Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections


Tracking exciting developments at the intersection of libraries, scholarship and technology. Read more

27 September 2016

Multimedia PhD Research and Non-text Theses

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

There is a growing trend towards PhD students producing multimedia and non-text research outputs. Some students are able to include these outputs in their thesis but generally in appendixes. The inclusion of multimedia work is dependent on thesis format guidelines decided by individual universities ‚Äď and to some extent the practicalities of handling big data, software etc. This means that for many PhD students recording multimedia outputs, in the way they would choose, is not possible and compromises must be made. This often means representing multimedia work in descriptive text or low res images. Many PhD students and supervisors are showing a desire to rethink the traditional thesis to include multimedia research including video, audio, data, games, apps and web pages.

EThOS File Types
Data visualisation of various multimedia file formats stored on EThOS other than the standard PDF

As we shift theses from bound volumes to digital downloads the possibilities for innovation seem endless. Yet for librarians, storing and making accessible multiple file formats in an ever changing digital landscape, poses a tremendous challenge. I was employed on a PhD research placement by the British Library to explore these issues and opportunities for the EThOS web service to adapt to meet the challenge of supporting pioneering PhD research.

The reason I applied for this placement was that I wanted to answer some of my own questions about the legacy of my research. My professional background is in museums, libraries and archives. I am doing a practice based PhD in which I am developing a visual museum collection database to enhance curator and visitor understanding of the collection in storage working with Birmingham Museums Trust. For me the knowledge that my thesis will become part of a collection on EThOS is important, but as half of my thesis is made up of multimedia practice I am keen to find solutions for recording that significant element in my thesis for future researchers.

EThOS is the UK‚Äôs national theses service, managed by the British Library. EThOS aims to bring together a record of all doctoral theses awarded in the UK. The service works closes with university libraries. Individual universities can decide whether to deposit the full thesis text in the EThOS digital repository or just the metadata (title, author, abstract, university etc.); in any case EThOS signposts to the institution‚Äôs online repository where the full text can usually either be read online or requested.  EThOS provides researchers with the opportunity to search 90% of UK theses in one place showcasing to the world the wealth of knowledge being generated in UK universities.

Another strand of EThOS is digitisation of print theses. I was excited to find on my first visit to the British Library‚Äôs Boston Spa site, home of EThOS, that print theses were coming into the library containing floppy discs and cassette tapes, housed in the back in holes made by cutting out pages reminiscent of thrillers in which books held secret keys! So innovation through multimedia outputs in the PhD is not a new thing, it has just been hiding in pages at the back.   


‚ÄúComputer applications to special education‚ÄĚ, R. Collins, Keele University, 1989. Two Volumes; vol 2 full of computer code. Brochure and user manual. 5 x 5.25 floppy disks, some using BBC Education software

The best way to investigate multimedia in theses was to go and meet the researchers producing the work, find out exactly what kind of things they are producing and start conversations about how best to represent multimedia work for future researchers to access. I have spent the past three months travelling to various universities to meet researchers working in diverse disciplines and recorded the best of what I found in case studies that are currently being uploaded on the British Library website. In my next blog post I will analyse some of the themes coming through in these case studies.

 I have organised an academic workshop for PhD students and supervisors to discuss issues, which I will report on in a future blog post and furthermore there is a public Digital Conversations evening event, taking place at the British Library in London on the 29th September showcasing some of this amazing multimedia research which you can sign up for here:

26 September 2016

British Library Labs Staff Awards 2016: Looking for entries now!

Four-light-bulbsNominate a British Library staff member or team who has been instrumental in doing something exciting, innovative and cool with the British Library’s digital collections or data.

The 2016 British Library Labs Staff Award will recognise a team or current member of staff at the British Library that has played a key role in innovative work with the Library‚Äôs digital collections or data. This is the first time that the British Library is bestowing this Award and it will highlight some of the work the Library does and the people who do it. 

Perhaps the project you know about demonstrated the development of new knowledge or was an activity that delivered commercial value to the library. Did the person create an artistic work that inspired, stimulated, amazed and provoked? Do you know of a project developed by the Library where quality learning experiences for learners were developed using the Library‚Äôs digital content? 

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

The deadline for submission is 12:00 (BST), Monday 24th October 2016.

The winner(s) will be announced on Monday 7th November 2016 at the British Library Labs Annual Symposium where they will be asked to talk about their work.

The Staff Award complements the British Library Labs Awards, introduced in 2015, which recognises outstanding work that has been done in the broader community. Last year‚Äôs winners drew attention to artistic, research, and entrepreneurial activities that used our 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 is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

If you have any questions, please contact us at

@bl_labs #bldigital @bl_digischol

20 September 2016

Black Abolitionists: Performance and Discussion for Black History Month by Hannah-Rose Murray

Posted by Mahendra Mahey on behalf of Hannah-Rose Murray, 2016 finalist of the BL Labs 2016 Competition.

To celebrate Black History Month in October 2016, you are welcome to attend an evening of performance on the 6th October, 7pm, hosted by the British Library Labs project and the Eccles Centre for American Studies in the Auditorium, Conference Centre, British Library, St Pancras, London, UK.

I am very lucky to be one of the finalists for the Labs Competition for 2016, and together we have organized an event that celebrates our project. Through my work with the Labs team, we are attempting to use machine learning to search through the digitized newspaper collections to access black abolitionist speeches and performances that have never been discovered before (read more here). This stems from my PhD project, which focuses on African Americans in Britain during the nineteenth century and the myriad ways they resisted British racism.

Two of the individuals I study are William and Ellen Craft, and we are really pleased to be working with two performers who will bring this incredible history to light on the evening of the 6th.

Ellen Craft dressed as a man to escape from slavery. Image from "The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom" 2nd ed.,

William and Ellen Craft were born enslaved in Georgia. Ellen worked as a house servant, and when she was 20, married William (although by law in the South slave marriages were not legal.) They were determined to escape as they were fearful their master would sell them separately further South and they did not want to raise children in slavery. In 1848, they devised an ingenious escape plan: Ellen would pose as a gentleman with William as her manservant, and they would catch a series of trains and steamboats to the North. Ellen was fair-skinned, which was a result of her mother’s rape by her master, the plantation owner. Ellen could thus pass for a white person, but she could not read or write. To overcome this, Ellen strapped a bandage to her right hand to give her a reason not to be able to write just in case she was asked. This was an incredibly dangerous mission to accomplish - if caught, both William and Ellen would have been tortured and most certainly separated to different parts of the South, never to see each other again. It is a testimony to their bravery they managed to succeed.


For a short time, the Crafts settled in Boston but legally they were still enslaved in the eyes of the American government. When slave catchers threatened to steal them back into slavery, they set sail for England where they remained for over a decade. The Crafts soon became part of an abolitionist network in which hundreds of African Americans travelled to Britain to lecture against slavery, raise money to purchase enslaved family members or to live in Britain relatively safely from the violence they experienced in Britain. British audiences were fascinated by their incredible escape attempt, and were shocked that a ‚Äėwhite‚Äô person like Ellen could ever have been enslaved. Both William and Ellen travelled around Britain to educate Britons about the true nature of slavery and demanded their support in helping Americans abolish it.

During the evening, performer and writer Joe Williams will play William Craft. Joe has an MA from Leeds University’s School of Performance and Cultural industries and is the founder of Heritage Corner, which focuses on African narratives in British history. He has written performed works on leading abolitionists as well as on Victorian circus genius Pablo Fanque.

Martelle Edinborough will play Ellen Craft. Martelle has stage, film and television credits that include commercials and short films. Martelle has recently worked with the Leeds based Geraldine Connor Foundation on Forrest Dreaming and Chicken Shop Shakespeare’s contribution to this year’s Ilkley Literature Festival.

There will be a short welcome and introduction to the Crafts, and after which the performance will commence for an hour, with time for a Q&A afterwards.

Tickets are £8 (with some concessions available), and available here.

Please note a small number of free seats are available for community residents in Camden (London, England). If you think you are eligible, please contact Emma Morgan, Community Engagement Manager at the British Library at