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28 July 2015

Update on Political Meetings Mapper - BL Labs Competition Winner 2015

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Posted on behalf of Katrina Navickas.
Katrina Navickas, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Hertfordshire, and one of the winners of the 2015 British Library Labs competition, describes the current progress of her project, ‘Political Meetings Mapper’.

Political Meetings Mapper is a project to build a database, website and interactive map of 19th century political meetings, using the Nineteenth Century Newspapers collection and the Maps collection. The meetings will be plotted on a geo-referenced historic map to show the spatial and temporal patterns of the movement.

You may have noticed the copies of a historic poster outside the entrance to the British Library, advertising a Chartist meeting. What was Chartism and why is it still relevant to us today?


Chartism was the first mass movement campaigning for the vote in the United Kingdom. They presented three major petitions to parliament calling for the ‘six points’, which included the vote for all men, ensuring we can vote anonymously without bribery, and annual parliaments, so that the people can remove corrupt governments quickly. The Chartists campaigned for the constitutional freedoms that we now hold (and perhaps take for granted) in Britain, and remind us that these rights were hard-fought for.

We’re focusing on extracting records of meetings advertised in the Northern Star newspaper from 1838 to 1844 for two reasons:

  1. it was the main Chartist newspaper with a national reach;
  2. it had a regular column each week titled ‘forthcoming Chartist meetings’, which is easy to identify.

The British Library Labs team is working on building in the capability to identify and automatically geo-code the places and parse the dates mentioned in the text.

Current progress

We have redone and checked the Optical Character Recognition for the newspaper columns for 1841 to 1843 – we still need volunteers for checking the OCR for the other years in the sample are so let us know if you’re interested in participating.

We have extracted about 4000 meetings and other events so far, and are on track to reach the 5000 mark soon!

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been focusing on Chartists in London. I’ve learned lots about the history of the capital (I’m a historian of the North of England by trade). I was astounded to find well over 50 different sites in London used regularly for Chartist and trade union meetings. I also expected that the venues would concentrate in the East End and docks, where many of the skilled workers who were most attracted to the Chartist movement lived and work. Yet having plotted the locations, I’ve found that the Chartists met all over London, including in the centre and in places near to the British Library.

Another surprise was that, regardless of all the urban change that has happened in the capital over the last two hundred years, many of the original pubs still exist, with the same names.

Follow the Chartists around London on 21 September 2015!

Join us for a mystery tour and reenactment of a Chartist meeting around some of the venues to bring the BL 19th century newspaper reports to life! ‘Follow the Chartists round London’ takes place on Monday 21 September, and is free and open to the public.

Participants will learn about the history of Chartism and the London venues, and participate in a re-enactment of a Chartist meeting in the actual pub where it took place nearly two hundred years ago. If you fancy dressing up in costume and pretending to be your democratic ancestor, do let us know. Volunteers welcome!


Monday 21 September 2015:

1230 - 1300
Foyle Suite, Centre of Conservation, British Library

1300 - 1400

1400 – 1530


Dr Katrina Navickas, University of Hertfordshire, ‘the Political Meetings Mapper and the history of Chartism’

Dr Matthew Sangster, University of Birmingham, ‘Romantic London’

British Library, ‘Digital collections at the British Library’

1530 - 1730
A 3km walking tour of Chartist sites in the Kings Cross/St Pancras/Somerstown/Camden area, with readings of reports from the Northern Star newspaper at each site. Sites may include:

  • Prince of Wales Feathers, 8 Warren Street, W1T 5LD
  • Archery Rooms*, 26 Bath Place
  • Tillman's Coffee House*, 59 Tottenham Court Road
  • Two Chairmen, 31-32 Dean Street, W1D 3SB
  • Three Crowns*, Richmond Street
  • Three Doves**, 24 Berwick Street, W1V 3RF
  • Red Lion Pub, 14 Kingly Street, W1B 5PR

*doesn't exist anymore
**now an art stationery shop 

1730 - 1830
The walking tour will end at a Pub where our group will get a drink. The room will be prepared for a renactment of a Chartist meeting that occurred in the pub, beginning at 1800. The meeting will end with the audience voting on various resolutions and some food.

Participants are welcome to continue their discussions into the evening.

Click here for more information about booking.

24 July 2015

British Library Labs Project Awards (2015): Call for entries!

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Posted by Hana Lewis, BL Labs Project Officer @BL_Labs

The British Library Labs Awards (2015) recognises and promotes work that uses the British Library digital collections / data.

The Awards acknowledge exceptional work within three categories: Research, Creativity and Entrepreneurship.


This category is for work produced within the context of a research project or activity. These entries will demonstrate the development of new knowledge related to content, research methods, or research tools.


This category is for work that uses the British Library's digital content in the context of artistic or creative endeavours. Such entries will inspire, stimulate, amaze and provoke.


The final category is for work that delivers or develops commercial value. These entries are likely to be in the context of new products, tools, or services that build on, incorporate, or enhance the British Library's digital content to produce commercial value.

Entries can be submitted until Monday 14th September 2015 (midnight BST).

The submission process is simple and further information can be found through the following link:

Each proposal will be assessed by an independent panel of experienced researchers, experts and British Library staff.

Shortlisted entrants will be contacted via email by Monday 12th of October 2015, and invited to participate in our annual Symposium on Monday November 2nd 2015, where the winners will be awarded. At the Symposium, each of the three category winners will receive a £500 prize and an opportunity to promote their work!

Some really fantastic work has already been produced using our digital content, so please spread the word and let’s keep those entries rolling in!

22 July 2015

Women in Food Wikithon with the Oxford Food Symposium at the British Library

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This guest post comes from Dr Bee Wilson. Bee is the chair of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery.

‘By a curious schizophrenia, our culture trumpets that we are what we eat, yet devalues women’s work and inventiveness in food preparation’.  This thought, from Autumn Stanley’s 1993 history of female inventors (Mothers and Daughters of Invention) was the impulse behind two recent ‘wikithons’ at the British Library. Wikipedia is now our default way of getting knowledge. Yet when it comes to female food experts, there are huge and puzzling gaps, reflecting the fact that most wiki editors are men. How could there be an entry on Jack Drummond, nutritionist at the Ministry of Food during the war, but not on Dorothy F. Hollingsworth, his collaborator?

Back in the autumn, a group of us connected with the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery became aware that Wikimedia UK was working to redress the gender imbalance. The Symposium includes the kind of food scholars who are driven crazy by Wikipedia: the lacunae, the myths, the inaccuracies. But very few of us had ever taken the leap to editing it. We heard on Twitter that there had been an editathon for ‘Women and Classics’. Why not ‘Women and Food’

It would never have happened without the energetic collaboration of Polly Russell at the British Library, who provided us with a room to work in, coffee, cake and sandwiches (consumed away from the books) but, most importantly, the intellectual resources of the library, ranging from books and articles to the oral history archive. The thought was to transfer a little of the combined knowledge of the Library and the Symposium about women and food onto Wikipedia.

The shock of the first wikithon day, in November 2014, was just how little we managed. Wikipedia editing is slow: the endless strange syntax (those pesky double brackets!) and the feeling that you are working in a topsy-turvy world where secondary sources count for more than primary. Participants – including Elisabeth Luard, Jill Norman, Ursula Heinzelmann, Jake Tilson and Catherine Brown– created a group list of over 200 women living and dead that we felt deserved entries, or better entries. Yet that first day, after being trained in the ways of Wikipedia by Roberta Wedge of Wikimedia UK, we created only 10 new pages and improved a further 10.

It was a start. We created entries, among others, on Judy Rodgers, the influential Californian chef of the Zuni café; and Mrs Dubois, an eighteenth-century inventor of ‘portable soup’. We wrote about Caroline Walker, the brave British food campaigner, who died of cancer aged 38; and the dinner lady Jeanette Orrey.  And the work continued after the day ended. Jane Levi completed a superb entry on Sophie Coe, the late anthropologist and expert on the history of chocolate. Gastronomica founder Darra Goldstein who had been participating via Skype from the States, completed an entry so good it was ‘featured’ on the Wikipedia main page. Look it up: it’s on Phyllis C. Richman, a food critic once known as ‘the most feared woman in Washington’.

Phyllis Richman_wiki
Wikipedia page for Phyllis C. Richman

By the time of our second recent British Library ‘wikithon’ on July 6th, we got wiser to some of the frustrations of wiki-editing. Experienced Wiki editors David Palfrey and Andrew Dalby guided us on how to launch an entry that won’t be instantly taken down. ‘As the very first reference, put a secondary source’, Palfrey advised.

Women in Food Wikithon at the British Library

Bit by bit, the entries grew. Marcia Zoladz from Brazil found exactly the book she was looking for – Culinary Sparklets by Beatrice A.Vieyra, an Anglo-Indian cookery writer; now on Wikipedia. New participants Bel Castro, Sejal Sukadhwala and Jeanne JK Kim wrote about women from the Philippines, India and Korea. Carolin Young worked on food myths associated with Catherine de’Medici: a huge subject. Malcolm Thick completed an entry on Countess Morphy, the 1930s writer famed for her recipe for iguana fricassee. The room cheered. A sign of how engrossed we were in the work: the news that cake had arrived next door was greeted with sighs of reluctance to leave our screens. Meanwhile, we are trying to create an Oxford Symposium community of wiki editors to share ideas and support via email, and keep the project alive.

Oh, and Dorothy F. Hollingwsorth?  Now on Wikipedia.