Digital scholarship blog

96 posts categorized "Contemporary Britain"

09 October 2023

Strike a Pose Steampunk style! For our Late event with Clockwork Watch on Friday 13th October

This Friday (13th October) the British Library invites you to join the world of Clockwork Watch by Yomi Ayeni, a participatory storytelling project, set in a fantastical retro-futurist vision of Victorian England, with floating cities and sky pirates, which is one of the showcased narratives in our Digital Storytelling exhibition.

Flyer with text saying Late at the Library, Digital Steampunk at the British Library, London. Friday 13 October, 19:30 – 22:30

We are delighted that Dark Box Images will be bringing their portable darkroom to the Late at the Library: Digital Steampunk event and taking portrait photographs. If this appeals to you, then please arrive early to have your picture taken. Photographer Gregg McNeill is an expert in the wet plate collodion process invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851. Gregg’s skill in using an authentic Victorian camera creates genuinely remarkable results that appear right in front of your eyes.

Black and white photograph of a woman wearing an elaborate outfit and a mask with her arms outstretched wide with fabric like wings
Wet plate collodion photograph of Jennifer Garside of Wyte Phantom corsetry, taken by Gregg McNeill of Dark Box Images

If you want to pose for the camera at our steampunk Late, or have a portrait drawn by artist Doctor Geof, please don’t be shy, this is an event where guests are encouraged to dress to impress! The aesthetic of steampunk fashion is inspired by Victoriana and 19th Century literature, including Jules Verne’s novels and the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Steampunk looks can include hats and googles, tweed tailoring, waistcoats, corsets, fob watches and fans. Whatever your personal style, we encourage you to unleash your creativity when putting together an outfit for this event.

Furthermore, whether you are seeking a new look or some finishing touches, there will be an opportunity to browse a Night Market at this Late event, where you can purchase and admire a range of exquisite hand crafted items created by:

  • Jema Hewitt, a professional costumer and academic, will be bringing some of her unique, handmade jewellery and accessories to the Library Late event. She was one of the originators of the early artistic steampunk scene in the UK, subsequently exhibiting her costume work internationally, and having three how-to-make books published as her alter ego “Emilly Ladybird”. Jema currently specialises as a pattern cutter for film, theatre and TV, as well as lecturing and teaching workshops.
Photograph of jewellery, hats and clothing
Jewellery, hats and clothing created by Jema Hewitt/Emilly Ladybird
  • Doctor Geof, an artist, scientist, comics creator and maker of whimsical objects. His work is often satirical, usually with an historical twist, and features tea, goblins, krakens, steampunk, smut, nuns, bees, cats and more tea. Since 2004 you may have encountered him selling his comics, prints, cards, mugs, pins, and for some reason a lot of embroidered badges (including an Evil Librarian patch!) at various events. As one of the foremost Steampunk artists in the UK, Doctor Geof has worked with and exhibited at the Cutty Sark, Royal Museums Greenwich, and Discovery Museum Newcastle. He is a talented portrait artist, so please seek him out if you would like him to capture your likeness in ink and watercolour.
A round embroidered patch with a cartoon figure wearing goggles and carrying books. Text says "Evil Librarian"
Evil Librarian embroidered patch by Dr Geof

  • Jennifer Garside, a seamstress specialising in modern corsetry, which takes inspiration from historical styles. Her business, Wyte Phantom, opened in 2010, and she has made costumes for opera singers, performers and artists across the world.

  • Tracy Wells, a couture milliner based in the Lake District. She creates all kinds of hats and headpieces, often collaborating with other artists to explore new styles, concepts and genres.
Photograph of a woman wearing a steampunk hat with feathers
Millinery by Tracy Wells
  • Herr Döktor, a renowned inventor, gadgeteer, and contraptionist, who has been working in his Laboratory in the Surrey Hills for the last two decades, building a better future via the prism of history. He will be bringing a small selection of his inventions and scale models of his larger ideas. (His alter ego, Ian Crichton, is a professional model maker with thirty years experience as a toy prototype maker, museum and exhibition designer, and, most recently, building props and models for the film industry, he also lives in the Surrey Hills). 
Photograph of a man wearing a top hat and carrying a model submarine
Herr Döktor, inventor, gadgeteer, and contraptionist. Photograph by Adam Stait
  • Linette Withers established Anachronalia in 2012 to be a full-time bookbinder, producing historically-inspired books, miniature books, and quirky stationery. Her work has been shortlisted for display at the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford as part of their ‘Redesigning the Medieval Book’ competition and exhibition in 2018 and one of her books is held in the permanent collection of The Lit & Phil in Newcastle after being part of an exhibition of bookbinding in 2021. She also teaches bookbinding in her studio in Leeds.

  • Heather Hayden of Diamante Queen Designs creates handmade vintage inspired, kitsch, macabre, noir accessories for everybody to wear and enjoy. Heather studied fashion and surface pattern design in the 80's near Leeds during the emergence of Gothic culture and has remained interested in the darker side of life ever since. She became fascinated with Steampunk after seeing Datamancer's Steampunk computer, loving the juxtaposition of new and old technology. This inspired her to make steampunk clothing and accessories using old and found items and upcycling as much as possible.
Photograph of a mannequin head wearing a headpiece with tassels, feathers, flowers and beads
Headpiece by Diamante Queen Designs
  • Matthew Chapman of Raphael's Workshop specialises in creating strange and sublime chainmail items, bringing ideas to life in metal that few would ever consider. From collars to corsets, serpents to squids, arms to armour and medals to masterpieces, you should visit his stall and see what creations spark the imagination.
Photograph of a table displaying a range of wearable items of chainmail jewellery and accessories
Chainmail jewellery and accessories created by Raphael's Workshop

We hope that this post has whetted your appetite for the delights available at the Late at the Library: Digital Steampunk event on Friday 13th October at the British Library. Tickets can be booked here.

02 October 2023

Last chance to see the Digital Storytelling exhibition

All good things must come to an end, no I’m not talking about the collapse of a favourite high street chain store beginning with W, but the final few weeks of our Digital Storytelling exhibition, which closes on the 15th October 2023. If you haven’t seen it yet, then this is your last chance to book!

Digital Storytelling showcases eleven different born digital works, including interactive narratives that respond to user input, reading experiences personalised by data feeds, and immersive multimedia story worlds developed through audience participation. From thought provoking autobiographical hypertexts to data journalism, uncanny ghost stories to weather poetry, steampunk literary adaptation to quirky Elizabethan medical comedy. 

Digital Storytelling exhibition image with art from Astrologaster, Seed, 80 Days, and Zombies, Run!

If you want to hear more about this exhibition, Digital Curator Stella Wisdom will be giving two talks later this week. The first of these will be in-person on Thursday evening, 5th October, in Richmond Lending Library for the Richmond Reads season of events, celebrating the joys and benefits of reading. The second will be held online on Friday morning, 6th October, for the DARIAH-EU autumn 2023 Friday Frontiers series.

We are also delighted to share that there is a chapter about interactive digital books written by Giulia Carla Rossi, Curator for Digital Publications, in The Book by Design, which was recently launched by our colleagues in British Library Publishing. Giulia’s chapter discusses innovative Editions at Play publications, including Seed by Joanna Walsh and Breathe by Kate Pullinger, which are both currently displayed in Digital Storytelling.

Before the Digital Storytelling exhibition closes, we'd love you to join us for a party on the evening of Friday 13th October. For one night only, transmedia storyteller Yomi Ayeni will transform the British Library into the Clockwork Watch story world for an immersive steampunk late event.

Genre-bending DJ Sacha Dieu will be spinning the best in Balkan Gypsy, Electro Swing, and Global Beats. Professor Elemental will perform live for us, and we really hope he’ll sing I Love Libraries! You'll also be able to view the Digital Storytelling exhibition, and there will be quieter areas to explore 19th Century London in Minecraft, play board games including Great Scott! The Game of Mad Invention with games librarian Marion Tessier, and to discover poetry with the Itinerant Poetry Librarian.

If you plan to party with us, book your ticket here.

27 September 2023

Late at the Library: Digital Steampunk

Summer may be over, but there is much to look forward to this autumn, including our Late at the Library: Digital Steampunk event on Friday 13th October 2023, where we invite you to immerse yourself in the Clockwork Watch story world, party with chap hop maestro Professor Elemental and explore 19th-century London in Minecraft. If these kind of shenanigans sound right up your street, then book tickets here and join us!

Clockwork Watch by Yomi Ayeni is currently showcased in the British Library’s Digital Storytelling exhibition, which is open until 15 October 2023. Set in a retro-futurist steampunk Victorian England, Clockwork Watch is a participatory story that includes multiple voices and perspectives on themes relating to empire, colonialism, exploitation and resistance, which is told across a range of formats, including a series of graphic novels (there is an overview of these titles here), immersive theatre, role play, and an online newspaper the London Gazette.

Drawing of a a range of people in steampunk clothing,in front of a London skyline
Steampunk Illustration by Brett Walsh

For the evening of Friday 13th October, the British Library will transform into the story world of the next part of the Clockwork Watch narrative. Featuring an auction of the last few remaining properties on Peak B, and the opening of bids for Peak C, new housing developments situated on floating islands hovering over the British Channel. Leggett and Scarper, the estate agents managing these properties, will also be inviting inventors or anyone with a solution to problems plaguing these floating islands, to submit their plans for a chance to win a Golden Ticket to one of the new homes on Peak C.

Illustration of Peak B property development on a floating island
© Clockwork Watch / Graham Leggett 2023

Attendees will be able to explore the streets of Sherlock Holmes’ London in Minecraft created by Blockworks and Lancaster University, visit the Night Market, have a photograph taken with authentic Victorian Dark Box photography, or a portrait drawn by artist Dr Geof, and that’s before the auction begins. But be warned, buying your way into this real estate dreamworld is not straightforward – this night is a golden opportunity for the Clockwork Watch underbelly of pickpockets, rogues and vagabonds.

Dressing up and joining in is heartily encouraged. To prepare for this event, we suggest reading the Clockwork Watch graphic novels, you can order these online, or purchase the first two ominbus editions from the British Library’s onsite shop. Also check out the London Gazette website and this special British Library edition of the newspaper. We hope to see you there!

Cover page of the London Gazette British Library edition
© Clockwork Watch

02 September 2023

Huzzah! Hear the songs from Astrologaster live at the Library

Digitised archives and library collections are rich resources for creative practitioners, including video game makers, who can bring history to life in new ways with immersive storytelling. A wonderful example of this is Astrologaster by Nyamyam, an interactive comedy set in Elizabethan London, based on the manuscripts of medical astrologer Simon Forman, which is currently showcased in the British Library’s Digital Storytelling exhibition.

Artwork from the game Astrologaster, showing Simon Forman surrounded by astrological symbols and with two patients standing each side of him

On Friday 15th September we are delighted to host an event to celebrate the making and the music of Astrologaster. Featuring game designer Jennifer Schneidereit in conversation with historian Lauren Kassell discussing how they created the game. Followed by a vocal quartet who will sing madrigal songs from the soundtrack composed by Andrea Boccadoro. Each character in the game has their own Renaissance style theme song with witty lyrics written by Katharine Neil. This set has never before been performed live, so we can’t wait to hear these songs at the Library and we would love for you to join us, click here to book. We've had the title song, which you can play below, as an earworm for the last few months!

Simon Forman was a self-taught doctor and astrologer who claimed to have cured himself of the plague in 1592. Despite being unlicensed and scorned by the Royal College of Physicians he established a practice in London where he analysed the stars to diagnose and solve his querents’ personal, professional and medical problems. Forman documented his life and work in detail, leaving a vast quantity of papers to his protégé Richard Napier, whose archive was subsequently acquired by Elias Ashmole for the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford. In the nineteenth century this collection transferred to the Bodleian Library, where Forman’s manuscripts can still be consulted today.

Screen capture of the Casebooks digital edition showing an image of a manuscript page on the left and a transcript on the right
Screen capture image of the Casebooks digital edition showing ‘CASE5148’.
Lauren Kassell, Michael Hawkins, Robert Ralley, John Young, Joanne Edge, Janet Yvonne Martin-Portugues, and Natalie Kaoukji (eds.), ‘CASE5148’, The casebooks of Simon Forman and Richard Napier, 1596–1634: a digital edition, https://casebooks.lib.cam.ac.uk/cases/CASE5148, accessed 1 September 2023.

Funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Casebooks Project led by Professor Lauren Kassell at the University of Cambridge, spent over a decade researching, digitising, documenting and transcribing these records. Producing The casebooks of Simon Forman and Richard Napier, 1596–1634: a digital edition published by Cambridge Digital Library in May 2019. Transforming the archive into a rich searchable online resource, with transcriptions and editorial insights about the astrologers’ records, alongside digitised images of the manuscripts.

In 2014 Nyamyam’s co-founder and creative director Jennifer Schneidereit saw Lauren present her research on Simon Forman’s casebooks, and became fascinated by this ambitious astrologer. Convinced that Forman and his patients’ stories would make an engaging game with astrology as a gameplay device, she reached out to Lauren to invite her to be a consultant on the project. Fortunately Lauren responded positively and arranged for the Casebooks Project to formally collaborate with Nyamyam to mine Forman’s patient records for information and inspiration to create the characters and narrative in the Astrologaster game.  

Screen capture image of a playthrough video of Astrologaster, showing a scene in the game where you select an astrological reading
Still image of a playthrough video demonstrating how to play Astrologaster made by Florence Smith Nicholls for the Digital Storytelling exhibition

At the British Library we are interested in collecting and curating interactive digital narratives as part of our ongoing emerging formats research. One method we are investigating is the acquisition and creation of contextual information, such as recording playthrough videos. In the Digital Storytelling exhibition you can watch three gameplay recordings, including one demonstrating how to play Astrologaster. These were made by Florence Smith Nicholls, a game AI PhD researcher based at Queen Mary University of London, using facilities at the City Interaction Lab within the Centre for Human-Computer Interaction Design at City, University of London. Beyond the exhibition, these recordings will hopefully benefit researchers in the future, providing valuable documentation on the original ‘look and feel’ of an interactive digital narrative, in addition to instructions on use whenever a format has become obsolete.

The Digital Storytelling exhibition is open until the 15th October 2023 at the British Library, displaying 11 narratives that demonstrate the evolving field of interactive writing. We hope you can join us for upcoming related events, including the Astrologaster performance on Friday 15th September, and an epic Steampunk Late on Friday 13th October. We are planning this Late with Clockwork Watch, Blockworks and Lancaster University's Litcraft initiative, so watch this blog for more information on this event soon.

04 July 2023

MIX 2023 Storytelling in Immersive Media

This Friday we are looking forward to hosting MIX 2023 at the Library. Presented in partnership with Bath Spa University’s Centre for Cultural and Creative Industries, The Writing Platform and MyWorld, this conference explores the intersection of writing and technology, creating an opportunity for scholars and practitioners to share and discuss research and practice in the rapidly evolving field of storytelling in immersive environments.

Text on image says "MIX 2023 Storytelling in Immersive Media, 7th July 2023" underneath are partner logos

Our opening keynote speaker is Adrian Hon, co-founder and CEO at Six to Start, creators of the world’s best selling smartphone fitness game, Zombies, Run!, which is currently showcased in the Library’s Digital Storytelling exhibition (2 June – 15 October 2023). Following Adrian’s talk is a jam packed programme of presentations and panel discussions examining where and how creative writing and emerging technologies meet. MIX 2023 sessions will cover a range of themes and topics including interactive and locative works, text in immersive media, digital and film poetry, narrative games, digital preservation, archiving and curation, and storytelling with AI. There will also be an area at this event for attendees to experience VR works of poetry and literature, including The Abandoned Library by Dreaming Methods, led by Andy Campbell and Judi Alston.

If this event sounds up your street, there is still time to book a place for MIX 2023 on Friday 7th July, 09:00 - 17:00. It will take place in person, in the Library’s Knowledge Centre and will not be live-streamed. The ticket price covers a sandwich lunch, refreshments during the day, and includes access to an evening performance of An Island of Sound by award winning poet J.R. Carpenter and audiovisual composer Jules Rawlinson. 

Artwork from 80 Days showing profile faces of characters Passepartout and Phileas Fogg

If you would like to develop your interactive writing skills, then you may also be interested in signing up for our Fiction as Dialogue Interactive Fiction Summer School, which will run from Monday 21st to Friday 25th August 2023. Led by Dr. Florencia Minuzzi, veteran games writer and narrative designer, this course will teach participants how to create interactive narratives using ink, a writer-friendly open-source scripting language that does not require programming knowledge.

This summer school will also feature expert guest speakers, including Corey Brotherson, the writer for in-development interactive narrative Windrush Tales, and the adapting writer/editor of Yomi Ayeni’s acclaimed steampunk transmedia series, Clockwork Watch. Meghna Jayanth, a video game writer and narrative designer, known for her writing on inkle's 80 Days, for which she won the UK Writers’ Guild Award for Best Writing in a Video Game. Dan Hett, a prolific digital artist and writer from Manchester, whose work c-ya-laterrrr won the 2020 New Media Writing Prize, and game designer Destina Connor, Co-director of Tea-Powered Games, an independent game company dedicated to telling interesting stories in innovative ways.

Text on image says "Everything Forever, 10 years of electronic legal deposit"

2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the British Library and also 10 years since the introduction of non-print (electronic) legal deposit, providing a perfect moment to reflect on our achievements and also to look forwards to the future. Our Digital Storytelling exhibition events, including MIX 2023, create opportunities to celebrate pioneering and experimental writing, and also to consider what new forms of digital storytelling may arise in the coming years. We hope you can join us.

22 June 2023

Explore Windrush Tales in our Digital Storytelling exhibition

On the 22nd June in 1948 the HMT Empire Windrush docked in Tilbury, Essex, bringing people from the Caribbean who had been invited to help rebuild "the motherland" after the devastation of the Second World War.

Seventy-five years later, stories from the Windrush generation are shared in a ground breaking illustrated text-based interactive narrative from 3-Fold Games. Windrush Tales is still in development, but a preview can be read exclusively in the British Library’s current Digital Storytelling exhibition, which is open until 15 October 2023.

Illustration of a boat and story choices
Windrush Tales art by Naima Ramanan © 3-Fold Games

Windrush Tales tells the stories of characters Rose, an aspiring nurse, and her older brother Vernon, through a beautiful illustrated interactive photo album and branching narrative, allowing choices within the game to lead to one of many endings. Apprehensive but tenacious, Rose joins her brother in England with the intention to start work as a nurse in the newly formed NHS. Vernon has been in Britain for several years but, unknown to his sister, has struggled to find and stay in employment. Through his photography, he documents how they adapt to their new life, from grassroots arts and activism, to church and social clubs.

Illustration of a photograph showing the faces of a man and a woman
Windrush Tales art by Naima Ramanan © 3-Fold Games

As part of their extensive research process to develop the game's story lines, creative director Chella Ramanan and writer Corey Brotherson, both descendants of the Windrush generation, have drawn upon their families' experiences, news coverage, books, and exhibitions. They also consulted with people who emigrated from the Caribbean to Britain during the Windrush period from the late 1940s to the early 1970s, and their families, via a workshop organised in collaboration with Jennifer Allsopp, from the University of Birmingham.

Windrush Tales is one of eleven showcased narratives in Digital Storytelling, the first exhibition of its kind at the Library. Curators worked closely with writers, artists and creators to display a range of innovative publications, which reflect the rapidly evolving field of interactive writing, stories that are dynamic, responsive, personalised and immersive.

To accompany this exhibition there is a season of in-person events at the Library. Writer Corey Brotherson from the Windrush Tales team will be speaking about another of his projects, the Clockwork Watch story world at MIX 2023 Storytelling in Immersive Media, a one-day conference exploring the intersection of writing and technology on Friday 7 July 2023. Corey is also a guest tutor at the Fiction as Dialogue, Interactive Fiction Summer School, which runs from 21st to the 25th August 2023.

31 March 2023

Mapping Caribbean Diasporic Networks through the Correspondence of Andrew Salkey

This is a guest post by Natalie Lucy, a PhD student at University College London, who recently undertook a British Library placement to work on a project Mapping Caribbean Diasporic Networks through the correspondence of Andrew Salkey.

Project Objectives

The project, supervised by curators Eleanor Casson and Stella Wisdom, focussed on the extensive correspondence contained within Andrew Salkey’s archive. One of the initial objectives was to digitally depict the movement of key Caribbean writers and artists, as it is evidenced within the correspondence, many of whom travelled between Britain and the Caribbean as well as the United States, Central and South America and Africa. Although Salkey corresponded with a diverse range of people, we therefore focused on the letters in his archive which were from Caribbean writers and academics and which illustrated  patterns of movement of the Caribbean diaspora. Much of the correspondence stems from 1960s and 1970s, a time when Andrew Salkey was particularly active both in the Caribbean Artists Movement and, as a writer and broadcaster, at the BBC.

Photograph of Andrew Salkey's head and shoulders in profile
Photograph of Andrew Salkey

Andrew Salkey was unusual not only for the panoply of writers, artists and politicians with whom he was connected, but that he sustained those relationships, carefully preserving the correspondence which resulted from those networks. My personal interest in this project stemmed from the fact that my PhD seeks to consider the ways that the Caribbean trickster character, Anancy, has historically been reinvented to say something about heritage and identity. Significant to that question was the way that the Caribbean Artists Movement, a dynamic group of artists and writers formed in London in the mid-1960s, and of which Andrew Salkey was a founder, appropriated Anancy, reasserting him and the folktales to convey something of a literary ‘voice’ for the Caribbean. For this reason, I was also interested in the writing networks which were evidenced within the correspondence, together with their impact.

What is Gephi?

Prior to starting the project, Eleanor, who had catalogued the Andrew Salkey archive and Digital Curator, Stella, had identified Gephi as a possible software application through which to visualise this data. Gephi has been used in a variety of projects, including several at Harvard University, examples of the breadth and diversity of those initiatives can be found here. Several of these projects have social networks or historical trading routes as their focus, with obvious parallels to this project. Others notably use correspondence as their main data.

Gathering the Data

Andrew Salkey was known as something of a chronicler. He was interested in letters and travel and was also a serious collector of stamps. As such, he had not only retained the majority of the letters he received but categorised them. Eleanor had originally identified potential correspondents who might be useful to the project, selecting writers who travelled widely, whose correspondence had been separately stored by Salkey, partly because of its volume, and who might be of wider interest to the public. These included the acclaimed Caribbean writers, Samuel Selvon, George Lamming, Jan Carew and Edward Kamau Brathwaite and publishers and political activists, Jessica and Eric Huntley.

Our initial intention was to limit the data to simple facts which could easily be gleaned from the letters. Gephi required that we did so on a spreadsheet ,which had to conform to a particular format. In the first stages of the project, the data was confined to the dates and location of the correspondence, information which could suggest the patterns of movement within the diaspora. However, the letters were so rich in detail, that we ultimately recorded other information. This included any additional travel taken by any of the correspondents,  and which was clearly evidenced in the letters, together with any passages from the correspondence which demonstrated either something of the nature and quality of the friendships or, alternatively, the mutual benefit of those relationships to the careers of so many of the writers.

Creating a visual network

Dr Duncan Hay was invited to collaborate with me on this project, as he has considerable expertise in this field, his research interests include web mapping for culture and heritage and data visualisation for literary criticism.  After the initial data was collated, we discussed with Duncan what visualisations could be created. It became apparent early on that creating a visualisation of the social networks, as opposed to the patterns of movement, might be relatively straightforward via Gephi, an application which was particularly useful for this type of graph. I had prepared a spreadsheet but, Gephi requires the data to be presented in a strictly consistent way which meant that any anomalies had to be eradicated and the data effectively ‘cleaned up’ using Open Refine. Gephi also requires that information is presented by way of a system of ‘nodes’; ‘edges’  and ‘attributes’ with corresponding spreadsheet columns. In our project, the ‘nodes’ referred to Andrew Salkey and each of the correspondents and other individuals of interest who were specifically referred to within the correspondence. The edges referred to the way that those people were connected which, in this case, was through correspondence. However, what added to the potential of the project was that these nodes and edges could be further described by reference to ‘attributes.’ The possibility of assigning a range of ‘attributes’ to each of the correspondents allowed a wealth of additional information to be provided about the networks. As a consequence, and in order to make any visualisation as informative as possible, I also added brief biographical information for each of the writers and artists to be inputted as ‘attributes’ together with some explanation of the nature of the networks that were being illustrated.

The visual illustration below shows not only the quantity of letters from the sample of correspondents to Andrew Salkey (the pink lines),  but also shows which other correspondents formed part of those networks and were referenced as friends or contacts within specific items of correspondence. For example, George Lamming references academic, Rex Nettleford and writer and activist, Claudia Jones, the founder of the Notting Hill Carnival, in his correspondence, connections which are depicted in grey. 

Data visualisation of nodes and lines representing Andrew Salkey's Correspondence Network
Gephi: Andrew Salkey correspondence network

The aim was, however, for the visualisation to also be interactive. This required considerable further manipulation of the format and tools. In this illustration you can see the information that is revealed about the prominent Barbadian writer, George Lamming which, in an interactive format, can be accessed via the ‘i’ symbols beside many of the nodes coloured in green.  

Whilst Gephi was a useful tool with which to illustrate the networks, it was less helpful as a way to demonstrate the patterns of movement, one of the primary objectives of the project. A challenge was, therefore, to create a map which could be both interactive and illustrative of the specific locations of the correspondents as well as their movement over time. With Duncan’s input and expertise, we opted for a hybrid approach, utilising two principal ways to illustrate the data: we used Gephi to create a visualisation of the ‘networks’ (above) and another software tool, Kepler.gl, to show the diasporic movement.

A static version of what ultimately will be a ‘moving’ map (illustrating correspondence with reference to person, date and location) is shown below. As well as demonstrating patterns of movement, it should also be possible to access information about specific letters as well as their shelf numbers through this map, hopefully making the archive more accessible.

Data visualisation showing lines connecting countries on a map showing part of the Americas, Europe and Africa
Patterns of diasporic movement from Andrew Salkey's correspondence, illustrated in Kepler.gl

Whilst we are still exploring the potential of this project and how it might intersect with other areas of research and archives, it has already revealed something of the benefits of this type of data visualisation. For example, a project of this type could be used as an educational tool, providing something of a simple, but dynamic, introduction to the Caribbean Artists Movement. Being able to visualise the project has also allowed us to input information which confirms where specific letters of interest might be found within the archive. Ultimately, it is hoped that the project will offer ways to make a rich, yet arguably undervalued, archive more accessible to a wider audience with the potential to replicate something of an introductory model, or ‘pilot’ for further archives in the future. 

20 March 2023

Digital Storytelling at the 2023 BL Labs Symposium

One half of the 2023 British Library Labs Symposium will be dedicated to digital storytelling. This has been a significant part of BL Labs work over the years; we have collaborated with experimental artists from David Normal’s creative reuse of British Library Flickr images for his giant lightbox collage Crossroads of Curiosity installation at the 2014 Burning Man festival, to working with first runner up in the BL Labs 2016 competition Michael Takeo Magruder on his 2019 exhibition Imaginary Cities.

People looking at lightbox collage artworks
Crossroads of Curiosity by David Normal

In the last few years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic disruption, digital stories and engagement have become mainstream across the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) sector. New types of digital storytelling mixing social media, online exhibitions embedding narratives and digital objects, and interactive online events reaching entirely new audiences, delighted us all. However, we also discovered that there can be a saturation point with online engagement, and that many digital developments have some way to go to reach their full potential.

As we are hopefully entering healthier times, new opportunities to mix virtual and physical worlds are starting to open up. With this in mind, we felt that this is the right moment to explore a new age of digital storytelling at the 2023 BL Labs Symposium.

The idea is to explore what is changing in the world of technological possibilities and how they are continuing to develop. We have envisaged a journey that will take us from the big picture of the arising digital possibilities to more specific examples from the British Library’s work. In true BL Labs spirit we will also celebrate initiatives that creatively reuse the Library’s digital collections.

To help us look into the big trends, we are delighted to be joined by Zillah Watson, whose extraordinary breath of experience working with BBC, Meta, BFI and Royal Shakespeare Company amongst many others, will help us to get a deeper sense of the opportunities of virtual reality (VR). Zillah will look into what it means, not just to be dazzled with technological possibilities, but also to enter the magic of storytelling.

Talking of magic, we are lucky to welcome award winning Director, Anrick Bregman, and award winning Producer, Grace Baird. Anrick and Grace will take us deeper into the potential of using VR to uncover hidden stories. Anrick’s film A Convict Story is an interactive VR project built on British Library data that brings to life a story discovered by the linking of data from centuries ago, using data research powered by machine learning.

Even closer to home, our own Stella Wisdom and Ian Cooke, will talk about their current work on curating the British Library’s forthcoming Digital Storytelling exhibition (2 June – 15 October 2023), which will explore the ways technology provides opportunities to transform and enhance the way writers write and readers engage. Drawing on the Library’s collection of contemporary digital publications and emerging formats to highlight the work of innovative and experimental writers. It will feature interactive works that invite and respond to user input, reading experiences influenced by data feeds, and immersive story worlds created using multiple platforms and audience participation. This is an exciting development, as we can see how earlier British Library creative digital experiments, collaborations and research projects are building into an exhibition in its own right.

We hope you can join us for discussion at the BL Labs Symposium on Thursday 30 March 2023. For the full programme, and further information on all our speakers, please read our earlier blog post.

 You can book your place here

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