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10 posts categorized "Black & Asian Britain"

11 November 2020

BL Labs Online Symposium 2020 : Book your place for Tuesday 15-Dec-2020

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Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs

The BL Labs team are pleased to announce that the eighth annual British Library Labs Symposium 2020 will be held on Tuesday 15 December 2020, from 13:45 - 16:55* (see note below) online. The event is FREE, but you must book a ticket in advance to reserve your place. Last year's event was the largest we have ever held, so please don't miss out and book early, see more information here!

*Please note, that directly after the Symposium, we are organising an experimental online mingling networking session between 16:55 and 17:30!

The British Library Labs (BL Labs) Symposium is an annual event and awards ceremony showcasing innovative projects that use the British Library's digital collections and data. It provides a platform for highlighting and discussing the use of the Library’s digital collections for research, inspiration and enjoyment. The awards this year will recognise outstanding use of British Library's digital content in the categories of Research, Artistic, Educational, Community and British Library staff contributions.

This is our eighth annual symposium and you can see previous Symposia videos from 201920182017201620152014 and our launch event in 2013.

Dr Ruth Anhert, Professor of Literary History and Digital Humanities at Queen Mary University of London Principal Investigator on 'Living With Machines' at The Alan Turing Institute
Ruth Ahnert will be giving the BL Labs Symposium 2020 keynote this year.

We are very proud to announce that this year's keynote will be delivered by Ruth Ahnert, Professor of Literary History and Digital Humanities at Queen Mary University of London, and Principal Investigator on 'Living With Machines' at The Alan Turing Institute.

Her work focuses on Tudor culture, book history, and digital humanities. She is author of The Rise of Prison Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2013), editor of Re-forming the Psalms in Tudor England, as a special issue of Renaissance Studies (2015), and co-author of two further books: The Network Turn: Changing Perspectives in the Humanities (Cambridge University Press, 2020) and Tudor Networks of Power (forthcoming with Oxford University Press). Recent collaborative work has taken place through AHRC-funded projects ‘Living with Machines’ and 'Networking the Archives: Assembling and analysing a meta-archive of correspondence, 1509-1714’. With Elaine Treharne she is series editor of the Stanford University Press’s Text Technologies series.

Ruth's keynote is entitled: Humanists Living with Machines: reflections on collaboration and computational history during a global pandemic

You can follow Ruth on Twitter.

There will be Awards announcements throughout the event for Research, Artistic, Community, Teaching & Learning and Staff Categories and this year we are going to get the audience to vote for their favourite project in those that were shortlisted, a people's BL Labs Award!

There will be a final talk near the end of the conference and we will announce the speaker for that session very soon.

So don't forget to book your place for the Symposium today as we predict it will be another full house again, the first one online and we don't want you to miss out, see more detailed information here

We look forward to seeing new faces and meeting old friends again!

For any further information, please contact labs@bl.uk

23 October 2020

BL Labs Public Award Runner Up (Research) 2019 - Automated Labelling of People in Video Archives

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Example people identified in TV news related programme clips
People 'automatically' identified in digital TV news related programme clips.

Guest blog post by Andrew Brown (PhD researcher),  Ernesto Coto (Research Software Engineer) and Andrew Zisserman (Professor) of the Visual Geometry Group, Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford, and BL Labs Public Award Runner-up for Research, 2019. Posted on their behalf by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs.

In this work, we automatically identify and label (tag) people in large video archives without the need for any manual annotation or supervision. The project was carried out with the British Library on a sample of 106 videos from their “Television and radio news” archive; a large collection of news programs from the last 10 years. This archive serves as an important and fascinating resource for researchers and the general public alike. However, the sheer scale of the data, coupled with a lack of relevant metadata, makes indexing, analysing and navigating this content an increasingly difficult task. Relying on human annotation is no longer feasible, and without an effective way to navigate these videos, this bank of knowledge is largely inaccessible.

As users, we are typically interested in human-centric queries such as:

  • “When did Jeremy Corbyn first appear in a Newsnight episode?” or
  • “Show me all of the times when Hugh Grant and Shirley Williams appeared together.

Currently this is nigh on impossible without trawling through hundreds of hours of content. 

We posed the following research question:

Is it possible to enable automatic person-search capabilities such as this in the archive, without the need for any manual supervision or labelling?

The answer is “yes”, and the method is described next.

Video Pre-Processing

The basic unit which enables person labelling in videos is the face-track; a group of consecutive face detections within a shot that correspond to the same identity. Face-tracks are extracted from all of the videos in the archive. The task of labelling the people in the videos is then to assign a label to each one of these extracted face-tracks. The video below gives an example of two face-tracks found in a scene.


Two face-tracks found in British Library digital news footage by Visual Geometry Group - University of Oxford.

Techniques at Our Disposal

The base technology used for this work is a state-of-the-art convolutional neural network (CNN), trained for facial recognition [1]. The CNN extracts feature-vectors (a list of numbers) from face images, which indicate the identity of the depicted person. To label a face-track, the distance between the feature-vector for the face-track, and the feature-vector for a face-image with known identity is computed. The face-track is labelled as depicting that identity if the distance is smaller than a certain threshold (i.e. they match). We also use a speaker recognition CNN [2] that works in the same way, except it labels speech segments from unknown identities using speech segments from known identities within the video.

Labelling the Face-Tracks

Our method for automatically labelling the people in the video archive is divided into three main stages:

(1) Our first labelling method uses what we term a “celebrity feature-vector bank”, which consists of names of people that are likely to appear in the videos, and their corresponding feature-vectors. The names are automatically sourced from IMDB cast lists for the programmes (the titles of the programmes are freely available in the meta-data). Face-images for each of the names are automatically downloaded from image-search engines. Incorrect face-images and people with no images of themselves on search engines are automatically removed at this stage. We compute the feature-vectors for each identity and add them to the bank alongside the names. The face-tracks from the video archives are then simply labelled by finding matches in the feature-vector bank.

Face-tracks from the video archives are labelled by finding matches in the feature-vector bank.
Face-tracks from the video archives are labelled by finding matches in the feature-vector bank. 

(2) Our second labelling method uses the idea that if a name is spoken, or found displayed in a scene, then that person is likely to be found within that scene. The task is then to automatically determine whether there is a correspondence or not. Text is automatically read from the news videos using Optical Character Recognition (OCR), and speech is automatically transcribed using Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR). Names are identified and they are searched for on image search engines. The top ranked images are downloaded and the feature-vectors are computed from the faces. If any are close enough to the feature-vectors from the face-tracks present in the scene, then that face-track is labelled with that name. The video below details this process for a written name.


Using text or spoken word and face recognition to identify a person in a news clip.

(3) For our third labelling method, we use speaker recognition to identify any non-labelled speaking people. We use the labels from the previous two stages to automatically acquire labelled speech segments from the corresponding labelled face-tracks. For each remaining non-labelled speaking person, we extract the speech feature-vector and compute the distance of it to the feature-vectors of the labelled speech segments. If one is close enough, then the non-labelled speech segment and corresponding face-track is assigned that name. This process manages to label speaking face-tracks with visually challenging faces, e.g. deep in shadow or at an extremely non-frontal pose.

Indexing and Searching Identities

The results of our work can be browsed via a web search engine of our own design. A search bar allows for users to specify the person or group of people that they would like to search for. People’s names are efficiently indexed so that the complete list of names can be filtered as the user types in the search bar. The search results are returned instantly with their associated metadata (programme name, data and time) and can be displayed in multiple ways. The video associated with each search result can be played, visualising the location and the name of all identified people in the video. See the video below for more details. This allows for the archive videos to be easily navigated using person-search, thus opening them up for use by the general public.


Archive videos easily navigated using person-search.

For examples of more of our Computer Vision research and open-source software, visit the Visual Geometry Group website.

This work was supported by the EPSRC Programme Grant Seebibyte EP/M013774/1

[1] Qiong Cao, Li Shen, Weidi Xie, Omkar M. Parkhi, and Andrew Zisserman. VGGFace2: A dataset for recognising faces across pose and age. In Proc. International Conference on Automatic Face & Gesture Recognition, 2018.

[2] Joon Son Chung, Arsha Nagrani and Andrew Zisserman. VoxCeleb2: Deep Speaker Recognition. INTERSPEECH, 2018

BL Labs Public Awards 2020

Inspired by this work that uses the British Library's digital archived news footage? Have you done something innovative using the British Library's digital collections and data? Why not consider entering your work for a BL Labs Public Award 2020 and win fame, glory and even a bit of money?

This year's public and staff awards 2020 are open for submission, the deadline for entry for both is Monday 30 November 2020.

Whilst we welcome projects on any use of our digital collections and data (especially in research, artistic, educational and community categories), we are particularly interested in entries in our public awards that have focused on anti-racist work, about the pandemic or that are using computational methods such as the use of Jupyter Notebooks.

19 October 2020

The 2020 British Library Labs Staff Award - Nominations Open!

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Looking for entries now!

A set of 4 light bulbs presented next to each other, the third light bulb is switched on. The image is supposed to a metaphor to represent an 'idea'
Nominate an existing British Library staff member or a team that has done something exciting, innovative and cool with the British Library’s digital collections or data.

The 2020 British Library Labs Staff Award, now in its fifth year, gives recognition to current British Library staff who have created something brilliant using the Library’s digital collections or data.

Perhaps you know of a project that developed new forms of knowledge, or an activity that delivered commercial value to the library. Did the person or team create an artistic work that inspired, stimulated, amazed and provoked? Do you know of a project developed by the Library where quality learning experiences were generated using the Library’s digital content? 

You may nominate a current member of British Library staff, a team, or yourself (if you are a member of staff), for the Staff Award using this form.

The deadline for submission is NOON (GMT), Monday 30 November 2020.

Nominees will be highlighted on Tuesday 15 December 2020 at the online British Library Labs Annual Symposium where some (winners and runners-up) will also be asked to talk about their projects (everyone is welcome to attend, you just need to register).

You can see the projects submitted by members of staff and public for the awards in our online archive.

In 2019, last year's winner focused on the brilliant work of the Imaging Team for the 'Qatar Foundation Partnership Project Hack Days', which were sessions organised for the team to experiment with the Library's digital collections. 

The runner-up for the BL Labs Staff Award in 2019 was the Heritage Made Digital team and their social media campaign to promote the British Library's digital collections one language a week from letters 'A' to 'U' #AToUnknown).

In the public Awards, last year's winners (2019) drew attention to artisticresearchteaching & learning, and community activities that used our data and / or digital collections.

British Library Labs is a project within the Digital Scholarship department at the British Library that supports and inspires the use of the Library's digital collections and data in exciting and innovative ways. It was previously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and is now solely funded by the British Library.

If you have any questions, please contact us at labs@bl.uk.

11 September 2020

BL Labs Public Awards 2020: enter before NOON GMT Monday 30 November 2020! REMINDER

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The sixth BL Labs Public Awards 2020 formally recognises outstanding and innovative work that has been carried out using the British Library’s data and / or digital collections by researchers, artists, entrepreneurs, educators, students and the general public.

The closing date for entering the Public Awards is NOON GMT on Monday 30 November 2020 and you can submit your entry any time up to then.

Please help us spread the word! We want to encourage any one interested to submit over the next few months, who knows, you could even win fame and glory, priceless! We really hope to have another year of fantastic projects to showcase at our annual online awards symposium on the 15 December 2020 (which is open for registration too), inspired by our digital collections and data!

This year, BL Labs is commending work in four key areas that have used or been inspired by our digital collections and data:

  • Research - A project or activity that shows the development of new knowledge, research methods, or tools.
  • Artistic - An artistic or creative endeavour that inspires, stimulates, amazes and provokes.
  • Educational - Quality learning experiences created for learners of any age and ability that use the Library's digital content.
  • Community - Work that has been created by an individual or group in a community.

What kind of projects are we looking for this year?

Whilst we are really happy for you to submit your work on any subject that uses our digital collections, in this significant year, we are particularly interested in entries that may have a focus on anti-racist work or projects about lock down / global pandemic. We are also curious and keen to have submissions that have used Jupyter Notebooks to carry out computational work on our digital collections and data.

After the submission deadline has passed, entries will be shortlisted and selected entrants will be notified via email by midnight on Friday 4th December 2020. 

A prize of £150 in British Library online vouchers will be awarded to the winner and £50 in the same format to the runner up in each Awards category at the Symposium. Of course if you enter, it will be at least a chance to showcase your work to a wide audience and in the past this has often resulted in major collaborations.

The talent of the BL Labs Awards winners and runners up over the last five years has led to the production of remarkable and varied collection of innovative projects described in our 'Digital Projects Archive'. In 2019, the Awards commended work in four main categories – Research, Artistic, Community and Educational:

BL_Labs_Winners_2019-smallBL  Labs Award Winners for 2019
(Top-Left) Full-Text search of Early Music Prints Online (F-TEMPO) - Research, (Top-Right) Emerging Formats: Discovering and Collecting Contemporary British Interactive Fiction - Artistic
(Bottom-Left) John Faucit Saville and the theatres of the East Midlands Circuit - Community commendation
(Bottom-Right) The Other Voice (Learning and Teaching)

For further detailed information, please visit BL Labs Public Awards 2020, or contact us at labs@bl.uk if you have a specific query.

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of British Library Labs.

24 July 2020

Ira Aldridge In the Spotlight

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In this post, Dr Mia Ridge gives a sense of why sightings of Ira Aldridge in our historical playbills collection resonate...

Ira Aldridge is one of the most popular 'celebrity spottings' shared by volunteers working with historical playbills on our In the Spotlight project. Born on this day in New York in 1807, Aldridge was the first Black actor to play a Shakespearean role in Britain.

Portrait of Aldridge by James Northcote
Portrait of Aldridge by James Northcote

Educated at the African Free School and with some experience at the African Grove Theatre in New York, the teenaged Aldridge emigrated to Britain from the US in 1824 and quickly had an impact. In 1826 painter James Northcote captured him as Othello, a portrait which became the first acquisition by the Manchester Art Gallery. (If you're reading this before August 15th, you can attend an online tour exploring his work.)

While his initial reviews were mixed, he took The Times' mocking reference to him as the 'African Roscius' and used both the references to the famous Roman actor and his African ancestry in promotional playbills. Caught up in debates about the abolition of slavery and facing racism in reviews from critics about his performances in London's theatres, Aldridge toured the regions, particularly British cities with anti-slavery sympathies. He performed a range of roles, and his Shakespearean roles eventually including Othello, Shylock, Macbeth, King Lear and Richard III.

From 1852, he toured Europe, particularly Germany, Poland and Russia. This 'List showing the theatres and plays in various European cities where Ira Aldridge, the African Roscius, acted during the years 1827-1867, compiled by Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, shows how widely he travelled and the roles he performed.

As the 1841 playbill from Doncaster's Theatre Royal (below) shows, the tale of his African ancestry grew more creative over time. The playbill also advertises a lecture and memoirs from Aldridge on various topics. In the years around the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, he spoke powerfully and directly to audiences about the injustices of slavery and racism. Playbills like this demonstrate how Aldridge managed to both pander to and play with perceptions of 'the African'.

This is necessarily a very brief overview of Aldridge's life and impact but I hope it's given you a sense of why it's so exciting to catch a glimpse of Aldridge in our collections.

Screenshot of historical playbill

Sources used and further reading include:

My thanks to everyone who suggested references for this post, in particular: Christian Algar, Naomi Billingsley, Nora McGregor, Susan Reed from the British Library; Dorothy Berry from the Houghton Library at Harvard and In the Spotlight participants including beccabooks10, Nosnibor3, Elizabeth Danskin (who shared a link to this video about his daughter, Amanda Aldridge), Nicola Hayes, and Sylvia Morris (who has written extensively about Aldridge on her blog).

Post by Mia Ridge, Digital Curator, Western Heritage Collections.

03 October 2019

BL Labs Symposium (2019): Book your place for Mon 11-Nov-2019

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Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs

The BL Labs team are pleased to announce that the seventh annual British Library Labs Symposium will be held on Monday 11 November 2019, from 9:30 - 17:00* (see note below) in the British Library Knowledge Centre, St Pancras. The event is FREE, and you must book a ticket in advance to reserve your place. Last year's event was the largest we have ever held, so please don't miss out and book early!

*Please note, that directly after the Symposium, we have teamed up with an interactive/immersive theatre company called 'Uninvited Guests' for a specially organised early evening event for Symposium attendees (the full cost is £13 with some concessions available). Read more at the bottom of this posting!

The Symposium showcases innovative and inspiring projects which have used the British Library’s digital content. Last year's Award winner's drew attention to artistic, research, teaching & learning, and commercial activities that used our digital collections.

The annual event provides a platform for the development of ideas and projects, facilitating collaboration, networking and debate in the Digital Scholarship field as well as being a focus on the creative reuse of the British Library's and other organisations' digital collections and data in many other sectors. Read what groups of Master's Library and Information Science students from City University London (#CityLIS) said about the Symposium last year.

We are very proud to announce that this year's keynote will be delivered by scientist Armand Leroi, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Imperial College, London.

Armand Leroi
Professor Armand Leroi from Imperial College
will be giving the keynote at this year's BL Labs Symposium (2019)

Professor Armand Leroi is an author, broadcaster and evolutionary biologist.

He has written and presented several documentary series on Channel 4 and BBC Four. His latest documentary was The Secret Science of Pop for BBC Four (2017) presenting the results of the analysis of over 17,000 western pop music from 1960 to 2010 from the US Bill Board top 100 charts together with colleagues from Queen Mary University, with further work published by through the Royal Society. Armand has a special interest in how we can apply techniques from evolutionary biology to ask important questions about culture, humanities and what is unique about us as humans.

Previously, Armand presented Human Mutants, a three-part documentary series about human deformity for Channel 4 and as an award winning book, Mutants: On Genetic Variety and Human Body. He also wrote and presented a two part series What Makes Us Human also for Channel 4. On BBC Four Armand presented the documentaries What Darwin Didn't Know and Aristotle's Lagoon also releasing the book, The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science looking at Aristotle's impact on Science as we know it today.

Armands' keynote will reflect on his interest and experience in applying techniques he has used over many years from evolutionary biology such as bioinformatics, data-mining and machine learning to ask meaningful 'big' questions about culture, humanities and what makes us human.

The title of his talk will be 'The New Science of Culture'. Armand will follow in the footsteps of previous prestigious BL Labs keynote speakers: Dan Pett (2018); Josie Fraser (2017); Melissa Terras (2016); David De Roure and George Oates (2015); Tim Hitchcock (2014); Bill Thompson and Andrew Prescott in 2013.

The symposium will be introduced by the British Library's new Chief Librarian Liz Jolly. The day will include an update and exciting news from Mahendra Mahey (BL Labs Manager at the British Library) about the work of BL Labs highlighting innovative collaborations BL Labs has been working on including how it is working with Labs around the world to share experiences and knowledge, lessons learned . There will be news from the Digital Scholarship team about the exciting projects they have been working on such as Living with Machines and other initiatives together with a special insight from the British Library’s Digital Preservation team into how they attempt to preserve our digital collections and data for future generations.

Throughout the day, there will be several announcements and presentations showcasing work from nominated projects for the BL Labs Awards 2019, which were recognised last year for work that used the British Library’s digital content in Artistic, Research, Educational and commercial activities.

There will also be a chance to find out who has been nominated and recognised for the British Library Staff Award 2019 which highlights the work of an outstanding individual (or team) at the British Library who has worked creatively and originally with the British Library's digital collections and data (nominations close midday 5 November 2019).

As is our tradition, the Symposium will have plenty of opportunities for networking throughout the day, culminating in a reception for delegates and British Library staff to mingle and chat over a drink and nibbles.

Finally, we have teamed up with the interactive/immersive theatre company 'Uninvited Guests' who will give a specially organised performance for BL Labs Symposium attendees, directly after the symposium. This participatory performance will take the audience on a journey through a world that is on the cusp of a technological disaster. Our period of history could vanish forever from human memory because digital information will be wiped out for good. How can we leave a trace of our existence to those born later? Don't miss out on a chance to book on this unique event at 5pm specially organised to coincide with the end of the BL Labs Symposium. For more information, and for booking (spaces are limited), please visit here (the full cost is £13 with some concessions available). Please note, if you are unfortunate in not being able to join the 5pm show, there will be another performance at 1945 the same evening (book here for that one).

So don't forget to book your place for the Symposium today as we predict it will be another full house again and we don't want you to miss out.

We look forward to seeing new faces and meeting old friends again!

For any further information, please contact labs@bl.uk

14 September 2019

BL Labs Awards 2019: enter before 2100 on Sunday 29th September! (deadline extended)

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We have extended our deadline for our BL Labs Awards to 21:00 (BST) on Sunday 29th September, submit your entry here. If you have already entered, you don't have to resubmit, however, we are happy to receive updated entries too.

The BL Labs Awards formally recognises outstanding and innovative work that has been created using the British Library’s digital collections and data.

Submit your entry, and help us spread the word to all interested parties!

This year, BL Labs is commending work in four key areas:

  • Research - A project or activity that shows the development of new knowledge, research methods, or tools.
  • Commercial - An activity that delivers or develops commercial value in the context of new products, tools, or services that build on, incorporate, or enhance the Library's digital content.
  • Artistic - An artistic or creative endeavour that inspires, stimulates, amazes and provokes.
  • Teaching / Learning - Quality learning experiences created for learners of any age and ability that use the Library's digital content.

After the submission deadline of 21:00 (BST) on Sunday 29th September for entering the BL Labs Awards has passed, the entries will be shortlisted. Selected shortlisted entrants will be notified via email by midnight BST on Thursday 10th October 2019. 

A prize of £500 will be awarded to the winner and £100 to the runner up in each Awards category at the BL Labs Symposium on 11th November 2019 at the British Library, St Pancras, London.

The talent of the BL Labs Awards winners and runners up over the last four years has led to the production of a remarkable and varied collection of innovative projects. In 2018, the Awards commended work in four main categories – Research, Artistic, Commercial and Teaching & Learning:

Photo collage

  • Research category Award (2018) winner: The Delius Catalogue of Works: the production of a comprehensive catalogue of works by the composer Delius, based on research using (and integrated with) the BL’s Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue by Joanna Bullivant, Daniel Grimley, David Lewis and Kevin Page from Oxford University’s Music department.
  • Artistic Award (2018) winner: Another Intelligence Sings (AI Sings): an interactive, immersive sound-art installation, which uses AI to transform environmental sound recordings from the BL’s sound archive by Amanda Baum, Rose Leahy and Rob Walker independent artists and experience designers.
  • Commercial Award (2018) winner: Fashion presentation for London Fashion Week by Nabil Nayal: the Library collection - a fashion collection inspired by digitised Elizabethan-era manuscripts from the BL, culminating in several fashion shows/events/commissions including one at the BL in London.
  • Teaching and Learning (2018) winner: Pocket Miscellanies: ten online pocket-book ‘zines’ featuring images taken from the BL digitised medieval manuscripts collection by Jonah Coman, PhD student at Glasgow School of Art.

For further information about BL Labs or our Awards, please contact us at labs@bl.uk.

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of of British Library Labs.

19 February 2019

BL Labs 2018 Teaching & Learning Award Runner Up: 'Pocahontas and After'

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This guest blog is by Border Crossing, the 2018 BL Labs Teaching & Learning Award Runners Up, for their project, 'Pocahontas and After'.

Two images, each showing two young women, one from 1907, one 2018

Two images, each showing two young women dressed to show their culture, their pride, their sense of self. The first image dates from 1907, and shows The Misses Simeon, from the Stoney-Nakoda people of Western Canada, photographed by Byron Harmon. The second was taken in 2018 by John Cobb at Marlborough Primary School, West London, and shows a pupil of Iraqi heritage called Rose Al Saria, pictured with her sister. It was Rose who chose the particular archive image as the basis for her self-portrait, and who conceptualised the way it would be configured and posed.

This pair of photos is just one example in Border Crossings' exhibition Pocahontas and After, which was recently honoured in the British Library’s Labs Teaching and Learning category. The exhibition - which was seen by more than 20,000 people at Syon House last summer, and goes to St Andrews in February - represents the culmination of a sustained period of education and community work, beginning with the 2017 ORIGINS Festival. During the Festival, we not only held a ceremony for three indigenous women to commemorate Pocahontas at Syon, where she had stayed in the summer of 1616: we also brought indigenous artists into direct contact with the diverse communities around the House, in the two Primary Schools where they led workshops and study sessions, in the wonderful CARAS refugee group, and through our network of committed and energetic festival volunteers. In the following months, a distilled group from each of these partners worked closely with heritage experts from the archives (including the British Library’s own Dr. Philip Hatfield), Native American cultural consultants, and our own artistic staff to explore the ways in which Native American people have been presented in the past.

Their journeys into the archives were rich and challenging. What we think of as "realistic" photographs of indigenous people often turned out to be nothing of the kind. Edward Curtis, for example, apparently carried a chest of "authentic" costumes and props with him, which he used in his photographs to recreate the life of "the vanishing race" as he imagined it may have been in some pre-contact Romantic idyll. In other words, the archive photos are often about the photographer and the viewer, far more than they are about the subject.

Old photograph showing group of Native American men wearing traditional clothing driving in a car

Young boy in African dress in front of London Underground sign holding a toy bus

As our volunteers came to realise this, they became more and more assertive of the need for agency in contemporary portraiture. Complex and fascinating decisions started to be made, placing the generation of meaning in the bodies of the people photographed. For example, Sebastian Oliver Wallace-Odi, who has Ghanaian heritage, saw how Ronald Mumford’s archive photo had been contrived to show “British patriotism” from First Nations chiefs, riding a car bedecked in a Union Jack, during the First World War. Philip showed him how other photos demonstrated the presence of Mounties at the shoot, emphasising the lack of agency from the subjects. Sebastian countered it with an image in which the red white and blue flag is the symbol of the London Underground where his father works, and the car, like his shirt, is distinctly African.

What I love about this exhibition is that the meaning generated does not reside in one image or the other within the pair - but is rather in the energising of the space between, the dialogue between past and present, between different cultures, between human beings portrayed in different ways. It seems to me to be at once of way of honouring the indigenous subjects portrayed in the archive photographs, and of reinventing the form that was often too reductive in its attempts to categorise them.

Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting this project. Photos from the British Library digital collections.

Michael Walling - Artistic Director, Border Crossings. www.bordercrossings.org.uk

Watch the Border Crossing team receiving their Runner Up award and talking about their project on our YouTube channel (clip runs from 3.46 to 10.09):

Find out more about Digital Scholarship and BL Labs. If you have a project which uses British Library digital content in innovative and interesting ways, consider applying for an award this year! The 2019 BL Labs Symposium will take place on Monday 11 November at the British Library.