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20 October 2016

Imaginary Cities - British Library Labs Project

Posted by Mahendra Mahey on behalf of Michael Takeo Magruder, first runner up in the British Library Labs Competition 2016.

Michael will be working with the BL Labs team between November 2016 and March 2017 on his project 'Imaginary Cities' which is described below: 

Imaginary Cities
by Michael Takeo Magruder, visual artist and researcher

Exploring the British Library’s digital collection of historic urban maps to create provocative fictional cityscapes for the Information Age

About the project:

Takeo_DS-Blog_Imaginary Cities study detailImaginary Cities (study i), Michael Takeo Magruder, 2016 – aesthetic rendering that has been procedurally generated from a 19th century map of London

Imaginary Cities is an arts-humanities research project that considers how large digital repositories of historic cultural materials can be used to create new born-digital artworks and real-time experiences which are relevant and exciting to 21st century audiences. The project will take images and associated metadata of pre-20th century urban maps drawn from the British Library’s online “1 Million Images from Scanned Books” digital collection on Flickr Commons and transform this material into provocative fictional cityscapes for the Information Age.

Takeo_DS-Blog_Flickr source
Imaginary Cities (study i), Michael Takeo Magruder, 2016 – source digitised map and associated metadata parsed from British Library Flickr Commons

The project will exemplify collaborative and interdisciplinary research as it will bring together contemporary arts practice, digital humanities scholarship and advanced visualisation technology. The project’s outcomes will encompass both artistic and scholarly outputs, most important of which will be a set of prototype digital artworks that will exist as physical installations constructed with leading-edge processes including generative systems, real-time virtual environments and 3D printing. Blending the historical and the contemporary, the informative and the aesthetic, these artworks will not only draw from and feed into the British Library’s digital scholarship and curatorial programmes, but more significantly, will engender new ways for members of the general public to discover and access the Library’s important digital collections and research initiatives.

Takeo_DS-Blog_Imaginary Cities study
Imaginary Cities (study i), Michael Takeo Magruder, 2016 – detail of the aesthetic rendering

If you would like to meet Michael, he will be at the British Library Labs Symposium on Monday 7th of November 2016, at the British Library in London to talk about his work.

About the artist:

Michael Takeo Magruder

Michael Takeo Magruder (b.1974, US/UK, is a visual artist and researcher who works with new media including real-time data, digital archives, immersive environments, mobile devices and virtual worlds. His practice explores concepts ranging from media criticism and aesthetic journalism to digital formalism and computational aesthetics, deploying Information Age technologies and systems to examine our networked, media-rich world.

In the last 15 years, Michael’s projects have been showcased in over 250 exhibitions in 34 countries, and his art has been supported by numerous funding bodies and public galleries within the UK, US and EU. In 2010, Michael represented the UK at Manifesta 8: the European Biennial of Contemporary Art and several of his most well-known digital artworks were added to the Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art at Cornell University. More recently, he was a Leverhulme Trust artist-in-residence (2013-14) collaborating with Prof Ben Quash (Theology, King’s College London) and Alfredo Cramerotti (Director, Mostyn) to create a new solo exhibition - entitled De/coding the Apocalypse - exploring contemporary creative visions inspired by and based on the Book of Revelation. In 2014, Michael was commissioned by the UK-based theatre company Headlong to create two new artworks - PRISM (a new media installation reflecting on Headlong’s production of George Orwell’s 1984) and The Nether Realm (a living virtual world inspired by Jennifer Haley’s play The Nether). Last year, he was awarded the 2015 Immersive Environments Lumen Prize for his virtual reality installation A New Jerusalem.

19 October 2016

Maurice Nicholson - British Library Flickr Commons Map Tagger and Top Georeferencer

I am a retired pharmacist who has been involved in the British Library's (BL) georeferencing work from its inception in February 2012. I have always had an interest in maps and mapping, and was alerted to this project through social media.

Maurice Nicholson
Maurice Nicholson, Volunteer BL Flickr Maps Tagger & Georeferencer

I made my first attempt at georeferencing one of the maps from the BL collection of Ordnance Survey original manuscripts. This map of my local area of Bedfordshire from 1815 had me 'hooked' on georeferencing and by the end of that week I had georeferenced more than a hundred maps, meaning that I was the main contributor to that first batch of maps.

Subsequent batches of maps were released at intervals from November 2012 through to July 2014, with each set of up to 3200 maps all being georeferenced by volunteers in less than a month per issue, with myself making a major contribution.

Bedford OS 1815
Bedford OS 1815, Screenshot of a detail of the first map I georeferenced (Bedfordshire Ordinance Survey manuscript map 1815).

The July 2014 release consisted of images that had been identified as maps and plans from the BL Flickr commons collection. This collection has just over a million digital images, and it was recognised that there was probably a considerable number of maps and plans suitable for georeferencing within this digital archive. Starting with a map Tag-a-thon held at the BL (through British Library Labs) on Hallowe’en 2014, myself and other volunteers went systematically though the Flickr collection, tagging all these suitable images.

Just over 50,000 maps and plans were found and these images were released as the latest batch needing to be georeferenced in March 2015.

As of October 2016, just over 18,000 of these have been successfully georeferenced, meaning that there are still around 32,000 waiting to be done. Considering how quickly previous releases had been completed the progress has been comparatively disappointing, however there are several reasons for this. Firstly, the sheer number of images needing to be processed, and secondly the variation in the mapping quality.  Previous batches had comprised specific map collections or specially chosen maps, whereas the Flickr collection contained a much wider range of images with many that are going to prove very tricky to georeference.

My own personal contribution to this current batch is 47,000 reference points (76,000 in total since the project started), which at around 10 to 20 points per map equates to several thousand maps georeferenced. This places me a considerable way ahead of any other contributor.

No man's land 1916
Screenshot of a detail of one of my favourite maps that I've georeferenced (no man's land south of Ypres 1916)

This year I have been promoting georeferencing in my local area by giving presentations to local history groups, highlighting the uses that georeferenced maps can be put to for research in their area.

In November, the British Library (through its Learning Team and Emma Bull, Schools Programme Manager) is holding a half day conference (details below) aimed at geography teachers, exploring digital resources and their uses in an educational setting. Working with Mahendra Mahey Manager of British Library Labs and Digital Mapping Curator at the British Library, Philip Hatfield my contribution to this is running workshops using my experience and expertise to demonstrate the art of georeferencing and allowing the participants to try georeferencing themselves.

The Way Ahead? Map Making and Digital Skills for Geography Teaching.

Sat 12 Nov, 9:45 – 13:30

British Library Conference Centre, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB

Cost: ÂŁ12 - ÂŁ24

This half-day conference for Geography teachers at Key Stages 2–5 uncovers the British Library’s forthcoming major exhibition Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line and explores a range of approaches to interpreting and creating maps, with a focus on digital resources, to support and enrich Geography in the Primary and Secondary classroom. 


I will of course be attending the British Library's Maps Exhibition which starts on the 4th of November 2016 and you can also meet me on Monday 7th of November 2016 at the British Library Labs Symposium.

18 October 2016

BL Labs Symposium (2016), Mon 7 Nov: book your place now!


Posted by Hana Lewis, BL Labs Project Officer.

The BL Labs team are pleased to announce that the fourth annual British Library Labs Symposium will be held on Monday 7th November, from 9:30 - 17:30 in the British Library Conference Centre, St Pancras. The event is FREE, although you must book a ticket in advance. Don't miss out!

The Symposium showcases innovative projects which use the British Library’s digital content, and provides a platform for development, networking and debate in the Digital Scholarship field.

Professor Melissa Terras will be giving the keynote at this year's Symposium

This year, Dr Adam Farquhar, Head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library, will launch the Symposium. Professor Melissa Terras, Director of UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, will be presenting the keynote, entitled 'Unexpected repurposing: the British Library's Digital Collections and UCL teaching, research and infrastructure'. The keynote will focus on the British Library's digitised book collection - 60,000 volumes which are now in the public domain - and how those texts and images have been used with both students and researchers at UCL.  

Following, Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, will present awards to the BL Labs Competition (2016) finalistsThe annual BL Labs Competition looks for transformative project ideas which use the British Library’s digital collections and data in new and exciting ways. The Competition finalists will also give presentations on their winning projects. 

After lunch, Stella Wisdom, Digital Curator at the British Library, will announce the winners of the Shakespeare Off the Map 2016 competition, which challenged budding designers to use British Library digital collections as inspiration in the creation of exciting interactive digital media. 

The winners will then be announced of the BL Labs Awards (2016)which celebrates researchers, artists, educators and entrepreneurs from around the world who have made use of the British Library's digital content and data. Presentations will also be given by the winners in each of the Awards’ categories:  

  • BL Labs Research Award. Recognising a project or activity which shows the development of new knowledge, research methods or tools.
  • BL Labs Artistic Award. Celebrating a creative or artistic endeavour which inspires, stimulates, amazes and provokes.
  • BL Labs Commercial Award. Recognising work that delivers or develops commercial value in the context of new products, tools or services that build on, incorporate or enhance the British Library's digital content.
  • BL Labs Teaching / Learning Award. Celebrating quality learning experiences created for learners of any age and ability that use the British Library's digital content.
  • BL Labs Staff Award. Recognising an outstanding individual or team who have played a key role in innovative work with the British Library's digital collections.  

The Symposium's endnote will be followed by a networking reception which will conclude the event, at which delegates and staff can mingle and network over a drink.  

Tickets are going fast, so book your place for the Symposium today!

For any further information please contact

*After the BL Labs Symposium is the evening event 'We Are Amused! A Night of Victorian Humour', taking place in the British Library Conference Centre from 19:00 - 21:00. Join Dr Bob Nicholson (Edge Hill University) and comedians Zoe Lyons, Bob Mills and Iszi Lawrence as they unearth thousands of old puns, sketches, one-liners and saucy songs from the 19th century. Cost: ÂŁ12 (concessions available), buy your Victorian Humour tickets here