THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Digital scholarship blog

133 posts categorized "Projects"

19 June 2019

The Shape of Contemporary British Interactive Fiction

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When I started this Innovation Placement, I had no idea what I was doing. Six months on, and the main thing I’ve learned is that I know even less than I thought I did. Which is not to say that I haven’t learned a lot, just that archiving interactive narrative is an even more complex and varied task than I had imagined, as are the works of interactive fiction themselves.

One of my key goals was to explore how to preserve interactive works for future researchers. My first task was finding suitable works – they had to be web-based (no downloadable files), be recognisable as interactive narratives in some way and be identifiably created in the UK. Sites such as IFDB (the Interactive Fiction Database) and Sub-Q (the only commercial IF-focussed magazine) and competitions such as Spring Thing and IFComp were invaluable sources, but determining whether the authors were UK-based was more difficult. Some remained entirely anonymous, or gave no indication as to their location on their website or social media, which meant it was not possible to include them in this particular project.

Once found, capturing the works initially didn’t appear to be too much of a challenge. The UK Web Archive’s crawlers were able to get most hypertexts while Webrecorder made it possible to collect most other works. However, playback was where the difficulties crept in. Some works captured well, but wouldn’t play back. Or played back, but with errors. Or showed that actually, the works had still been pulling information from the live web, and when placed in the archive and severed from this outside contact, no longer worked. You can see the Webrecorder collection here, and the UKWA Collection here, although the latter is a work-in-progress. A full list of all works reviewed (some of which were not collectable for various reasons) can be found here.

If you’re a maker of interactive works, I strongly suggest that you submit your work to UKWA or make a copy on Webrecorder and download the WARC (Web ARChive) files it creates (or both), because it will likely be some time before libraries develop systematic collecting policies for these works due to the many challenges associated with collecting and sharing them. Having your work backed up in WARC format may help you stay ahead of the curve!

My other key goal was to get a sense of the ‘shape’ of contemporary British web-based interactive fiction. If I had to draw it, I’d probably do something like this:

Shapes1

Or maybe even like this:

Shapes2

It’s messy and disruptive and gloriously so. But that’s not to say there aren’t some common threads running through the work. Some themes and motifs cropped up many times in many different guises.  Trains, cats, mental health and interactive fiction itself were all addressed by multiple creators, some taking on several of these topics at once in one work. Librarians and archivists were surprisingly well-represented as creators of interactive works, with a piece by the British Library’s own Andy Jackson included in the collection, and creators based at various other UK libraries also contributing works.

Naturally, I wrote some more formal reports on the types of works being created, the tools being used, and the methods used to collect them. However, I felt that the only way to truly summarise the experience of reading and playing and attempting to collect all these amazing works was to create a piece of interactive fiction that mimics the experience of reading and playing and attempting to capture all these amazing works. The result was The Memory Archivist which hopefully goes some way towards conveying the challenges faced by archivists of complex digital works, but also why tackling those challenges is important. I hope you enjoy it.

This post is by the Library's Innovation Fellow for Interactive Fiction Lynda Clark, on twitter as @Notagoth. You can find out more about the Library's Emerging Formats project here.

10 June 2019

Collaborative Digital Scholarship in Action: A Case Study in Designing Impactful Student Learning Partnerships

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The Arts and Sciences (BASc) department at University College London has been at the forefront of pioneering a renascence of liberal arts and sciences degrees in the UK. As part of its Core modules offering, students select an interdisciplinary elective in Year 2 of their academic programme – from a range of modules specially designed for the department by University College London academics and researchers.

When creating my own module – Information Through the Ages (BASC0033) – as part of this elective set, I was keen to ensure that the student learning experience was both supported and developed in tandem with professional practices and standards, knowing that enabling students to progress their skills developed on the module beyond the module’s own assignments would aid them not only in their own unique academic degree programmes but also provide substantial evidence to future employers of their employability and skills base. Partnering with the British Library, therefore, in designing a data science and data curation project as part of the module’s core assignments, seemed to me to provide an excellent opportunity to enable both a research-based educative framework for students as well as a valuable chance for them to engage in a real-world collaboration, as providing students with external industry partners to collaborate with can contribute an important fillip to their motivation and the learning experience overall – by seeing their assessed work move beyond the confines of the academy to have an impact out in the wider world.

Through discussions with my British Library co-collaborators, Mahendra Mahey and Stella Wisdom, we alighted on the Microsoft Books/BL 19th Century collection dataset as providing excellent potential for student groups to work with for their data curation projects. With its 60,000 public domain volumes, associated metadata and 1 million+ extracted images, it presented as exciting, undiscovered territory across which our student groups might roam and rove, with the results of their work having the potential to benefit future British Library researchers.

Structuring the group project around wrangling a subset of this data: discovering, researching, cleaning and refining it, with the output from each group a curated version of the original dataset we therefore felt presented a number of significant benefits. Students were enabled to explore and develop technical skills such as data curation, software knowledge, archival research, report writing, project development and collaborative working practices, alongside experiencing a real world, digital scholarship learning experience – with the outcomes in turn supporting the British Library’s Digital Scholarship remit regards enabling innovative research based on the British Library digital collections.

Students observed that “working with the data did give me more practical insight to the field of work involved with digitisation work, and it was an enriching experience”, including how they “appreciated how involved and hands-on the projects were, as this is something that I particularly enjoy”. Data curation training was provided on site at the British Library, with the session focused on the use of OpenRefine, “a powerful tool for working with messy data: cleaning it; transforming it from one format into another; and extending it with web services and external data.”[1] Student feedback also told us that we could have provided further software training, and more guided dataset exploration/navigation resources, with groups keen to learn more nuanced data curation techniques – something we will aim to respond to in future iterations of the module – but overall, as one student succinctly noted, “I had no idea of the digitalization process and I learned a lot about data science. The training was very useful and I acquired new skills about data cleaning.”

Overall, we had five student groups wrangling the BL 19th Century collection, producing final data subsets in the following areas: Christian and Christian-related texts; Queens of Britain 1510-1946; female authors, 1800-1900 (here's a heatmap this student group produced of the spread of published titles by female authors in the 19th century); Shakespearean works, other author’s adaptations on those works, and any commentary on Shakespeare or his writing; and travel-related books.

In particular, it was excellent to see students fully engaging with the research process around their chosen data subset – exploring its cultural and institutional contexts, as well as navigating metadata/data schemas, requirements and standards.

For example, the Christian texts group considered the issue of different languages as part of their data subset of texts, following this up with textual content analysis to enable accurate record querying and selection. In their project report they noted that “[u]sing our dataset and visualisations as aids, we hope that researchers studying the Bible and Christianity can discover insights into the geographical and temporal spread of Christian-related texts. Furthermore, we hope that they can also glean new information regarding the people behind the translations of Bibles as well as those who wrote about Christianity.”

Similarly, the student group focused on travel-related texts discussed in their team project summary that “[t]he particular value of this curated dataset is that future researchers may be able to use it in the analysis of international points of view. In these works, many cities and nations are being written about from an outside perspective. This perspective is one that can be valuable in understanding historical relations and frames of reference between groups around the world: for instance, the work “Travels in France and Italy, in 1817 and 1818”, published in New York, likely provides an American perspective of Europe, while “Four Months in Persia, and a Visit to Trans-Caspia”, published in London, might detail an extended visit of a European in Persia, both revealing unique perspectives about different groups of people. A comparable work, that may have utilized or benefitted from such a collection, is Hahner’s (1998) “Women Through Women’s Eyes:Latin American Women in Nineteenth Century Travel Accounts.” In it, Hahner explores nineteenth century literature written to unearth the perspectives on Latin American women, specifically noting that the primarily European author’s writings should be understood in the context of their Eurocentric view, entrenched in “patriarchy” and “colonialism” (Hahner, 1998:21). Authors and researchers with a similar intent may use [our] curated British Library dataset comparably – that is, to locate such works.”

Data visualisation by travel books group
Data visualisation by travel books group
Data visualisation by travel books group
Data visualisation by travel books group

Over the ten weeks of the module, alongside their group data curation projects, students covered lecture topics as varied as Is a Star a Document?, "Truthiness" and Truth in a Post-Truth World, Organising Information: Classification, Taxonomies and Beyond!, and Information & Power; worked on an individual archival GIF project which drew on an institutional archival collection to create (and publish on social media) an animated GIF; and spent time in classroom discussions considering questions such as What happens when information is used for dis-informing or mis-informing purposes?; How do the technologies available to us in the 21st century potentially impact on the (data) collection process and its outputs and outcomes?; How might ideas about collections and collecting be transformed in a digital context?; What exactly do we mean by the concepts of Data and Information?; How we choose to classify or group something first requires we have a series of "rules" or instructions which determine the grouping process – but who decides on what the rules are and how might such decisions in fact influence our very understandings of the information the system is supposedly designed to facilitate access to? These dialogues were all situated within the context of both "traditional" collections systems and atypical sites of information storage and collection, with the module aiming to enable students to gain an in-depth knowledge, understanding and critical appreciation of the concept of information, from historical antecedents to digital scientific and cultural heritage forms, in the context of libraries, archives, galleries and museums (including alternative, atypical and emergent sources), and how technological, social, cultural and other changes fundamentally affect our concept of “information.”

“I think this module was particularly helpful in making me look at things in an interdisciplinary light”, one student observed in module evaluation feedback, with others going on to note that “I think the different formats of work we had to do was engaging and made the coursework much more interesting than just papers or just a project … the collaboration with the British Library deeply enriched the experience by providing a direct and visible outlet for any energies expended on the module. It made the material seem more applicable and the coursework more enjoyable … I loved that this module offered different ways of assessment. Having papers, projects, presentations, and creative multimedia work made this course engaging.”

Situating the module’s assessments within such contexts I hope encouraged students to understand the critical, interdisciplinary focus of the field of information studies, in particular the use of information in the context of empire-making and consolidation, and how histories of information, knowledge and power intersect. Combined with a collaborative, interdisciplinary curriculum design approach, which encouraged and supported students to gain technical abilities and navigate teamwork practices, we hope this module can point some useful ways forward in creating and developing engaging learning experiences, which have real world impact.

This blog post is by Sara Wingate-Gray (UCL Senior Teaching Fellow & BASC0033 module leader), Mahendra Mahey (BL Labs Manager) and Stella Wisdom (BL Digital Curator for Contemporary British Collections).

16 April 2019

BL Labs 2018 Commercial Award Winner: 'The Library Collection'

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This guest blog post is by the team led by fashion designer, Nabil Nayal - winner of the BL Labs Commercial Award for 2018 - for his Spring/Summer 2019 collection, presented at the 2018 London Fashion Week.

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Nabil Nayal's SS19 Collection: fashion shoot at the British Library

The Nabil Nayal SS19 collection (The Library Collection) made history by becoming the first fashion show, on the official London Fashion Week schedule, to be hosted at the iconic British Library. The British Library’s digital archives deeply informed the collection. The Tilbury Speech, delivered by Queen Elizabeth I ahead of the attempted invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in 1588, was central to the use of print, as were other manuscripts, digitised images, maps and hymn sheets from the era. The collection encapsulates Nabil’s obsession with Elizabethan craftsmanship, whilst symbolising the power and strength of a woman who succeeded in bringing England into its Golden Age.

Nabil undertook historical research in the British Library for his PhD on Elizabethan dress, so the opportunity to collaborate with the Library in order to emphasise the importance of research in fashion education and practice was something he felt passionately about doing. Paying particular attention to the Library’s Elizabethan and Medieval Manuscripts archives, Nabil conducted his research with guidance from expert curators and with support from the Reading Room staff. Using key word search terms and date limitations to search through the digitised archives was particularly useful to find historically accurate documents to incorporate into the collection.

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Nabil's design takes inspiration from the British Library's digitised 1588 manuscript of Queen Elizabeth I's 'Tilbury Speech'  © Nabil Nayal 2018

Elizabethan silhouettes were modernised in this collection by printing these manuscripts onto Nabil’s designs, including a three-metre-long cloak featuring the Tilbury Speech. A UK-based supplier, Silk Bureau, digitally printed the archival material on to a range of fine silks and cottons, which were then used to make garments within the collection. Nabil’s love of the classic white shirt was further explored too, offering a puritan backdrop that ‘whitewashes’ the complex hand-cut embellishments made of bonded poplins and marcella.

The designs in the SS19 collection have been sold to prestigious international stores such as Dover Street Market and Joyce and the collection will be launching exclusively in Selfridges this May (2019). The presentation also generated a huge response in key press and social media, including coverage in Vogue.

5 models together
Nabil's Elizabethan-inspired designs at the BL Fashion Shoot © Nabil Nayal 2018

Nabil’s interest in promoting historical research within fashion was not limited to this collection. Currently, the brand is working with Collette Taylor of Vega Associates to continue to raise awareness of the potential of the Library’s collections to inspire the next generation of fashion researchers. Nabil held a Research Masterclass at the British Library in November 2018 to work with emerging designers as part of a fashion research competition to develop a capsule collection inspired by the Library’s collections.

This collaboration between Nabil Nayal and the British Library highlights the importance of design education and research for the future-proofing and continued success of UK creative industries, which is a pressing issue. Since 2010, there has been a 34% drop in GCSE entries across the arts, despite the fact that the UK fashion industry supports over 880,000 jobs and delivered a direct contribution of £28 billion to the UK economy in 2015. The wealth of free resources at the British Library provides ample opportunity for design students to explore how education and research can enrich their creativity and allow them to succeed within the fashion industry.

Nabil’s work has received praise from the late Karl Lagerfeld and celebrities such as Rihanna, Lorde and Florence Welch. His SS19 collection epitomises the way that the use of archival research within fashion can generate commercial success, suggesting that the ever-changing fashion industry can benefit from becoming more historically informed and that modernity can be evoked through an interest in the past.

Watch Jennifer Davies receiving the Commercial award on behalf of Nabil's team, and talking about the collection on our YouTube channel (clip runs from 7.26): 

You can read other blogs about Nabil Nayal at London Fashion Week and the fashion show at the British Library, and if you're feel inspired, use the British Library's online Fashion resources.

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.

28 March 2019

Algorave till Late in the Imaginary City

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Cropped imag city

These are exciting and busy times for BL Labs and the digital scholarship team, and we have a few digital/art-themed events next week - book your tickets and come along!

Friday 5th April sees the long-anticipated launch of the Imaginary Cities exhibition in the entrance hall gallery. The exhibition is the work of the British Library's artist in residence, Michael Takeo Magruder, who has been collaborating with BL Labs since 2016, transforming digitised 19th century urban maps into fantastic installations. We will post more about the exhibition next week, so watch this space. The exhibition will run until 14th July and is free to visit.

You can learn about Michael's residency through British Library Labs here (six minute video):

To launch the public opening of the exhibition, Michael is giving a talk about his work on the evening of Friday 5th April at the British Library (18:45 - 20:00). The talk is free but you need to book a place. On the same evening, we are hosting a Late at the Library Algorave in the British Library atrium (19:00 - 23:00) where algorave artists will live-code music and visuals, writing code sequences generating algorithmic beats beneath the iconic Kings’ Library Tower. The event is curated by the audio-visual artist, Coral Manton, in collaboration with the British Library Events team, BL Labs, Digital Scholarship, and the Alan Turing Institute. 

Coral is a Research Affiliate of the British Library. She's interested in the aesthetics of stored knowledge and exploring this in VR. She led a research project with the EThOS team exploring multimedia research in UK PhD theses and future multimodal theses. This project was cited in the AHRC Academic Book of the Future Report and in multiple academic publications.

Back in November 2017, Coral and Joanne Armitage rounded off the BL Labs Symposium with a mini algorave. We didn't record ourselves raving, but you can find our more about the algorave scene and what live coding is in Coral and Joanne's short presentation from the symposium here: 

Book tickets for the talk [Friday 5th April - 18:45-20:00] by the Imaginary Cities artist, Michael Takeo Magruder, here: https://www.bl.uk/events/imaginary-cities-artist-talk-with-michael-takeo-magruder

Book tickets for the Algorave [Friday 5th April - 19:30-23:00] here: https://www.bl.uk/events/late-at-the-library-algorave

See here for a post about more details about the Algorave artists who are playing at the Algorave Late event, and about the Imaginary Cities exhibition on this blog soon.

Posted by BL Labs

26 March 2019

BL Labs Staff Award Runners Up: 'The Digital Documents Harvester'

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This guest blog is by Jennie Grimshaw on behalf of her team who were the BL Labs Staff Award runners up for 2018.

Harvest Haystack uk

The UK Legal Deposit Web Archive (LDWA) contains terabytes of data harvested from the UK web domain. It has a public search interface at https://webarchive.org.uk/ , but finding individual documents in what is in effect a vast unstructured dataset is challenging. The analogy of looking for a needle in a haystack comes to mind as being entirely appropriate.

The Digital Documents Harvesting and Processing Tool (DDHAPT) was designed to overcome the problem of finding individual known documents in the LDWA. It is an adaptation of the web archiving software that enables selectors to set up regular in-depth crawls of target, document heavy websites. The system then extracts new pdfs published since its previous visit from the target websites and presents them to the selector in a list with the most recent at the top:

DDH image 1

The selector can then view an image of the document on the screen by clicking on the title. If the document is in scope, basic metadata is created by completing an on-screen form. If the document doesn’t make the grade for the creation of an individual record, it can be removed from the list of new documents for selection by clicking on the green Ignore button on the right of the screen.

The metadata we create records the title and subtitle, publication year and publisher, edition, series, personal and corporate authors and ISBN (if present). Some fields such as title, publication year and publisher are automatically populated.  A broad subject heading is assigned from a pick list. Our aim is to create a “good enough” record that can stand without upgrading by the digital cataloguers, avoiding double handling.

DDH image 2

To save time and avoid transcription errors system allows the selector to highlight information in the document such as personal author, publisher, series title or ISBN. You then mouse up, which calls up a list of fields. Clicking on the appropriate field automatically transfers the data into it.

DDH image 3

Once the metadata has been created, the selector clicks on a submit button which starts the process of loading it into the British Library catalogue and the catalogues of the other five legal deposit libraries – the national libraries of Scotland and Wales, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and Trinity College Dublin. The document remains in the Legal Deposit Web Archive. Its URL in the web archive is recorded in the metadata and creates the link between the document and its catalogue record. Readers who find the record in the British Library’s public catalogue or those of any of the legal deposit libraries can then click on the “I want this” button and view the document on screen.

The DDHAPT is currently being used to monitor the publications of Westminster government departments and help us ensure that future generations of researchers can reliably access known official documents via the catalogues of the six legal deposit libraries. However, we intend to extend its use to cover the output of other non-commercial publishers such as campaigning charities, think tanks, academic research centres, and pressure groups as a way of making their archived publications easily discoverable.

Normally material collected under the non-print legal deposit regulations can only be viewed by law on the premised on one of the six legal deposit libraries. However, the Libraries have negotiated licences with the UK government and many other non-commercial online publishers that allow us to make their archived websites and the documents on them open and available remotely. These licences lift non-print legal deposit restrictions and allow us to make the documents covered by them available 24/7 from anywhere in the world.

In these ways the DDHAPT improves the discoverability of non-commercially published documents collected under non-print legal deposit, facilitates metadata creation through auto-population of some fields, and avoids double handling through creation of good quality metadata at the point of selection.

Watch the Digital Documents Harvester team receiving their award and talking about their project on our YouTube channel (clip runs from 8.15 to 14.45):

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.

19 March 2019

BL Labs 2018 Commercial Award Runner Up: 'The Seder Oneg Shabbos Bentsher'

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This guest blog was written by David Zvi Kalman on behalf of the team that received the runner up award in the 2018 BL Labs Commercial category.

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The bentsher is a strange book, both invisible and highly visible. It is not among the more well known Jewish books, like the prayerbook, Hebrew Bible, or haggadah. You would be hard pressed to find a general-interest bookstore selling a copy. Still, enter the house of a traditional Jew and you’d likely find at least a few, possibly a few dozen. In Orthodox communities, the bentsher is arguably the most visible book of all.

Bentshers are handbooks containing the songs and blessings, including the Grace after Meals, that are most useful for Sabbath and holiday meals, as well as larger gatherings. They are, as a rule, quite small. These days, bentshers are commonly given out as party favors at Jewish weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs, since meals at those events require them anyway. Many bentshers today have personalized covers relating the events at which they were given.

Bentshers have never gone out of print. By this I mean that printing began with the invention of the printing press and has never stopped. They are small, but they have always been useful. Seder Oneg Shabbos, the version which I designed, was released 500 years after the first bentsher was published. It is, in a sense, a Half Millennium Anniversary Special Edition.

SederOneg_4

Bentshers, like other Jewish books, could be quite ornate; some were written and illustrated by hand. Over the years, however, bentshers have become less and less interesting, largely in order to lower the unit cost. In order to make it feasible for wedding planners to order hundreds at a time, all images were stripped from the books, the books themselves became very small, and any interest in elegant typography was quickly eliminated. My grandfather, who designed custom covers for wedding bentshers, simply called the book, “the insert.” Custom prayerbooks were no different from custom matchbooks.

This particular bentsher was created with the goal of bucking this trend; I attempted to give the book the feel of the some of the Jewish books and manuscripts of the past, using the research I was able to gather a graduate student in the field of Jewish history. Doing this required a great deal of image research; for this, the British Library’s online resources were incredible valuable. Of the more than one hundred images in the book, a plurality are from the British Library’s collections.

https://data.bl.uk/hebrewmanuscripts/

https://www.bl.uk/hebrew-manuscripts

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In addition to its visual element, this bentsher differs from others in two important ways. First, it contains ritual languages that is inclusive of those in the LGBTQ community, and especially for those conducting same-sex weddings. In addition, the book contains songs not just in Hebrew, but in Yiddish, as well; this was a homage to two Yiddishists who aided in creating the bentsher’s content. The bentsher was first used at their wedding.

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More here: https://shabb.es/sederonegshabbos/

Watch David accepting the runner up award and talking about the Seder Oneg Shabbos Bentsher on our YouTube channel (clip runs from 5.33 to 7.26): 

David Zvi Kalman was responsible for the book’s design, including the choice of images. He is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, where he focuses on the relationship between Jewish history and the history of technology. Sarah Wolf is a specialist in rabbinics and is an assistant professor at the Jewish Theology Seminary of America. Joshua Schwartz is a doctoral student at New York University, where he studies Jewish mysticism. Sarah and Joshua were responsible for most of the books translations and transliterations. Yocheved and Yudis Retig are Yiddishists and were responsible for the book’s Yiddish content and translations.

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.

28 February 2019

The World Wide Lab: Building Library Labs - Part II

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BL Flickr Copenhagen 1

We're setting sail for Denmark! Along with colleagues from the UK, Austria, Belgium, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Qatar, Spain, Sweden and the USA, we will be mooring at Copenhagen's Black Diamond, waterfront home to Denmark's Royal Library, for the second International Building Library Labs event: 4-5 March 2019.

Danish lib & BL logis

For some time now, leading national, state, university and public libraries around the world have been creating 'digital lab type environments'. The purpose of these 'laboratories' is to afford access to their institutions' digital content - the digitised and 'born digital' collections as well as data - and to provide a space where users can experiment and work with that content in creative, innovative and inspiring ways. Our shared ethos is to open up our collections for everyone: digital researchers, artists, entrepreneurs, educators, and everyone in between.

BL Labs has been running in such a capacity for six years. In September 2018, we hosted a 2-day workshop at the British Library in London for invited participants from national, state and university libraries - the first event of its kind in the world. It was a resounding success, and it was decided that we should organise a second event, this time in collaboration with our colleagues in Copenhagen.

11248527023_2655ce2ceb_oNext week's participants, from over 30 institutions, will be sharing lessons learned, talking about innovative projects and services that have used their digital collections and data in clever ways, and continuing to establish the foundations for an international network of Library Labs. We aim to work together in the spirit of collaboration so that we can continue to build even better Library Labs for our users in the future.

Our packed programme is available to view on Eventbrite or as a Googledoc. We still have a few spaces left so if you are interested in coming along, you can still book here. As well as presentations and plenary debates, we will have eight lightning talks with topics ranging from how to handle big data to how to run a data visualisation lab. To accommodate our many delegates, with their own interests and specialisms, we will break out into 12 parallel discussion groups focusing on subjects such as how to set up a lab; how to get access to data; moving from 'project' lab to 'business as usual'; data curation; how to deal with large datasets; and using Labs & Makerspaces for data-driven research and innovation in creative industries. 

We will blog again after the event, and provide links to some of the presentations and outputs. Watch this space! 

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Danish-themed images trawled from our British Library Flickr Images set: pages 37, 126, and 15 of Copenhagen, the Capital of Denmark, published by the Danish Tourist Society, 1898. Find the original book here.

Posted by Eleanor Cooper on behalf of BL 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'.

BorderCross image 1

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.

BorderCross image 2

BorderCross image 3

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.