Digital scholarship blog

3 posts from August 2023

30 August 2023

The British Library Loves Manuscripts on Wikisource

This blog post was originally published on Wikimedia’s community blog, Diff, by Satdeep Gill (WMF) and Dr Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert (Digital Curator for Asian and African Collections, British Library)

 

The British Library has joined hands with the Wikimedia Foundation to support the Wikisource Loves Manuscripts (WiLMa) project, sharing 76 Javanese manuscripts, including what is probably the largest Javanese manuscript in the worlddigitised as part of the Yogyakarta Digitisation Project. The manuscripts, which are now held in the British Library, were taken from the Kraton (Palace) of Yogyakarta following a British attack in June 1812. The British Library’s digitisation project was funded by Mr. S P Lohia and included conservation, photography, quality assurance and publication on the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website, and the presentation of complete sets of digital images to the Governor of Yogyakarta Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, the National Library of Indonesia, and the Library and Archives Board of Yogyakarta.

3D model of Menak Amir Hamza (British Library Add MS 12309), probably the largest Javanese manuscript in the world

For the WiLMa project, the scanned images, representing more than 30,000 pages, were merged into pdfs and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Ilham Nurwansah, Wikimedian-in-Residence at PPIM and User:Bennylin from the Indonesian community. The manuscripts are now available on Wikimedia Commons in the Category:British Library manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project.

“Never before has a library of Javanese manuscripts of such importance been made available to the internet, especially for easy access to the almost 100 million Javanese people worldwide.”

User:Bennylin said about the British Library donation

As a global movement, Wikimedia is able to connect the Library with communities of origin, who can use the digitised manuscripts to revitalise their language online. As such, we have a history of collaboration with the Wikimedia community, hosting Wikimedians-in-Residence and working with the Wikisource community. In 2021, we collaborated with the West Bengal Wikimedians User Group to organise two Wikisource competitions (in Spring and Autumn). Forty rare Bengali books, digitised as a part of the Two Centuries of Indian Print project, were made available on Wikisource. The Bengali Wikisource community has corrected more than 5,000 pages of text, which were OCRed as part of the project.

“As part of our global engagement with Wikimedia communities, we were thrilled to engage in a partnership with the Bengali Wikisource community for the proofreading of rare and unique books digitised as part of the Two Centuries of Indian Print project. We extend our gratitude towards the community’s unwavering commitment and the enthusiasm of its members, which have greatly enhanced the accessibility of these historic gems for readers and researchers.”

Dr Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator, British Library

The developing Javanese Wikisource community has already started using the newly digitised Javanese manuscripts in their project, and has plans ranging from transliteration and translation, to recording the content being sung, as originally intended. (Recording of Ki Sujarwo Joko Prehatin, singing (menembang) the texts of Javanese manuscripts, at the British Library, 12 March 2019; recording by Mariska Adamson).

Screenshot of a Javanese manuscript being used for training an HTR model using Transkribus
Screenshot of a Javanese manuscript being used for training an HTR model using Transkribus

The Library’s collaboration with the Javanese community started earlier this year, when the Wikisource community included three manuscripts from the Library’s Henry D. Ginsburg Legacy Digitisation Projects in the list of focus texts for a Wikisource competition. Parts of these three long manuscripts were proofread by the community during the competition and now they are being used to create a Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) model for the Javanese script using Transkribus, as part of our ongoing WiLMa initiative.

Stay tuned for further updates about WiLMa Learning Partners Network!

 

03 August 2023

My AHRC-RLUK Professional Practice Fellowship: A year on

A year ago I started work on my RLUK Professional Practice Fellowship project to analyse computationally the descriptions in the Library’s incunabula printed catalogue. As the project comes to a close this week, I would like to update on the work from the last few months leading to the publication of the incunabula printed catalogue data, a featured collection on the British Library’s Research Repository. In a separate blogpost I will discuss the findings from the text analysis and next steps, as well as share my reflections on the fellowship experience.

Since Isaac’s blogpost about the automated detection of the catalogue entries in the OCR files, a lot of effort has gone into improving the code and outputting the descriptions in the format required for the text analysis and as open datasets. With the invaluable help of Harry Lloyd who had joined the Library’s Digital Research team as Research Software Engineer, we verified the results and identified new rules for detecting sub-entries signaled by Another Copy rather than a main entry heading. We also reassembled and parsed the XML files, originally split in two sets per volume for the purpose of generating the OCR, so that the entries are listed in the order in which they appear in the printed volume. We prepared new text files containing all the entries from each volume with each entry represented as a single line of text, that I could use for the corpus linguistics analysis with AntConc. In consultation with the Curator, Karen Limper-Herz, and colleagues in Collection Metadata we agreed how best to store the data for evaluation and in preparation to update the Library’s online catalogue.

Two women looking at the poster illustrating the text analysis with the incunabula catalogue data
Poster session at Digital Humanities Conference 2023

Whilst all this work was taking place, I started the computational analysis of the English text from the descriptions. The reason for using these partial descriptions was to separate what was merely transcribed from the incunabula from the more language used by the cataloguer in their own ‘voice’. I have recorded my initial observations in the poster I presented at the Digital Humanities Conference 2023. Discussing my fellowship project with the conference attendees was extremely rewarding; there was much interest in the way I had used Transkribus to derive the OCR data, some questions about how the project methodology applies to other data and an agreement on the need to contextualise collections descriptions and reflect on any bias in the transmission of knowledge. In the poster I also highlight the importance of the cross-disciplinary collaboration required for this type of work, which resonated well with the conference theme of Collaboration as Opportunity.

I have started disseminating the knowledge gained from the project with members of the GLAM community. At the British Library Harry, Karen and I ran an informal ‘Hack & Yack’ training session showcasing the project aims and methodology through the use of Jupyter notebooks. I also enjoyed the opportunity to discuss my research at a recent Research Libraries UK Digital Scholarship Network workshop and look forward to further conversations on this topic with colleagues in the wider GLAM community. 

We intend to continue to enrich the datasets to enable better access to the collection, the development of new resources for incunabula research and digital scholarship projects. I would like to end by adding my thanks to Graham Jevon, for assisting with the timely publication of the project datasets, and above all to James, Karen and Harry for supporting me throughout this project.

This blogpost is by Dr Rossitza Atanassova, Digital Curator, British Library. She is on Twitter @RossiAtanassova  and Mastodon @[email protected]

 

02 August 2023

Writing tools for Interactive Fiction - an updated list

In the spring of 2020, during the first UK lockdown, I wrote an article for the British Library English and Drama blog, titled ‘Writing tools for Interactive Fiction’. Quite a few things have changed since then and as the Library launched its first exhibition on Digital Storytelling this June, it seemed like the perfect time to update this list with a few additions.

Interactive fiction (IF), or interactive narrative/narration, is defined as “software simulating environments in which players use text commands to control characters and influence the environment.”

The British Library has been collecting examples of UK interactive fiction as part of the Emerging Formats Project, which is a collaborative effort from all six UK Legal Deposit Libraries to look at the collection management requirements of complex digital publications. Lynda Clark, the British Library Innovation Fellow for Interactive Fiction, built the Interactive Narratives collection on the UK Web Archive (UKWA) during her placement. Because of Legal Deposit Regulations, most of the items in the Interactive Narratives collection can only be accessed on Library premises – which also extends to other collections in the UK Web Archive, such as the New Media Writing Prize collection.

Lynda also conducted analysis on genres, interaction patterns and tools used to build these narratives.

 

Many of these tools are free to use and don’t require any previous knowledge of programming languages. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but it might be a useful overview of some of the tools currently available, if you’d like to start experimenting with writing your own interactive narrative. We are also very excited to be able to offer a week-long Interactive Fiction Summer School this August at the Library, running alongside the Digital Storytelling exhibition.

For an easier navigation, these are the tools included in this article:

 

Twine

Twine is an open-source tool to write text-based, non-linear narratives. Created by Chris Klimas in 2009, Twine is perfect to write Choose Your Own Adventure-like stories without knowing how to code. The output is an HTML file, which facilitates publishing and distribution, as it can be run on any computer with an Internet connection and a web browser. If you have any knowledge of CSS or Javascript it’s possible to add extra features and specific designs to your Twine story, but the standard Twine structure only requires you to type text and put brackets around the phrases that will become links in the story (linking to another passage or branching into different directions). There is an online version or a downloadable version that runs on Windows, MacOS and Linux. Twine has multiple story formats, with different features and ways to write the interactive bits of your story. The Twine Reference is a good place to start, but there is also a Twine Cookbook (containing ‘recipes’, instructions and examples to do a variety of things).

Example of text from Cat Simulator 3000. 'You dream of mice. You dream of trout. You dream of balls of yarn. You dream of world domination. You dream of opening your own bank account. You dream of the nature of sentience.' Followed by the prompt 'Wake up'.
Some quality cat dreams.
(from Emma Winston’s Cat Simulator 3000)

 

As the most used tool in the UKWA collection, there are many examples of IF written in Twine, from cat and teatime simulators (Emma Winston’s Cat Simulator 3000 and Damon L. Wakes’ Lovely Pleasant Teatime Simulator), to stories that include a mix of video, images and audio (Chris Godber’s Glitch), and horror games made for Gothic Novel Jam using the British Library’s Flickr collection of images (Freya Campbell’s The Tower – NB some content warnings apply). Lynda Clark also authored an original story as a conclusion to her placement: The Memory Archivist incorporates many of the themes emerged during her research and won The BL Labs Artistic Award 2019.

 

ink/inky & inklewriter

Cambridge-based video game studio inkle is behind another IF tool – or two. Ink is the scripting language used to author many of inkle’s videogames – the idea behind it is to mark up “pure-text with flow in order to produce interactive scripts”. It doesn’t require any programming knowledge and the resulting scripts are relatively easy to read. Inky is the editor to write ink scripts in – it’s free to download and lets you test your narrative as you write it. Once you’re happy with your story, you can export it for the web, as well as a JSON file. There’s a quick tutorial to walk you through the basics, as well as a full manual on how to write in ink. ink was also used to write 80 Days, another work collected by the British Library as part of the emerging formats project and currently exhibited as part of the Digital Storytelling exhibition.

A side by side showing the back end and front end of what writing in ink looks like.
A page from 80 Days, written using ink. To read in full detail, please click on the image.

 

inklewriter is an open-source, ready-to-use, browser-based IF “sketch-pad”. It is meant to be used to sketch out narratives more than to author fully-developed stories. There is no download required and the fact that it is a simple and straightforward tool to experiment with IF makes it a good fit for educators. Tutorials are included within the platform itself so that you can learn while you write.

This year’s Interactive Fiction Summer School at the British Library will teach attendees how to write interactive fiction using ink, with a focus on dialogue and writing with the player in mind. Dr. Florencia Minuzzi will lead the 5-day course, together with a number of guest speakers whose work is featured in the Digital Storytelling exhibition – including Corey Brotherson, Destina Connor, Dan Hett and Meghna Jayanth. The school runs from Monday 21st to Friday 25th August – no previous coding experience necessary!

A screenshot from 80 Days Ⓒ inkle. Two men facing each other with the prompt 'begin conversation'.
A screenshot from 80 Days Ⓒ inkle.

 

Bitsy

Bitsy is a browser-based editor for mini games developed by Adam Le Doux in 2016. It operates within clear constraints (8x8 pixel tiles, a 3-colour palette, etc.), which is actually one of the reasons why it is so beloved. You can draw and animate your own characters within your pixel grid, write the dialogue and define how your avatar (your playable character) will interact with the surrounding scenery and with other non-playable characters. Again, no programming knowledge is necessary. Bitsy is especially good for short narratives and vignette games. After completing your game, you can download it as an HTML file and then share it however you prefer. There is Bitsy Docs, as well as some comprehensive tutorials and even a one-page pamphlet covering the basics.

GIF animation from the Bitsy game 'British Library Simulator'
Shout-out to the Emerging Formats Project
(from Giulia Carla Rossi’s The British Library Simulator)

 

To play (and read) a Bitsy work you should use your keyboard to move the avatar around and interact with the ‘sprites’ (interactive items, characters and scenery – usually recognisable as sporting a different colour from the non-interactive background). You can wander around a Zen garden reflecting on your impending wedding (Ben Bruce’s Zen Garden, Portland, The Day Before My Wedding), alight the village fires to welcome the midwinter spirits (Ash Green’s Midwinter Spirits), experience a love story through mixtapes (David Mowatt’s She Made Me A Mix Tape), or if you’re still craving a nice cuppa you can review some imaginary tea shops (Ben Bruce’s Five Great Places to Get a Nice Cup of Tea When You Are Asleep). You can even visit a pixelated version of the British Library and discover more about our contemporary and digital collections with The British Library Simulator.

 

Inform 7

While Twine allows you to write hypertext narratives (where readers can progress through the story by clicking on a link), Inform 7 lets you write parser-based interactive fiction. Parser-based IF requires the reader to type commands (sometimes full sentences) in order to interact with the story.

A how to guide showing what text options are available for playing text based explorer games in Inform. Helpful tips like 'Try the commands that make sense! Doors are for opening; buttons are for pushing; pie is for eating!'
How to Play Interactive Fiction (An entire strategy guide on a single postcard)
<style="font-family: inherit;">Written by Andrew Plotkin -- design by Lea Albaugh. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License

 

Inform 7 is a free-to-use, open-source (as of April 2022) tool to write interactive fiction. Originally created as Inform by Graham Nelson in 1993, the current Inform 7 was released in 2006 and uses natural language (based on the English language) to describe situations and interactions. The learning curve is a bit steeper than with Twine, but the natural language approach allows for users with no programming experience to write code in a simplified language that reads like English text. Inform 7 also has a Recipe Book and a series of well-documented tutorials. Inform also runs on Windows, MacOS and Linux and lets you output your game as HTML files.

While the current version of Inform is Inform 7, narratives using previous versions of the system are still available – Emily Short’s Galatea is always a good place to start. You could also explore mysterious ruins with your romantic interest (C.E.J. Pacian’s Love, Hate and the Mysterious Ocean Tower), play a gentleman thief (J.J. Guest’s  Alias, the Magpie) or make more tea (Joey Jones’ Strained Tea).

 

ChoiceScript

ChoiceScript is a javascript-based scripting language developed by Adam Strong-Morse and Dan Fabulich of Choice of Games. It can be used to write choice-based interactive narratives, in which the reader has to select among multiple choices to determine how the story will unfold. The simplicity of the language makes it possible to create Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style stories without any prior coding knowledge. The ChoiceScript source is available to download for free on the Choice of Games website (it also requires writers to have Node.js installed on their machine). Once your story is complete, you can publish it for free online. Otherwise, Choice of Games offer the possibility of publishing your work with them (they publish to various platforms, including iOS, Android, Kindle and Steam) and earn royalties from it. There is a tutorial that covers the basics, including a Glossary of ChoiceScript terms. The Choice of Game blog also includes some articles with tips on how to design and write interactive stories, especially long ones.

Genres of works built using ChoiceScript are again quite varied – from sci-fi stories exploring the relationships between writers and readers (Lynda Clark’s Writers Are Not Strangers), to crime/romantic dramas (Toni Owen-Blue’s Double/Cross) and fantasy adventures (Thom Baylay’s Evertree Inn).

 

Downpour

Downpour is a game-making tool for phones currently in development. Created by v buckenham, Downpour is a tool that will allow users to make interactive games in minutes, only using their phone’s camera and linking images together. There is no expectation of previous programming knowledge and by removing the need to access a computer, Downpour promises to be a very approachable tool. Release is currently planned for 2023 on iOS and Android – if you want to be notified when it launches you can sign up here.

Downpour banner (purple writing over pink background)
Downpour banner.

 

More resources

As I mentioned before, this is in no way a comprehensive list – there are a lot of other tools and platforms to write IF, both mainstream as well as slightly more obscure ones (Ren’Py, Quest, StoryNexus, Raconteur, Genarrator, just to mention a few). Try different tools, find the one that works best for you or use a mix of them if you prefer! Experiment as much as you like.

If you’d like to discover even more tools to build your interactive project, Everest Pipkin has an excellent list of Open source, experimental, and tiny tools.

Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling blog also offers a round-up of very interesting links about interactive narratives.

If you want to be inspired by more independent games and interactive stories, Indiepocalypse offers a curated selection of video and/or physical games in the form of a monthly anthology.

To conclude, I’ll leave you with a quote by Anna Anthropy from her book Rise of the Videogame Zinesters:

“Every game that you and I make right now [...] makes the boundaries of our art form (and it is ours) larger. Every new game is a voice in the darkness. And new voices are important in an art form that has been dominated for so long by a single perspective. [...]

There’s nothing to stop us from making our voices heard now. And there will be plenty of voices. Among those voices, there will be plenty of mediocrity, and plenty of games that have no meaning to anyone outside the author and maybe her friends. But [...] imagine what we’ll gain: real diversity, a plethora of voices and experiences, and a new avenue for human beings to tell their stories and connect with other human beings.”

This post is by Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator for Digital Publications