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Hybrid Relics
 Socially Embedding the Soul in Design 


This project brings together researchers from a number of disciplines to understand the evolving nature and meaning of relics. The project examines the ways in which such objects bring together meaning and memory, and can be representative of people, time, experience and place. Relics, artefacts and meaningful objects have existed for thousands of years. Until recently people have engaged with these in a physical way, however the development of digital technologies means that we are able to explore and engage with relics, in both a physically and digitally mediated manner - but these leaves us with q range of questions - how might the digital augment physical objects, which have personal, cultural and religious significance, and how might we deal with objects with are constantly in use, when their physical nature changes? - Keeping the physical and digital synchronised is an issue for such Hybrid Relics, and how does this relate back to matters of meaning, authenticity, humanity, faith and cultural provenance?


In this project we aim explore these issues through a variety of research lenses using approaches that may at first not appear to be related, but upon further inspection offer us a range of exciting, innovative research possibilities which enable us to think about the design of Hybrid Relics and how they relate and intersect with linguistics, Human Computer Interaction, Design, Computer Science, Music, Theology, History, Human Rights and the Digital Humanities.


We hope that this project will be the catalyst for future research and that this encourages other scholars to reflect on the different ways that we can design and think about human experience in a hybrid world.

The Project 

In this project we take the notion of the ‘relic’ as an approach to developing and experimenting in design.


Using the Relic as metaphor we are able to run a multidisciplinary project consisting of 4 Work Packages, in each of these we will take an Action Research-related approach, where we will “Plan – Do – Reflect”.We use the term ‘soul’, not because we aim to understand existence (I think that would be out the remit of this project), but because we wanted to emphasis the way that objects relate back to a lived experience. 

The deliberate relicing of guitars [1] is a practice used within the guitar industry, see [2] to read about the 'Untold Story of Fender's Relic Guitars' . What value does relicing add to products and what role might digital technologies play in this and in regard to other relics? The term ‘relic’ also relates to religious relics, and secular objects from the past, which have different meanings to a range of people, but how can we start to explore the ‘hybrid’ ways that we can bring together the digital and physical to design relics and what does this mean in today’s world. This project will explore a range of different approaches to develop new hybrid digital relics, from AI and robotics to 3D/4D printing. How can we bring the digital and physical together in a way that feels authentic,"real" and adds to/retains the aura of an object? See more about Relics (Guitars) here - video


WP1 - Musical Instruments as Hybrid Relics 

This Initially guitar-focused activities (Qualitative Research - interviews, tech development, workshops) – this starts by building a community of guitar stakeholders to explore the notion relicing, adding value – this will be interview based, and documented. Scans of instruments and wear patterns will be taken, these will form the basis for the development of a 3D twin, this will be provenanced to explore the notion of hybrid-provenance. We will explore:
a) how this information about the instrument can be added to the instrument, and versions of the instrument, digital and physical
b) can wear pattens be stored and replicated - how do the digital and physical elements of an object synchronise, does this impact upon our experience of such artefacts.
c) are there ways that this might be shared, for example with fans and other players; can parts of the guitar become relics in themselves, is there a difference between the whole and fragments of the object? Can we link the instrument to experience, sensed, personal, performed and archival? (Design workshop)

WP2 - The Humanities as a Resource for Reflection and Design

This takes a different yet aligned response:

We will look at the analysis of texts, images and language and understand how the corpus relating to ‘authentic’ instruments relates back to their description as an artefact, exploring how this might be used to underpin hybrid descriptions of ‘things’ – authentic, digital, replicas, copies and how people experienced these in situ.

We will bring expertise to bear on the historical context of the relic, particularly framed by religious understandings of faith, and the interplay of belief, authenticity, theology and technology. We will carry out interviews and work with scholars to develop interdisciplinary understandings, which bring together archival research, history, technology and design. By doing this we aim towards developing an approach focusing on Digital Humanities scholarship as a resource for contemporary design. We would like to host a 2 day event to explore this and propose future research. We will look at the concepts such 'the word, and sound as relic', 'faith, belief and technology', 'authenticity and aura', 'mythology as design' and 'understanding responsible AI in the context of faith'.

(Archive-based, event, away days).


WP3 - Emergent Practice Led & Experimental Digital Humanities Approaches to Design (Design concepts, Performance Research, Practice Driven)

Key to designing an agile project is the ability to use and fold in emergent features and possibilities from the research..

We have purposefully planned this approach into the project. We are exploring the notion of Experimental Design in the Digital Humanities with Oxford, Aberystwyth and Swansea and want to encourage people to think outside of their discipline – as part of this we envisage two distinct activities that are about understanding AI & Robotics (IoT as Relics Prof Greenhalgh) in the context of the Humanities (possibly hosted at evoMUSART) and a workshop that looks at creating a ‘relic’-based design which may contain information about a space, place and time, this will be a small event at Oxford, which will then feed back into the designs relating back to music. We may also incorporate some experimentation with robots if applicable.

WP4 - Building a Community (workshops, visits, meetings)

We will feed in our findings, questions and insights into a series of events  to further develop and explore the design ideas, methods and approaches. It is envisaged that these will link directly to the research concerns spanning Design, Digital Humanities and intelligence and Hybridity. Were possible we would encourage Contract Researchers to take the opportunity to develop their career and establish visiting positions and network – We envisage that all will take part in these, and they will be curated by the team to develop impact in the area (Dr Chamberlain will also visit other people and places in the UK to feed into further research and funding applications). We will use the STAHR Collective to develop this area (linked to the Nottingham Researcher Academy). 


This project aligns with TAS RRI II & HoRRIzon III. Recently we have submitted a RAI UK impact proposal and it is envisaged that some of the interdisciplinary findings will feed into that project, thereby increasing the impact of the project. Dr Chamberlain is also working with the School of Law and is hoping to host a panel relating to design, law and ‘identity’. 

1. **have a look at Fender's Time Machine series, it's worth thinking about the text they use to discuss their range of guitars -

2. The Untold Story of Fender's Relic Guitars -


The project is led by Dr Alan Chamberlain with a team of internationally recognised multidisciplinary researchers.


Dr Alan Chamberlain - University of Nottingham, Computer Science and Fellow of the School of Music

Prof Steve Benford (University of Nottingham) - School of Computer Science
Dr Mads Bodker (Copenhagen Business School) – Digitalisation

Dr Patrick Brundell (University of Nottingham) - School of Computer Science

Dr Oliver Butler (University of Nottingham) - School of Law
Dr Laurence Cliffe (University of Nottingham) - Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute

Dr Andrew Cusworth (University of Oxford) - Bodleian Library 
Dr Will Eves (University of Nottingham) - School of Law, Co-Director of the History of Law and Governance Centre

Prof Dave De Roure (University of Oxford) - Academic Director of Digital Scholarship University of Oxford
Dr Eva De Visscher (Aberystwyth University) Medieval Historian - see Christian Hebraism in the Works of Herbert of Bosham
Dr Geert De Wilde (Aberystwyth University) Principal Investigator - Editor in Chief of the Anglo Norman Dictionary 

Prof Alan Dix  (Cardiff Met/Swansea University) Director of the Computational Foundry
Prof Chris Greenhalgh  (University of Nottingham) - School of Computer Science
Dr Alessio Malizia (University of Pisa) - Dipartimento di Informatica, Head of Digital Humanities

Dr Joanna Martin (University of Nottingham) - (University of Nottingham) - School of English
Dr Emma McClaughlin  (University of Nottingham) - Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute & School of English
Dr Glenn McGarry (University of Nottingham) - Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute
Prof Andrew McPherson (Imperial College London) - Faculty of Engineering, Dyson School of Design Engineering

Dr Richard Ramchurn (University of Nottingham & Albino Mosquito) - Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute

Dr Claire Taylor (University of Nottingham) - Department of History, see The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade a Sourcebook

Dr Emanuela Vai (University of Oxford), Curator of the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, Head of Research Worcester
College, & Lead of the Monstrous Musical Instruments project
Prof Craig Vear (University of Nottingham) - Department of Music and School of Computer Science

Dr Sarah White (University of Nottingham) -  School of Law, Co-Director of the History of Law and Governance Centre
Dr Kai Xu (University of Nottingham) - School of Computer Science


The project is funded by EPSRC - EP/T022493/1 Horizon: Trusted Data-Driven Products


Our Partners - The Bate Collection & BeLa
 The Anglo Norman Dictionary

The History of Law and Governance Centre - University of Nottingham

The Law and Technology Discussion Group - University of Nottingham


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