‘Lost Visions: Retrieving the Visual Element of Printed Books from the Nineteenth Century’
Cardiff, 4th November 2014
‘Lost Visions’ is an AHRC-funded project led by Professor Julia Thomas in the School of English, Communication & Philosophy, Cardiff University. It attempts to tackle the challenges of big-data by working with more than a million illustrations from books in the British Library’s collection. Although many historical texts have been digitally stored, the illustrations in these texts are frequently without the information needed to help people understand them. The Cardiff team will devise methods that will enable the collection of illustrations to become fully searchable via an online database.
At the workshop in Cardiff, we were introduced to the scope and the challenges of the project, as well as the early version of the online database itself. Julia Thomas explained the vast dataset given to them by the British Library, with over 65,000 mixed-genre volumes c. 1528 – 1946, with the majority from the eigtheenth and nineteenth centuries. This gives a total of about 1 million illustrations in the database. Ian Harvey then gave us an introductory demonstration of the database in its current form, and Nicola Lloyd explained the many research applications that the database has already had for academics at Cardiff, but also beyond.
Ian Harvey then spoke in more details about the implemetationa challenegs faced so far in the project, not least the vast amount of images and the missing or inaccurate metadata that came with them. He demonstrated how dates, page numbers, and even names of illustrators need adding and/or correcting. They plan to use crowd-sourcing to encourage users (whether academics, teachers, or the general public) to tag images and help make the database more easily and accurately searchable.
After coffee, we all had chance to try out the search functions and the tagging. The closing roundtable discussion was full of praise for the project. It was noted how important it was to focus on visual culture when so many digital projects were text-based. It also became clear the ‘Lost Visions’ will enable us to rethink the author/artist hierarchy, especially in the context of the eigtheenth and nineteenth centuries.
The full database will be launched in March 2015, and once it has been launched RIN members are encouraged to try searching and tagging for themselves.