Romantic London: new digital project

Romantic London is a research project by Dr Matthew Sangster (Birmingham) exploring life and culture in London around the turn of the nineteenth century using Richard Horwood’s pioneering ‘PLAN of the Cities of LONDON and WESTMINSTER the Borough of SOUTHWARK, and PARTS adjoining Shewing every HOUSE’ (published between 1792 and 1799). It considers the ways in which the writers and works later grouped under the umbrella of Romanticism interacted with London’s communities and institutions while also examining a wide range of alternative approaches to representing and organising urban existence.

The site is based around a digital version of Horwood’s Plan laid over and georeferenced to modern maps of the city; this allows for detailed examinations and comparisons. As well as considering the Plan and its creator, the site is using Horwood’s work as a means of thinking about the ways in which writers, publishers and artists sought to communicate insights into London’s general character and particularities. By using Horwood’s Plan as a base map and adding other kinds of information to it using annotated markers, the site reflects upon the social, geographical and aesthetic assumptions made in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century attempts to make sense and art of the burgeoning metropolis.

Texts brought into conversation with Horwood’s Plan on the site at present include:
•Entries from the dual-language New Guide for Foreigners prepared around 1790 and sold by the printseller S.W. Fores from his shop opposite the Paris Diligence office.
•Descriptions and images from Modern London, an 1804 publication put together by the radical publisher Richard Phillips, which included two sets of plates of the city, one showing major landmarks, the other showing itinerant traders hawking their wares in more out-of-the-way locations.
•The lavish aquatints from Rudolf Ackermann’s Microcosm of London (1808-10), engraved from collaborations between the artist and architectural draftsman Auguste Charles Pugin and the uproarious caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson.
•The text of the 1788 edition of Harris’s List of Covent-Garden Ladies, a disreputable register of London prostitutes.

The site at present is a work in progress; there are a great number of additions still to be made. You can follow the changes and developments on the site’s blog.

‘Lost Visions’ Workshop Report: Cardiff, 4th November 2014

‘Lost Visions: Retrieving the Visual Element of Printed Books from the Nineteenth Century’

lost visions logoWorkshop Report

Cardiff, 4th November 2014

http://lostvisions.weebly.com/about.html

‘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.

New Resource Added: Walter Scott Illustrations

The following resources were suggested by Paul Barnaby, Project Officer for the Walter Scott Digital Archive, which draws upon the collections of Edinburgh University Library.

1) Walter Scott Image Collection (Paul Barnaby):

http://www.walterscott.lib.ed.ac.uk/imdata.html

This is an image library of just over 1000 illustrations to the works of Walter Scott and other Scott-related publications. It is part of a larger site, the Walter Scott Digital Archive.

2) Illustrating Scott: A Database of Printed Illustrations to the Waverley Novels, 1814-1901 (Peter Garside and Ruth McAdams):

http://illustratingscott.lib.ed.ac.uk/

 

Romantic Circles Gallery of Romantic Visual Culture

Theresa Kelley and Richard C. Sha forward a link to their Romantic Circles Gallery of Romantic Visual Culture (see below). They say:

‘If anyone has interest in pulling together an exhibition of roughly ten images into an exhibit, please send us a proposal. The following link shows what we already have:

http://www.rc.umd.edu/gallery/exhibits

Here is the rationale for the gallery:

http://www.rc.umd.edu/gallery/about ‘

For further information, contact

Richard C. Sha [rcsha@american.edu] or Theresa Kelly ‎[tkelley@wisc.edu]‎

The Political Economy of Book Illustration – 6/6/2014

The Romantic Illustration Network held its opening event at the British Academy in London last Friday.

Leading and emerging scholars of eighteenth- and nineteenth- century visual culture gathered to discuss the materiality of the visual image and the printed text, in the beautiful surroundings of the British Academy’s Lee Reading Room.

RIN OpeningSusan Matthews (Roehampton) welcomed attendees, and used the OED’s definition of ‘illustration’ to suggest that the term itself is odder than we have come to believe it is. She pointed out that in the early nineteenth-century the word was used regularly in both its visual and its verbal senses, and proposed that the world of book illustration is one which is less straightforward than one might initially think.

This theme of the inter-relation of text and image in the illustrated book was picked up by William St Clair (IES, London) in his paper ‘Towards a Political Economy of Book Illustration’, c. 1800-1820. St Clair showed us how a focus on literature and art as material transactions can move us away from notions of ‘cultural emanation’ or ‘influence’, if we ask questions such ‘who had access to which texts at which time?’ and ‘how did images get from producer to consumer?’. He argued that expected demand, rather than supply, drove the publishers’ offerings of illustrated books. St Clair brought items from his own collection to display as a mini exhibition during the symposium.

Brian Maidment (Liverpool John Moores) took us into the next part of the century; he surveyed ‘Comic Illustration in the Marketplace 1820-40’ through a close reading of a series of comic caricatures, prints, and illustrations. He emphasised that the Victorians did not invent the serialised illustrated magazine, and that examples from the 1820s and 1830s are under-researched and understood. He also discussed questions of the democratic nature of popular serial culture, and made the point that any discussion of visual radicalism needs to recognise the willingness of artists such as Robert Seymour to work in multiple kinds of publications for money.

RIN DelegatesMoving into the Victorian period and digital materiality, Anthony Mandal, Julia Thomas, Nicky Lloyd, and Michael Goodman from Cardiff’s ‘Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research’ presented three digital resources: the Database of Mid-Victorian Illustration (http://www.dmvi.org.uk/), the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive (under construction), and Lost Visions; Retrieving the Visual Element of Printed Books from the Nineteenth Century(http://cardiffbookhistory.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/lost-visions/). Together these papers demonstrated how practical and theoretical considerations must be tackled in tandem on such digital projects, and how online academic resources can be rigorous and scholarly as well as accessible.

The symposium closed with an open discussion which drew together various different strands from across the day, and also pointed towards profitable new lines of inquiry, before we all headed for a sociable drink nearby. Apart from the lively buzz at the event itself, if such Network-building events are to be judged by the resources shared and the connections made, then RIN has got off to a productive and promising start.

– Mary L. Shannon (Roehampton)