The Database as Material Culture

Martin Newman

Datasets Development Manager, National Monuments Record, English Heritage. Email:

Cite this as: Newman, M. 2011 The Database as Material Culture, Internet Archaeology 29.


The NMR contains over 10 million archive (mostly physical) items, as well as material such as photographs, plans, correspondence, and so on. It also curates information on a number of databases and GIS including 500,000 monument records (archaeological sites and historic buildings), 80,000 records of recording events, 35,000 records of listed buildings (the legal designation protecting the built heritage) and records on 20,000 scheduled monuments (the legal designation protecting archaeological sites). Many of the datasets originated in a pre-digital age as card indexes, annotated maps and other records, which were then digitised and have since been migrated from one system to its successor, in some cases several times, and reflect evolving data standards and terminologies as well as changing dissemination methods. It is this change in the physical medium and how this alters the record and its perception that this article will explore.

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