Digital scholarship blog

8 posts from October 2016

31 October 2016

Datamining for verse in eighteenth-century newspapers - British Library Labs Project

Posted by Mahendra Mahey on behalf of Jennifer Batt, second runner up in the British Library Labs Competition 2016.

Jennifer will be working with the BL Labs team between November 2016 and March 2017 on her project 'Datamining for verse in eighteenth-century newspapers' which is described below:

Datamining for verse in eighteenth-century newspapers
by Jennifer Batt, Lecturer in English at the University of Bristol

This project is designed to interrogate the digitised eighteenth-century newspapers in the British Library’s Burney Collection and British Newspaper Archive databases in order to recover a complex, expansive, ephemeral poetic culture that has been lost to us for well over 250 years.

In the eighteenth century, thousands of poems appeared in the newspapers that were printed the length and breadth of the country. Poems in newspapers were extraordinarily varied: some were light and inconsequential pieces designed to provide momentary diversion and elicit a smile or a raised eyebrow; others were topically-engaged works commenting on contemporary cultural or political events; and still others were literary verses in a range of different genres.

Swift LEP 7-9 nov 34
Jonathan Swift, 'On his own Deafness', in the London Evening Post, 7-9 November 1734, issue 1088.

Some of these poems were the work of established and professional writers; some were composed by amateur contributors; and others still were by countless anonymous individuals. Though much of this verse disappeared into obscurity after appearing in a single newspaper issue, a number of poems that began their printed lives in newspapers achieved a far wider dissemination, being copied from one paper into another and another (going viral, we might say) before making their way into magazines, miscellanies, songbooks, and manuscripts.

The rich, dynamic, ephemeral and responsive poetic culture that found a home in eighteenth-century newspapers has long been overlooked by literary scholars and cultural, not least because attempting to recover and map its extent – whether by flipping through the pages of physical copies of newspapers, scrolling through reproductions on microfilm, or pushing keyword searches into the Burney Collection or the British Newspaper Archive – is a time-consuming and often inefficient process.

Ingram old whig 16 dec
Anne Ingram, Viscountess Irwin, 'An Epistle to Mr. Pope', in The Old Whig or the Consistent Protestant, 16 December 1736, issue 93.

This project is an experiment designed to discover whether digital techniques – particularly data-mining and visualization – can be used to effectively and efficiently uncover the contours of this lost literary culture.

The BL Labs team have unrivalled experience in developing strategies to retrieve information of varying sorts – including Victorian jokes, information about political meetings, and patterns of reuse and plagiarism – from databases of historical newspapers. This project turns their expertise towards poetry, and asks, how far is it possible to use digital tools to effectively uncover and map the poetic culture that existed in eighteenth-century newspapers? By looking at both national and regional newspapers, is it possible to discover if there is a single, nationwide newspaper-based poetic culture, or whether there are regional variations? And how might the verse we can recover from newspapers enhance – or even challenge – our understanding of how people in the eighteenth century wrote, read, and thought about verse?

If you would like to meet Jennifer, she will be at the FREE British Library Labs Symposium (there are just a few tickets still available so book now to avoid disappointment) on Monday 7th of November 2016, at the British Library in London to talk about her work.

About the researcher:

Jennifer batt
Jennifer Batt, Lecturer in English at the University of Bristol.

Jennifer Batt is a Lecturer in English at the University of Bristol; her research focuses on eighteenth-century poetry, with a particular interest in the ways that verse is printed and reprinted across a range of different media. From 2010 to 2013, she was project manager and editor of the Digital Miscellanies Index ( based at the University of Oxford. 

28 October 2016

2016 Shakespeare Off the Map Competition Winners Announced at GameCity11 Festival

Last night was the awards event at The National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham for the 2016 Off the Map competition, which had a Shakespeare theme. Now in its fourth 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 2016 the competition has been part of the British Library's commemoration of 400 years since the death of Shakespeare and has been running in conjunction with the Library’s recent exhibition “Shakespeare in Ten Acts”. Curators selected text, images, maps and sounds based on three sub themes:

  • Castles: Scene of Ghosts and Murder
  • The Tempest
  • Forests, Woodlands and A Midsummer Night’s Dream

This year's fantastic first place winning entry used the The Tempest sub theme and was created by Team Quattro from De Montfort University in Leicester. The team consisted of six students: Chris Anka, Perrie Green, Tara Naz, Jade Silver, Jasdev Singh and Joel Wilkins.

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The Tempest game logo

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Team Quattro


Flythrough of Team Quattro’s ‘The Tempest’ game

Dr Erin Sullivan described the winning game as ‘an evocative, immersive world that powerfully channels the drama of The Tempest. It introduces players to the story of the play in a deep, thoughtful way.’

Dr Abigail Parry said ‘I was head-over-heels for the metatextual element of this submission – you had me at the stage door. It was good, too, to see source text daubed on the caves walls – for me, the greatest strength of the submission was that it succeeded in synthesising text, assets and game environment in a way that was both engaging and beautiful.  Also to be commended was the attention to detail – the prop storm clouds were a delight.  The individual domains were characterful, and the story welcome without being obtrusive.  Most of all, it displayed a real interest in – and affection for - the play. I would want to play this game, and would be equally proud to teach with it.’ 

In second place came Tom Battey from the London College of Communication with a game called ‘Midsummer’ based on the characters in the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Dr Erin Sullivan describing 'Midsummer' said that ‘the visual world and the engagement with the play were extremely impressive. I loved the historical flourishes and the imaginative exploration of the characters’ emotions.’

Midsummer by Tom Battey

In third place was an interactive fiction story again using The Tempest sub theme called This Most Desolate Isle by Alan Stewart from Brunel University who effectively used illustrations by Arthur Rackham to accompany his creative writing.

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This Most Desolate Isle by Alan Stewart

Huge congratulations to this year's winning entries, and I'd also like to offer sincere thanks to the 2016 Off the Map jury members:

  • Sarah Ellis, Head of Digital Development at the Royal Shakespeare Company
  • Dr Abigail Parry, Poet in Residence at the National Videogame Arcade
  • Dr Erin Sullivan, Shakespeare Institute Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham
  • Cheryl Tipp, Wildlife and Environmental Sounds Curator at the British Library
  • Zoë Wilcox, Lead Curator of the Shakespeare Exhibition at the British Library

The 2017 competition is called There Will be Fun Off The Map and this is associated with the British Library’s current exhibition Victorian Entertainments: There Will Be Fun, which is open until Sunday 12 February 2017. Keep your eyes peeled for further information about this; I will be blogging here over the next few weeks, when the new  There Will be Fun Off The Map competition website is available.

Stella Wisdom, Digital Curator, @miss_wisdom

20 October 2016

Imaginary Cities - British Library Labs Project

Posted by Mahendra Mahey on behalf of Michael Takeo Magruder, first runner up in the British Library Labs Competition 2016.

Michael will be working with the BL Labs team between November 2016 and March 2017 on his project 'Imaginary Cities' which is described below: 

Imaginary Cities
by Michael Takeo Magruder, visual artist and researcher

Exploring the British Library’s digital collection of historic urban maps to create provocative fictional cityscapes for the Information Age

About the project:

Takeo_DS-Blog_Imaginary Cities study detailImaginary Cities (study i), Michael Takeo Magruder, 2016 – aesthetic rendering that has been procedurally generated from a 19th century map of London

Imaginary Cities is an arts-humanities research project that considers how large digital repositories of historic cultural materials can be used to create new born-digital artworks and real-time experiences which are relevant and exciting to 21st century audiences. The project will take images and associated metadata of pre-20th century urban maps drawn from the British Library’s online “1 Million Images from Scanned Books” digital collection on Flickr Commons and transform this material into provocative fictional cityscapes for the Information Age.

Takeo_DS-Blog_Flickr source
Imaginary Cities (study i), Michael Takeo Magruder, 2016 – source digitised map and associated metadata parsed from British Library Flickr Commons

The project will exemplify collaborative and interdisciplinary research as it will bring together contemporary arts practice, digital humanities scholarship and advanced visualisation technology. The project’s outcomes will encompass both artistic and scholarly outputs, most important of which will be a set of prototype digital artworks that will exist as physical installations constructed with leading-edge processes including generative systems, real-time virtual environments and 3D printing. Blending the historical and the contemporary, the informative and the aesthetic, these artworks will not only draw from and feed into the British Library’s digital scholarship and curatorial programmes, but more significantly, will engender new ways for members of the general public to discover and access the Library’s important digital collections and research initiatives.

Takeo_DS-Blog_Imaginary Cities study
Imaginary Cities (study i), Michael Takeo Magruder, 2016 – detail of the aesthetic rendering

If you would like to meet Michael, he will be at the British Library Labs Symposium on Monday 7th of November 2016, at the British Library in London to talk about his work.

About the artist:

Michael Takeo Magruder

Michael Takeo Magruder (b.1974, US/UK, is a visual artist and researcher who works with new media including real-time data, digital archives, immersive environments, mobile devices and virtual worlds. His practice explores concepts ranging from media criticism and aesthetic journalism to digital formalism and computational aesthetics, deploying Information Age technologies and systems to examine our networked, media-rich world.

In the last 15 years, Michael’s projects have been showcased in over 250 exhibitions in 34 countries, and his art has been supported by numerous funding bodies and public galleries within the UK, US and EU. In 2010, Michael represented the UK at Manifesta 8: the European Biennial of Contemporary Art and several of his most well-known digital artworks were added to the Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art at Cornell University. More recently, he was a Leverhulme Trust artist-in-residence (2013-14) collaborating with Prof Ben Quash (Theology, King’s College London) and Alfredo Cramerotti (Director, Mostyn) to create a new solo exhibition - entitled De/coding the Apocalypse - exploring contemporary creative visions inspired by and based on the Book of Revelation. In 2014, Michael was commissioned by the UK-based theatre company Headlong to create two new artworks - PRISM (a new media installation reflecting on Headlong’s production of George Orwell’s 1984) and The Nether Realm (a living virtual world inspired by Jennifer Haley’s play The Nether). Last year, he was awarded the 2015 Immersive Environments Lumen Prize for his virtual reality installation A New Jerusalem.

19 October 2016

Maurice Nicholson - British Library Flickr Commons Map Tagger and Top Georeferencer

I am a retired pharmacist who has been involved in the British Library's (BL) georeferencing work from its inception in February 2012. I have always had an interest in maps and mapping, and was alerted to this project through social media.

Maurice Nicholson
Maurice Nicholson, Volunteer BL Flickr Maps Tagger & Georeferencer

I made my first attempt at georeferencing one of the maps from the BL collection of Ordnance Survey original manuscripts. This map of my local area of Bedfordshire from 1815 had me 'hooked' on georeferencing and by the end of that week I had georeferenced more than a hundred maps, meaning that I was the main contributor to that first batch of maps.

Subsequent batches of maps were released at intervals from November 2012 through to July 2014, with each set of up to 3200 maps all being georeferenced by volunteers in less than a month per issue, with myself making a major contribution.

Bedford OS 1815
Bedford OS 1815, Screenshot of a detail of the first map I georeferenced (Bedfordshire Ordinance Survey manuscript map 1815).

The July 2014 release consisted of images that had been identified as maps and plans from the BL Flickr commons collection. This collection has just over a million digital images, and it was recognised that there was probably a considerable number of maps and plans suitable for georeferencing within this digital archive. Starting with a map Tag-a-thon held at the BL (through British Library Labs) on Hallowe’en 2014, myself and other volunteers went systematically though the Flickr collection, tagging all these suitable images.

Just over 50,000 maps and plans were found and these images were released as the latest batch needing to be georeferenced in March 2015.

As of October 2016, just over 18,000 of these have been successfully georeferenced, meaning that there are still around 32,000 waiting to be done. Considering how quickly previous releases had been completed the progress has been comparatively disappointing, however there are several reasons for this. Firstly, the sheer number of images needing to be processed, and secondly the variation in the mapping quality.  Previous batches had comprised specific map collections or specially chosen maps, whereas the Flickr collection contained a much wider range of images with many that are going to prove very tricky to georeference.

My own personal contribution to this current batch is 47,000 reference points (76,000 in total since the project started), which at around 10 to 20 points per map equates to several thousand maps georeferenced. This places me a considerable way ahead of any other contributor.

No man's land 1916
Screenshot of a detail of one of my favourite maps that I've georeferenced (no man's land south of Ypres 1916)

This year I have been promoting georeferencing in my local area by giving presentations to local history groups, highlighting the uses that georeferenced maps can be put to for research in their area.

In November, the British Library (through its Learning Team and Emma Bull, Schools Programme Manager) is holding a half day conference (details below) aimed at geography teachers, exploring digital resources and their uses in an educational setting. Working with Mahendra Mahey Manager of British Library Labs and Digital Mapping Curator at the British Library, Philip Hatfield my contribution to this is running workshops using my experience and expertise to demonstrate the art of georeferencing and allowing the participants to try georeferencing themselves.

The Way Ahead? Map Making and Digital Skills for Geography Teaching.

Sat 12 Nov, 9:45 – 13:30

British Library Conference Centre, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB

Cost: £12 - £24

This half-day conference for Geography teachers at Key Stages 2–5 uncovers the British Library’s forthcoming major exhibition Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line and explores a range of approaches to interpreting and creating maps, with a focus on digital resources, to support and enrich Geography in the Primary and Secondary classroom. 


I will of course be attending the British Library's Maps Exhibition which starts on the 4th of November 2016 and you can also meet me on Monday 7th of November 2016 at the British Library Labs Symposium.

18 October 2016

BL Labs Symposium (2016), Mon 7 Nov: book your place now!


Posted by Hana Lewis, BL Labs Project Officer.

The BL Labs team are pleased to announce that the fourth annual British Library Labs Symposium will be held on Monday 7th November, from 9:30 - 17:30 in the British Library Conference Centre, St Pancras. The event is FREE, although you must book a ticket in advance. Don't miss 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.

Professor Melissa Terras will be giving the keynote at this year's Symposium

This year, Dr Adam Farquhar, Head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library, will launch the Symposium. Professor Melissa Terras, Director of UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, will be presenting the keynote, entitled 'Unexpected repurposing: the British Library's Digital Collections and UCL teaching, research and infrastructure'. The keynote will focus on the British Library's digitised book collection - 60,000 volumes which are now in the public domain - and how those texts and images have been used with both students and researchers at UCL.  

Following, Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, will present awards to the BL Labs Competition (2016) finalistsThe annual BL Labs Competition looks for transformative project ideas which use the British Library’s digital collections and data in new and exciting ways. The Competition finalists will also give presentations on their winning projects. 

After lunch, Stella Wisdom, Digital Curator at the British Library, will announce the winners of the Shakespeare Off the Map 2016 competition, which challenged budding designers to use British Library digital collections as inspiration in the creation of exciting interactive digital media. 

The winners will then be announced of the BL Labs Awards (2016)which celebrates researchers, artists, educators and entrepreneurs from around the world who have made use of the British Library's digital content and data. Presentations will also be given by the winners in each of the Awards’ categories:  

  • BL Labs Research Award. Recognising a project or activity which shows the development of new knowledge, research methods or tools.
  • BL Labs Artistic Award. Celebrating a creative or artistic endeavour which inspires, stimulates, amazes and provokes.
  • BL Labs Commercial Award. Recognising work that delivers or develops commercial value in the context of new products, tools or services that build on, incorporate or enhance the British Library's digital content.
  • BL Labs Teaching / Learning Award. Celebrating quality learning experiences created for learners of any age and ability that use the British Library's digital content.
  • BL Labs Staff Award. Recognising an outstanding individual or team who have played a key role in innovative work with the British Library's digital collections.  

The Symposium's endnote will be followed by a networking reception which will conclude the event, at which delegates and staff can mingle and network over a drink.  

Tickets are going fast, so book your place for the Symposium today!

For any further information please contact

*After the BL Labs Symposium is the evening event 'We Are Amused! A Night of Victorian Humour', taking place in the British Library Conference Centre from 19:00 - 21:00. Join Dr Bob Nicholson (Edge Hill University) and comedians Zoe Lyons, Bob Mills and Iszi Lawrence as they unearth thousands of old puns, sketches, one-liners and saucy songs from the 19th century. Cost: £12 (concessions available), buy your Victorian Humour tickets here

14 October 2016

Digital Conversations @BL: Multimedia PhD Research and Non-text Theses

This is a guest post by Coral Manton, PhD research Student with i-DAT at the University of Plymouth funded through the 3D3 Centre for Doctoral Training

I am coming to the end of my research project with EThOS exploring multimedia and non-text research outputs and methods for accessibility by future researchers. I decided early on in this project that the best approach was to meet the researchers currently developing multimedia content and initiate conversation between them and the British Library. So last week I held a successful workshop assembling academics and PhD candidates representing a cross-section of universities and disciplines to discuss current issues around producing and archiving multimedia research, exploring possibilities for future multimodal theses accessible to a broader research community.

The same evening I chaired a Digital Scholarship Digital Conversation event, in which I invited three current PhD students, who I had interviewed for the project, and whose work I felt was not only interesting and innovative, but which expressed pressing questions and pushed the boundaries of what a thesis could be. The speakers were Tara Copplestone, Craig Hamilton and Imogen Lesser.

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The panellists: Coral Manton, Tara Copplestone, CrImogen Lesser and Craig Hamilton. Photo copyright Sarah Cole

The three speakers presented their work followed by a thought-provoking panel discussion on the future of the thesis. The event was live streamed in two parts by Time/Image and is now available on YouTube.

Part one presentations:

Part two discussion: 

Imogen Lesser’s struggle to include her architectural drawings in her thesis came down to one simple problem – her library currently accepts a maximum thesis file size of 64mb. This issue is dependent on individual institution guidelines and Professor Johnny Golding, of CFAR, informed us that her institution accepts practice based PhD theses of much larger file sizes - as representing practice took priority over issues of storage. Perhaps best practice guidelines for university libraries are necessary and practice based research could lead the way on multimedia theses in arts and humanities. Mark Hahnel’s pioneering online repository for scientific data Figshare responded to a need to push scientific progress by sharing data efficiently. We were pleased he was able to come and share his story with us at the workshop.

Now I am finishing the project and returning to my own PhD research I want to reflect on what I will take back and how I will use all I have learned to move forward in designing my own thesis.  For my PhD I am working with a section of the Birmingham Museums Trust’s collection, digitising objects and using data to make a virtual collection database for enhanced curator and visitor understanding of the collection in storage.

My research is cross-disciplinary and therefore uses two sets of language - a technical language including virtual reality, game design and coding and a museological language. Without being able to access the virtual collection database application I develop, it will be difficult to describe textually to coders, game designers, technical architects and museum curators. Therefore, ideally, I would like to produce a multimodal thesis embedding within the text; video, images, 3D scans and links to a webpage holding the virtual collection database. It is important for me to show the process of development. Inspired by the field of archaeology, and the work of Cornelius Holtorf and Tara Copplestone, I would like to explore a multilinear narrative; allowing process of production in my PhD to be understood from the point of view of a designer, curator or visitor.

Open access research is important to me and I am aware that I am bridging two worlds - academic research and online code sharing. Inspired by Craig Hamilton and his approach to the Harkive Project I want to find ways to share my PhD research with the online software development community – with whom  I am educating myself in game design, coding and data visualisation - as well as the museum and academic community.

Through my professional background in museums and my research I am heavily invested in the idea of collection and I'm excited by the thought that one day my thesis will join the collection of original contributions to knowledge already found on EThOS. I feel we should continue to strive to communicate our research in the best format possible, pushing innovation in the thesis by exploring methods of multimodality and multilinearity. We must recognise that the relationship between medium and message is important to sharing our work efficiently with the wider world.

For further information on my research project take a look at the collection of case studies on the British Library website. I hope through them we have captured some of what we, as researchers, are going through and this can inform future thesis models and best practice guidance for both researchers and libraries. However the conversation must not end there, future researchers will continue to build on our lessons and experiences; developing new models that work for them – so let’s keep the conversation going!

For updates on multimedia theses research follow @EThOSBL

06 October 2016

Poetic Places on National Poetry Day

This is a guest post by Sarah Cole, the British Library’s Creative Entrepreneur-in-Residence. 

It’s National Poetry Day, so I thought it’d be a good to to share some updates on Poetic Places and highlight one of the poems featured in the app.

The project has been quiet for the last couple of months but that doesn’t mean I’ve been resting on my laurels. Continuing with the experimental aspect of the project, I’ve been exploring potential new collaborations and materials to include in Poetic Places. You can see the first output of one such endeavour in the new Music section of the app.

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Poetic Places home screen, with added Music section

With help from @DrMattFinch (who is both a British Library Labs Creative and Creative in Residence for the State Library of Queensland) I’ve been exploring an interesting collection of Australian materials—a selection of old songs about specific places in Queensland, accompanied by their scores. Though the songs are quite different to (and generally more jaunty than) the poetry in the app, they evoke a sense of the places that they’re about, a window into the history of Australia, and even more so when accompanied by a little trivia and images contemporary to the music, drawn from the huge State Library of Queensland collection on Wikimedia Commons.

There’s only a couple of entries in the Music section so far whilst we test them and gather feedback, but I hope that this will mark the beginning of our expansion to include both audiovisual content and materials from around the world.

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Screen shot of Poetic Places app showing the recording of "Down on the Sands at Emu Park"

 Back on home turf, one of my favourite poems in the app is Poets' Corner, by Robert Leighton. Appropriately for National Poetry Day, it’s a entertaining commentary on how Britain celebrates its poets through its most famous literary memorial, Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.

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‘Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey’, by James S. Storer after C. John M. Whichelo, 1805

I love how Leighton packs in so many references to the interred authors’ works alongside the humour, and whilst some of the allusions may require an impressive knowledge of English Literature to catch, I hope you’ll enjoy it too.

Poets' Corner

O WORLD, what have your poets while they live

  But sorrow and the finger of the scorner?

And, dead, the highest honor you can give

        Is burial in a corner.

Not so, my poets of the popular school

  Disprove that mean, yet prevalent conception.

Once in an age that may be; but the rule

        Is proved by the exception.

And so, good World, the poet still remains

  To all your benefices a poor foreigner;

Considered well rewarded if he gains

        At last rest in a corner.

Here in Westminster’s sanctuary, where

  Some two-three kings usurp one half the Abbey,

Whole generations of the poets share

        This nook so dim and shabby.

So when we come to see Westminster’s lions,

  The needy vergers of the Abbey wait us;

And while we pay to see the royal scions,

        We see the poets gratis.

Some in corporeal presence crowd the nook,

  While others, who in body are not near it,

Are here as in the pages of a book,—

        Present only in spirit.

White-bearded Chaucer’s here, an honored guest,

  His sword of cutting humor in its scabbard;

And, sooth, he did not find such quiet rest

        In Southwark at the Tabard!

Here ’s Michael Drayton in his laurelled tomb,

  And Shakespeare over all the host commanding;

And rare Ben Jonson, who got scanty room,

        And so was buried standing.

Spenser is here from faerie land, his eyne

  Filled with the glamour of some dreamy notion,

Admired the more that half his “Faerie Queen”

        Was lost in middle ocean.

Here ’s Prior, who was popular no doubt;

  And Guy, with face and cowl round as a saucer;

And Dryden, who, some think, should be put out

        Because he murdered Chaucer.

And Milton, after all his civil shocks,

  Is here with look of sweet, yet strong decision,—

John Milton, with the soft poetic locks

        And supernatural vision.

Beaumont of the firm of B. and F. is here;

  And Cowley, metaphysical and lyric;

And Addison, the elegant and clear;

        And Butler, all satiric.

Gray, of the famous Elegy, who found

  His churchyard in the country rather lonely,

Lies with the rest in this more classic ground,

        Although in spirit only.

And Goldsmith at the Temple leaves his bones,

  Comes here with tender heart and rugged feature,

And mingles through this wilderness of stones

        His milky human nature.

And here is he that wrote the Seasons four;

  And so is Johnson, who discovered “Winter,”

And Garrick, too, who had poetic lore

        Enough to bid him enter.

And Southey, who for bread wrote many a tome,—

  Of prose and verse a progeny plethoric,—

And he that sung the lays of ancient Rome,—

        Macaulay, the historic.

Campbell is here in body as in soul,—

  He for a national song eclipsed by no land;

And in whose grave the patriotic Pole

        Sprinkled the earth of Poland.

Of other famous names we find the trace,

  And think of many from their non-appearance;

Byron, for one, who was denied a place

        Through priestly interference.

Now most upon their own true genius stand;

  A few, perhaps, on little else than quackery;

But all in all, they are a glorious band,

        From Chaucer down to Thackeray.


03 October 2016

Comics and Play In The Sunshine State

Posted by Mahendra Mahey on behalf of Matt Finch.

I’m currently a BL Labs Creative/Researcher alongside my role as Creative in Residence for the State Library of Queensland. SLQ is an Australian institution which serves a population of over four and a half million people…spread over an area three times the size of France.

Matt Finch Creative in Residence at the State Library of Queensland

Our footprint stretches from our headquarters in Brisbane’s cultural precinct to the Indigenous communities of the Torres Strait Islands in the north, the Great Barrier Reef to the east and the edge of the Simpson Desert to the west.

Such a demanding geography means we blend physical and digital activities, embracing our collections but also creating opportunities for local communities to surprise us with their own plans, schemes, dreams, and innovations. We seek to imagine a digital future for Queensland which acknowledges Traditional Owners of the land and pays respect to Indigenous elders past, present, and future, as well as embracing all the many and diverse communities who live, work, and play here.

So what does a Creative in Residence do? You’re equally likely to find someone in my role unearthing new material for our collections, reimagining panel discussions for a writers’ festival, helping teens fight zombies in an abandoned showground , or working in digital spaces.

Given the huge distances involved when you work in a state like ours, we’re especially interested in geolinked collections and mobile digital access. Partnering with BL Labs, we’re currently working on ways to celebrate and share Queensland-related material from the BL collections.

We also make stuff which is brand spanking new. This month, the State Library has released an online comic maker for the global Fun Palaces event which takes place every October.

Comic maker
Online Comic Maker

The Fun Palaces manifesto is “everyone an artist, everyone a scientist” which chimes well with libraries’ mission to ensure everyone has freedom to explore human knowledge and culture on their own terms. (In my mind, the secret manifesto is “hit the library get a drink start a riot”).

The comic maker was piloted in 2015 and this year has been fully integrated into the Fun Palaces site – but we’ve also released the code behind the comic maker on Github.

Comic code
Online Comic Maker in action!

In 2015, users around the world surprised us by using the simple comic maker to create non-narrative comics, cheeky horror storiesand even comics in Te Reo Māori – this year we look forward to people reimagining, repurposing, and reworking the code behind the comic maker into weird and wonderful new forms. We’d also love to see friends of the BL Labs, sister institutions, and communities worldwide put their own image sets into the drag-and-drop image inventory.

You can contact Matt on Twitter @DrMattFinch

Please don't forget to book for our latest events:

Black Abolitionists in 19th Century Britain. 

Thu 6 Oct, 19:00 – 21:00

British Library Conference Centre, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB

Cost: £8 (Concessions available)

An informative and entertaining evening of talks, performances and discussion about the antislavery movement with scholar Hannah-Rose Murray, actor and writer Joe Williams and actress Martelle Edinborough. 

For more information, please visit:

Fourth annual British Library Labs Symposium.

Mon 7 Nov, 9:30 – 17:30

British Library Conference Centre, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB

Cost: FREE

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’s keynote will be given by Melissa Terras , Professor of Digital Humanities at University College London, entitled 'Unexpected repurposing: the British Library's Digital Collections and UCL teaching, research and infrastructure'.

For more information, please visit:

We Are Amused! A Night of Victorian Humour.

Mon 7 Nov, 19:00 – 21:00

British Library Conference Centre, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB

Cost: £12 (Concessions available)

Following the BL Labs Symposium, join Dr Bob Nicholson (Edge Hill University) and comedians Zoe Lyons, Bob Mills and Iszi Lawrence for the evening as they unearth thousands of old puns, sketches, one-liners, mother-in-law jokes, saucy songs and other comic clippings from the 19th century.

For more information, please visit:

The Way Ahead? Map Making and Digital Skills for Geography Teaching.

Sat 12 Nov, 9:45 – 13:30

British Library Conference Centre, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB

Cost: £12 - £24

This half-day conference for Geography teachers at Key Stages 2–5 uncovers the British Library’s forthcoming major exhibition Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line and explores a range of approaches to interpreting and creating maps, with a focus on digital resources, to support and enrich Geography in the Primary and Secondary classroom. 

For more information, please visit:

Black Abolitionist Walking Tour.

Sat 26 Nov, 13:30 – 17:00

Starting at the Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5AZ

Cost: FREE (places limited)

An afternoon walking tour around central London which will visit six sites where African American abolitionists made an indelible mark on the British landscape. The walking tour will be followed by food, drinks and a short re-enactment of an antislavery meeting at the Old Crown Public House.

For more information, please visit: