THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

26 posts categorized "Printed books"

08 May 2018

The Italian Academies database – now available in XML

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Dr Mia Ridge writes: in 2017, we made XML and image files from a four-year, AHRC-funded project: The Italian Academies 1525-1700 available through the Library's open data portal. The original data structure was quite complex, so we would be curious to hear feedback from anyone reusing the converted form for research or visualisations.

In this post, Dr Lisa Sampson, Reader in Early Modern Italian Studies at UCL, and Dr Jane Everson, Emeritus Professor of Italian literature, RHUL, provide further information about the project...

New research opportunities for students of Renaissance and Baroque culture! The Italian Academies database is now available for download. It's in a format called XML which represents the original structure of the database.

This dedicated database results from an eight-year project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK, and provides a wealth of information on the Italian learned academies. Around 800 such institutions flourished across the peninsula over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, making major contributions to the cultural and scientific debates and innovations of the period, as well as forming intellectual networks across Europe. This database lists a total of 587 Academies from Venice, Padua, Ferrara, Bologna, Siena, Rome, Naples, and towns and cities in southern Italy and Sicily active in the period 1525-1700. Also listed are more than 7,000 members of one or more academies (including major figures like Galileo, as well as women and artists), and almost 1,000 printed works connected with academies held in the British Library. The database therefore provides an essential starting point for research into early modern culture in Italy and beyond. It is also an invitation to further scholarship and data collection, as these totals constitute only a fraction of the data relating to the Academies.

Terracina
Laura Terracina, nicknamed Febea, of the Accademia degli Incogniti, Naples

The database is designed to permit searches from many different perspectives and to allow easy searching across categories. In addition to the three principal fields – Academies, People, Books – searches can be conducted by title keyword, printer, illustrator, dedicatee, censor, language, gender, nationality among others. The database also lists and illustrates the mottoes and emblems of the Academies (where known) and similarly of individual academy members. Illustrations from the books entered in the database include frontispieces, colophons, and images from within texts.

Intronati emblem
Emblem of the Accademia degli Intronati, Siena


The database thus aims to promote research on the Italian Academies in disciplines ranging from literature and history, through art, science, astronomy, mathematics, printing and publishing, censorship, politics, religion and philosophy.

The Italian Academies project which created this database began in 2006 as a collaboration between the British Library and Royal Holloway University of London, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research council and led by Jane Everson. The objective was the creation of a dedicated resource on the publications and membership of the Italian learned Academies active in the period between 1525 and 1700. The software for the database was designed in-house by the British Library and the first tranche of data was completed in 2009 listing information for academies in four cities (Naples, Siena, Bologna and Padua). A second phase, listing information for many more cities, including in southern Italy and Sicily, developed the database further, between 2010 and 2014, with a major research grant from the AHRC and collaboration with the University of Reading.

The exciting possibilities now opened up by the British Library’s digital data strategy look set to stimulate new research and collaborations by making the records even more widely available, and easily downloadable, in line with Open Access goals. The Italian Academies team is now working to develop the project further with the addition of new data, and the incorporation into a hub of similar resources.

The Italian Academies project team members welcome feedback on the records and on the adoption of the database for new research (contact: www.italianacademies.org).

The original database remains accessible at http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/ItalianAcademies/Default.aspx 

An Introduction to the database, its aims, contents and objectives is available both at this site and at the new digital data site: https://data.bl.uk/iad/

Jane E. Everson, Royal Holloway University of London

Lisa Sampson, University College, London

21 March 2018

BL Labs 2017 Symposium: Vittoria's World of Stories, Learning & Teaching Award Winner

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Vittoria’s 'World of Stories' - the BL Labs Learning and Teaching Award Winner 2017 - is a project led by parents at Vittoria Primary School through the PTA, with the support of school staff. The aim of the project is to collect and share traditional tales from around the world and creative work by current pupils through workshops, the production of a book, school assemblies, readings and performances, and via the creation of audio, text and images for the school website during the current academic year. The illustrations for the project are drawn from the British Library’s Flickr collection which are displayed alongside pupils’ artwork.

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The front cover of Vittoria primary school's 'World of Stories'

Our school is a diverse community of learners: pupils’ families come from a wide range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Languages spoken by pupils at home include Arabic, Bengali, Vietnamese, Russian, Chechen, Turkish and Somali. One of the pedagogical goals of the project was to make visible the similarities between well-loved traditional tales and explore how different cultures use the same cast of characters - heroes and heroines, tricksters and magicians, villains and monsters – in order to speak across generations about what it means to be human. We wanted to promote and celebrate the diversity of the multi-cultural community which makes up our school, and show parents and children that the characters and stories they love are shared by others from different cultures.   

 The stories in the book include original works by pupils, gathered through a story-writing competition with winning entries selected by the PTA committee. We also asked parents to nominate traditional tales for inclusion in the collection, and held a bi-lingual (English and Arabic) story-sharing workshop for parents organised by the PTA. During the workshop, parents spoke about well-known traditional tales which they remembered from childhood and discussed the contrasts and similarities between characters and narratives from different cultures. For example, the section of the book which presents ‘bogeyman’ type monsters was developed from discussions in the workshop. We discovered that the Beast from Beauty and the Beast is called ‘Al-Ba’ati’ in Sudan, where the story is known as ‘Jamila wal Ba’ati’. Sudanese parents discussed how ‘Al-Ba’ati’ is used to encourage good behaviour in children, which prompted another parent to share her family’s stories of ‘The Boogerman’ who plays a similar role in persuading children to stay in bed at bedtime.

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One of the British Library's Flickr images, used as an illustration

The project also links with our work within the classroom to develop children’s reading skills, through promoting a love of reading and books at home. By showing that we value and celebrate the oral culture of storytelling between parents and children, and by collecting and translating tales from languages other than English, we aim to encourage parents to read with their children and support their learning at home.

The project has had a positive effect within the school community, by promoting dialogue and interaction between parents from different cultures through the parents’ workshop, and provided a vehicle to celebrate pupils’ achievements to the school community. Parents have also bought copies of the book to share with family and friends. One of our parent contributors took copies of the book to share with older generations of her family in Sudan during a recent visit, and we hope that other parents will do the same.

During the next phase of the project we will be organising a series of readings and performances using the book with different year groups and making audio recordings which we will publish on the school website for parents to download and listen to with their children at home.

If this blog post has stimulated your interest in working with the British Library's digital collections, start a project and enter it for one of the BL Labs 2018 Awards! Join us on 12 November 2018 for the BL Labs annual Symposium at the British Library.

Posted by BL Labs on behalf of Vittoria Primary school

21 February 2018

BL Labs 2017 Symposium: Opening up the British Library’s Early Indian Printed Books Collection (Staff Award Winner)

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Making the British Library’s valuable collection of early Bengali books more accessible to researchers and the general public around the world rests heavily on the collaborative work undertaken across different teams of the library and partners in the UK and abroad. The commitment and passion of the project team has relied on the contribution and expertise of collaborators, as well as the forward thinking vision of the library, partners and fundraisers.

Receiving the BL Labs Staff Award 2017 is a great opportunity to thank everyone involved. 

Members of the Two Centuries of Indian Print team receiving the British Library Labs award at the Symposium on 30th October.
Members of the Two Centuries of Indian Print team receiving the British Library Labs award at the Symposium on 30th October 2017
 
Tom Derrick (Digital Curator) was in India at the same time the team received their Award.
Tom Derrick (Digital Curator) was in India at the same time the team received their Award

The Two Centuries of Indian Print project is a partnership between the British Library, the School of Cultural Texts and Records (SCTR) at Jadavpur University, Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, and the Library at SOAS University of London, among others. It has also involved collaborations with the National Library of India, and other institutions in India.

The AHRC Newton-Bhabha Fund and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have generously funded the work undertaken so far by the project, focusing on early printed Bengali books. Many are unavailable in other library collections or are extremely difficult to locate and access. The project has undertaken a variety of initiatives from the digitisation of books and enhancement of the catalogue records in English and Bengali, to stimulating the use of digital humanities tools and techniques, running a programme of digital skills sharing and capacity building workshops, and hosting the South Asia Series seminars. All of these initiatives greatly contribute to the discovery and study of the collection. The project is also conducting ground breaking work in finding a solution to Optical Character Recognition (OCR) in Bangla script. OCR is not available for South Asian languages currently and harnessing viable Optical Character Recognition technology would enable full text search of the books, paving the way for researchers to use natural language processing techniques to perform large scale analysis across a large corpus of text covering a diverse range of topics relating to Indian society, religion, and politics to name but a few. Doing so will increase the possibilities for new discoveries in this academic field. 

However, despite its status as one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, Bangla script has been greatly underserved by providers of OCR solutions. This is due in part to the orthographical and typographical variances that have taken place in recent centuries that make building a dictionary and character ‘classifier’ more challenging. Due to the wide date range of the books we are digitising, these issues affect the quality of OCR. The physical condition of our historical books, including faded text, presents additional difficulties for creating machine readable versions of the books. 

To overcome these obstacles, the project team has been advancing the development of OCR for Bangla through the organisation of an international competition which reviewed the state-of-the-art in commercial and open source text recognition tools. The results of the competition will be announced at the ICDAR 2017 conference in Kyoto later this month. Watch this space! The competition dataset has been made openly available for download and reuse for any researchers or institutions who would like to experiment with OCR for Bengali.

A page from the Animal Biographies, VT 1712 showing its transcription produced for the ICDAR 2017 competition
A page from the Animal Biographies, VT 1712 showing its transcription produced for the ICDAR 2017 competition

The project has organised two Skills Exchange Programmes, hosting mid-career Library professionals from the the National Library of India at the British Library for a week, providing a packed programme of tours and talks from all areas of the Library. The project has also conducted digital skills sharing and capacity building workshops for library professionals and archivists from cultural heritage institutions in India. The first workshop took place at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, in December 2016. Library and information professionals from cultural heritage institutions in Bengal took part in a one-day event to learn more about how information technology is transforming humanities research today and in turn Library services, as well as the methods for interrogating humanities-related datasets.

Afterthe success of this first workshop another event was held in July 2017, at which more than 30 library professionals discussed OCR developments for Bangla, trying out different tools and discussing digital scholarship techniques and projects. Most recently, the project’s digital curator facilitated a workshop around Digitisation Standards at the International Conference of Asian Libraries in Delhi. The workshops continue in earnest in the new year with another digital humanities skills workshop planned for January 2018 to be held in partnership with the Srishti Institute of Art, Design, and Technology.

Attendees of the workshop held at Jadavpur University in December 2016 taking part in a group activity to discuss the application of digital humanities methods to library collections
Attendees of the workshop held at Jadavpur University in December 2016 taking part in a group activity to discuss the application of digital humanities methods to library collections

The Project Team also held a two day Academic Symposium on South Asian book history at Jadavpur University in the summer, with 17 speakers from India, wider South Asia, and the UK. Attendance was between 50-70 people a day and feedback was very good.  We plan to have a publication arising from this Symposium, and to upload a video to our project webspace. The project also hosts a popular series of talks based around the Two Centuries of Indian Print project and the British Library’s South Asia collections. The seminars take place fortnightly at the British Library. So far we have hosted a range of academics and researchers, from PhD students to senior academics from the UK and abroad, who share cutting-edge research with discussion chaired by curators and specialists in the field. The seminars have been a great success attracting large attendances and speakers from around the world. We also host a number of show and tells of our material to raise awareness for our collection and to engage in community outreach.

Everyone on the project is thrilled to have won this award and we will be working hard in 2018 to continue bringing the Two Centuries of Indian Print project to the attention and use of researchers and the general public.

Submit a project for one of the BL Labs 2018 Awards! Join us on 12 November 2018 for the BL Labs annual Symposium at the British Library.

Posted by BL Labs on behalf of The Two Centuries of Indian Print team.

15 February 2018

BL Labs 2017 Symposium: Git Lit, Learning & Teaching Award Runner Up

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Applications of Distributed Version Control Technologies Toward the Creation of 50,000 Digital Scholarly Editions

The British Library maintains a collection of roughly 50,000 digital texts, scanned from public-domain books, most of which were originally published in the 19th century. As scanned books, their text format is Analyzed Layout and Text Object (ALTO) Extensible Markup Language (XML), a verbose markup format created by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, and one which is only marginally human-readable. Our project, Git-Lit, converts each text to the plain text format Markdown, creates version-controlled repositories for each using the distributed version control system Git, and posts the repositories to the project management platform GitHub, where they can be edited by anyone. Along the way, websites for each text, optimized for readability, are automatically generated via GitHub Pages. These websites integrate with the annotation platform Hypothes.is, enabling them to be annotated. In this way, Git-Lit aims to make this collection of British Library electronic texts discoverable, readable, editable, annotatable, and downloadable.

A Screenshot of the Website Automatically Generated from the British Library Electronic Text
A Screenshot of the Website Automatically Generated from the British Library Electronic Text


The biggest advantage of using a distributed version control system like Git is that it leverages the kinds of decentralized collaboration workflows that have long been in use in software development. Open-source software and web development, for which Git and GitHub were originally designed, is a much-studied methodology, long proven to be more effective than closed-source methods. Rather than maintain a central silo for serving code and electronic texts, the decentralized approach ensures a plurality of textual versions. Since anyone may copy ("fork") a project, modify it, and create their own version, there is no one central, canonical text, but many. Each version may freely borrow ("pull") from others, request that others integrate their changes ("pull request"), and discuss potential changes ("issues") using the project management subsystems of GitHub. This workflow streamlines collaboration, and encourages external contributions. Furthermore, since each change ("commit") requires a description of the commit, and reasons for it, the Git platform enforces the kind of editorial documentation necessary for scholarly editing. We like to think of git-based editing, therefore, as scholarly editing, and GitHub-based collaboration as a democratization of scholarly editing.

Furthermore, since GitHub allows instant editing of texts in the web browser, it is a simple and intuitive method of crowdsourcing the text cleanup process. Since OCRd texts are often full of errors, GitHub allows any reader to correct an obvious OCR error she or he finds. The analogous process of reporting errors to centralized text repositories like Project Gutenberg has been known to take several years. On GitHub, however, it is instantaneous.

Not the least advantage of this setup is the automated creation of websites from the plain text sources. Not only does this transform the markdown to a clean, readable edition of the text, but it provides integration with the annotation platform Hypothes.is. Hypothes.is allows for social annotation of a text, making it ideal for classroom use. Professors may assign a British Library text as a course reading, and may require their students annotate it, an activity which can generate discussions in the limitless virtual margins of this electronic textual space.

The Git-Lit project has so far posted around 50 texts to GitHub, as prototypes, with the full corpus of roughly 50,000 texts soon to come. After the full corpus is processed in this way, we'll begin enhancing some of the metadata. So far, we have developed techniques for probabilistically inferring the language of each text, and using Ben Schmidt's document vectorization method, Stable Random Projection, we have been able to probabilistically infer Library of Congress classifications, as well. This enables the automatic generation of sub-corpora like PR (British Literature), or PZ (American Literature).

In the coming year, we hope to integrate the Git-Lit transformed British Library texts into a structured database, further enhancing the discoverability of its texts. We have just received a micro-grant from NYC-DH to help launch Corpus-DB, a project also aiming to produce textual corpora, and through Corpus-DB, we will soon create a SQL database containing the metadata, our enhanced and inferred metadata, and other aggregated book data gleaned from public APIs. This will soon allow readers and computational text analysts the ability to download groups of British Library electronic texts. Users interested in downloading, say, all novels set in London, will be able to get a complete full-text dump of all public-domain novels in this category by visiting a URL such as api.corpus-db.org/novels/setting/London. We expect that this will greatly streamline the corpus creation process that takes up so much of the time of a computational text analysis.

Both Git-Lit and Corpus-DB are open-source projects, open to contributions from anyone, regardless of skill. If you'd like to contribute to our project in some way, get in contact with us, and we'll tell you how you can help.

Jonathan Reeve
Jonathan Reeve

Jonathan Reeve is a third-year graduate student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where he specializes in computational literary analysis. Find his recent experiments at jonreeve.com.

If this blog post has stimulated your interest in working with the British Library's digital collections, start a project and enter it for one of the BL Labs 2018 Awards! Join us on 12 November 2018 for the BL Labs annual Symposium at the British Library to find out who wins.

Posted by BL Labs on behalf of Jonathan Reeve

14 February 2018

BL Labs 2017 Symposium: Movable Type, Commercial Award Winner

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Movable Type is a tabletop word game, and something of a love letter to classic books and authors, made completely of custom playing cards. While the game’s appearance might remind you of Scrabble, it has some tricks up its sleeve to give it a much more modern and dynamic feel.

Movable Type Card Game
Figure 1: Movable Type Card Game


The initial idea for Movable Type was born around two years ago. I had been making games for some years and knew I wanted to do something with a word game. My main objective was to have a game that was very interactive, easy to grasp, and tactical, while also being very quick to play. As much as I love word games, some of them have a tendency to outstay their welcome. 

The central mechanism in Movable Type is called card-drafting. This method allows players to pick their letter cards each round – this does away with the large amounts of luck you find in many classic word games, and instead shifts attention onto the tactical decisions of the players. It also means that rules are kept very simple and that players can take their turns simultaneously, creating a much more dynamic play environment.

Movable Type - The Cards
Movable Type - The Cards


The prototype for Movable Type was only a few weeks old when I settled on the art style I was going to use in the final product. I’ve been a long-time fan of the British Library Flickr account, which lets users browse through images from public domain books. Once I had spotted the large collection of initial capitals, I was sold!

Movable Type - Illustrated Letters
Movable Type - Illustrated Letters


My wife, Tiffany Moon, is a graphic designer by trade. She helped clean up the images and present these beautiful pieces of art in a colourful new fashion, appropriate for a retail product. I also wanted portraits of some of my favourite authors to be in the game, so I commissioned Alisdair Wood to create woodcut-style images of ten classic, influential and diverse literary figures. Without those initial capital images taken from the British Library collection and used to direct the game’s overall style, Movable Type would likely not look half as impressive and definitely wouldn’t resonate with me and many players like the current style does.

Movable Type - Illustrated Famous People
Movable Type - Illustrated Famous People


I launched Movable Type on the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter, last year. Upon its release, it won the Imirt Irish Game Award for Best Analog Game and second runner-up for Game of the Year. It received good reception at several public events and sold out of its initial print run, so I decided that a second edition of the game was in order. That bigger and better second edition is funding on Kickstarter and should be in some select retail stores by mid to late 2018 (fingers crossed!).

Movable Type receiving the Commercial Category BL Lab Award, was a huge boon for the reputation of the game and myself as a game designer. Furthermore, it was a genuine honour to be at the British Library for this event and able to share my product with the audience there.

If this blog post has stimulated your interest in working with the British Library's digital collections, start a project and enter it for one of the BL Labs 2018 Awards! Join us on 12 November 2018 for the BL Labs annual Symposium at the British Library.

Posted by BL Labs on behalf of Robin David O’Keeffe

13 February 2018

BL Labs 2017 Symposium: Samtla, Research Award Runner Up

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Samtla (Search And Mining Tools for Labelling Archives) was developed to address a need in the humanities for research tools that help to search, browse, compare, and annotate documents stored in digital archives. The system was designed in collaboration with researchers at Southampton University, whose research involved locating shared vocabulary and phrases across an archive of Aramaic Magic Texts from Late Antiquity. The archive contained texts written in Aramaic, Mandaic, Syriac, and Hebrew languages. Due to the morphological complexity of these languages, where morphemes are attached to a root morpheme to mark gender and number, standard approaches and off-the-shelf software were not flexible enough for the task, as they tended to be designed to work with a specific archive or user group. 

Figure1
Figure 1: Samtla supports tolerant search allowing queries to be matched exactly and approximately. (Click to enlarge image)

  Samtla is designed to extract the same or similar information that may be expressed by authors in different ways, whether it is in the choice of vocabulary or the grammar. Traditionally search and text mining tools have been based on words, which limits their use to corpora containing languages were 'words' can be easily identified and extracted from text, e.g. languages with a whitespace character like English, French, German, etc. Word models tend to fail when the language is morphologically complex, like Aramaic, and Hebrew. Samtla addresses these issues by adopting a character-level approach stored in a statistical language model. This means that rather than extracting words, we extract character-sequences representing the morphology of the language, which we then use to match the search terms of the query and rank the documents according to the statistics of the language. Character-based models are language independent as there is no need to preprocess the document, and we can locate words and phrases with a lot of flexibility. As a result Samtla compensates for the variability in language use, spelling errors made by users when they search, and errors in the document as a result of the digitisation process (e.g. OCR errors). 

Figure2
Figure 2: Samtla's document comparison tool displaying a semantically similar passage between two Bibles from different periods. (Click to enlarge image)

 The British Library have been very supportive of the work by openly providing access to their digital archives. The archives ranged in domain, topic, language, and scale, which enabled us to test Samtla’s flexibility to its limits. One of the biggest challenges we faced was indexing larger-scale archives of several gigabytes. Some archives also contained a scan of the original document together with metadata about the structure of the text. This provided a basis for developing new tools that brought researchers closer to the original object, which included highlighting the named entities over both the raw text, and the scanned image.

Currently we are focusing on developing approaches for leveraging the semantics underlying text data in order to help researchers find semantically related information. Semantic annotation is also useful for labelling text data with named entities, and sentiments. Our current aim is to develop approaches for annotating text data in any language or domain, which is challenging due to the fact that languages encode the semantics of a text in different ways.

As a first step we are offering labelled data to researchers, as part of a trial service, in order to help speed up the research process, or provide tagged data for machine learning approaches. If you are interested in participating in this trial, then more information can be found at www.samtla.com.

Figure3
Figure 3: Samtla's annotation tools label the texts with named entities to provide faceted browsing and data layers over the original image. (Click to enlarge image)

 If this blog post has stimulated your interest in working with the British Library's digital collections, start a project and enter it for one of the BL Labs 2018 Awards! Join us on 12 November 2018 for the BL Labs annual Symposium at the British Library.


Posted by BL Labs on behalf of Dr Martyn Harris, Prof Dan Levene, Prof Mark Levene and Dr Dell Zhang.

22 January 2018

BL Labs 2017 Symposium: Data Mining Verse in 18th Century Newspapers by Jennifer Batt

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Dr Jennifer Batt, Senior Lecturer at the University of Bristol, reported on an investigation in finding verse using text and data-mining methods in a collection of digitised eighteenth-century newspapers in the British Library’s Burney Collection to recover a complex, expansive, ephemeral poetic culture that has been lost to us for well over 250 years. The collection equates to around 1 million pages, around 700 or so bound volumes of 1271 titles of newspapers and news pamphlets published in London and also some English provincial, Irish and Scottish papers, and a few examples from the American colonies.

A video of her presentation is available below:

Jennifer's slides are available on SlideShare by clicking on the image below or following the link:

Datamining for verse in eighteenth-century newspapers
Datamining for verse in eighteenth-century newspapers

https://www.slideshare.net/labsbl/datamining-for-verse-in-eighteenthcentury-newsapers

 

 

09 November 2017

You're invited to come and play - In the Spotlight

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Mia Ridge, Alex Mendes and Christian Algar from the Library's Digital Scholarship and Printed Heritage teams invite you to take part in a new crowdsourcing project...

It’s hard for most of us to remember life before entertainment on demand through our personal devices, but a new project at the British library provides a glimpse into life before electronic entertainment. We're excited to launch In the Spotlight, a crowdsourcing site where the public can help transcribe information about performance from the last 300 years. We're inviting online volunteers to help make the British Library's historic playbills easier to find while uncovering curiosities about past entertainments. You can step Into the Spotlight at http://playbills.libcrowds.com

The original playbills were handed out or posted outside theatres, and like modern nightclub flyers, they weren't designed to last. They're so delicate they can't be handled, so providing better access to digitised versions will help academic, local and family history researchers.

Playbills compiled into a volume
The Library’s collection has over a thousand volumes holding thousands of fragile playbills

 

What is In the Spotlight?

Individual playbills in the historical collection are currently hard to find, as the Library's catalogue contains only brief information about the place and dates for each volume of playbills. By marking up and transcribing titles, dates, genres, participant volunteers will make each playbill - and individual performances - findable online.

We’ve started with playbills from theatres in Margate, Plymouth, Bristol, Hull, Perth and Edinburgh. We think this provides wider opportunities for people across the country to connect with nationally held collections.

Crowdsourcing interface screenshot
Take a close look at the playbills whilst marking up or transcribing the titles of plays

 

But it's not all work - it's important to us that volunteers on In the Spotlight can indulge their curiosity. The playbills provide fascinating glimpses into past entertainments, and we're excited to see what people discover.

The playbills people can see on In the Spotlight provide a fabulous source for looking at British and Irish social history from the late 18th century through to the Victorian period. More than this, their visual richness is an experience in itself, and should stimulate interest in historical printing’s use of typography and illustrations. Over time, playbills included more detailed information, and these the song titles, plot synopses, descriptions of stage sets and choreographed action from the plays help bring these past performances to life.

Creating an open stage 

You can download individual playbills, share them on social media or follow a link back to the Library's main catalogue. You can also download the transcribed data to explore or visualise as a dataset.

We also hope that people will share their discoveries with us and with other participants, either on our discussion forum, or social media. Jumping In the Spotlight is a chance for anyone anywhere to engage with the historical printed collections held at the British Library. We’ve created our very own stage for dialogue where people can share and discuss interesting or curious finds - the forum is a great place to post about a particular typeface that takes your fancy, an impressive or clever use of illustration, or an obscure unheard-of or little known play. It's also a great place to ask questions, like 'why do so many playbills announce an evening’s entertainment, ‘For the Benefit’ of someone or other?'. In the Spotlight’s open stage means anyone can add details or links to further good reads: share your growing knowledge with others!

We're also keen to promote the discoveries of project volunteers, and encourage you to get in touch if you'd like to write a short post for the Library’s Untold Lives blog, the English & Drama blog or here on our Digital Scholarship blog. If forums and twitter aren't your thing, you can email us digitalresearch@bl.uk.

Playbill from Devonport, 1836
In the Spotlight is an ‘Open House’ – share your findings with others on the Forum, contribute articles to British Library blogs!

 

What's been discovered so far?

We quietly launched an alpha version of the interface back in September to test the waters and invite comments from the public. We’ve received some incredibly helpful feedback (thank you to all!) that has helped us fine-tune the interface design. We also received some encouraging comments from colleagues at other libraries who work with similar collections. We’ll take someone saying they are 'insanely jealous' of the crowdsourcing work we are doing with our historical printed collections as a good sign!

We've been contacted about some very touching human-interest stories too - follow @LibCrowds or sign up to our crowdsourcing newsletter to be notified when blog posts about discoveries go live. We're looking forward to the first post written by the In the Spotlight participant who uncovered a sad tale behind a Benefit performance for several actors in Plymouth in 1827.

What can you do?

Take on a part! Take a step Into the Spotlight at http://playbills.libcrowds.com and help record titles, dates and genres.

If you are interested in theatre and drama, in musical performance, in the way people were entertained, come and explore this collection and help researchers while you’re doing it. All you need is a little free time and it’s LOTS OF FUN! Help us make In the Spotlight the best show in town.

Lots-of-fun
Join in, it'll be lots of fun!