Americas and Oceania Collections blog

34 posts categorized "Digitisation project"

15 November 2013

Team Americas celebrates Movember

D Legault, Chef de Police de la Cite de Montreal Photo B (HS85-10-12818)

 Above: Montreal's Chief of Police, 1902

Public Domain Mark
These works are free of known copyright restrictions.

We've brought you cats, we've brought you dogs, now Team Americas bring you some fine examples of early twentieth century Canadian facial hair! The evidence from the photographs digitised as part of Picturing Canada would seem to suggest that late nineteenth and early twentieth century Canada was a place of fantastic facial ornamentation, as you can see from this small selection. As always, you can find more on Wikimedia Commons and, believe me, you'll find a lot more.

The members of the Legislature of British Columbia Photo A (HS85-10-11597)

 Above: The Members of the Legislature of British Columbia, 1900

Lord Grey Photo A (HS85-10-15715)

Above: Lord Grey, 1905


19 June 2013

Civil War Project update – A journey through the Southern (and Northern) States

 Gardner War

Alexander Gardner, Studying the Art of War, Fairfax Court-House [Virginia], June 1863. British Library Shelfmark 1784.a.13.1

Public Domain Mark This work is free of known copyright restrictions.

Catherine Bateson, our King's College London MA intern updates us on some of her findings as part of the US Civil War Project:

150 years ago, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Fremantle of the Coldstream Guards was on a long train journey from Shelbyville, Tennessee, to Atlanta, Georgia. Fremantle was conducting an independent tour of the Confederate States at the height of the American Civil War. He witnessed life on the home-front, military and naval engagements and had met General Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. While on the train, which "was much crowded with wounded and sick soldiers", the British officer noticed "a goodish-looking woman". Fremantle reports that this lady had fought on the frontline and that "no notice had been taken of [her gender] so long as she conducted herself properly", though clearly something had happened because "she had been turned out a short time since for her bad and immoral conduct". He offers no further comment other than noting that "she wore a soldier’s hat and coat, but had resumed her petticoats". Information about female soldiers in the Civil War is often hard to come by, though the Library of Congress has recently drawn attention to this intriguing aspect of the war.

Fremantle’s observation is just one of many wartime snapshots Fremantle jotted down in a three-and-a-half month diary of his American adventures, imaginatively titled Three months in the Southern States, April-June, 1863 (General Reference Collection The diary is a fantastic Civil War primary source, made all the more interesting as it was written from a neutral British perspective. It also contains entries from July 1863, when Fremantle was at Gettysburg observing one of the Civil War’s most famous battles. His account of events of 1–3 July 1863, written as the fight raged around him, remains one of the best eyewitness reports of the battle. The Library holds several copies of Fremantle’s diary, including the 1863 first edition.

Followers of the blog will know that our Civil War project has been going on for a while, begun to commemorate the American Civil War Sesquicentennial – or the easier to say '150th anniversary' – in 2011. The project is finally nearing completion and the website will hopefully be going live in the next few weeks. I’ve been interning with Team Americas for the last month, adding finishing touches to the website, providing detail to the digitised items and highlighting numerous British connections to the American conflict. Fremantle himself gets a reference, alongside fabulous images of maps, photographs, diplomatic letters, wartime objects and my personal favourite, Union and Confederate songs, including several which praise the role of Irish soldiers in the conflict.

In the meantime, the image above is a taster of what will be on display. The photograph was taken 150 years ago this month by Scottish-born Alexander Gardner. Studying the Art of War features Union officers who would take part in the fighting at Gettysburg in 1863. It is tempting to think Fremantle saw similar scenes behind the Confederate line. As has been mentioned on the blog before, photos from Gardner’s two-volume book have already been digitised, and the website will contain more information on a selection of some of the best.

I like to think that if he were around today, Arthur Fremantle would have enjoyed our Civil War project, as like his diary jottings it covers numerous aspects of this tumultuous period of American history.



06 March 2013

Picturing Canada: mapping a collection

Picturing Canada (mapped)
An early visualisation of the collection contents (click for more detail)

Public Domain Mark
The works contained in this post are free of known copyright restrictions.

Those of you who enjoyed Team Americas' cat-themed post a few weeks ago will know that we are currently working to digitise a collection of Canadian photographs held at the Library. Since the digitisation is almost done Andrew and I are beginning to think about ways of displaying the collection and allowing access to the images, beyond hosting them on the British Library Digitised Manuscripts site and Wikimedia Commons.

Since I spent all my university life in geography departments one possibility popped straight into my mind - we could try and map the collection. The picture above is an illustration of the first attempt at this and hopefully I can soon share an interactive version with you. Why a picture at this stage? Well, truth be told, the first results contain a few bugs and I didn't want to give the wrong impression with an early version.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier (Montreal 1916)
Sir Wilfrid Laurier speaking in Montreal, 27th Sept 1916. British Library shelfmark: HS85/10

That said this first try suggests that mapping would work as a way of opening access and providing users with an easy overview of the collection. It also begins to give a sense of the pattern and density of photographic deposits (important given this is a copyright collection), although this is skewed by the fact that the current map will only add one item to each location.

Tercentenary Pageant (1908)
A pageant from the celebration of Quebec's Tercentenary, 1908. British Library shelfmark: HS85/10

There are a number of ways we could begin to use this as a tool to ask questions of the collection but it is important to note too that such a visualisation will be a good way for people to find the photographs that are of personal interest to them. In short, a map is by far the easiest way to see how many photos of Vancouver, Moose Jaw or Dawson the collection holds.

The above photographs are some examples of photographs that users will eventually be able to find via the map. I should note that the location data in any first version will be generic, pinning photographs to 'Vancouver, BC' as oppose to, 'Stanley Park Drive, Vancouver, BC'. It occurs to me that this level of refinement is something users could help to provide in the future, but one step at a time for now.

The next stage of the project, as Andrew mentioned a few weeks ago, is to tidy up the photographs we have already digitised and we are hosting an editing day on the 18th March. If the above map whets your appetite and you want to come along details can be found here.


22 February 2013

Editing Canada: help Team Americas and Wikimedia with a new digital collection

As the Picturing Canada digitisation project reaches critical mass the Library's Wikipedian in Residence needs your help - and has photos of Canada's cats to share.

In 1895, an amendment to Canadian law allowed the British Museum to receive one copy of all Canadian intellectual property deposted for copyright registration. This situation persisted until 1924, when - as part of a general reworking of Canadian copyright law - the right of receipt was removed.

During these thirty years, the Department of Agriculture - who administered copyright - regularly parcelled up half their deposits and sent them to London. As well as books, maps and sheet music, the collection included a copy of every photograph copyrighted in Canada in this period. These are now held by the British Library and, despite some of the works being lost in their original transit (thanks to the sinking of the Empress of Ireland) or added to other collections (such as the Geraldine Moodie photographs held by the British Museum), they represent a significant collection of early twentieth-century Canadian photography.

The interesting - and unusual - aspect of this collection is that it's entirely unselective. Anyone who submitted two copies of their picture, the correct form, and the right amount of money would have it copyrighted; it would be entered into the collections without any regard for its artistic merits. As a result, the collection includes some entirely unexpected material:

The Globe kittens (HS85-10-13446-3) 

We don't yet know anything about the "Globe Kittens" (1902), but it seems a reasonable bet that not many serious photographic curators would have bought and preserved prints of them! As well as what you might expect - portraits, buildings, scenic pictures of mountains - there are hundreds more images like this - unexpected, provoking, and quite possibly completely forgotten. So far, working through the catalogue data and the early scans, we've found cute animals, urban-regeneration proposals, salacious stereograms, and at least two attempts to copyright a movie.

The British Library recently got funding from Wikimedia UK and from the Eccles Centre for American Studies to digitise the bulk of the collection. We're planning to have them released to the public by mid-April, but we've hit a snag. While the digitisation itself has proceeded well, and we have a veritable mountain of metadata to work with, we still need to do the final step of cropping and orienting the pictures - this part can't easily be automated, and my fingers are getting pretty tired.

So, we're going to run a workshop at the British Library on Monday 18th March to try and steamroller through the backlog of image processing, and we're looking for volunteers to help. We'll provide laptops (though you can of course bring your own) and lunch; you'll have a chance to get a sneak preview of this collection before it goes public, as well as helping us look for interesting or significant images that we haven't discovered so far.

If you're interested in coming along and joining our experiment in "physical crowdsourcing", please get in touch!


[Ed: Some of our regular readers will recognise this collection as the one Phil has mentioned here, here and here. For those of you who would like to know (quite a lot) more about the collection and its contents Phil's thesis on it is available here.]

07 January 2013

Our Great Iceberg Melting Away

Another in our occasional series on the polar regions: we can now reveal that Abraham Lincoln is to blame for global warming.  Or at least James Buchanan change.  (From Vanity Fair, 9 March 1861).

2013-01-07 14-55 vanity fair 1861 page #13

'Our Great Iceberg Melting Away', Vanity Fair, 9 March 1861,

Public Domain Mark
This work (Our Great Iceberg Melting Away, by Stephens), identified by The British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.


01 January 2013

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

At 14.00 EST today (19.00 GMT here in London) bells will ring out in churches, universities, and other organisations in Massachusetts to mark the moment when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on New Year's Day, 1863. Sadly we don't have any bells to ring but we're providing a link to the Library's copy of the Leland-Boker Authorized Edition of the Emancipation Proclamation (1864), recently released as part of our US Civil War digitisation project.  The signatures at the foot are in the hands of Abraham Lincoln, John Nicolay (Private Secretary to the President) and William Seward (Secretary of State).

There's more about the Proclamation on our Americas Collections Highlights pages, and it's available on Images Online.  The original proclamation is in the National Archives in Washington. The Smithsonian also provides an introduction.

And a very Happy New Year to everyone!

27 November 2012

A Disputed Boundary: mapping the Gadsden Purchase Treaty


Map illustrating the disputed Boundary between the United States and Mexico (New York, 1853) Maps 71495.(25)

Public Domain Mark
This work (Map illustrating the disputed Boundary between the United States and Mexico, by creator: G. Schroeter; producer: British Library), identified by The British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

This map is being digitized as part of the US Civil War project.  It predates the war, of course, but is a record of the western expansion that helped to spark it.  It shows the disputed territory between New Mexico and Mexico following the Treaty of Gaudaloupe-Hidalgo, which ended the Mexico-American War of 1846-48.  The Mesilla Valley offered an important potential railroad route to the West via a Southern route (important to the slave states), but the treaty was based on an out-of-date map favoured by the United States.  New surveys demanded by the treaty revealed the error.

In 1847, a British bank had brought rights to the land, leading to fears of British influence in the American hemisphere (the fears of which Mexico used to good effect with its negotiations with the States), while the Gold Rush of 1848 gave the potential route even more importance. In 1853, the newly elected Pierce administration, which included the future Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, favoured a more bullish policy towards southern expansion and, taking advantage of economic and political turmoil within Mexico and the New Mexico governor's claim to the disputed territories, James Gadsden purchased six packages of lands for $15 million.  Mexico unsuccessfully attempted to persuade Britain to become involved in the negotiations, and the treaty was ratified in 1854.  The US Army took possession of the lands, and became responsible for suppressing the Apache tribes noted on the map (under the terms of the Guadalup-Hidalgo treaty, the US was responsible for protecting Mexican citizens from Apache raiding parties; for their part, the Apaches had been resisting Mexican intrusion into their lands for the best part of three centuries).

The Southern Pacific Railroad, which headed west from Los Angeles, was completed in December 1881.

(Detail of Maps.71495(25) above)

22 November 2012

Mapping risk: Goad's Fire Insurance Plan of Québec

Goad plan Quebec (cover)

Public Domain Mark 
This work (Charles E. Goad, Fire Insurance Plan, City of Québec, 1910) identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

One of my current projects at home has been to find the first OS map that shows the development of the street I live on from a track to a row of houses. Seeing the area around the street develop and change over time is fascinating and explains some of the road’s current quirks – it also illustrates why we have a fascination with old maps.

Hopefully the illustrations for today’s blog will have the same effect for some. While not the oldest map of Québec the Library holds (see here and here for some of those), the Charles E. Goad ‘Insurance Plan of the City of Quebec’ [BL Shelfmark: Maps 147.b.24(1)] is a fascinating depiction of the city in the early twentieth century.  

Goad was a British migrant to Canada who started producing fire insurance plans in 1875 before opening a highly successful branch of his business back in London in 1885. The function of his plans was to show companies the fire risk in different areas or buildings in urban locations; and this resulted in a unique visual illustration of the city.

 Goad plan Quebec (sheet 2)

 Public Domain Mark 
This work (Charles E. Goad, Fire Insurance Plan, City of Québec, 1910) identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

The above sheets are an overview of the city, showing which areas are covered by particular parts of the plan. The detail sheets, operating at 1:600 scale, are a mix of vividly coloured blocks. This design helps the different materials of each building stand out and means fire risks can be easily identified. Today they are also a record of what has changed in the city and what remains the same – and for those buildings which remain unchanged, the maps provide a wonderful insight into the construction of urban landmarks.

What further complements these maps and others like them in our collections are the Canadian photographs that were collected between 1895 and 1924 (you can read a bit more about them here. These can provide views of the streets and businesses depicted on Goad’s (and other) maps, creating a useful hybrid view. This is one of the reasons we are currently working on digitising the photographs, a sneak preview of which you can see here, courtesy of the Europeana WWI project (Europeana Collections 1914-18)


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