What is CGDC?

In this blog, Rhiannon Lewis from the OHOS Archives Lab at the University of Glasgow, discusses what CGDC is and why it is important.

Our Heritage Our Stories (OHOS) uses a knowledge graph to connect and make searchable CGDC, so first question we must address is what is CGDC? Community generated digital content (CGDC) is community sourced/owned archival content in digital form. It may not be part of the official historical record but it can amplify and enhance our understanding of the past. It builds on CGC – community generated content – as archival material that is ‘[…] a primary source for research and scholarship.’1

One of CGDC’s key features is that it is community sourced and owned. It has ‘parallels’ with ‘people’s history’ and ‘establishment of community archives.’2 CGDC can be the digital representation of several types of source material: the archives of a community run organisation, or items owned by an individual, or it can be material held in an archive or local history organisation that has been digitised by members of the public. The cultivation and growth of CGDC material has flourished in the past twenty years thanks to the widespread use of crowdsourcing methods, through digitisation events or platforms that support and host content contributed by the public. A key aspect of CGDC that makes it particularly interesting as a historical source is that it can be crowdsourced from communities, and still owned by them, as the digital surrogates can be hosted and shared digitally.

If it’s CGDC there needs to be a digital surrogate. Digital surrogate is a term often employed to describe the digital representation of a physical object or record, a way to convey through descriptions, metadata, images and other media, information about the original source. CGDC can be held as part of an archives’ larger collection, it can form the collection of a community run archive, or digital surrogates can be created through digitisation events and dedicated websites. CGDC original source content is not therefore always held by an archive in the traditional sense, because the physical source it represents may be in community archives, held by individuals, or in private collections. Generally, CGDC is not born digital, the “digital” in community generated digital content currently relates to digitisation,3 but there is scope for this to evolve as the community content evolves to reflect the presence of digital communication and documentation in people’s lives.

CGDC represents many forms of archival content. This diverse body of primary source material includes ephemera, visual material, photographs, diaries, and letters.4 These sources represent memories and lived experiences that aid historians and researchers in giving context and further their understanding of people, places, and events. For example, the lives of a specific group of people, such as those who lived through historical events such as the First and Second World Wars.

The People’s Collection Wales is a virtual people’s history museum that represents the history and culture of the people of Wales.5 The website provides a collection point and hosts CGDC, sourced from local community groups and individuals. The website offers multiple ways to explore these collections using free text search, categories, and maps as interface entry points. Crucially to be classed as CGDC the People’s Collection Wales archival content has digital surrogates, these are shared through creative archive licence,6 or the owner can retain copyright. The images are iiif enabled which means the collection supports a robust digital surrogate, interoperable with other platforms and easily connected to source information. Combined with the licence this could mean use of the People’s Collection Wales CGDC across multiple digital spaces.

Conwy Archive Service, ‘Abergele Land Girls’ (People’s Collection Wales), People’s Collection Wales, CP175_917 <https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/1953536> [accessed 28 February 2023]

Several projects have focused on CGDC from the First World War, as the Centenary created a focus point for collection events. Europeana 1914-1918: Untold stories & official histories of WW1, generated and collected a huge amount of CGDC through digitisation events and roadshows taking place from 2011-2017. It collected ‘memorabilia and stories from the period of the Great War (1914-1918).’7 Contextualising personal material within a broader historical narrative and collections.8 Although the dedicated CGDC collections site is now inaccessible,9 CGDC can be found on the main Europeana collection site through the ‘Europeana 1914-1918’ content tag,10 and documentation around the project is still available.11 This highlights one of the main difficulties of working with CGDC – its fragility.

CGDC has some inherently difficult characteristics which make it difficult to source, search and sustain. As it is community sourced, it is dispersed, and effort must be made to find and digitise it. Once it has been digitised there are sustainability issues,12 as digital surrogates can be fragile. The richness of CGDC as an archival material also makes it difficult to navigate. Due to it being sourced from and hosted in multiple places, it can have inconsistent metadata and therefore be difficult to map and search. OHOS aims to address this problem by connecting and making searchable CGDC using a knowledge graph. The aim is to make current CGDC sources more accessible for researchers, historians or interested parties. This also builds on existing structures,13 make visible and searchable CGDC so that it can continue to grow as a source for study and research.


[1] Dr Leo Konstantelos, Professor Lorna Hughes, and William Kilbride, The Bits Liveth Forever? Digital Preservation and the First World War Commemoration (IWM War & Conflict Subject Network, 15 May 2019), pp. 1–34 (p. 13) <https://eprints.gla.ac.uk/191301/1/191301.pdf> [accessed 13 February 2023].

[2] Dr Leo Konstantelos, Professor Lorna Hughes, and William Kilbride, p. 13.

[3] ‘Digital legacy’ Dr Leo Konstantelos, Professor Lorna Hughes, and William Kilbride, p. 13.

[4] Emma Hanna and others, Reflections on the Centenary of the First World War: Learning and Legacies for the Future (University of Essex, 2021), pp. 1–134 (p. 91) <https://reflections1418.exeter.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Reflections-on-the-Centenary-of-the-First-World-War-Learning-and-Legacies-for-the-Future.pdf> [accessed 13 February 2023].

[5] Peoples Collection Wales, ‘About Us | Peoples Collection Wales’ <https://www.peoplescollection.wales/about-us> [accessed 28 February 2023].

[6] ‘Creative Archive Licence’, Peoples Collection Wales <https://www.peoplescollection.wales/creative-archive-licence> [accessed 28 February 2023].

[7] Europeana, ‘Europeana 1914-1918: Project Documentation’, Europeana Pro <https://pro.europeana.eu/project/europeana1914-1918> [accessed 28 February 2023].

[8] Jeremy Jenkins, ‘The British Library, Europeana 1914-1918 and the Memorialization of the Great War’, Electronic British Library Journal, 1 (2018), p. 1 <https://doi.org/doi.org/10.23636/1085>.

[9] http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/en

[10] Europeana, ‘Europeana 1914-1918’ <https://www.europeana.eu/en/collections/organisation/1482250000004503437-europeana-1914-1918> [accessed 28 February 2023].

[11] Europeana, ‘Europeana 1914-1918: Project Documentation’.

[12] Dr Leo Konstantelos, Professor Lorna Hughes, and William Kilbride, p. 13.

[13] Lorna Hughes and others, Our Heritage, Our Stories: Linking and Searching Community-Generated Digital Content to Develop the People’s National Collection (Zenodo, 6 October 2022), p. 26 <https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7152511>.