth just over £550, 000 will support the “Traces Through Time” project enabling The National Archives to develop practical analytical tools to support research on the scale of entire populations, spanning over 500 years of British history. These tools will help researchers to identify and trace historic individuals within and across historical datasets, enabling their stories to finally emerge from the documentary evidence that survives them.

Clem Brohier, Acting Chief Executive at The National Archives, said: “This is an exciting time for The National Archives. Both of these projects will transform how we use and research large datasets. “Big Data for Law” is set to transform legislation, providing new open data, new tools and new methodologies specific to law. The “Traces Through Time” project will enable historic data to be explored in ways that were not imagined when the records were created.”

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