Digital scholarship blog

4 posts from October 2015

30 October 2015

2015 Off the Map Competition Winners Announced at GameCity10 Festival

Last night was the award ceremony at The National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham for the Alice's Adventures Off the Map 2015 competition, which is a British Library partnership initiative with GameCity. Now in its third year, Off the Map challenges full time UK students in higher or further education to make videogames, digital explorable environments, or interactive fiction based on digitised British Library collection items.

For 2015 the competition has been part of the British Library's celebrations for the 150th anniversary of  the publication of Alice in Wonderland.  Therefore the digitised collection items provided as inspiration to the Off the Map participants included the original handwritten manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, an excerpt from Lewis Carroll’s diary in which he records first telling his famous tale and John Tenniel’s illustrations from the 1890 edition of The Nursery Alice. Furthermore, the Library's curators selected maps, illustrations and sounds based on three sub-themes Oxford, Underground and Gardens.

This year's amazing 1st place winning entry is called "The Wondering Lands of Alice", which has been created by Off Our Rockers, a team of six students from De Montfort University in Leicester: Dan Bullock, Freddy Canton, Luke Day, Denzil Forde, Amber Jamieson and Braden May. In their game, the player follows Alice on a whimsical journey in a surreal underground setting where users have to complete different challenges to progress through the game.

You can see a flythrough of "The Wondering Lands of Alice" game below:


Dr Tom Scutt one of this year's Off the Map jury members said this about the Off Our Rockers entry:

"This game uses the British Library resources to great effect. It's levels, while clearly
influenced by the handmade aesthetic of Little Big Planet, have a dream-like
style all of their own, and are littered with wonderful touches like the faint
manuscript texture visible in the light rays. The game avoids the usual Alice
in Wonderland clichés, and instead has an main character true to the real-life Alice."

In 2nd place, is Chris Lonsdale, who created a stunning explorable garden environment called "Alice's Garden":


The 3rd place team, the fabulously named Hare Trigger, who created a delightful game called "A Curious Feeling":


Huge congratulations to all the winning entries, and I'm very pleased to say that the three games will be available for visitors to play in the British Library’s upcoming Alice in Wonderland exhibition (20 November to 2015 to 17 April 2016).

I'd also like to offer thanks to this year’s Off the Map jury members:

  • Dr Alison Gazzard, Lecturer in Media Arts and Education at UCL Institute of Education
  • Dr Tom Scutt, Game Designer at Mudlark
  • Robert Pratten, Co-Founder of Conducttr
  • Helen Melody, British Library Lead Curator, Contemporary Literary and Creative Archives

The 2016 Off The Map competition was also launched at GameCity10 and is associated with the British Library’s upcoming Shakespeare exhibition (15 April 2016 to 6 September 2016).  A variety of illustrations, engravings, maps and sounds related to The Tempest, and castles and forests that have been used as settings in Shakespeare’s plays will provide the basis for students to base their games on.  Winners will be announced at the GameCity11 festival in October 2016.

For more information on the Shakespeare Off the Map competition go to

The official British Library press release about the 2015 Off the Map winners can be found here.


Stella Wisdom

Curator, Digital Research


13 October 2015

Electronic Beowulf 4.0

It is a pleasure to report that Kevin Kiernan, one of the world's foremost Beowulf scholars and editor of Electronic Beowulf, was inducted into the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame on 9 October 2015. To coincide with this event, we have made Electronic Beowulf 4.0, available as a free online digital academic resource, which will be of interest not only to scholars of Anglo-Saxon England but to all interested in the history of the text of this celebrated poem.

30f76b6Kevin Kiernan, editor of Electronic Beowulf

The story of Beowulf and his victory over the monster Grendel has been told for a millennium. It is the longest epic poem in Old English, the language spoken in Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman Conquest and it is documented in a single medieval manuscript (Cotton Vitellius A. xv), which is part of the British Library’s collections. Although the manuscript bears no date, its age has been calculated by analysing the scribes’ handwriting and experts think that it is most likely from the early 11th century. There is more information about the Beowulf manuscript on the British Library's website here and also in this excellent blog post by my colleagues who write for the Medieval manuscripts blog.

6a00d8341c464853ef017eea4c593c970dBeowulf (London, British Library, MS Cotton Vitellius A XV, f. 132r) 

The Electronic Beowulf project started in the early 1990s and was part of Initiatives for Access, the British Library’s first major programme of digitisation and web development, which also included ‘Turning the Pages’, digitisation of the Burney Newspaper collection, the International Dunhuang Project, and the British Library’s very first website, Portico. Electronic Beowulf  was originally developed by the Library with two leading American Old English experts, Kevin Kiernan of the University of Kentucky and Paul Szarmach of the Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University. There is information about the project’s history here.

Electronic beowulfElectronic Beowulf 4.0

In addition to providing standard digitised images of the Beowulf manuscript (Cotton Vitellius A. xv); it includes over 130 ultraviolet images, and over 750 backlit images that reveal hundreds of letters, which are covered by the nineteenth-century restoration frames. These were installed to protect the manuscript after fire damage in 1731, for more information on the fire damaged items in the Cotton Collection check out this blog post by my colleagues in Collection Care.

The ultraviolet images in Electronic Beowulf are examples of pioneering multispectral imaging work, of the kind that the British Library’s Imaging Scientist Christina Duffy does with collection items today, for example you can read here about the Library’s multispectral imaging work for the recent British Library exhibition ‘Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy’.

Furthermore Electronic Beowulf includes other valuable content, such as early transcriptions by Grimur Jonsson Thorkelin (in the Royal Library in Copenhagen’s collection), and collations by John J. Conybeare and Frederic Madden (the latter is in the Houghton Library at Harvard University).

Since 1999 three previous editions of Electronic Beowulf have been published on CD-ROM and DVD. However, with significant technological progress since then and the decline in use of handheld media, it was decided to make the fourth edition, which has been launched this month, a free online resource hosted by The University of Kentucky. This will enable the digital resource to be used by new generations of scholars, including the participants of Playing Beowulf, an innovative Digital Transformations project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK. The British Library is an active partner in this project led by the UCL Institute of Education, which is developing a game-authoring tool called MissionMaker, which will enable users to transform the Beowulf poem into digital games, interpreting the text into playable characters, landscapes and events. 


Video of a Playing Beowulf participant demonstrating the game level they have created using the MissionMaker software


Stella Wisdom
Curator, Digital Research


'Following the Chartists around London' event (BL Labs Competition winning project)

British Library Labs Competition (2015) winner Dr Katrina Navickas showcased some of the results from her winning project at the ‘Following the Chartists around London’ event, held at the British Library on Monday 21st September.

Katrina’s project, the Political Meetings Mapper, has uncovered over 125 venues in London used for Chartist meetings in the 1840s. Katrina and the British Library Labs team took over 30 academics and members of the public on a tour of some of the sites investigated by Katrina that are still standing today.

Katrina updates us on the successful event:

We were pleased so many people turned up in costume, and everyone got to wear a traditional red, cream and green rosette! We began with some talks in the Foyle Centre for Conservation conference suite. Mahendra Mahey introduced the work of British Library Labs. Katrina then discussed the Political Meetings Mapper and gave a background to Chartism, the largest movement for democracy in 19th century Britain. Dr Matthew Sangster of the University of Birmingham explored his digital mapping project, Romantic London, which uses Richard Horwood’s 1799 map of London. Professor Ian Haywood of the University of Roehampton talked about the Chartist ‘monster meetings’ of the 1840s, particularly Kennington Common in 1848, and revealed some exciting new evidence about the Birmingham Bull Ring riots of 1839. 


A re-enactment of one of the Chartist meetings

We then set off on our tour of London venues. The group braved the pouring rain, and succeeded in getting round all the points on the tour map, including the Prince of Wales Feathers pub on Warren Street, the King and Queen on Foley Street and the Crown and Two Chairmen on Dean Street. 


 The Chartist walking tour map

We ended up at the Red Lion on Kingly Street, Soho, which had been not only a Chartist and tailors’ trade union venue in the 1840s but also a meeting place of the radical London Corresponding Society in the 1790s. In the upstairs bar, volunteers in costume re-enacted one of the Chartist meetings using reports found in the digitised newspapers. The lively audience participated by passing resolutions in favour of universal suffrage (the vote for all men), and the People’s Charter. A video of the event will be available soon.

Find out more about Political Meetings Mapper on Katrina’s blog

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of British Library Labs.

The British Library Labs Project is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

05 October 2015

British Library Labs Symposium (2015)


The BL Labs team are excited to announce that the third annual British Library Labs Symposium (2015) is taking place on Monday 2nd November 2015, from 09:30 –17:00 in the British Library Conference Centre, St Pancras. The event is free, although you must book a ticket. Don’t delay, as last year’s event was a sell out!

The Symposium showcases innovative projects which use the British Library’s digital content, and provides a platform for development, networking and debate in the Digital Scholarship field.

This year, Dr Adam Farquhar, Head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library, will launch the Symposium. This will be followed by a keynote from Professor David De Roure, Professor of e-Research at the University of Oxford and Director of the Oxford e-Research Centre. The British Library’s Chief Librarian, Caroline Brazier, will then present awards to the two British Library Labs Competition (2015) winners, who will follow with presentations on their winning projects.

After lunch, Stella Wisdom, Digital Curator at the British Library, will announce the winners of the Alice’s Adventures Off the Map competition, which challenged budding designers to use British Library digital collections as inspiration in the creation of exciting interactive digital media.

Following, the winners will be announced of the British Library Labs Awards (2015), which recognises projects that have used the British Library’s digital content in exciting and innovative ways. Presentations will be given by the winners in each of the Awards’ three categories: Research, Creative/Artistic and Entrepreneurial.  

The afternoon will end with a thought provoking panel session discussing the issues of opening up digital content for memory organisations, chaired by George Oates, Director of Good, Form & Spectacle Ltd.

The Symposium will conclude with a networking reception in the Chaucer and Foyer area.

Don’t forget to book your place for the Symposium today!

For any further information, please contact [email protected]

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of British Library Labs.

The British Library Labs Project is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.