THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections

Introduction

Tracking exciting developments at the intersection of libraries, scholarship and technology. Read more

10 April 2017

Off the Page; Playing and Reading in the City

I just want to express a huge thanks to all the speakers and attendees who came along on Saturday to the British Library's London Games Festival fringe event, Off the Page: Literature and Games,  exploring how the fictional worlds of novels and plays are represented in games and in return what games bring to the written word. The amazing line-up included:

I want to give a special thank you to Sarah Cole who organised the event with me; inviting some really awesome speakers and sharing her passion of games. Kudos to Sarah, as the day after Off the Page, she also volunteered at Now Play This; an experimental game design showcase held in Somerset House as part of the London Games Festival.

There were lots of tweets during Off the Page using #LGF2017 and #BLdigital, much gratitude to Alastair Horne who is a champion tweeter and shared information on the talks for those following the event on Twitter. I'm hoping to make the audio recordings and slides from the event available soon. However, until then, please do read Lynda Clark's great blog post summing up the talks and linking to videos of some of the games.

I was also pleased to see an attendee at Off the Page in the interval reading Prophecy, which is the CityRead London book for 2017.  CityRead have lots of events planned in London libraries for the whole of April and also an interactive theatrical performance at The Charterhouse, which I can't say too much about - as it would spoil your experience if you go! However, it is very playful and brings the book to life in a delightful immersive way.

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2017-04-10/c88d3b25-8518-464f-ad4a-f22ed85049f2.png
Image of CityRead London's interactive theatrical performance of Prophecy (image copyright CityRead London)

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, on twitter as @miss_wisdom.

06 April 2017

Off the Page: Literature and Games

It is currently the London Games Festival (30 March – 9 April 2017), which champions and showcases the cultural power of interactive entertainment in the capital. All sorts of exciting events are being held. Last week I attended a Games Culture Summit hosted by the British Council, which discussed the relationship of culture to games, including discussion of developing and supporting creative communities, arts practice and commercial development. I was pleased to hear Jo Summers speak in a session looking at skills for collaborating with cultural institutions, drawing on her experience of running WordPlay at the British Library in November 2016. Jo is also an organiser of Now Play This; an experimental game design showcase, running for the third time at Somerset House in London from 7-9 April, 2017, as part of the London Games Festival. 

Not to be left out, here at the British Library we are running a free festival fringe event, Off the Page: Literature and Games, on Saturday 8 April, 13:00 – 16:00 in the Knowledge Centre, exploring the overlap between literature and games. Looking at how the fictional worlds of our favourite novels and plays are represented in games and in return what games bring to the written word? We have invited a range of speakers to discuss this evolving landscape and inspiring projects; including myself talking about the Library's Off the Map competition, which challenged students to create Alice in Wonderland and Shakespearean themed games. The other speakers are:

Places are free, but must be booked via: https://off_the_page.eventbrite.co.uk.

Look forward to seeing you there!

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, on twitter as @miss_wisdom.

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/98739f1160a9458db215cec49fb033ee/2017-04-04/a08d0e9a141e48e4be81130a40664bb5.png
Off the Page event, image taken from Off the Map 2016 winning game The Tempest by Team Quattro

 

Free Public Lecture and Workshop: Exploring Scissors-and-Paste Journalism in The British Library’s Newspaper Collections

Posted by Mahendra Mahey on behalf of Melodee Beals, Lecturer in History, Department of Politics, History and International Relations, School of Social, Political and Geographical Sciences, Loughborough University

Scissors and paste
Image courtesy of David Brewer CC-BY.

Two hundred years ago, the British public was abuzz with news of revolution, mass migration and an uncertain economic future. And into this excited and worried noise stepped an army of young and adventurous newspapers, working hard to give their readers the world at their fingers. From Calcutta to Peru, Sydney to Istanbul, Paris to New York, they overflowed with news of peoples, places and political scandals from all over the world.

But, before satellites, radio or the telegraph, they relied on people – friends, family, and fellow newspaper men and women – to send in letters and clippings from around the world to provide the most up-to-date and wide-ranging news to their readers. This scissors-and-paste journalism was the very backbone of many British newspapers up through the 1850s but we still don’t know enough about how it worked in practice.

You can help!

On 27 April 2017, British Library Labs and Loughborough University will be hosting a free, public workshop at the British Library in the Foyle Suite, Centre for Conservation, London, introducing “Georgian Pingbacks”, a new crowdsourcing website to allow the public (you!) to help uncover how news—the good, the fake and the poorly punctuated—spread across the country. With just a few clicks on your smartphone, tablet or home computer on your daily commute or queuing for the till, you can contribute to the growing debate on what makes news “real” and what makes it “viral”.

After a talk on scissors-and-paste journalism by Dr M. H. Beals (Loughborough University), exploring the history of this much loved system of “theft”, we will take you through our brand new website, where you can help contribute to our collective understanding of historical journalism, one clip and one click at a time.

This event is free, open to the public and a complimentary lunch will be provided.

To register, please visit our Eventbrite website.

If you have any questions about the event, please contact Dr Beals at m.h.beals@lboro.ac.uk. Please note, to fully take part in the event, you will need to bring a laptop or other internet-ready device, such as a tablet or large-screen smartphone, but this is not a requirement for attendance.

28 March 2017

Mobile devices meet author, text, and reader

This a guest post is by Alastair Horne introducing his PhD topic, you can follow him on twitter as @pressfuturist, and also on Instagram.

I’m a collaborative doctoral partnership student based here at the British Library and at Bath Spa University, supervised jointly by Stella Wisdom here, and Professor Kate Pullinger at Bath. In my research, I’m exploring how one of the most disruptive technologies of the past few decades – the ubiquitous mobile computing device, in the form of the smartphone or tablet computer – is changing the relationship between author, text, and reader.

Taking the launch of the original iPhone in 2007 as my starting point, I’m looking at the influence of mobile devices in two complementary areas. The first part of my research considers ‘mobile fictions’: narratives written specifically for smartphones and tablets; stories which build on the possibilities generated by such devices for new kinds of storytelling. The second explores how the social media platforms most commonly used on mobile devices – particularly Twitter and Facebook – offer opportunities for widespread, intense, and sustained interaction between authors and readers. Alongside those two areas of research, I’m also working on a creative project that will put many of the ideas explored in my research into practice: a short mobile audio fiction to be experienced over the course of a ten-minute walk through Brompton Cemetery.

File 21-02-2017 11 47 26
Brompton Cemetery's secret time machine, copyright Alastair Horne

Issues around collecting and digital preservation are central to all three strands of my research, which is why I’m delighted to be based in the British Library and to have the chance to learn from – and ultimately, I hope, to contribute to – practice here. I’ll be considering how we might archive smartphone apps when so many are abandoned by their developers, left broken and unusable by updates to their operating systems – while others end up entirely deleted, so that the only evidence of their existence is a few reviews and the occasional broken link to an appstore. I’ll also be exploring how we can preserve the conversations that take place on social media. Furthermore, I’ll be attempting to put these learnings into practice – and establish some best practices – when exploring archiving my own creative project. 

22 March 2017

British Library Launches OCR Competition for Rare Indian Books

Calling all transcription enthusiasts! We’ve launched a competition to find an accurate and automated transcription solution for our rare Indian books and printed catalogue records, currently being digitised through the Two Centuries of Indian Print project. 

The competition, in partnership with the University of Salford’s PRIMA Research Lab, is part of the International Conference on Document Analysis and Recognition, taking place in Kyoto, Japan this November. The winners will be announced at a special event during the conference.

Digitised images of the books will be made openly available through the library’s website and we hope this competition will produce transcriptions that enable full text search and discovery of this rich material. Sharing XML transcriptions will also give researchers the foundation to apply computational tools and methods such as text mining that may lead to new insights into book and publishing history in India.   

Split into two challenges, those wishing to participate in the competition can enter either or both.

The first challenge is to find an automated transcription for the 19th century printed books written in Bengali script. Optical Character Recognition of many non-Latin scripts is a developing area, but still presents a considerable barrier for libraries and other cultural institutions hoping to open up their material for scholarly research.

Vt1712_Schoolbook_lion_0007

Above: A page from 'Animal Biography', one of the Bengali books being digitised as part of Two Centuries of Indian Print (VT 1712)

 

Challenge number two involves our printed catalogue records, known as ‘Quarterly Lists’. These describe books published in India between 1867 and 1967. The lists are arranged in tables and therefore accurately representing the layout of the data is important if researchers are able to use computational methods to identify chunks of information such as the place of publication and cost of the book.    

Quarterly_List

 Above: A typical double page from the Quarterly Lists (SV 412/8)

 

With the competition now open, we’ve already gone some way to helping participants by manually transcribing a few pages to create ‘ground truth’ using PRIMA's editing tool, Aletheia.  You can watch a video introducing the competition. So if you or anyone you know would like to enter, do please register and you could be contributing to this landmark project, and picking up an award for your troubles!   

21 March 2017

Poetic Places and World Poetry Day 2017

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom, on twitter as @miss_wisdom.

Happy World Poetry Day!

The Digital Scholarship team are marking the day with an event exploring how poetry, history and literature can be discovered and experienced via digital technologies. Creative Entrepreneur-in-Residence Sarah Cole is talking about the development of Poetic Places, a free app for iOS and Android devices, that creates digital encounters with poems and literature in the locations described, accompanied by sounds and illustrations from cultural heritage collections; including the British Library's images on Flickr.

Being a creative type Sarah has also been using the Flickr collection in her new enterprise Badgical Kingdom, which takes images from galleries, libraries, archives, and museums released under Creative Commons licenses and turns them into badges. Sarah hopes to bring forgotten works out into the everyday world where they can be re-admired. Furthermore, every piece is sent with a card detailing a little of the design’s history and naming the institution which has made the work available; including the Rijksmuseum, whose collections have inspired these flower brooches, which could make perfect Mother's Day presents in my opinion.

Photo-02-02-2017-15-11-58 Billycock-Cat-reverse

Images of Billycock Cat Pin, copyright Sarah Cole.

Also speaking at the event are 

  • Dr Jennifer Batt, a lecturer in English, University of Bristol, who has been working with British Library Labs on an innovative project to data mine 18th-century newspapers for verse.
  • Dr Duncan Hay, from the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis who works on the Survey of London, check out their map. It is also worth noting that Duncan is a colleague of Martin Zaltz Austwick, who did GPS mapping of a walk based around the first section of William Gull's coach ride in Alan Moore's From Hell. There is a short video of this here.

For those of you unable to join us this evening and also those of you who are; please check out the British Library's drama and literature recordings on SoundCloud. These include excellent poems from The Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets winners and shortlisted entries and readings from other British Library events, enjoy ...

 Recording of Richard Scott reading from his pamphlet ‘Wound’, published by The Rialto

09 March 2017

Archaeologies of reading: guest post from Matthew Symonds, Centre for Editing Lives and Letters

Digital Curator Mia Ridge: today we have a guest post by Matthew Symonds from the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters on the Archaeologies of reading project, based on a talk he did for our internal '21st century curatorship' seminar series. Over to Matt...

Some people get really itchy about the idea of making notes in books, and dare not defile the pristine printed page. Others leave their books a riot of exclamation marks, sarcastic incredulity and highlighter pen.

Historians – even historians disciplined by spending years in the BL’s Rare Books and Manuscripts rooms – would much prefer it if people did mark books, preferably in sentences like “I, Famous Historical Personage, have read this book and think the following having read it…”. It makes it that much easier to investigate how people engaged with the ideas and information they read.

Brilliantly for us historians, rare books collections are filled with this sort of material. The problem is it’s also difficult to catalogue and make discoverable (nota bene – it’s hard because no institutions could afford to employ and train sufficient cataloguers, not because librarians don’t realise this is an issue).

The Archaeology of Reading in Early Modern Europe (AOR) takes digital images of books owned and annotated by two renaissance readers, the professional reader Gabriel Harvey and the extraordinary polymath John Dee, transcribes and translates all the comments in the margin, and marks up all traces of a reader’s intervention with the printed book and puts the whole thing on the Internet in a way designed to be useful and accessible to researchers and the general public alike.

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2017-03-09/76bacc2c-befe-4e7c-b729-c49cf47adf0b.png
Screenshot, The Archaeology of Reading in Early Modern Europe

AOR is a digital humanities collaboration between the Centre for Editing Lives and Letters (CELL) at University College London, Johns Hopkins University and Princeton University, and generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

More importantly, it’s also a collaboration between academic researchers, librarians and software engineers. An absolutely vital consideration of how we planned AOR, how we work on it, how we’re planning to expand it, was to identify a project that could offer a common ground to be shared between these three interests, where each party would have something to gain from it.

As one of the researchers, it was really important to me to avoid forming some sort of “client-provider” relationship with the librarians who curate and know so much about my sources, and the software engineers who build the digital infrastructure.

But we do use an academic problem as a means of giving our project a focus. In 1990, Antony Grafton and the late Lisa Jardine published their seminal article ‘“Studied for Action: how Gabriel Harvey read his Livy’ in the journal Past & Present.

One major insight of the article is that people read books in conjunction with one another, often for specific, pragmatic purposes. People didn’t pick up a book from their shelves, open at page one and proceed through to the finis, marking up as they went. They put other books next to them, books that explained, clarified, argued with one another.

By studying the marginalia, it’s possible to reconstruct these pathways across a library, recreating the strategies people used to manage the vast quantities of information they had at their disposal.

In order to produce this archaeology of reading, we’ve built a “digital bookwheel”, an attempt to recreate the revolving reading desk of the renaissance period which allowed the lucky owner to manoeuvre back and forth their books. From here, the user can call up the books we’ve digitised, read the transcriptions, and search for particular words and concepts.

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/98739f1160a9458db215cec49fb033ee/2017-03-09/ac83353a40f24bea921e478b1450993e.png
Screenshot, The Archaeology of Reading in Early Modern Europe


It’s built out of open source materials, leveraging the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) and the IIIF-compliant Mirador 2 Viewer. Interested parties can download the XML files of our transcriptions, as well as the data produced in the process.

The exciting thing for us is that all the work on creating this digital infrastructure – which is very much a work in progress -- has provided us with the raw materials for asking new research questions, questions that can only be asked by getting away from our computer and returning back to the rare books room.

27 February 2017

British Library resources on digital scholarship for PhD students

C5453-02a_Arundel_74_f.2v croppedFinding your way around the vast collections of the British Library can be daunting at first, but there are lots of resources and staff keen to help doctoral students get started in this post from Digital Curator Mia Ridge (@mia_out).

These resources were compiled for the digital scholarship sessions at the British Library's doctoral open days. We'd love to hear from you with questions or comments at digitalresearch@bl.uk.

Learning about our collections

Help for researchers - a great place to start with general collections queries

Collection guides

Subject pages

Discovering digitised content

Catalogues: http://explore.bl.uk for printed materials ('I want this' will list digitised items); http://searcharchives.bl.uk for archives and manuscripts

Digitised manuscripts, Illuminated manuscripts and Hebrew manuscripts

British Library sounds for music, drama and literature, oral history, wildlife and environmental sounds

Flickr - particularly rich in images from 19th century books

Wikimedia Commons

International Dunhuang Project (IDP) - manuscripts, paintings, textiles and artefacts from Dunhuang and archaeological sites of the Eastern Silk Road

Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) - international digitisation projects

data.bl.uk - text, images and catalogue 'metadata' datasets available for research and creative re-use

British National Bibliography metadata

Learning about digital scholarship

The British Library's Digital Scholarship pages list digital datasets, staff, case studies and projects

BL Labs Awards and Competitions are a great source of inspiration

The British Library's Digital Scholarship blog (you're reading it right now!) and twitter account @Bl_DigiSchol

Humanist mailing list

Events with online / in-person sessions include IHR Digital History Seminar and Digital Classicist

The Institute of Historical Research offers training courses or there's the Programming Historian

Finally, your university may be a member of a training consortium (CHASE, White Rose, etc) that offers specialist digital scholarship courses