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

23 September 2020

Mapping Space, Mapping Time, Mapping Texts

For many people, our personal understanding of time has been challenged during the covid-19 pandemic, with minutes, hours and days of the week seeming to all merge together into "blursday", without our previous pre covid-19 routines to help us mark points in time.

Talking of time, the AHRC-funded Chronotopic Cartographies research project has spent the last few years investigating how we might use digital tools to analyse, map, and visualise the spaces, places and time within literary texts. It draws on the literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of the 'chronotope': a way of describing how time and place are linked and represented in different literary genres.

To showcase research from this project, next Tuesday (29th September 2020) we are co-hosting with them an online interdisciplinary conference: "Mapping Space, Mapping Time, Mapping Texts". 

Many blue dots connected with purple lines, behind text saying Mapping Space, Mapping Time, Mapping Texts

The "Mapping Space, Mapping Time, Mapping Texts" registration page is here. Once you have signed up, you will receive an email with links to recorded keynotes and webinar sessions. You will also received an email with links to the Flickr wall of virtual research posters and hangout spaces, on the morning of the conference.

The conference will go live from 09.00 BST, all webinars and live Q&A sessions will be held in Microsoft Teams. If you don't have Teams installed, you can do so before the event here. We appreciate that many participants will be joining from different time zones and that attendees may want to dip in and out of sessions; so please join at whatever pace suits you.

Our keynote speakers: James Kneale, Anders Engberg-Pederson and Robert T. Tally Jr have provided recordings of their presentations and will be joining the event for live Q&A sessions over the course of the day. You can watch the keynote recordings at any time, but if you want to have the conference experience, then log in to the webinars at the times below so you can participate "live" across the day. Q&A sessions will be held after each keynote at the times below. 

Schedule:

9.00 BST: Conference goes live, keynotes and posters available online, urls sent via email.

9.30: Short introduction and welcome from Sally Bushell

10.00-11.00: First Keynote: James Kneale

11.00-11.30: Live Q&A (chaired by Rebecca Hutcheon)

2.00-3.00: Second Keynote: Anders Engberg-Pedersen

3.00-3.30: Live Q&A (chaired by Duncan Hay)

5.00-6.00: Third Keynote: Robert T. Tally Jr

6.00-6.30: Live Q&A (chaired by Sally Bushell)

In the breaks between sessions, please do browse the online Flickr wall of research posters and hang out in conference virtual chat room.

We very much look forward to seeing you on-screen, on the day (remember it is Tuesday, not Blursday!).

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom

18 September 2020

Hiring a new Wikimedian in Residence

Are you passionate about helping people and organisations build and preserve open knowledge to share and use freely? Have you got experience organising online events, workshops and training sessions? Then you may be interested in applying to be our new Wikimedian in Residence.

In collaboration with Wikimedia UK, the British Library is working on contributing and improving content, data, and metadata, across the Wikimedia family of platforms.

I recently ran a “World of Wikimedia” series of remote guest lectures for Library staff, to inspire my colleagues, and to further assist with this work, the Library is hiring a Wikimedian in Residence to join the Digital Scholarship team, on a part-time basis (18 hours per week) for 12 months.

8 people standing outside the entrance of the British Library
A Wikipedians in Residence group photo, taken at GLAMcamp London, 15-16 September 2012 (photo by Rock drum, Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Since hosting a successful Wikipedian in Residence in 2012 (this was Andrew Gray, who is standing second in from the right in the above photo, you can read about his residency here), many staff across the British Library have engaged with Wikimedia projects, holding edit-a-thons, and adding digital collections to Wikimedia Commons.

Now, with generous funding from the Eccles Centre for American Studies, we are looking for a proactive and self-motivated individual who can coordinate and support these activities. Furthermore, we are hoping for someone who can really help the Library to actively engage with the Wikidata, Wikibase and Wikisource platforms and communities. Increasing the visibility and enrichment of data, collections, and research materials, which the Library holds about underrepresented populations.

If this sounds like something you can do, then please do apply. The vacancy ref is 03423, closing date is 8th October 2020 and the interview date is 23rd October 2020. The post is part time 2.5 days per week, for 12 months, and initially work will be done remotely, in light of the current COVID 19 situation. However, longer term, it is likely that there will be a mix of remote and on site working.

During my time working in the Library, we have hosted a number of wonderful residencies, including Christopher Green, Rob Sherman and Sarah Cole, who each brought fresh skills, knowledge and enthusiasm, into the Library. So I very much hope that this new residency will do the same.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom

14 September 2020

Digital geographical narratives with Knight Lab’s StoryMap

Visualising the journey of a manuscript’s creation

Working for the Qatar Digital Library (QDL), I recently catalogued British Library oriental manuscript 2361, a musical compendium copied in Mughal India during the reign of Aurangzeb (1618-1707; ruled from 1658). The QDL is a British Library-Qatar Foundation collaborative project to digitise and share Gulf-related archival records, maps and audio recordings as well as Arabic scientific manuscripts.

Portrait of Aurangzeb on a horse
Figure 1: Equestrian portrait of Aurangzeb. Mughal, c. 1660-70. British Library, Johnson Album, 3.4. Public domain.

The colophons to Or. 2361 fourteen texts contain an unusually large – but jumbled-up – quantity of information about the places and dates it was copied and checked, revealing that it was largely created during a journey taken by the imperial court in 1663.

Example of handwritten bibliographic information: Colophon to the copy of Kitāb al-madkhal fī al-mūsīqī by al-Fārābī
Figure 2: Colophon to the copy of Kitāb al-madkhal fī al-mūsīqī by al-Fārābī, transcribed in Delhi, 3 Jumādá I, 1073 hijrī/14 December 1662 CE, and checked in Lahore, 22 Rajab 1073/2 March 1663. Or. 2361, f. 240r.

Seeking to make sense of the mass of bibliographic information and unpick the narrative of the manuscript’s creation, I recorded all this data in a spreadsheet. This helped to clarify some patterns- but wasn’t fun to look at! To accompany an Asian and African Studies blog post, I wanted to find an interactive digital tool to develop the visual and spatial aspects of the story and convey the landscapes and distances experienced by the manuscript’s scribes and patron during its mobile production.

Screen shot of a spreadsheet of copy data for Or. 2361 showing information such as dates, locations, scribes etc.
Figure 3: Dull but useful spreadsheet of copy data for Or. 2361.

Many fascinating digital tools can present large datasets, including map co-ordinates. However, I needed to retell a linear, progressive narrative with fewer data points. Inspired by a QNF-BL colleague’s work on Geoffrey Prior’s trip to Muscat, I settled on StoryMap, one of an expanding suite of open-source reporting, data management, research, and storytelling tools developed by Knight Lab at Northwestern University, USA.

 

StoryMap: Easy but fiddly

Requiring no coding ability, the back-end of this free, easy-to-use tool resembles PowerPoint. The user creates a series of slides to which text, images, captions and copyright information can be added. Links to further online media, such as the millions of images published on the QDL, can easily be added.

Screen shot of someone editing in StoryMap
Figure 4: Back-end view of StoryMap's authoring tool.

The basic incarnation of StoryMap is accessed via an author interface which is intuitive and clear, but has its quirks. Slide layouts can’t be varied, and image manipulation must be completed pre-upload, which can get fiddly. Text was faint unless entirely in bold, especially against a backdrop image. A bug randomly rendered bits of uploaded text as hyperlinks, whereas intentional hyperlinks are not obvious.

 

The mapping function

StoryMap’s most interesting feature is an interactive map that uses OpenStreetMap data. Locations are inputted as co-ordinates, or manually by searching for a place-name or dropping a pin. This geographical data links together to produce an overview map summarised on the opening slide, with subsequent views zooming to successive locations in the journey.

Screen shot showing a preview of StoryMap with location points dropped on a world map
Figure 5: StoryMap summary preview showing all location points plotted.

I had to add location data manually as the co-ordinates input function didn’t work. Only one of the various map styles suited the historical subject-matter; however its modern street layout felt contradictory. The ‘ideal’ map – structured with global co-ordinates but correct for a specific historical moment – probably doesn’t exist (one for the next project?).

Screen shot of a point dropped on a local map, showing modern street layout
Figure 6: StoryMap's modern street layout implies New Delhi existed in 1663...

With clearly signposted advanced guidance, support forum, and a link to a GitHub repository, more technically-minded users could take StoryMap to the next level, not least in importing custom maps via Mapbox. Alternative platforms such as Esri’s Classic Story Maps can of course also be explored.

However, for many users, Knight Lab StoryMap’s appeal will lie in its ease of usage and accessibility; it produces polished, engaging outputs quickly with a bare minimum of technical input and is easy to embed in web-text or social media. Thanks to Knight Lab for producing this free tool!

See the finished StoryMap, A Mughal musical miscellany: The journey of Or. 2361.

 

This is a guest post by Jenny Norton-Wright, Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator from the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership. You can follow the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership on Twitter at @BLQatar.