Thursday, 16 October 2014

Text Encoding Workshop with James Cummings

We were extremely fortunate last Friday to have Dr James Cummings with us to conduct an intensive, one-day workshop on the Text Encoding Initiative and show us how to mark up texts for digitisation. James is the Senior Digital Research Specialist in IT Services at the University of Oxford, and having been involved in an impressively wide range of digital projects (The Bodleian First Folio, The ENRICH Project, The Holinshed Project, The Stationers’ Register Online, to name only a few), he is a guru of the Text Encoding World and well placed to share his experience with us.

The workshop in Swallowgate was well-attended by research postgraduates and academic staff, and we were initiated into the mysteries of the TEI core elements, TEI metadata for manuscript description, TEI named entities, and TEI customization. A series of practical exercises allowed us to use the oXygen XML editor to create basic XML files, produce detailed TEI headers, and mark up the names of people and places. James was an enthusiastic teacher and managed to share his passion for the subject with us even as he made our heads spin with information about the numerous entities and attributes which were suddenly on the screens before us. I for one was pleased as Punch to produce a nicely marked up (“well-formed” and properly formatted) version of Wilfred Owen’s “Strange Meeting” as the result of the first exercise – who’d have thought I’d be doing this to a poem I studied so many years ago for my SCE English ‘O’ Grade!
Poem, Strange Meeting, by Wilfred Owen, as a TEI file.
My homework:  "Strange Meeting," by Wilfred Owen, as a TEI file.

The workshop was the first of a series of three which I plan to run this year to offer training for researchers in how to use a variety of digital humanities tools. Mia Ridge from the Open University will hold a workshop on Data Visualisation for Analysis in Scholarly Research on May 6, 2015, and a workshop on Geo-referencing and Digital Mapping is also planned for later this Session. All the workshops are funded by a Research Innovation Grant from CAPOD.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Biographical Register Update

Our stylesheet now looks like this.

Lots of things have happened on the Biographical Register database project since I last posted about it in April. Wonderfully, we have now completed the tagging of all 11,700 records in the first volume of the Register, and have moved on to the painstaking task of checking and cleansing the data.  Final year Medieval History student Siri Hjelsvold, who came to the project in June as a Careers Service summer intern, is relishing this work and is moving on remarkably quickly with this “quality assurance” phase of the project.   

After discussion with staff in Research Computing, who are providing the technical infrastructure for it all, we have now added some new name classes to our stylesheet in Dreamweaver: _title – for Sir, Earl, Duke, HRH etc; _generation –for Jr, Snr, III, the First etc.; _toponymic-for the placename in someone’s name e.g. Earl of Rothesay. We have also added styles for links to other people.  This makes it possible, for example to suggest that “Peter Watson” and “Patrick Watson” are thought to be the same person.  We can now add some mark-up to express this:

 <p>Probably same as <a href="idp1417631460" class="identical">Peter</a> [Watson, United College] <span class="date">1754-1755</span> which see.</p>

The link HREF attribute contains the ID number of the person we are linking to, and the class attribute describes the relationship.
We are continuing, too, to come across fascinating facts about the career paths of some of our St Andrews graduates.  Several went on to play distinguished roles in the medical profession.  Robert Blair (M.D. 1785) was the Royal Navy surgeon who was instrumental in banishing scurvy by introducing lime juice to the navy diet.  Samuel Foart Simmons (M.D. 1788) became a doctor specializing in insanity cases, and treated King George III.  Isaac Wilson (M.D.1796) was the doctor who officiated at the birth of Queen Victoria, and became the first person she knighted in 1838.  William Beatty (M.D. 1817) was the surgeon on the H.M.S. Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.  In other fields, William Bawdwen (B.A.1787), started the translation of The Doomsday Book, and for those keen on local St Andrews lore, Ada Hill Walker (student 1896-1898) was the artist who painted the well-known and well-loved pictures of St Andrews in the St Andrews New Picture House cinema in the 1930s. (See these on this slideshow from the Scottish Cinemas website).

The markup work may be exacting, but interesting tidbits of information such as these about our St Andrews predecessors keep us going!

Friday, 3 October 2014

Loch Computer website launched

Image: i-Stockphoto

Over the last few weeks I've been working with Colin Waters of the Scottish Poetry Library to set up a website for the new, intriguingly named,  Loch Computer network group.  This is a project which brings together writers, artists, computer scientists, humanities scholars and digital curators to consider the themes of “remoteness” and “connectedness” in the digital age.  Funded by an Arts & Humanities Research Network Award to the University of St Andrews’ School of English, the project will cross traditional boundaries between arts and sciences as well as between scholarship and creative practice.  Participants include poets Meg Bateman, Jen Hadfield, Peter Mackay and Robert Crawford, novelists Candia McWilliam, Meaghan Delahunt, Jennie Erdal, Ruth Thomas and Alice Thompson, computer scientists Don Sannella, David Robertson, Al Dearle and Helen Pain, photographer Norman McBeath, printmaker Leena Nammari, and young writers Vicky MacKenzie and Michael Nott.  The poets have been asked to produce a poem incorporating the words “loch” and “computer”, and the fiction writers have been invited to write a short story set on Iona, and involving in some way the ideas of “remoteness” and “connectedness.”  Norman McBeath will create a photographic essay on the theme of Iona.  I have very much enjoyed my conversations with the artists and scholars in this diverse group, especially at the project’s most recent meeting at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics, and look forward to displaying more of the project’s outputs as they emerge on the new website at .

Thursday, 17 April 2014

We invent the thermos flask!

One of the most interesting things about working on our Biographical Register database project (see June 28 post) is that we discover the hugely varied careers our St Andrews alumni went on to enjoy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Amongst the thousands of doctors, ministers, lawyers and soldiers, there are some whose achievements are memorably different.  Doctor of Laws James Dewar, for example, turns out to have invented the thermos flask, and to have been the co-inventor of cordite. If you type "thermos flask" into our temporary search box, you can see a preview of the record we're preparing for him.  Or you could type in "declaration" and find the St Andrews alumni who were signatories to the American Declaration of Independence.  Please N.B. that the data is still very much in preparation at the moment and that this is just a rough and ready interface to help those of us doing the tagging work to locate records - but it gives an idea, I think, of how useful the searchable data will eventually be for researchers.  About 5,000 records are tagged to date - only another 6,000 to go!