THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

7 posts categorized "Digital scholarship"

09 March 2017

Canada Through the Lens: mapping a collection

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Canadian_National_Exhibition_from_the_Air_(HS85-10-36083)_original.tif

Above: early Canadian aerial photography from the Colonial Copyright Collection, from Wikimedia Commons.

This summer, to mark Canada's 150th anniversary celebrations, the British Library will be displaying a selection of photographs from its Colonial Copyright Photograph Collection under the title, 'Canada Through the Lens'. The photographs contained in the collection were received from Canada between 1895 and 1924 under legal deposit regulations and in 2012 the Library began to digitise this collection in collaboration with Wikimedia Commons and the Eccles Centre for American Studies.

Back in 2012 I was the curator for Canadian collections and so I thought that this year I would merge my old work with my new responsibilities by making a map of the material digitised in 2012. The Picturing Canada Project, as this work was called, was a successful attempt to release a collection online under Public Domain licensing but browsing material in the list-based structure of Wikimedia Commons can be laborious. Given most people who access the collection want to find photographs of places that interest them (for personal or research reasons) a map seemed like a good entry point and so we've been tinkering around with using the collection metadata to display an interactive map. The first results can be seen here:

The map has been built by inputting metadata relating to the collection (largely derived from original copyright records and work done by P. B. O'Neill of Dalhousie University in the 1980s) into a spreadsheet and then adding to this the best geographical coordinate data we could find. This data was then uploaded to Google Fusion Tables, which can produce a map as one of its software tools. When it comes to the geo-data sometimes we have been lucky and been able to pin a location accurately. However, in many cases we have roughly developed a location by tracing place names in the photograph title, while in others we have had to pin the location of the photographer's studio or make a best guess as to an appropriate location. As a result, the geographical data you see above is a good start but very much a work in progress.

Klondikers_buying_miner's_licenses_at_Custom_House _Victoria _B_C _Feb_21 _1898_(HS85-10-9774)

Above: 'Buying miner's licenses in Victoria for the Klondike gold-rush', J. W. Jones (1898). An example of a photograph with place specific data in the title. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Each point on the map corresponds to a photographic record and clicking on the icon will provide users with metadata on the image as well as a link to the image on Wikimedia Commons. In some instances there is no link as there is more work to do uploading a few files to Commons or removing metadata for images that were not digitised (for an explanation as to why, see the Picturing Canada project page). The colouration attributed to the icons is an attempt to visually depict when photographs were produced and each colour means the following:

  • Yellow, 1895 - 1899
  • Green, 1900 - 1909
  • Red, 1910 - 1919
  • Blue, 1920 - 23 (end of active period of legislation)

'Canada Through the Lens' will open at the British Library on May 26th so we have plenty of time to polish the map and its content ahead of the main release. As part of this, if any of you spot problems or have suggestions for refinements feel free to email me at: philip[dot]hatfield[at]bl[dot]uk. 

[PJH]

10 August 2016

Hooked on Georeferencing

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Georeference NY

Above: a map of Manhattan from the US subset.

A funny thing happened last week as I noticed that the Georeferencer project's current phase had stalled around the 32% mark. Having checked on the project progress bar for a few days I decided we had lost momentum on the project, perhaps due to it being the summer holidays, personal commitments, a frustration with some of the content, or any other number of other reasons. Deciding I could not encourage more use without 'practicing what you preach' and getting stuck into the current cache of maps, I sat down in my breaks - for the first time in too long - to work through a chunk of the project using the lists of maps 'to be georeferenced' held on Wikimedia Commons.

After working my way through a number of maps I noticed two things. First off, progress on the Georeferencer project has not stalled, instead the counter on the front page has mysteriously stopped working (if you go there now you will still see it needs fixing). Instead, if you go to the 'Participants' tab you will see a different picture, one that suggests that, far from stalling, the project is actually charging along. At the time of writing 24,508 maps have been georeferenced, around 42% of what is currently in the system. The second thing I noticed was that I was hooked. Again.

Pandora voyage

Above: the route of the Pandora, from the Arctic subset.

Yes, despite the fact that there is no emergency or need to inspire more work on the system I'm still finding spare time to do 'just one more', the cartographic equivalent of computer gaming's 'One More Turn' syndrome. Now that I'm hooked I thought I would share some maps I georeferenced that worked out particularly well; the New York one lines up very pleasingly (grid systems make georeferencing much easier) while the map of the voyage of the Pandora satisfies my enthusiasm for Arctic maps, but, as usual, I have enjoyed working on every map I've done in this batch. I should probably back off a little now - not least as I have to sit down and write some talks around my new book - but I suspect I'll be dropping back in for 'Just One More Map' on a regular basis.

Thanks go out, as always, to our volunteers who are working through this large volume of material. We are making great progress here at the Library adding the data produced to catalogue records for the sheet charts, atlases and printed books that contain these maps and each newly georeferenced map means more useful data can be added to the catalogue. For those of you working on the project, don't forget about our lists of maps to be georeferenced over at Wiki Commons, they really do make the project more enjoyable - as I suggested in a previous post. For anyone reading this who wants to get involved in the project for the first time you can find out how here.

[PJH]

03 August 2016

Magnificent Manuscripts Online: Pelagios

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Portolano (Egerton MS 2855, f.8r).jpeg

Above: Portolan chart of the North-West coast of Europe, including all of France, the British Isles and Ireland, Grazioso Benincasa [1473, Egerton MS 2855, f.8r]. File at Wiki Commons.

Over the past few years the British Library has been working with the Pelagios project, making innovative use of historic manuscript maps. Meaning ‘of the sea’ the name Pelagios is used as the seas were the highways of the ancient world, much like the Web provides a highway for communication today. A web-based project that facilitates the online linking of data about ancients sites mentioned, for example, in texts, local histories or where archaeological remains have been found. The current phase of Pelagios (in which the Library was involved) will soon be drawing to a close as the next phase, 'Pelagios Commons', begins and runs to December 2017. The Library has contributed digitised materials to phase 3 of this project, predominantly in the form of mappae mundi, itineraries and portolan charts, and these have been digitally annotated to open up the enclosed geographical information to the Pelagios database.

Insularium Illustratum (Additional MS 15760, f.53v).jpeg

Above: A map of England, Northern France, Scotland and Wales from Insularium Illustratum, Henricus Martellus Germanus [1495, Additional MS 15760, f.53v]. File at Wiki Commons.

As you can see, the material provided to Pelagios is something of a treasure trove of manuscript views of the world and the project as a whole is composed of various wonderful resources detailed at Pelagios Commons. Now that our involvement with phase 3 of the Pelagios project is drawing to a close the Library is making the material it contributed to the project available on Wikimedia Commons and (soon) via data.bl.uk. The main root for material held on Commons can be found on the British Library Map Collections category page on Wikimedia Commons, which provides links to the various groups of British Library manuscript materials used in the Pelagios project (although I should note this is a general collections page - so you will not find Ordnance Survey Drawings in Pelagios!). 

File:General chart of the coasts of Europe, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the western coast of Africa south to Cape Negro.- Cornaro Atlas (Egerton MS 73, f.36r).jpeg

Above: General chart of the coasts of Europe, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the western coast of Africa, Cornaro Atlas [1492, Egerton MS 73, f.36r]. File at Wiki Commons.

One health warning about these manuscripts, due to UK copyright law they are technically in copyright until 2039. However, given the age of the manuscripts and their place of production the Library believes it highly unlikely a public domain release will offend anyone; more information can be found here. Copyright notices aside, this is a fantastic resource which we hope you enjoy. If you do dive make sure you clear your diary and sit down with some food to see you through, it's a fascinating collection of material. If you want to know more about Pelagios generally - and perhaps join in - head over to their Commons site. Here you can access online resources that are being developed (using open data methods) to link and explore historical place, as well as participate in various community forums. You can also find more at the Digital Classicist Wiki.  

[PJH]

23 May 2016

Murder and Madness in the Castle: Macbeth’s Inverness

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Maps_k_top_50_10_a-004

Above: Inverness Castle before the Jacobite uprisings [BL: Maps K.Top 50.10.a]

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth Inverness Castle is the site of Macbeth’s murder of King Duncan, allowing Macbeth to usurp the crown. It is also where Macbeth’s descent into madness plays out, with many key scenes happening within the confines of the castle. As with so many of Shakespeare’s productions the events of Macbeth are, very loosely, based on fact, with historical characters used to drive the dramatic narrative. Much about the actual history of these individuals is different from how Shakespeare’s drama plays out, for example, Duncan was murdered at a much younger age than Shakespeare portrays, but the characters and locations can still be fixed, to some extent, geographically and historically.

Despite this, and somewhat unfortunately, no record remains of Inverness Castle as it was in the time of King Duncan. The fort that existed at this time was razed to the ground in the 11th century and has since been replaced with various structures. That which currently stands in Inverness was built in the nineteenth century in order to replace the castle seen above, constructed in the sixteenth century and destroyed during the Jacobite uprisings. As a result, this is the best source for Inverness Castle’s historic look that exists and, while it may not be the right castle to house the events of Macbeth, a little embellishment never hurt the Bard and so games designers should be able to indulge a little too.

Inverness Castle and the narrative of Macbeth provide rich pickings for video games. Castle based cerebral horrors, filled with mind games and hallucinations, perhaps like the Gamecube’s, Eternal Darkness, are one way a Macbeth inspired game could play out. Indeed, there are so many fantasy-RPG elements to the story of Macbeth, including witchcraft, other-worldly sieges and more, that a journey of character upgrades and branching choices would also fit well (although for the sake of longevity it might be worth making sure the player has to kill King Duncan…). Of course, for those of you who are more excited by the platform genre, the view of Inverness Castle above would also lend itself to a Castlevania or Ghosts n’ Goblins style adventure. The choice is yours.

For some further inspiration you can also look to the Hamlet inspired game, Elsinore, which currently forms part of the Library's Shakespeare in Ten Acts exhibition. Do remember though, if you are planning on entering the competition it’s time to get cracking with implementing your designs. The deadline for submission is rapidly approaching, with 1st July only just over a month away. Good luck!

[PJH]

27 April 2016

Less of a Random Mapper: a new feature for Georeferencer

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Tropical Australia

Above: a map of tropical Australia, from the 'Australia and New Zealand' subset.

Those of you who have used the British Library's Georeferencer in the past will know that it has an interesting quirk; you don't get to choose the map you are working on. This was added to the design for good reason, to make sure even the difficult maps in the selection get worked on, but it also has disadvantages. You see, the random pool is quite small, around 30, and doesn't change unless a map is georeferenced; this means that, with a challenging set of maps like those currently in the program, the same unpopular maps can just keep circling around until someone bites the bullet and gets that map pinned down. All of which means, it can become a bit of a drag for even the most devoted Georeferencers.

Map of Kendale (Kendal)

Above: 'A map of Kendale' from the 'North West' subset.

Thankfully, some of our wonderful volunteers have worked on creating a solution to this problem. A new page on Wiki Commons now lists all the maps requiring georeferencing by their rough location (i.e. a country) or some other subject marker (such as the map being about 'anthropology'). Next to each subject line is a link saying 'to georef', click on this and your route to selecting material to work on in the Georeferencer begins. All you need do from here is  click on a map on the Flickr page you have been directed to and on the map’s page click the ‘View this map on the BL Georeferencer service’ link. You are now at the Georeferencer interface for this map, simply log in and continue the georeferencing process as normal.

Georeferencer subject page (Flickr)

Above: a view of the 'Anthropology and Ethnology' subset page.

Using this process you can continue to find, select and georeference maps of your choosing, working your way through an entire list or flitting from one subject to the next. The choice is yours. Since I last wrote we've progressed up to 27% of the maps from the current batch georeferenced, that's a whopping 13,434 maps! Plus, all this data is now being ingested into the Library's catalogues and should be available on the public interface soon.

As I always say when I close these posts, if you've not started working on the georeferencer yet please do come and have a go. Now is a better time than ever to start.

[PJH]

23 February 2016

'Whither the Fates Carry Us': Bermuda goes Off the Map

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Maps_k_top_123_127Above: Mappa ÆSTIVARUM Insularum, alias BERMUDAS dictarum [BL: Maps K Top 123.127]

It's time for another 'Off the Map' competition here at the British Library and GameCity, with this year's theme being built around our upcoming Shakespeare exhibition. You can find out more about the competition here, get sounds inspiration here, read more about mysterious islands here, and find some inspiration built around The Tempest below.

The coat of arms of Bermuda isn’t the most cheerful in the world, as it depicts a ship in danger of being wrecked on the rocks, but its motto, Whither the Fates Carry [Us], is slightly more hopeful than you first think. In 1609 the Sea Venture, flagship of the Virginia Company, foundered on rocks after the commander in charge, Admiral Sir George Somers, decided his crew would survive this situation better than riding out the storm which bore down on them. All hands survived and found themselves on the island of Bermuda, the beginning of English settlement there. The story of the Sea Venture is not just one of oceanic derring-do, though. The narrative published about the discovery of the island also inspired some of the most famous writings in the English language.

Various accounts of the wreck of the Sea-Adventure were published, many of them becoming best sellers as they gripped the public imagination. A Discovery of the Barmudas, otherwise called the Ile of Divels, A True Declaration of the Estate of the Colonie in Virginia,and True Reportory are just a few of the pamphlets although my favourite tells the whole story in its title; Newes from Virginia, The Lost Flocke triumphant, with the happy Arriual of that famous and worthy knight, Sr Thomas Gates, and the well reputed and valiant Captaine Mr, Christopher Newporte, and others, into England, With the manner of their distresse in the Hand of Deuils (otherwise called Bermoothawes), where they remayned 42 weekesy and builded two Pynaces in which they returned into Virginia. Some other clues are found in these titles as to how these accounts of shipwreck could inspire Shakespeare, the mention of the ‘Ile of Divels’ (Isle of Devils)  fires the imagination while other details in the accounts clearly connect to elements of the narrative of The Tempest.

118_f_14_037Above: The Bermudas: or, Summer's Islands [BL: 118.f.14]

Shipwreck, wilderness and the nature of authority all feature in these accounts and their evocative descriptions but it is probably the evocative description of Bermuda and its landscape which most captured the public, and Shakespeare’s, imagination. Bermuda was eventually to capture the attention of capitalists and plantation owners, as the map above shows. Here the wilderness encountered by the Sea Venture crew has been replaced with a landscape of sugar plantations and settlement, as shown by the many names and plots inscribed on the landscape. However, one element of the map provides a bridge between the moment of encounter and this settled, developed present, the illustration in the lower left corner. This is the same coat of arms discussed above, already bearing the Sea-Adventure in peril and the saying, ‘Whither the Fates Carry [Us]’. It also reminds us that, as violent winds were important to the settlement of Bermuda so they were important to the plot of The Tempest, with Prospero raising a storm to bring Antonio and his crew to the island on which he is exiled.

2302_b_14_vol1_tempest_frontispiece - CopyAbove: a frontispiece depicting The Tempest, from Nicholas Rowe's, 1709, The Works of Mr. William Shakespear: in Six Volumes [BL: 2302.b.14]

For ‘Off the Map’ the possibilities provided by this map, the Bermuda accounts and other items made available, such as the above from Nicolas Rowe’s 1709 edition of The Tempest, are wonderful to think about. Exploring a terrifying, open world island (don’t worry, Bermuda’s only small) after being ship-wrecked by spirits? A Lost-style adventure thriller where you and your crew have to figure out where exactly you’ve ended up (with or without polar bears)? Or, my personal favourite, perhaps something a little bit more ‘Secret of Monkey Island’, where your only hope of escape is to evade exiled sorcerer-kings, and pirate daemons, fight them off with root beer and find a ship to get home to your one true love? In short, Bermuda has already inspired one of the greatest works of English theater, now it’s over to video games.

[PJH]

08 February 2016

Money for old charts: printing maps in the nineteenth century

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History of Kent

Above: A map from Henry Francis Abell's, History of Kent, as overlaid by the Georeferencer.

With 2016 well underway it is a great pleasure to see work on the 50,000 maps held in the Georeferencer continuing apace. It looks like our volunteers were very busy over Christmas and the numbers processed have jumped, heading well beyond the 20% mark with a total of 11,644 now georeferenced. I must confess I had intended to provide a festive post to showcase some of our more wintry maps but in the excitement of the run up to Christmas completely forgot to post it. And so the Georeferencer’s yuletide treats have to pass unmarked – until next year.

For today’s post I’ve been paying more attention to the UK maps being worked with in the Georeferencer. These make up a significant proportion of the content being processed and the UK is the densest area of pinned maps both for this element of the project and the Georeferencer work as a whole. Having recently moved to Kent I decided to have a dig around the maps pinned here, hoping to find some interesting items. This turned out to be a success but not in the way you would necessarily expect.

The above map comes from Henry Francis Abell’s, History of Kent, with original sketches and maps which, as you can see, makes a significant amount of of the ‘new maps and illustrations’ contained in the work. The only issue is that Abell had previously published a children’s history of Kent which contained exactly the same map and now the Georeferencer hosts them both side by side, highlighting Abell’s recycling of old map plates. Aside from being an insight into a slightly disingenuous writer or publisher’s practice of selling books these two maps open a door on a much wider practice of nineteenth century illustration production.

The BL 1 Million stream of images, from which this map is pulled, have allowed digital humanities researchers to analyse the content in various ways, comparing and contrasting images with each other. One of these researchers, Mario Klingemann, (recently awarded a BL Labs prize for his work) noted the prevalence of reproducing and slightly amending previously published illustrations in order to drive down the cost of production for publishers. In short, what Abell is up to with his maps was a relatively well established nineteenth century practice, especially where cheaper books were concerned.

Railroad GB

Above: Map of the Railroads of England designed for Edward Churton's, The Rail-Road Book.

One other item worth drawing attention to is this railroad map of Great Britain, which I stumbled across while looking for interesting maps of Lancashire. It reminded me that one of our volunteers, Susan Major, has recently published a work on railroad history - and you won’t be surprised to hear that Susan georeferenced this particular map for the Library. That’s all for this particular georeferencer update, there is more to come about the project and work of our volunteers in March. In the meantime, if you are new to the Georeferencer and would like to get involved, you can find out more here.

[PJH]