Session 3

Thursday 14:00 - 15:30

High Tor 4

Mapping Museums and Managing Patchy Data

  • Fiona Candlin,
  • Alex Poulovassilis

Birkbeck College

Between 1970 and 1989, an estimated 1300 new museums opened in the UK. The vast majority of these new venues were independent, were founded by individual collectors, community and special interest groups, and they differed from public-sector museums to such an extent that that they were judged to have ‘revolutionized’ the sector.

Although numbers of independent museum continued to rise and they now outnumber all other types of museums, very little is known about them. The Museums Association and numerous regional and national funding bodies collect data on independent museums, but this data has not been cross-referenced, is only minimally searchable, routinely omits smaller venues, and is largely focused on extant venues. As a result we have no overview or historical perspective: we do not know whether there are any national or regional variables in when or where they were founded, what subjects they covered, which museums subsequently closed, or whether there are any correlations between those variables. And perhaps most importantly there is no comprehensive understanding of how that sector has changed in the last six decades.

The interdisciplinary Mapping Museums research project addresses this history and analyses the emergence and development of independent museums in the UK from 1960 until the present day. This has involved extensive archival research, capturing data on 4,000 museums, conceptualizing that information, and designing ways of searching and visualizing this knowledge base. In this paper, we focus on the challenges of the process, and in particular on the patchy data. We investigate why there are so many inconsistencies in the source material, and explain how we have developed a digital resource that both acknowledges uncertainty and supports the generation of new knowledge about the UK museum sector.

City through empires. Toruń (Poland) in ontology of historical geographic information system from 10th to 20th century

  • Wieslawa Duzy

Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences

At the Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences, the project “Ontological foundations for developing historical geographic information systems” is currently developed. The planned effect of this work is a comprehensive ontology concerning historical settlements and administrative units. The project assumes creating a database with spatial data about precisely selected cities and districts of Poland. Among them is Toruń, currently a town with approximately 200000 inhabitants and area of approximately 115 square metres, lying on both Vistula river banks.

The city was established in 13th century around the first Teutonic proto-castle built in this part of Europe. During a long history, its spatial scale, location, and supreme authority were changing. The very first location of the Old Toruń lies outside the borders of modern city. Toruń was translocated and existed as a twin city for a while. Its Old and New parts eventually melted, creating one of three great cities of the Royal Prussia, with a huge political and economic autonomy and enormous estates. The Polish king became its supervisor and main benefactor. Afterwards, as a result of partitions of Polish Commonwealth, territory of Toruń became a part of the Prussian empire. Later on, a territory of the Dutchy of Warsaw, supervised by the Napoleon Bonaparte’s empire, included the city. In 20th century Toruń became a part of Polish state. For all this years, different settlements created a territory of Toruń with its suburbs and land estates. Some of them – currently a part of the city – were separate units, cities even. Some – small villages, independent estates and manors – do not exist anymore, and only their names can be found in historical sources.

The aim of this paper is to present above mentioned project and explain how the research team deals with implementation of described changes in location, type of settlement, spatial scale, and political affiliation to the GIS. A basis of the research are: archaeological materials, historical tax registers, settlement registers, administrative acts, and cartographic sources.

Revisiting Historical Literacy: the Potential of Digital Humanities Approaches

  • Mark Hailwood,
  • Colin Greenstreet

Historians of early modern society have, since the late 1970s, relied on the pioneering work of David Cressy for their estimates of literacy rates. These were calculated from signatures on official documents, with a full signature equated with full literacy, and a ‘mark’ equated with illiteracy. Yet scholars of the period working with large numbers of signed documents – e.g. those on the Women’s Work in Rural England project and the Marine Lives team – have become increasingly aware of the sheer variety of signatures, marks and initials that early modern people used. As a result, we believe it is high time for (a) a new typology of signatory techniques and an exploration of what they can tell us about literacy skills (b) new quantitative analysis of literacy skills and their relationship to gender, age, social and occupational status, nationality, etc.

We believe there are a number of digital humanities approaches that can play a key role in this process. We are exploring the potential of IIIF standards, viewers and annotation tools to support large scale international collaborative working on historical literacy. Specifically, we are developing an IIIF demo of manifests for marks, initials and signatures from multiple IIIF image servers (e.g. by occupation, type, year range), with content from the English High Court of Admiralty and notarial records at the Stadsarchief Amsterdam.

In parallel, we are scaling up our involvement with Transkribus technology for spatial analysis of manuscripts and for handwriting recognition. We are particularly interested in integrating Transkribus spatial analysis of documents (text and line regions) with IIIF manifests and annotation capability. This will enable IIIF manifests to highlight marks, initials and signatures within manuscript pages.

Finally, we are designing a data study group for computer scientists and historians, to scope out tools for pattern recognition of signatures and marks in historical manuscripts as a basis for sub-population identification. This data study group will use images and data sourced both from our IIIF and Transkribus experiments.

Our paper outlines progress so far in revisiting historical literacy and seeks feedback from conference participants on specific technologies and on technology supported large scale collaborative research.