Monday, 26 January 2015

Photopoetry Books Project

Now seems a good time to report on an interesting Digital Humanities project which has been developing in the Library over the last few months.

I've been in discussion with School of English PhD student Michael Nott about the possibility of setting up a website to display digital copies of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century photopoetry books, a distinctive category of books which use photographs to illustrate, often very beautifully, the poems which constitute their printed text. Michael is currently researching this topic for his thesis and is well-placed to provide an expert commentary for such a website.

We've been fortunate in being granted some Library funds to purchase, via our Rare Books staff in Special Collections, a number of out-of-copyright English language photopoetry books published between 1856 and 1921, along with some additional funds to pay for the scanning and uploading to our Islandora repository of the books themselves. Work on this stage of the project was quite intensive last summer, with two members of Library staff, Carys Adamson and Elaine Miller, being trained to operate the Special Collections Bookeye scanners and to process the ingestion of the resulting digital pages into Islandora. Thanks to their dedication and enthusiasm, we have to date fully digitised 38 books. This 1872 copy of Schiller's Song of the Bell, translated by W. H. Furness, with albumen print reproductions of illustrations by C. Jaeger and A. Mueller, is an example of a finished product.
Schiller's Song of the Bell.  Photo PT2473.A3F8.  Click image to view book
4th Year Computer Science student Callum Kenny is now working to create a website which will not only display these digital books, but will also allow interaction with the material by means of linked data. We hope that the website will be more than just a series of static webpages, but rather a truly interactive resource for all things photopoetry, and we are delighted that Callum has agreed to take this task on as his final-year project. He will work with Michael to make it possible for queries to the site to trigger multiple linkages, for connections to be made, for example, to other works by each photographer and poet, to biographies of the creative artists, to institutions or sites where the photographers' collections are held, to information about the places and people photographed, or about the verse forms or photographic media used.

For me this is an extremely interesting and challenging entry into the world of linked data, and I am finding Linked Data for Libraries, Archives and Museums by Seth van Hooland and Ruben Verborgh (Facet, 2014) a timely and helpful read.  It will, I think, take several more months for the completed project to see the light of day, but it’s encouraging to note its progress so far and to see this small but effective team of people working so well together.