Understanding history with new eyes

About Us

Living with Machines is both a research project, and a bold proposal for a new research paradigm. In this ground-breaking partnership between The Alan Turing Institute, the British Library, and the Universities of Cambridge, East Anglia, Exeter, and London (QMUL), historians, data scientists, geographers, computational linguists, and curators have been brought together to examine the human impact of industrial revolution.

The work on the project is organised around five ‘Labs’ that explore different historical and methodological questions and approaches. The Labs are: Language, Space and Time, Sources, Communities, and finally, Integration, Infrastructure and Interfaces (3I).

First industrial revolution

It is widely recognised that Britain was the birthplace of the world’s first industrial revolution, yet there is still much to learn about the human, social, and cultural consequences of this historical moment. Focussing on the long nineteenth century (c.1780-1918), the Living with Machines project aims to harness the combined power of massive digitised historical collections and computational analytical tools to examine the ways in which technology altered the very 
fabric of human existence on a hitherto unprecedented scale.

"Living with Machines represents a hugely exciting and innovative development in arts and humanities research. The collaboration between historians and data scientists, exploiting the remarkable growth of digital archives, will open up dramatic new perspectives on the well-known story of the industrial revolution and the history of society’s relationship with machines and technology since the eighteenth century."
Professor Roey Sweet, Director of Partnerships and Engagement at the Arts and Humanities Research Council

The mechanisation of work practices

The central theme – the mechanisation of work practices – speaks directly to present debates about how society can accommodate the revolutionary consequences of AI and robotics. To understand the fraught co-existence of human and machine, this project contends that we need research methods that combine technological innovation and human expertise.


Living with Machines aims to:

  • Generate new historical perspectives on the effects of the mechanisation of labour on the lives of ordinary people during the long nineteenth century.
  • Support the wider academic and cultural heritage sector in using digital methods to answer historical questions.
  • Create new tools and code that can be reused and built upon in future projects.
  • Develop new computational techniques for working with historical research questions.
  • Enrich the British Library’s data holdings for the benefit of all
  • Advance public awareness of how digital research in the humanities can enhance understanding of history.

Let’s talk

Follow our progress by signing up to our newsletter or following us on twitter: @LivingWMachines.

Our Partners

Our Funders