Session 11 — Re-Imagining Nineteenth Century Books

Friday 14:00 - 15:30

High Tor 3

Chair: Sharon Howard

Digital Humanities 2.0? Exploring Creative Practice in the Transmedia Age

  • Anthony Mandal

Cardiff University

My proposed paper draws on an AHRC-funded collaboration between games developers Slingshot and myself, as part of the Research & Enterprise in Arts & Creative Technology (REACT) KT hub, which commenced in January 2013. As part of REACT’s ‘Books & Print’ Call, our partnership sought to leverage digital technologies in order to innovate new forms of textuality and narrative in a transmedia context. Taking Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) as our inspiration, we have been transforming this Victorian gothic story into a new pervasive media game for a twenty-first-century audience.

The tale’s preoccupation with science, technology and human identity is being echoed in current debates on convergence culture, cybernetics and ‘Humanity 2.0’, particularly the work of Henry Jenkins, N. Katherine Hayles and Steve Fuller. Moreover, new media present both creative practitioners and textual scholars opportunities to reconceive the relationship between originality and derivation as a complex, not to mention contested, practice—evidenced in the oppositional positions recently adopted in favour of ‘remix’ as the new creative modality (Lawrence Lessig) and against the submersion of individual creativity by the ‘crowd’ (Jaron Lanier).

Taking these contexts as my starting point, my paper will explore the opportunities and challenges offered by the intersections between literary criticism, digital creativity and posthumanist theory. These cultural readings will be complemented by a more reflective component that draws on my personal experiences of working on our pervasive media project, which combines digital technology with narrative innovation, Jekyll 2.0: Embodying the Gothic Text (Storyfied @ http://tinyurl.com/azmz3yj). In so doing, I hope to discuss the possibilities available to digital humanities practitioners to expand our disciplinary practice into a new creative modality that draws upon the expertise and perspectives that our field provides: what might be termed, ‘Digital Humanities 2.0’.

Shakespeare in Bits and Bytes: The Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive

  • Michael John Goodman

Cardiff University

Two years ago, at the inaugural Digital Humanities Congress in Sheffield, I presented a paper that explored the first phase of my research into the creation of The Victorian illustrated Shakespeare Archive. This initial phase focussed on the curatorial aspect of the project and the paper I gave at the Congress investigated certain implications and problems a scholar faces when creating a digital archive. Now that the archive is complete, the opportunity to return to Sheffield and give a practical demonstration of the archive and the methodology behind it is hugely exciting.

The archive is centred on the four major Victorian illustrated editions of Shakespeare's Complete Works. These editions, which were hugely popular in the Victorian era, are a very important part of our cultural heritage and, indeed, our construction of Shakespeare's plays as we understand them today. However, these editions are only ever available to scholars in academic libraries. My archive, then, makes available online over 3000 of these illustrations in an open-access database called the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive. This archive will be available online at 'ShakepseareIllustration.com' and will allow researchers and members of the public to explore a rich image archive and to ask new questions about this material: for example, 'how did the Victorians portray certain characters and plays pictorially and does this portrayal differ throughout the Victorian era?'

Alongside such questions, the archive, more broadly, allows users to explore and interrogate the complex relationship that exists between the page and the stage and between word and image. Underpinning the project is my strong belief that an online academic resource can be both scholarly rigorous and user-friendly. Further, the archive uses social networking to enable a community of users to discuss the images and to collaborate in exciting new and unforeseen ways.

Lost Visions: Retrieving the Visual Element of Printed Books From the Nineteenth Century

  • Julia Thomas,
  • Nicola Lloyd,
  • Ian Harvey

Cardiff University

Despite the mass digitization of books, illustrations have remained more or less invisible. As an aesthetic form, illustration is conventionally positioned at the bottom of a hierarchy that places painting and sculpture at the top. The hybridity or bi-mediality of illustration is also problematic, the genre having fallen between the cracks of literary studies and art history. In a digital context, illustration has fared no better: new technologies can aid the editing of a literary text far more successfully than they can deal with the images that accompany it.

This paper focuses on the challenges and the implications of an AHRC-funded Big Data project that will make searchable online over a million book illustrations from the British Library’s collections. The images span the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century, cover a variety of reproductive techniques (including etching, wood engraving, lithography and photography), and are taken from around 68,000 works of literature, history, geography and philosophy.

The paper identifies the following issues, which impact on our understanding of ‘the image’ in Digital Humanities and the negotiation of Big Data more generally:

1. Adding to bibliographic metadata

Although the images are accompanied by the BL catalogue entry, this information is not always complete. Moreover, data from the title (e.g. the name of the illustrator/engraver) needs to be identified in order to make the archive searchable using these terms. We will discuss the algorithms that we have used to add to this metadata.

2. Analysing the iconographic features of the images

This is a particular challenge because of the sheer number of images in the dataset. Our approach combines image recognition software, crowdsourced tagging and machine learning.

3. New research questions

We will outline the ways in which this searchable illustration archive will offer new ways of ‘reading’ images, allowing for the further development of Illustration Studies.