Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections

Introduction

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

14 September 2020

Digital geographical narratives with Knight Lab’s StoryMap

Visualising the journey of a manuscript’s creation

Working for the Qatar Digital Library (QDL), I recently catalogued British Library oriental manuscript 2361, a musical compendium copied in Mughal India during the reign of Aurangzeb (1618-1707; ruled from 1658). The QDL is a British Library-Qatar Foundation collaborative project to digitise and share Gulf-related archival records, maps and audio recordings as well as Arabic scientific manuscripts.

Portrait of Aurangzeb on a horse
Figure 1: Equestrian portrait of Aurangzeb. Mughal, c. 1660-70. British Library, Johnson Album, 3.4. Public domain.

The colophons to Or. 2361 fourteen texts contain an unusually large – but jumbled-up – quantity of information about the places and dates it was copied and checked, revealing that it was largely created during a journey taken by the imperial court in 1663.

Example of handwritten bibliographic information: Colophon to the copy of Kitāb al-madkhal fī al-mūsīqī by al-Fārābī
Figure 2: Colophon to the copy of Kitāb al-madkhal fī al-mūsīqī by al-Fārābī, transcribed in Delhi, 3 Jumādá I, 1073 hijrī/14 December 1662 CE, and checked in Lahore, 22 Rajab 1073/2 March 1663. Or. 2361, f. 240r.

Seeking to make sense of the mass of bibliographic information and unpick the narrative of the manuscript’s creation, I recorded all this data in a spreadsheet. This helped to clarify some patterns- but wasn’t fun to look at! To accompany an Asian and African Studies blog post, I wanted to find an interactive digital tool to develop the visual and spatial aspects of the story and convey the landscapes and distances experienced by the manuscript’s scribes and patron during its mobile production.

Screen shot of a spreadsheet of copy data for Or. 2361 showing information such as dates, locations, scribes etc.
Figure 3: Dull but useful spreadsheet of copy data for Or. 2361.

Many fascinating digital tools can present large datasets, including map co-ordinates. However, I needed to retell a linear, progressive narrative with fewer data points. Inspired by a QNF-BL colleague’s work on Geoffrey Prior’s trip to Muscat, I settled on StoryMap, one of an expanding suite of open-source reporting, data management, research, and storytelling tools developed by Knight Lab at Northwestern University, USA.

 

StoryMap: Easy but fiddly

Requiring no coding ability, the back-end of this free, easy-to-use tool resembles PowerPoint. The user creates a series of slides to which text, images, captions and copyright information can be added. Links to further online media, such as the millions of images published on the QDL, can easily be added.

Screen shot of someone editing in StoryMap
Figure 4: Back-end view of StoryMap's authoring tool.

The basic incarnation of StoryMap is accessed via an author interface which is intuitive and clear, but has its quirks. Slide layouts can’t be varied, and image manipulation must be completed pre-upload, which can get fiddly. Text was faint unless entirely in bold, especially against a backdrop image. A bug randomly rendered bits of uploaded text as hyperlinks, whereas intentional hyperlinks are not obvious.

 

The mapping function

StoryMap’s most interesting feature is an interactive map that uses OpenStreetMap data. Locations are inputted as co-ordinates, or manually by searching for a place-name or dropping a pin. This geographical data links together to produce an overview map summarised on the opening slide, with subsequent views zooming to successive locations in the journey.

Screen shot showing a preview of StoryMap with location points dropped on a world map
Figure 5: StoryMap summary preview showing all location points plotted.

I had to add location data manually as the co-ordinates input function didn’t work. Only one of the various map styles suited the historical subject-matter; however its modern street layout felt contradictory. The ‘ideal’ map – structured with global co-ordinates but correct for a specific historical moment – probably doesn’t exist (one for the next project?).

Screen shot of a point dropped on a local map, showing modern street layout
Figure 6: StoryMap's modern street layout implies New Delhi existed in 1663...

With clearly signposted advanced guidance, support forum, and a link to a GitHub repository, more technically-minded users could take StoryMap to the next level, not least in importing custom maps via Mapbox. Alternative platforms such as Esri’s Classic Story Maps can of course also be explored.

However, for many users, Knight Lab StoryMap’s appeal will lie in its ease of usage and accessibility; it produces polished, engaging outputs quickly with a bare minimum of technical input and is easy to embed in web-text or social media. Thanks to Knight Lab for producing this free tool!

See the finished StoryMap, A Mughal musical miscellany: The journey of Or. 2361.

 

This is a guest post by Jenny Norton-Wright, Arabic Scientific Manuscripts Curator from the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership. You can follow the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership on Twitter at @BLQatar.

11 September 2020

BL Labs Public Awards 2020: enter before 0700 GMT Monday 30 November 2020!

The sixth BL Labs Public Awards 2020 formally recognises outstanding and innovative work that has been carried out using the British Library’s data and / or digital collections by researchers, artists, entrepreneurs, educators, students and the general public.

The closing date for entering the Public Awards is 0700 GMT on Monday 30 November 2020 and you can submit your entry any time up to then.

Please help us spread the word! We want to encourage any one interested to submit over the next few months, who knows, you could even win fame and glory, priceless! We really hope to have another year of fantastic projects to showcase at our annual online awards symposium on the 15 December 2020 (which is open for registration too), inspired by our digital collections and data!

This year, BL Labs is commending work in four key areas that have used or been inspired by our digital collections and data:

  • Research - A project or activity that shows the development of new knowledge, research methods, or tools.
  • Artistic - An artistic or creative endeavour that inspires, stimulates, amazes and provokes.
  • Educational - Quality learning experiences created for learners of any age and ability that use the Library's digital content.
  • Community - Work that has been created by an individual or group in a community.

What kind of projects are we looking for this year?

Whilst we are really happy for you to submit your work on any subject that uses our digital collections, in this significant year, we are particularly interested in entries that may have a focus on anti-racist work or projects about lock down / global pandemic. We are also curious and keen to have submissions that have used Jupyter Notebooks to carry out computational work on our digital collections and data.

After the submission deadline has passed, entries will be shortlisted and selected entrants will be notified via email by midnight on Friday 4th December 2020. 

A prize of £150 in British Library online vouchers will be awarded to the winner and £50 in the same format to the runner up in each Awards category at the Symposium. Of course if you enter, it will be at least a chance to showcase your work to a wide audience and in the past this has often resulted in major collaborations.

The talent of the BL Labs Awards winners and runners up over the last five years has led to the production of remarkable and varied collection of innovative projects described in our 'Digital Projects Archive'. In 2019, the Awards commended work in four main categories – Research, Artistic, Community and Educational:

BL_Labs_Winners_2019-smallBL  Labs Award Winners for 2019
(Top-Left) Full-Text search of Early Music Prints Online (F-TEMPO) - Research, (Top-Right) Emerging Formats: Discovering and Collecting Contemporary British Interactive Fiction - Artistic
(Bottom-Left) John Faucit Saville and the theatres of the East Midlands Circuit - Community commendation
(Bottom-Right) The Other Voice (Learning and Teaching)

For further detailed information, please visit BL Labs Public Awards 2020, or contact us at labs@bl.uk if you have a specific query.

Posted by Mahendra Mahey, Manager of British Library Labs.

07 September 2020

When is a persistent identifier not persistent? Or an identifier?

Ever wondered what that bar code on the back of every book is? It’s an ISBN: an International Standard Book Number. Every modern book published has an ISBN, which uniquely identifies that book, and anyone publishing a book can get an ISBN for it whether an individual or a huge publishing house. It’s a little more complex than that in practice but generally speaking it’s 1 book, 1 ISBN. Right? Right.

Except…

If you search an online catalogue, such as WorldCat or The British Library for the ISBN 9780393073775 (or the 10-digit equivalent, 0393073777) you’ll find results appear for two completely different books:

  1. Waal FD. The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.; 2013. 304 p. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/1167414372
  2. Lodge HC. The Storm Has Many Eyes; a Personal Narrative. 1st edition. New York: New York Norton; 1973. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/989188234

A screen grab of the main catalogue showing a search for ISBN 0393073777 with the above two results

In fact, things are so confused that the cover of one book gets pulled in for the other as well. Investigate further and you’ll see that it’s not a glitch: both books have been assigned the same ISBN. Others have found the same:

“However, if the books do not match, it’s usually one of two issues. First, if it is the same book but with a different cover, then it is likely the ISBN was reused for a later/earlier reprinting. … In the other case of duplicate ISBNs, it may be that an ISBN was reused on a completely different book. This shouldn’t happen because ISBNs are supposed to be unique, but exceptions have been found.” — GoodReads Librarian Manual: ISBN-10, ISBN-13 and ASINS

While most publishers stick to the rules about never reusing an ISBN, it’s apparently common knowledge in the book trade that ISBNs from old books get reused for newer books, sometimes accidentally (due to a typo), sometimes intentionally (to save money), and that has some tricky consequences.

I recently attended a webinar entitled “Identifiers in Heritage Collections - how embedded are they?” from the Persistent Identifiers as IRO Infrastructure (“HeritagePIDs”) project, part of AHRC’s Towards a National Collection programme. As quite often happens, the question was raised: what Persistent Identifier (PID) should we use for books and why can’t we just use ISBNs? Rod Page, who gave the demo that prompted this discussion, also wrote a short follow-up blog post about what makes PIDs work (or not) which is worth a look before you read the rest of this.

These are really valid questions and worth considering in more detail, and to do that we need to understand what makes a PID special. We call them persistent, and indeed we expect some sort of guarantee that a PID remains valid for the long term, so that we can use it as a link or placeholder for the referent without worrying that the link will get broken. But we also expect PIDs to be actionable: it can be made into a valid URL by following some rules: so that we can directly obtain the object referenced or at least some information about it.

Actionability implies two further properties: an actionable identifier must be

  1. Unique: guaranteed to have only one identifier for a given object (of a given type); and
  2. Unambiguous: guaranteed that a single identifier refers to only one object

Where does this leave us with ISBNs?

Well first up they’re not actionable to start with: given an ISBN, there’s no canonical way to obtain information about the book referenced, although in practice there are a number of databases that can help. There is, in fact, an actionable ISBN standard: ISBN-A permits converting an ISBN into a DOI with all the benefits of the underlying DOI and Handle infrastructure. Sadly, creation of an ISBN-A isn’t automatic and publishers have to explicitly create the ISBN-A DOI in addition to the already-create ISBN; most don’t.

More than that though, it’s hard to make them actionable since ISBNs fail on both uniqueness and unambiguity. Firstly, as seen in the example I gave above, ISBNs do get recycled, They’re not supposed to be:

“Once assigned to a monographic publication, an ISBN can never be reused to identify another monographic publication, even if the original ISBN is found to have been assigned in error.” — International ISBN Agency. ISBN Users’ Manual [Internet]. Seventh Edition. London, UK: International ISBN Agency; 2017 [cited 2020 Jul 23]. Available from: https://www.isbn-international.org/content/isbn-users-manual

Yet they are, so we can’t rely on their precision.[1]

Secondly, and perhaps more problematic in day-to-day use, a given book may have multiple ISBNs. To an extent this is reasonable: different editions of the same book may have different content, or at the very least different page numbering, so a PID should be able to distinguish these for accurate citation. Unfortunately the same edition of the same book will frequently have multiple ISBNs; in particular each different format (hardback, paperback, large print, ePub, MOBI, PDF, …) is expected to have a distinct ISBN. Even if all that changes is the publisher, a new ISBN is still created:

“We recently encountered a case where a publisher had licensed a book to another publisher for a different geographical market. Both books used the same ISBN. If the publisher of the book changes (even if nothing else about the book has changed), the ISBN must also change.” — Everything you wanted to know about the ISBN but were too afraid to ask

Again, this is reasonable since the ISBN is primarily intended for stockkeeping by book sellers[2], and for them the difference between a hardback and paperback is important because they differ in price if nothing else. This has bitten more than one librarian when trying to merge data from two different sources (such as usage and pricing) using the ISBN as the “obvious” merge key. It makes bibliometrics harder too, since you can’t easily pull out a list of all citations of a given edition in the literature, just from a single ISBN.

So where does this leave us?

I’m not really sure yet. ISBNs as they are currently specified and used by the book industry aren’t really fit for purpose as a PID. But they’re there and they sort-of work and establishing a more robust PID for books would need commitment and co-operation from authors, publishers and libraries. That’s not impossible: a lot of work has been done recently to make the ISSN (International Standard Serial Number, for journals) more actionable.

But perhaps there are other options. Where publishers, booksellers and libraries are primarily interested in IDs for stock management, authors, researchers and scholarly communications librarians are more interested in the scholarly record as a whole and tracking the flow of ideas (and credit for those) which is where PIDs come into their own. Is there an argument for a coalition of these groups to establish a parallel identifier system for citation & credit that’s truly persistent? It wouldn’t be the first time: ISNIs (International Standard Name Identifiers) and ORCIDs (Open Researcher and Contributor IDs) both identify people, but for different purposes in different roles and with robust metadata linking the two where possible.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this train of thought so I’ll leave it there for now, but I’m sure I’ll be back. The more I dig into this the more there is to find, including the mysterious, long-forgotten and no-longer accessible Book Item & Component Identifier proposal. In the meantime, if you want a persistent identifier and aren’t sure which one you need these Guides to Choosing a Persistent Identifier from Project FREYA should get you started.


  1. Actually, as my colleague pointed out, even DOIs potentially have this problem, although I feel they can mitigate it better with metadata that allows rich expression of relationships between DOIs.  ↩︎

  2. In fact, the newer ISBN-13 standard is simply an ISBN-10 encoded as an “International Article Number”, the standard barcode format for almost all retail products, by sticking the “Bookland” country code of 978 on the front and recalculating the check digit. ↩︎

04 September 2020

British Library Joins Share-VDE Linked Data Community

This blog post is by Alan Danskin, Collection Metadata Standards Manager, British Library. metadata@bl.uk

What is Share-VDE and why has the British Library joined the Share-VDE Community?

Share-VDE is a library-driven initiative bringing library catalogues together in a shared Virtual Discovery Environment.  It uses linked data technology to create connections between bibliographic information contributed by different institutions

Example SVDE page showing Tim Berners-Lee linked info to publications, wikipedia, and other external sites
Figure 1: SVDE page for Sir Tim Berners-Lee

For example, searching for Sir Tim Berners-Lee retrieves metadata contributed by different members, including links to his publications. The search also returns links to external sources of information, including Wikipedia.

The British Library will be the first institution to contribute its national bibliography to Share-VDE and we also plan to contribute our catalogue data. By collaborating with the Share-VDE community we will extend access to information about our collections and services and enable information to be reused.

The Library also contributes to Share-VDE by participating on community groups working to develop the metadata model and Share-VDE functionality. This provides us with a practical approach for bridging differences between the IFLA Library Reference Model (LRM) and the Bibframe initiative, led by Library of Congress.

Share VDE is promoted by the international bibliographic agency Casalini Libri and @Cult, a solutions developer working in the cultural heritage sector.

Andrew MacEwan, Head of Metadata at the British Library, explained that, “Membership of the Share-VDE community is an exciting opportunity to enrich the Library’s metadata and open it up for re-use by other institutions in a linked data environment.”

Tiziana Possemato, Chief Information Officer at Casalini Libri and Director of @Cult, said "We are delighted to collaborate with the British Library and extremely excited about unlocking the wealth of data in its collections, both to further enrich the Virtual Discovery Environment and to make the Library's resources even more accessible to users."

For further information about:

SHARE-VDE  

Linked Data

Linked Open Data

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.

Casalini Libri is a bibliographic agency producing authority and bibliographic data; a library vendor, supplying books and journals, and offering a variety of collection development and technical services; and an e-content provider, working both for publishers and libraries.

@Cult is a software development company, specializing in data conversion for LD; and provider of Integrated Library System and Discovery tools, delivering effective and innovative technological solutions to improve information management and knowledge sharing.

01 September 2020

Taking a Virtual Walk on the Wild Side

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, summer is drawing to a close and autumn feels hot on its heels. On recent walks I’ve noticed blackberries ripening in the hedgerows, tree leaves turning colour and bats darting through the air.

Thinking of nature and the senses, today is the first day of Sound Walk September, the yearly global festival celebrating sound walks. If you want to check some of these out, there is a comprehensive list of walking pieces on their website and also many interesting events planned. Including one about virtual walks; exploring how we can enjoy the great outdoors, by using digital technology to experience virtual nature, when staying indoors.

Blue graphic of a stick person wearing large headphones
Sound Walk September, 1-30 September 2020

We'd love for you to join us for this online Virtual Walks panel discussion on Wednesday 16th September at 7pm (BST), booking details are here.

This event will be chaired by Sue Thomas, author of “Nature and Wellbeing in the Digital Age”, who champions how we can use technology to feel better without logging off.

Sue will be joined by cultural geographer and digital media artist, Jack Lowe, who will talk about a genre of video games known as ‘walking simulators’ and his research in developing location-based online games, as a method of place based digital storytelling.

Virtual Whitby Abbey, one of the British Library’s “Off the Map” gothic winning entries. Created by Team Flying Buttress, i.e. six students from De Montfort University, Ben Mowson, Elliott Pacel, Ewan Couper, Finn McAvinchey, Kit Grande and Katie Hallaron.

Use of atmospheric sound recordings is very much part of the ambience of virtual walking simulators and videogames. Completing the panel will be British Library Wildlife and Environmental Sounds Curator, Cheryl Tipp and myself discussing how digitised sound recordings from the Library’s sound archive have been innovatively used in videogames made by UK students, as part of the "Off the Map" initiative.

If you are inspired to make your own digital sound walk, then you may want to take a read of this previous blog post, which has lots of practical advice. Furthermore, if you use any openly licensed British Library sound recordings in your walk, such as ones on the "Off the Map" SoundCloud Gothic, Alice or Shakespeare sets, or these ones on Wikimedia Commons, then please do let us know by emailing digitalresearch(at)bl(dot)uk, as we always love to share and showcase what people have done with our digital collections.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom

24 August 2020

Not Just for Kids: UK Digital Comics, from creation to consumption

This is a guest post by Linda Berube, an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership student based at the British Library and City, University of London. If you would like to know more about Linda's research, please do email her at Linda.Berube@city.ac.uk.

“There are those who claim that Britain no longer has a comics industry.” (John Freeman, downthetubes.net, quoting Lewis Stringer)

Freeman goes onto say that despite the evidence supporting such a view (have you ever really looked at a WH Smith comics rack? He has: see his photo of one here), the British comics industry is not just all licenced content from the United States, and it has continued to produce new publications. Maybe the newsstand is not necessarily the best place to look for them.
For the newsstand does not tell the whole story. Comics are not all kiddie and superhero characters now, if they ever were (Sabin 1993). Not that there is anything wrong with that content, but prevailing attitudes about the perceived lack of seriousness of these types of comics can inhibit a consideration of comics as cultural objects in their own right, worthy of research. Novelist Susan Hill (2017) expresses a widely held view when she stated: "Is it better for young people to read nothing at all than read graphic novels-which are really only comics for an older age group?". No amount of book awards, academic departments or academic journals have eliminated such sentiments[1].

The best place for looking at all UK comics have to offer is online. Digital comics have not only brought a whole new audience but new creators, as well as new business models and creative processes. My Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Programme funded research will take a deep dive into these models and processes, from creation to consumption. For this work, I have the considerable support of supervisors Ian Cooke and Stella Wisdom (British Library) and Ernesto Priego and Stephann Makri (Human-Computer Interaction Design Centre, City, University of London)[2].

A cartoon of a spaceship on the left and a large smartphone screen on the right, showing two people talking to each other
Figure 1: Charisma.ai uses innovative technology to create comics

This particular point in time offers an excellent opportunity to consider the digital comics, and specifically UK, landscape. We seem to be past the initial enthusiasm for digital technologies when babies and bathwater were ejected with abandon (see McCloud 2000, for example), and probably still in the middle of a retrenchment, so to speak, of that enthusiasm (see Priego 2011 pp278-280). To date, there have been few attempts at viewing the creation to consumption process of print comics in their entirety, and no complete studies of the production and communication models of digital comics. While Benatti (2019) analysed the changes to the roles of authors, readers, and publishers prompted by the creation of webcomics, she admits that “the uncertain future of the comics print communications circuit makes the establishment of a parallel digital circuit…more necessary than ever for the development of the comics medium”. (p316)

Screen capture of a website showing the covers of three comics, the first comic shows a rocket leaving earth, the second a Christmas wreath and a pair of crutches, the third 4 people next to a beach
Figure 2: Helen Greetham is part of the international Spider Forest Webcomic collective, one way of distributing and marketing digital comics

Benatti was using the wider publishing industry’s process models and the disruption caused by digital technology as a lens through which to view webcomics. Indeed, historians have discovered cohesive patterns in the development of ideas, especially as embodied in print books. These patterns, most often described as cycles, chains, or circuits, follow the book through various channels of creation, production, and consumption. (See Darnton 1982, diagram of Communication Circuit below, for example). However, they have undergone a significant transformation, disruption even, when considered in the context of the digital environment (Murray and Squires 2013 have update Darnton for the digital and self-publishing age). And at first, it seemed that the disruption would prove terminal for certain types of communication, but most especially books and newspapers in print.

A diagram of Darntons Communication Circuit
Figure 3: Robert Darnton’s Communication Circuit

What about the production patterns for comics within this publishing context? Have print comics given way to digital comics? And are digital comics the revolution they once seemed?
My research, a scoping study in its first year looking at the UK comics landscape and interviewing comics gatekeepers-mediators (CGMs)[3], seeks to address the gap in the understanding of the creation to consumption process for digital comics. This first year’s work will be followed up by research into the creative process of digital comics writers and artists and what readers might contribute to that process. It will be the first such research to investigate cohesive patterns and production models through interdisciplinary empirical research for UK digital comics: analysing how an idea and digital comic object is formed, communicated, discussed and transformed by all the participants involved, from authors to CGMs to readers.

References:

Benatti, Francesca (2019). ‘Superhero comics and the digital communications circuit: a case study of Strong Female Protagonist’, Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics,10 (3), pp306-319. Available at: DOI: 10.1080/21504857.2018.1485720.

Darnton, R. (1982). ‘What Is the History of Books?’ Daedalus,111(3), pp65-83. Available at: www.jstor.org/stable/20024803.  Also available at:  https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/3403038/darnton_historybooks.pdf

Freeman, John (2020).   ‘British Comics Industry Q&A’, downthetubes.net: exploring comics and more on the web since 1998. Quoting British comics creator and archivist Lew Stringer in a 2015 assessment of news stand comics on his Blimey! It’s Another Blog About Comics blog.  Available at: https://downthetubes.net/?page_id=7110).

Hill, Susan (2017). Jacob’s Room Is Full of Books: A Year of Reading. Profile Books.

McCloud, Scott (2000). Reinventing Comics: How Imagination and Technology Are Revolutionizing an Art Form.  New York, N.Y: Paradox Press.

Murray, P.R.  and Squires, C. (2013). ‘Digital Publishing Communications Circuit’, Book 2.0, 3(1), pp3-23. Available at: DOI: https://doi.org/10.1386/btwo.3.1.3_1. See also: Stirling University, Book Unbound https://www.bookunbound.stir.ac.uk/research/.

Priego, Ernesto (2011). The Comic Book in the Age of Digital Reproduction. City, University of London. Journal contribution. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.754575.v4.

Sabin, Roger (1993). Adult comics: An introduction. London: Routledge. See Part 1: Britain 1. The first adult comics 2. Kid's stuff 3.Underground comix  4. 2000AD: 'The Comic of tomorrow!'  5. Fandom and direct sales 6. 'Comics grow up!': dawn of the graphic novel  7.From boom to bust 8.Viz: 'More fun than a jammy bun!'  9. The future.


Footnotes

1. For example, the Pulitzer Prize[Maus]; The Guardian’s First Book Award 2001 [Jimmy Corrigan]; Man Booker Prize longlist [Sabrina], not to mention the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics. The fact that graphic novels are singled out from comics here is another entire blog post… ↩︎

2. Ernesto does a nice line in comics himself: see Parables of Care. Creative Responses to Dementia Care, As Told by Carers and I Know How This Ends: Stories of Dementia Care, as well as The Lockdown Chronicles. ↩︎

3. The word ‘publisher’, at least in its traditional sense, just does not seem to apply to the various means of production and distribution. ↩︎


 

04 August 2020

Having a Hoot for International Owl Awareness Day

Who doesn’t love owls? Here at the British Library we certainly do.

Often used as a symbol of knowledge, they are the perfect library bird. A little owl is associated and frequently depicted with the Greek goddess of wisdom Athena. The University of Bath even awarded Professor Yoda the European eagle owl a library card in recognition of his valuable service deterring seagulls from nesting on their campus.

The British Library may not have issued a reader pass to an owl (as far as I am aware!), but we do have a wealth of owl sound recordings in our wildlife and environmental sounds collection, you can read about and listen to some of these here.

Little Owl calls recorded by Nigel Tucker in Somerset, England (BL ref 124857)

Owls can also be discovered in our UK Web Archive. Our UK Web Archivists recently examined the Shine dataset to explore which UK owl species is the most popular on the archived .uk domain. Read here to find out which owl is the winner.

They also curate an Online Enthusiast Communities in the UK collection, which features bird watching and some owl related websites in the Animal related hobbies subsection. If you know of websites that you think should be included in this collection, then please fill in their online nomination form.

Here in Digital Scholarship I recently found many fabulous illustrations of owls in our Mechanical Curator Flickr image collection of over a million Public Domain images. So to honour owls on International Owl Awareness Day, I put together an owl album.

These owl illustrations are freely available, without copyright restrictions, for all types of creative projects, including digital collages. My colleague Hannah Nagle blogged about making collages recently and provided this handy guide. For finding more general images of nature for your collages, you may find it useful to browse other Mechanical Curator themed albums, such as Flora & Fauna, as these are rich resources for finding illustrations of trees, plants, animals and birds.

If you creatively use our Mechanical Curator Flickr images, please do share them with us on twitter, using the hashtag #BLdigital, we always love to see what people have done with them. Plus if you use any of our owls today, remember to include the #InternationalOwlAwarenessDay hashtag too!

We also urge you to be eagle-eyed (sorry wrong bird!) and look out for some special animated owls during the 4th August, like this one below, which uses both sounds and images taken from our collections. These have been created by Carlos Rarugal, our arty Assistant Web Archivist and will shared from the WildlifeWeb Archive and Digital Scholarship Twitter accounts. 


Video created by Carlos Rarugal,  using Tawny Owl hoots recorded by Richard Margoschis in Gloucestershire, England (BL ref 09647) and British Library digitised image from page 79 of "Woodland Wild: a selection of descriptive poetry. From various authors. With ... illustrations on steel and wood, after R. Bonheur, J. Bonheur, C. Jacque, Veyrassat, Yan Dargent, and other artists"

One of the benefits of making digital art, is that there is no risks of spilling paint or glue on your furniture! As noted in this tweet from Damyanti Patel "Thanks for the instructions, my kids were entertained & I had no mess to clean up after their art so a clear win win, they really enjoyed looking through the albums". I honestly did not ask them to do this, but it is really cool that her children included this fantastic owl in the centre of one of their digital collages:

I quite enjoy it when my library life and goth life connect! During the covid-19 lockdown I have attended several online club nights. A few months ago I was delighted to see that one of these; How Did I Get Here? Alternative 80s Night! regularly uses the British Library Flickr images to create their event flyers, using illustrations of people in strange predicaments to complement the name of their club; like this sad lady sitting inside a bird cage, in the flyer below.

Their next online event is Saturday 22nd August and you can tune in here. If you are a night owl, you could even make some digital collages, while listening to some great tunes. Sounds like a great night in to me!

Illustration of a woman sitting in a bird cage with a book on the floor just outside the cage
Flyer image for How Did I Get Here? Alternative 80s Night!

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom

24 July 2020

Ira Aldridge In the Spotlight

In this post, Dr Mia Ridge gives a sense of why sightings of Ira Aldridge in our historical playbills collection resonate...

Ira Aldridge is one of the most popular 'celebrity spottings' shared by volunteers working with historical playbills on our In the Spotlight project. Born on this day in New York in 1807, Aldridge was the first Black actor to play a Shakespearean role in Britain.

Portrait of Aldridge by James Northcote
Portrait of Aldridge by James Northcote

Educated at the African Free School and with some experience at the African Grove Theatre in New York, the teenaged Aldridge emigrated to Britain from the US in 1824 and quickly had an impact. In 1826 painter James Northcote captured him as Othello, a portrait which became the first acquisition by the Manchester Art Gallery. (If you're reading this before August 15th, you can attend an online tour exploring his work.)

While his initial reviews were mixed, he took The Times' mocking reference to him as the 'African Roscius' and used both the references to the famous Roman actor and his African ancestry in promotional playbills. Caught up in debates about the abolition of slavery and facing racism in reviews from critics about his performances in London's theatres, Aldridge toured the regions, particularly British cities with anti-slavery sympathies. He performed a range of roles, and his Shakespearean roles eventually including Othello, Shylock, Macbeth, King Lear and Richard III.

From 1852, he toured Europe, particularly Germany, Poland and Russia. This 'List showing the theatres and plays in various European cities where Ira Aldridge, the African Roscius, acted during the years 1827-1867, compiled by Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, shows how widely he travelled and the roles he performed.

As the 1841 playbill from Doncaster's Theatre Royal (below) shows, the tale of his African ancestry grew more creative over time. The playbill also advertises a lecture and memoirs from Aldridge on various topics. In the years around the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, he spoke powerfully and directly to audiences about the injustices of slavery and racism. Playbills like this demonstrate how Aldridge managed to both pander to and play with perceptions of 'the African'.

This is necessarily a very brief overview of Aldridge's life and impact but I hope it's given you a sense of why it's so exciting to catch a glimpse of Aldridge in our collections.

Screenshot of historical playbill

Sources used and further reading include:

My thanks to everyone who suggested references for this post, in particular: Christian Algar, Naomi Billingsley, Nora McGregor, Susan Reed from the British Library; Dorothy Berry from the Houghton Library at Harvard and In the Spotlight participants including beccabooks10, Nosnibor3, Elizabeth Danskin (who shared a link to this video about his daughter, Amanda Aldridge), Nicola Hayes, and Sylvia Morris (who has written extensively about Aldridge on her blog).

Post by Mia Ridge, Digital Curator, Western Heritage Collections.