Putting Art on the Map

Project Description

Putting Art on the Map

United Kingdom

August 2013 – March 2014

Imperial War Museums
University of Edinburgh

NESTA Digital R&D Fund for the Arts


Explore the collection


Read the project report





A Research and Development pilot to test whether depth of engagement with public art collections could be increased by using “metadata crowdsourcing”:  inviting the public to add information to artworks.

What happened?

Historypin partnered with the Imperial War Museums and invited experts and enthusiasts to enrich artworks from IWMs’ First World War art collection with additional contextual, technical and historical detail such as the location of the painting. This happened in three ways:

On social media
The IWM team used Facebook and Twitter to ask their communities questions about particular artworks eg. if people could identify the types of planes.

On Historypin
Pilot crowdsourcing tools developed on Historypin allowed IWM allowed questions to be presented as “mysteries” to be solved and users could suggest locations, dates and additional tags for the artworks.

Live collaborative events
10 events in museums, archives and galleries across the UK invited people to come together in person and work together to solve mysteries about the artworks. These were targeted at different audiences, such as interested members of the public, enthusiasts interested in the First World War and those with specialist knowledge like retired surgeons and nurses. People used a combination of online and online research and their own local or expert knowledge to contribute.

Historypin and IWM worked with the University of Edinburgh who wrote a research paper on the findings.

Read more about what was discovered during the project in the blog and more about the collaborative R&D partnership here.

What was created?
  • A collection on Historypin with 800 First World War artworks which received 8,000 visits and an average view time of 4 minutes
  • 600 mysteries, 220 of which were solved, enriching those artworks with structured data for location, Street View, date and tags
  • The contribution of 383 comments
  • 10 live events which involved 103 people to help add locations, dates, contextual information, and historical detail to the artworks
  • A workflow for the structured and unstructured data to flow from Historypin into IWM’s collection database
  • Guidance for cultural organisations on how to run live engagement events with their collections


Collaborative Partnership delivery

  • Worked with a cultural institution, Imperial War Museums, and an academic partner, University of Edinburgh, to run a digital R&D project
  • Collaborated with 10 institutions to run live engagement events, drawing on their audiences and collections

Local Community Engagement

  • Designed and ran 10 events to bring people together to research the artworks and solve mysteries using a combination of online and offline materials

Design and Digital

  • Designed the creative identity for the project
  • Designed and built crowdsourcing tools that allowed people to suggest locations, dates, tags and overlay images on Street View
  • Designed and built a “mystery solving” interface that allowed people to make suggestions and the IWM to approve them

Collections and Content

  • Batch uploaded 2,000 artworks from IWMs’ collections
  • Developed a workflow to allow contributed data to be exported from Historypin and imported into IWMs’ collection system


  • Developed the online engagement strategy with IWM to engage people through social media

Measurement and Evaluation

  • Measured the impact of the project
  • Co-authored the final research paper


  • 220 artworks were enriched with structured meta-data such as location, date, Street View or tag
  • The quality of contributions was high, and there was deep engagement with IWM’s collection from 103 live event participants and participants who solved mysteries online
  • 96% of event participants said they would attend a similar event, and the average enjoyment was 4.6 out of 5
  • The 9 cultural organisations who partnered on the delivery of the live events were interested in running similar activities with their collections

If you’d like to run a similar project with Historypin, get in touch.