The Twelve Days of Christmas – archives style!

Archives Hub feature for December 2014

The Twelve Days of Christmas song poster

“The Twelve Days of Christmas song poster” by Xavier Romero-Frias is
licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

There are several versions of the traditional folk melody The Twelve Days of Christmas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Twelve_Days_of_Christmas_%28song%29). This feature is based on the 1909 publication by English composer Frederic Austin.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…

Twelve drummers drumming

Max Abrams Collection, 1920s-1992. Max Abrams was a drummer, teacher of drums and author of drum tutors. He kept detailed diaries between 1943 and 1992, which document his performance career and information about his pupils, as well as personal information. He wrote around 50 jazz tutor books.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb2942-ma

Logo for Seven Stories

Logo for Seven Stories, the Centre for Children’s Books

‘The Little Drummer Boy’ greetings card, c. 1968-1999. An illustration of the well-known carol, the card is part of a collection of publications, prints and original artwork by the illustrators, twins Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone. The Johnston Memorial Collection is held by Seven Stories, the Centre for Children’s Books.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1840-jaj/jaj/02/04/10

Beat The Retreat On Thy Drum (Sam, Sam, Beat the Retreat!), 1932.
Printed score of a musical monologue performed by Stanley Holloway, part
of the Stanley Holloway Archive held by the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance. Stanley Holloway (1890-1982) made over 50 films, but he loved performing in the theatre and the comic monologues, for which he was so well known.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/18/thm/18/1/7

Eleven pipers piping

Papers of John and Myfanwy Piper, 1882-1990s. John Piper (1903-1992) was a major figure in modern British art. He was a painter in oils and water colour, designed stained glass, ceramics and for the stage, made prints and devised ingenious firework displays. In addition to this he was also a gifted photographer of buildings and landscapes. Piper also wrote poetry, art criticism and several guidebooks on landscape and architecture.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb70-tga200410

W.T. Piper papers, 1914-1919. W.T. Piper was a Private, 5th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, serving in India.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb206-liddlecollectionind31

Ten lords a-leaping

Papers of Horatio Nelson, Viscount and First Admiral, 1758-1805. Held by Glasgow University Library, Special Collections Department, comprising correspondence concerning the promotion of Lieutenant Scott of Monmouth.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb247-msgen512/35

Manuscript of speeches made by Lord Crewe, Lord Lansdowne, and Lord Loreburn in the Library of the House of Lords, 1908. The speeches were made on Monday, 27th July, 1908, on the occasion of the presentation to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Loreburn, of his portrait painted by Sir George Reid.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb206-brothertoncollectionms19creid

Transcription of Thomas Hope, Major Practicks, c. 1670. Sir Thomas Hope (1573-1646) of Craighall, advocate and politician. He was solicitor to the Church of Scotland, became a very successful advocate, then worked for Charles I and was appointed Lord Advocate in 1626 and admitted to the Scottish privy council 2 years later.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb227-mske.l2

Nine ladies dancing

Photograph of ballet dancer, Anthony Crickmay Dance Photographs, © V&A Department of Theatre and Performance.

Anthony Crickmay Dance Photographs (THM/20), © V&A Department of Theatre and Performance, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Collection of material relating to Anna Pavlova, 1875-1965. Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) was the most celebrated ballerina of her generation. The collection includes accessories originally worn by Pavlova in performance, scrapbooks containing many assorted press and illustrated magazine cuttings featuring Pavlova and sepia prints of Pavlova at a young age.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb3208-rbs/pav

Adeline Genée Archive Collection, c. 1890-1970. Danish by birth, Adeline Genée (1878-1970), was a talented ballerina and the founder president of the Association of Teachers of Operatic Dancing of Great Britain (later the Royal Academy of Dance).
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb3370-rad/ag

Marie Rambert Collection, 1890s-1980s. Collection of films, costumes, photographs, correspondence, diaries, programmes, press cuttings, personal papers, autobiographical notes, awards and medals owned and collected by Dame Marie Rambert throughout her life as well as papers relating to her death and memorials.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb2228-mr

Eight maids a-milking

M. Russell-Fergusson papers, 1914-1990. M. Russell-Fergusson, Women’s National Land Service Corps, served as a milk maid in Norfolk from Aug. 1917 and later in Leicestershire and at the Royal Dairy Farm, Windsor.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb206-liddlecollectiondf112

Photograph of Audree Howard as the Milkmaid in ‘Facade’, 1930s. Part of a small collection relating to the artist Paul Nash at the Tate Gallery Archive.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb70-tga769/tga769/5/13

Seven swans a-swimming

Logo: University of Leeds

Logo: University of Leeds (Leeds University Library Special Collections)

Books about Russia written by members of the Swan/Swann family, 1968-1989. The Swan/Swann family were members of the British community in pre-revolutionary Russia. Material held by Leeds University Library.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb206-ms1036

Papers of and relating to Annie S. Swan, c. 1900-1946. Annie Shepherd Swan, daughter of Edward Swan, farmer and potato merchant, was born in Mountskip, near Edinburgh in 1859. She married James Burnett Smith in 1883, and in the early years of their marriage her writing supported him through medical school.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb231-ms3517

Swan Land and Cattle Company, 1883-1947. The collection is composed of reminiscences of the Swan Land and Cattle Company. The home ranch of the Swan Land and Cattle Company was sited at Chugwater, Wyoming. Its corporate headquarters were in Cheyenne. This large corporate cattle company, with between 50,000 and 80,000 livestock, at one time controlled an area of land greater than the size of the State of Connecticut.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb237-coll-162

Six geese a-laying

‘Taking a gander’. Article concerning the geese at the University, 1966. Part of the Lady Violet Deramore Collection (1881-2005) held by the Borthwick Institute, University of York.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb193-vder/vder/3/1/2/10

As it’s pantomime season (oh no it’s not! Oh yes it is!), we also have:

Cuttings about Mother Goose pantomime, 1951. These records form part of the Unity Theatre, theatre company collection held by V&A Department of Theatre and Performance. Unity Theatre was founded in 1936 by a general meeting of the Rebel Players and Red Radio, left-wing theatre groups derived from the Workers’ Theatre Movement.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/9/thm/9/4/5/77

Five gold rings

Small printed notice “Unique and hitherto unknown variety of the Gold Ring Money of Ireland in the form of an Ear Ornament”, 1840s. Held by Chetham’s Library, this item forms part of the The Correspondence of John Bell, Antiquary and Land Surveyor, Gateshead, Newcastle Collection.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb418-bell/bell/1/29

The rings may in fact refer to ringed-necked pheasants:

Pictorial tapestry rug featuring a pheasant, 1888.
Tapestry rug of worsted yarn and jute in acid colours featuring a pheasant in a floral landscape. Part of the Stoddard-Templeton Carpet and Textile Collection (c. 1840s-1960s). James Templeton and Co. was established in 1843, making Chenille, Axminster, Wilton and Brussels carpets. It employed artists of international calibre such as Charles Voysey, Walter Crane and Frank Brangwyn, with their carpets used in Coronations and in liners such as the Titanic. The collection is held by The Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections Centre.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1694-dc077/2/1

Four calling birds

This could be song birds, such as Canaries, or may be ‘colly’ or black birds:

Descriptions of the Canary Islands and of the Azores, c. 1610.
The manuscript consists of two works, bound together. The first is a description of the Canary Islands, detailing the history, religion and laws of the natives, called the Guanches, as well as observations on the geography and fauna of the islands. The second work is a compilation from other works describing the Azores.The existence of the Canary Islands, a chain of seven islands off the northwest coast of Africa, was known to the Romans and later the Arabs, and European navigators reached the islands in the 13th century. The Azores, an archipelago in the Mid-Atlantic, were discovered in 1427 by the Portuguese and their colonisation by them began in 1432.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb133-engms17

Image: Transport for London Metropolitan Line

Image: TfL Metropolitan Line, Transport for London Corporate Archives.

Briefing on Canary Wharf Station, 1989.
Paper concerning delays and changes in the redesign of Canary Wharf Station. Subjects include construction and negotiations, unresolved issues and financial risk. Part of a series of minutes of meetings belonging to the Transport for London Group Archive.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb2856-%28new%29lt000099/%28new%29lt000099/035

Production contracts for ‘Study from ‘Blackbird”, 2002. Part of the Rambert Dance Company Archive: Productions collection (1920s – 2010s), the folder includes choreographer contracts, production budget and correspondence concerning casting travel and rehearsals.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb2228-rdc/pd/rdc/pd/06/01/0423

Three French hens

‘The Little White Hen’, 1989-2003.
Material relating to ‘The Little White Hen’, written by Philippa Pearce and illustrated by Gillian McClure (Scholastic, 1996). The series includes a dummy book; preliminary artwork; four pieces of finished artwork; a small amount of correspondence from Philippa Pearce, with some reviews of the book; and a copy of the first edition of the book.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1840-gmc/gmc/04

Hen Gapel, Llanbryn-mair Chapel Records, 1898-1932.
Hen Gapel (Old Chapel) in Llanbryn-mair, Montgomeryshire is one of the oldest and most famous chapels in Wales. As far back as 1635 the Rev Walter Craddoc had a small congregation in Llanbryn-mair. Initially, the cause had no home and meetings were held in houses or in a nearby forest. In 1739 a chapel was built (then re-built in 1821).
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb222-bmsshg

Two turtle doves

Ms transcript of song, ‘The Turtle Dove’. 2 leaves belonging to a series of ms and ts transcripts of songs and ballads (1925 to 1965) by the poet and author Robert Graves (1895-1985). The papers are held at St John’s College, Oxford.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb473-rg/m/rg/m/ballads/4

Records for the Dove Brothers Ltd, builders, 1850-1970.
Dove Brothers Ltd was a prominent construction company based in Islington from 1781 to 1993 which worked with most of the major architects of the late 19th to 20th century. The company was founded by William Spencer Dove (1793-1869). His sons formed the Dove Brothers partnership in 1852.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1032-s/dov

And a partridge in a pear tree!

David Cassidy Collection, 1972-1976. The Amercian singer David Cassidy was best known for the musical sitcom The Partridge Family.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/378

Image of title page from "The 12 days of Christmas", 1780

Title page from the first known publication of “The 12 days of Christmas” in 1780.
Image in the public domain.

Bernard Partridge Drawings Collection, 1861-1905. Bernard Partridge (1861-1945) was a painter and illustrator who became the principal cartoonist of Punch magazine.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb71-thm/227

Artworks by James Joshua Guthrie and relating to the Pear Tree Press, 1897-1930s. Designs and illustrations, along with other book illustration work and bookplates for the Pear Tree Press.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb58-addms88957/addms88957/4/4

Trustees of W S Brown – proposed purchase of Deep Mines under Pear Tree House, Tyldesley. 1905. 2 items of correspondence, maintained by the trustees of the Bridgewater estate Ltd.
http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb427-bea/bea/i/1774

Related information

Birds of the Twelve Days of Christmas, 10,000 Birds blog post, 2013: http://10000birds.com/birds-of-the-twelve-days-of-christmas.htm

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James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworth – pioneering educational reformer

Archives Hub feature for November 2014

Funded by a grant from the John Rylands Research Institute, we have recently catalogued the papers of celebrated Victorian educationist Sir James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworth (1804-1877), opening up the rich content of this archive to researchers across the world.

Kay-Shuttleworth was born James Kay in Rochdale, Lancashire, into a textile manufacturing family. After qualifying as a doctor, he went on to have a distinguished career. He was a pioneer of public health, an influential civil servant, and played a key part in nineteenth-century educational reform, laying the groundwork for today’s system of national school education.

Kay-Shuttleworth’s career

After training at Edinburgh University, James Kay returned to practise as a doctor in Manchester in 1827. The following year, he co-founded the Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary, a charity based in one of the poorest areas of the city. Through this work, he witnessed the appalling living conditions of the urban poor, and became increasingly involved in public health initiatives.

In 1832, the year of the cholera epidemic, he published his seminal pamphlet, The Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes Employed in the Cotton Manufacture in Manchester. This predated by some 13 years Friedrich Engels’ better-known The Condition of the Working Class in England.

In 1835, he became an Assistant Poor Law Commissioner for Norfolk and Suffolk, a role which gave rise to his lifelong interest in education and his conviction that it held the key to society’s regeneration.

Image of pamphlet The Training of Pauper Children

The Training of Pauper Children (1839): Kay-Shuttleworth’s ideas about educational reform had their origins in his work with pauper children.

In 1839, he was appointed as Assistant Secretary to the Whig government’s Committee of the Privy Council on Education, which administered grants for public education, a post he held for nine years. He was a highly effective civil servant and much of what we take for granted today had its origins in his inspired reforms. In 1840, he established Battersea College, the first teacher training college in Britain. He created a school inspection system; he argued for state education; and he forced through regulations around how children were taught, the design of school buildings, the structure of the teaching profession and the ways in which schools were governed.

There are over 1,000 letters in Kay-Shuttleworth’s archive, reflecting his whole professional career. Correspondents include those involved in education and philanthropy like Matthew Arnold and Angela Burdett-Coutts, as well as many Liberal or Whig politicians, including Gladstone, W.E. Forster, Lord John Russell and John Bright. Most of his key publications are also represented.

Family ties

The archival material relating to Kay-Shuttleworth’s public life is complemented by extensive personal and family correspondence, providing a fascinating insight into family relationships, social and gender roles.

In 1842, he married Lady Janet Shuttleworth, the heiress of Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire, and adopted her surname on marriage, becoming Kay-Shuttleworth. The couple had five children.

Photograph of Gawthorpe Hall

Gawthorpe Hall, Padiham, Lancashire. James Kay-Shuttleworth set his own stamp on his wife’s ancestral home, employing fashionable architect Charles Barry to undertake major renovations in the 1850s. Photograph courtesy of Lee Pilkington.

The letters between Kay-Shuttleworth and his son Ughtred James (1844-1939) show the closeness of their relationship. Ughtred inherited Gawthorpe Hall, and estate management is discussed in some detail, as is Ughtred’s early political career; he went on to become a successful Liberal MP.

Other relationships were less straightforward. Correspondence in the archive documents the young James Kay’s unsuccessful courtship of Helen Kennedy, daughter of a wealthy Manchester family. Later, he grew apart from his wife, Janet; in 1851 she moved permanently to the Continent, ultimately settling in Italy with her eldest child Janet, two youngest sons, and the family governess Rosa Poplawska.

Two of the Kay-Shuttleworth sons – Robert (known as Robin) and Stewart – caused ongoing anxiety to their father. Neither lived up to his expectations, either getting into debt or associating with people of whom their parents disapproved. Ultimately Kay-Shuttleworth arranged for Robin to travel to Australia and take up sheep-farming (although he proved a continued source of worry to his parents), and Stewart emigrated to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to run a plantation.

Literary circles

Kay-Shuttleworth’s literary aspirations are less well-known than his public career. Always passionate about literature, after his retirement he published two historical novels set in his home county of Lancashire, Scarsdale (1860) and Ribblesdale (1870). Correspondence and reviews relating to these two novels are included in his archive, as is the manuscript of a third novel, Cromwell in the North, which remained unpublished at his death, and his unpublished autobiography.

Image of a page from Gaskell’s manuscript of The Life of Charlotte Brontë

A page from Gaskell’s manuscript of The Life of Charlotte Brontë, from the Library’s Elizabeth Gaskell Collection

His own literary endeavours failed to attract much critical acclaim, and his greatest contribution to literature was probably his role in bringing together Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell. The two writers first met in August 1850, during a visit to the summer home of the Kay-Shuttleworths in the Lake District. Gaskell was already fascinated by what she knew of Brontë and her isolated life in Haworth, which was so different from Gaskell’s own bustling home in Manchester. Despite their many differences, the women immediately struck up a friendship which lasted until Brontë’s premature death in 1855. Gaskell went on to write the celebrated biography of her friend.

Photograph of Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell, c. 1864. Photograph by Alexander McGlashon

 

Having been refused access to the manuscript of Brontë’s unpublished novel, The Professor, by her widower, the Rev. Arthur Nicholls, Gaskell recruited Kay Shuttleworth’s assistance. They visited the parsonage at Haworth together in July 1856. The forceful personality of Sir James overcame the misgivings of Nicholls. He and Gaskell came away not only with The Professor manuscript, but also the fragment of a novel called Emma which Brontë had been working on before her marriage, and the now-famous miniature ‘Gondal’ and ‘Angria’ manuscripts created by Brontë and her siblings.

 

Fran Baker (Archivist) and Jane Speller (Project Archivist), The University of Manchester Library

Find out more and explore the collection:

Papers of Sir James Phillips Kay-Shuttleworthhttp://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb133-jks

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Big Data, Small Data and Meaning

Victorian joke. From the Victorian Meme Machine, a BL Labs project (http://www.digitalvictorianist.com/)

Victorian joke. From the Victorian Meme Machine, a BL Labs project (http://www.digitalvictorianist.com/)

The BL Labs is an initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation that invites researchers and developers to work with the BL and their digital data to address research questions.  The Symposium 2014 showcased some of the work funded by the Labs, presenting innovative and exploratory projects that have been funded through this initiative. This year’s competition winners are  the Victorian Meme Machine, creating a database of Victorian jokes,  and a Text to Image Linking Tool (TILT) for linking areas on a page image and a clear transcription of the content.

Tim Hitchcock, Professor of Digital History from the University of Sussex, opened with a great keynote talk. He started out by stressing the role of libraries, archives and museums in preserving memory and their central place in a complex ecology of knowledge discovery, dissemination and reflection. He felt it was essential to remember this when we get too caught up in pursuing shiny new ideas.  It is important to continually rethink what it is to be an information professional; whilst also respecting the basic principles that a library (archive, museum) was created to serve.

Tim Hitchcock’s talk was Big Data, Small Data and Meaning. He said that conundrums of size mean there is a danger of a concentration on Big Data and a corresponding neglect of Small Data. But can we view and explore a world encompassing both the minuscule and the massive? Hitchcock introduced the concept of the macroscope, a term coined in a science fiction novel  by Piers Anthony back in 1970. He used this term in his talk to consider the idea of a macro view of data. How has the principle of the macroscope influenced the digital humanities? Hitchcock referred to Katy Borner’s work with Plug-and-Play Macroscopesa: “Macroscopes let us observe what is at once too great or too slow or too complex for the human eye and mind to notice and comprehend.” (See http://vimeo.com/33413091 for an introductory video).

Hitchcock felt that ideally macroscopes should be to observe patterns across large data and at the same time show the detail within small data.  The way that he talked about Big Data within the context of both the big and the small helped me to make more sense of Big Data methods. I think that within the archive community there has been something of a collective head scratching around Big Data;  what its significance is, and how it relates to what we do. In a way it helps to think of it alongside the analysis that Small Data allows researchers to undertake.

Graph from Paper Machines

Paper Machines visualisation (http://papermachines.org/)

Hitchcock gave some further examples of Big Data projects. Paper Machines is a plugin for Zotero that enables topic modelling analysis. It allows the user to curate a large collection of works and explore its characteristics with some great results; but the analysis does not really address detail.

The History Manifesto, by Jo Guldi and David Armitage talks about how Big Data might be used to redefine the role of Digital Humanities. But Hitchcock criticised it for dismissing micro-history as essentially irrelevant.

Scott Weingart is also a fan of the macroscope. He is a convincing advocate for network analysis, which he talks about in his blog, The modern role of DH in a data-driven world:

“distant reading occludes as much as it reveals, resulting in significant ethical breaches in our digital world. Network analysis and the humanities offers us a way out, a way to bridge personal stories with the big picture, and to bring a much-needed ethical eye to the modern world.”

Hitchcock posited that the large scale is often seen as a route to impact in policy formation, and this is an attractive inducement to think large. In working on a big data scale, Humanities can speak to power more convincingly; it can lead to a more powerful voice and more impact.

We were introduced to Ben Schmidt’s work, Prochronisms. This uses TV anachronisms to learn about changes in language scales of analysis around the analysis of text used, and Schmidt has done some work around particular TV programmes and films, looking at the overall use of language and the specifics of word use. One example of his work is the analysis of 12 Years a Slave:

visual representation of language in 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave: Word Analysis (http://www.prochronism.com/)

‘the language Ridley introduces himself is full of dramatically modern words like “outcomes,” “cooperative,” and “internationally:” but that where he sticks to Northup’s own words, the film is giving us a good depiction of how things actually sounded. This is visible in the way that the orange ball is centered much higher than the blue one: higher translates to “more common than then now.”‘

Schmidt gives very entertaining examples of anachronisms, for example, the use of ‘parenting a child’ in the TV drama series Downton Abbey, which only shows up in literature 5 times during the 1920′s and in a rather different context to our modern use; his close reading of context also throws up surprises, such as his analysis of the use of the word ‘stuff’ in Downton Abbey (as in ‘family stuff’ or ‘general stuff’), which does not appear to be anachronistic and yet viewers feel that it is a modern term.  (A word of warning, the site is fascinating and it’s hard to stop reading it once you start!)

Professor Hitchcock gave this work as an example of using a macroscope effectively to combine the large and the small. Schmidt reveals narrative arcs; maybe showing us something that hasn’t been revealed before…and at the same time creates anxiety amongst script writers with his stark analysis!

Viewing data on a series of scales simultaneously seems a positive development, even with the pitfalls. But are humanists privileging social science types of analysis over more traditional humanist ones? Working with Big Data can be hugely productive and fun, and it can encourage collaboration, but are humanist scholars losing touch with what they traditionally do best? Language and art, cultural construction and human experience are complex things. Scholars therefore need to encompass close reading and Small Data in their work in order to get a nuanced reading.  Our urge towards the all-inclusive is largely irresistible, but in this fascination we may lose the detail. The global image needs to be balanced with a view from the other end of the macroscope.

It is important to represent and mobilise the powerless rather than always thinking about the relationship to the powerful; to analyse the construct of power rather than being held in the grip of power and technology. Histories of small things are often what gives voice to those who are marginalised. Humanists should encompass the peculiar and eccentric; they should not ignore the power of the particular.

Graph showing evidence for the Higgs boson particle

Graph showing evidence for the Higgs particle (http://www.atlas.ch/news/2012/latest-results-from-higgs-search.html)

Of course, Big Data can have huge and fundamental results. The discovery of the Higgs particle was the result of massive data crunching and finding a small ‘bump’ in the data that gave evidence to support its existence. The other smaller data variations needed to be ignored in this scenario. It was a case of millions of rolls of the dice to discover the elusive particle. But if this approach is applied across the board, the assumption is that the signal, or the evidence, will come through, despite the extraneous blips and bumps. It doesn’t matter if you are using dirty data because small hiccups are just ignored.  But humanists need to read data with an eye to peculiarities and they should consider the value of digital tools that allow them to think small.

Hitchcock believes that to perform humanities effectively we need to contextualise.  And the importance of context is never lost to an archivist, as this is a cornerstone of our work. Big Data analysis can lose this context; Small Data is all about understanding context to derive meaning.

Using the example of voice onset timing, which refers to the tiny breathy gap before speaking, Hitchcock showed that a couple of milliseconds of empty space can demand close reading, because it actually changes depending on who you are talking to, and it reveals some really interesting findings. A Big Data approach would simply miss this fascinating detail.

Big data has its advantages, but it can mean that you don’t look really closely at the data set itself. There is a danger you present your results in a compelling graph or visualisation, but it is hard to see whether it is a flawed reality. You may understand the whole thing, and you can draw valuable conclusions, but you don’t take note of what the single line can tell you.

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Exploring British Design: Research Paths

Introduction

As part of our Exploring British Design project we are organising workshops for researchers, aiming to understand more about their approaches to research, and their understanding and use of archives. Our intention is to create an interface that reflects user requirements and, potentially, explores ideas that we gather from our workshops.

Of course, we can only hope to engage with a very small selection of researchers in this way, but our first workshop at Brighton Design Archive showed us just how valuable this kind of face-to-face communication can be.

We gathered together a small group of 7 postgraduate design students. We divided them into 4 groups of 2 researchers and a lone researcher, and we asked them to undertake 2 exercises. This post is about the first exercise and follow up discussion.  For this exercise, we presented each group with an event, person or building:

The Festival of Britain, 1951
Black Eyes and Lemonade Exhibition, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1951
Natasha Kroll (1912-2004)
Simposons of Piccadilly, London

We gave each group a large piece of paper, and simply asked them to discuss and chart their research paths around the subject they had been given. Each group was joined by a facilitator, who was not there to lead in any way, but just to clarify where necessary, listen to the students and make notes.

Case Study

Researchers charting their research paths for the Festival of Britain

Researchers charting their research paths for the Festival of Britain

I worked with two design students, Richard and Caroline, both postgraduate students researching aspects of design at The University of Brighton. They were looking at the subject of the Festival of Britain (FoB). It fascinated me that even when they were talking about how to represent their research paths, one instinctively went to list their methods, the other to draw theirs, in a more graphic kind of mind map. It was an immediate indication of how people think differently. They ended up using the listing method (see left).

 

diagram showing stages of research

Potential research paths for the Festival of Britain

The above represents the research paths of Richard and Caroline. It became clear early on that they would take somewhat different paths, although they went on to agree about many of the principles of research. Caroline immediately said that she would go to the University library first of all and then probably the central library in Brighton. It is her habit to start with the library, mainly because she likes to think locally before casting the net wider, she prefers the physicality of the resources to the virtual environment of the Web. She likes the opportunity to browse, and to consider the critical theory that is written around the subject as a starting point. Caroline prefers to go to a library or archive and take pictures of resources, so that she can then work through them at her leisure.  She talked about the importance of being able to take pictures, in order to be able to study sources at her leisure, and how high charges for the use of digital cameras can inhibit research.

Richard started with an online search. He thought about the sort of websites that he would gravitate towards – sites that were directly about the topic, such as an exhibition website. He referred to Wikipedia early on, but saw it as a potential starting place to find links to useful websites, through the external links that it includes, rather than using the content of Wikipedia articles.

Richard took a very visual approach. He focused in on the FoB logo (we used this as a representation of the Festival) and thought about researching that. He also talked about whether the FoB might have been an exhibition that showcased design, and liked the idea of an object-based approach, researching things such as furniture or domestic objects that might have been part of the exhibition. It was clear that his approach was based upon his own interests and background as a film maker. He focused on what interested and excited him; the more visual aspects including the concrete things that could be seen, rather than thinking in a text-based way.

Caroline had previous experience of working in an archive, and her approach reflected this, as well as a more text-based way of thinking. She talked about a preference for being in control of her research, so using familiar routes was preferable. She would email the Design Archives at Brighton, but that was not top of the list because it was more of an unknown quantity than the library that she was used to. Maybe because she has worked in an archive, she referred to using film archives for her research;  whereas Richard, although a film maker, did not think of this so readily. Past experience was clearly important here.

Both researchers saw the library as a place for serendipitous research. They agreed that this browsing approach was more effective in a library than online. They were clearly attracted to the idea of searching the library shelves, and discovering sources that they had not known about. I asked why they felt that this was more effective than an online exploration of resources. It seemed to be partly to do with the dependency of the physical environment and also because they felt that the choice of search term online has a substantial effect on what is, and isn’t, found.

Both researchers were also very focused on issues of trust; both very much of opinion that they would assess their sources in terms of provenance and authorship.

In addition, they liked the idea of being able to search by user-generated tags and to have the ability to add tags to content.

General Discussion

In the general discussion some of the point made in the case study were reinforced. In summary:

Participants found the exercise easy to do. It was not hard to think about how they would research the topics they were given. They found it interesting to reflect on their research paths and to share this with others.

For one other participant the library was the first port of call, but the majority started online.

Some took a more historical approach, others a much more narrative and story-based approach.  There were different emphases, which seemed to be borne out of personality, experiences and preferences. For example, some thought more about the ordering of the evidence, others thought more about what was visually stimulating.
It was therefore clear that different researchers took different approaches based on what they were drawn to, which usually reflected their interests and strengths.

There was a strong feeling about trust being vital when assessing sources. Knowing the provenance of an article or piece of writing was essential.

The participants agreed that putting time and effort into gathering evidence is part of the enjoyment of research. One mentioned the idea that ‘a bit of pain’ makes the end result all the more rewarding!  They were taken aback at the idea that that discovery services feel pressured to constantly simplify in order to ensure that we meet researchers’ needs. They understood that research is a skill and a process that takes time and effort (although, of course, this may not be how the majority of undergraduates or more inexperienced researchers feel).  Certainly they agreed that information must not be withheld, it must be accessible. We (service providers) need to provide signposts, to allow researchers to take their own paths. There was discussion about ‘sleuthing’ as part of the research process, and trying unorthodox routes, as chance discoveries may be made. But there was consensus that researchers do not need or wish to be nannnied!

All researchers did use Google at some point….usually using it to start their search. Funnily enough, some participants had quite long discussions about what they would do, before they realised they would actually have gone to Google first of all. It is so common now, that most people don’t think about it. It seemed to operate very much as a as a starting point, from where the researchers would go to sites, assess their worth and ensure that the information was trustworthy.

[There will be follow up posts to this, providing more information about our researcher workshops, summarising the second activity, which was more focused on archive sources, and continuing to document our Exploring British Design project.]

 

 

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Exploring British Design: New Routes through Content

At the moment, the Archives Hub takes a largely traditional approach to the navigation and display of archive collections. The approach is predicated on hundreds of years of archival theory, expanded upon in numerous books, articles, conferences and standards. It is built upon “respect des fonds” and original order. Archival provenance tells us that it is essential to provide the context of a single item within the whole archive collection; this is required in order to  understand and interpret said item.

ISAD(G) reinforces the ‘top down’ approach. The hierarchy of an archive collection is usually visualised as a tree structure, often using folders. The connections show a top-down or bottom-up approach, linking each parent to its child(ren).

image of hierarchical folders

A folder structure is often used to represent archival hierarchy

This principle of archival hierarchy makes very good sense. The importance of this sort of context is clear: one individual letter, one photograph, one drawing, can only reveal so much on its own. But being able to see that it forms part of a series, and part of a larger collection, gives it a fuller story.

However, I wonder if our strong focus on this type of context has meant that archivists have sometimes forgotten that there are other types of context, other routes through content. With the digital environment that we now have, and the tools at our disposal, we can broaden out our ambitions with regards to how to display and navigate through archives, and how we think of them alongside other sources of information. This is not an ‘either or’ scenario; we can maintain the archival context whilst enabling other ways to explore, via other interfaces and applications. This is the beauty of machine processable data – the data remains unchanged, but there can be numerous interfaces to the data, for different audiences and different purposes.

Providing different routes into archives, showing different contexts, and enabling researchers to create their own narratives, can potentially be achieved through a focus on the ‘real things’ within an archive description; the people, organisations and places, and also the events surrounding them.

image of entities and links

Very simplified model of entities within archive descriptions and links between them

This is a very simplified image, intended to convey the idea of extracting people, organisations and places from the data within archive descriptions (at all levels of description). Ideally, these entities and connections can be brought together within events, which can be built upon the principle of relationships between entities (i.e. a person was at a place at a particular time).

Exploring British Design is a project seeking to probe this kind of approach. By treating these entities as an important part of the ‘networks of things’, and by finding connections between the entities, we give researchers new routes through the content and the potential to tell new stories and make new discoveries. The idea is to explore ways to help us become more fully a part of the Web, to ensure that archives are not resources in isolation, but a part of the story.

A diagram showing archives and other entities connected

An example of connected entities

 

For this project, we are focussing on a small selection of data, around British design, extracting entities from the Archives Hub data, and considering how the content within the descriptions can be opened up to help us put it into new contexts.

We are creating biographical records that can be used to include structured data around relationships, places and events.  We aim to extract people from the archive descriptions in which they are ‘embedded’ so that we can treat them as entities – they can connect not only to archive collections they created or are associated with, but they can also connect to other people, to organisations, to events, to places and subjects. For example, Joseph Emberton designed Simpsons in Piccadilly, London, in 1936. There, we have the person, the building, the location and the time.

With this paradigm, the archive becomes one of the ‘nodes’ of the network,  with the other entities equally to the fore, and the ability to connect them together shows how we can start to make connections between different archive collections. The idea is that a researcher could come into an archive from any type of starting point. The above diagram (created just as an example) includes ’1970′s TV comedy’ through to the use of portland stone, and it links the Brighton Design Archive, the V&A Theatre and Performance Archive and the University of the Arts London Archive. The long term aim is that our endeavours to open up our data will ensure that it can be connected to other data sources (that have also been made open); sources outside of our own sphere (the Archives Hub data). The traditional interface has its merits; certainly we need to continue to provide archival context and navigation through collections; but we can be more imaginative in how we think about displaying content. We don’t need to just have one interface onto our data. We need to ensure that archives are part of the bigger story, that they can be seen in all sorts of contexts, and they are not relegated to being a bit part, isolated from everything else.

 

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