Category Archives: Learning and teaching

Monkey spines and Ringworm cultures, or: With a little help from the experts

Mabel FitzGerald today is best known for her work on the physiology of breathing, specifically for her ‘Observations on the changes in the breathing and the blood at various high altitudes’, published in 1913 and 1914. But her research interests were much broader: she researched and published on bacteriology, including ‘The induction of sporulation in the bacilli belonging to the Aerogenes capsulatus group’ (1911), and combined anatomy and physiology in her work on ‘Origin of the Hydrochloric Acid in the Gastric Tubules’ (1910). Previously, she had worked with Gustav Mann in Oxford on histology, contributing to his publication on tissue response at vaccination sites (1899), and collaborated with Georges Dreyer at the Copenhagen State Serum Institute on finding methods to differentiate between B. typhosus and B. coli in bacteria cultures (1902).

Macaca sinica. By Carlos Delgado - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Wild Macaque monkey (Macaca sinica) in Sri Lanka, as photographed bCarlos Delgado – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34667538

Her own first big research project, however, took her into the world of what today would be called neurophysiology. From 1899, FitzGerald investigated the interrelationship of the grey matter (cell bodies) and white matter (nerve fibres) in the spinal cord of the Macaque monkey. She made hundreds of detailed to-scale drawings of cross-sections of the monkey spinal cord as seen under the microscope, and meticulously measured and compared the size and distribution of grey and white matter areas.

Gustav Mann, under whom FitzGerald was working at the Oxford Physiology Department, later wrote in testimonial for her: “I was so much struck by her great thoroughness  that I proposed to her the difficult task of investigating the inter-relationship of the grey and the white matter of the spinal cord of the monkey. In this research she has been engaged for five years. She spent the first three years with work having reference to the minute structure of the grey matter and made a large series of accurate microscopical drawings. The last two years she has devoted to the special investigation of the relative and absolute increase and decrease of the different tracts and of the grey matter.”

The results of FitzGerald’s research were communicated to the Royal Society by FitzGerald’s mentor – and Professor of Physiology – Francis Gotch (women were not admitted to the society at that time), but later published under her own name as ‘An Investigation into the Structure of the Lumbo-sacral-coccygeal Cord of the Macaque Monkey (Macacus sinicus)’ (1906).

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1916 Live: documents recounting Ireland’s Easter Rising published in real time

Dublin Metropolitan Police report, 24 April 1916 - MS. Nathan 476, fol. 35

Dublin Metropolitan Police report, 24 April 1916 – MS. Nathan 476, fol. 35 – Click to enlarge

Guest post by Naomi O’Leary

The small pink slip is a snapshot of a world about to be upended. Jotted in cursive is a message from the Chief Superintendent of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, telephoned to all stations. It reports the movements of a suspicious vehicle, at that moment parked at the headquarters of Irish radical nationalist activity, Liberty Hall. The note is time-stamped 10:50am, the 24th of April, 1916. It is one of hundreds that will be published on social media this month, telling the story of the Easter Rising in real-time exactly one century on.

Outwardly, the streets of Dublin were quiet on that bank holiday Monday. But behind the doors of Liberty Hall, feverish preparations were underway. Men and women had gathered with rifles, rations, ammunition, and a stack of hastily-printed posters declaring an independent Irish republic.

Within days, British artillery guns would be raining shells on Dublin city. A chain of events was about to be set in motion that would presage the fall of the British Empire. The writer of the telephone note sat in Dublin Castle, the centre of British power in Ireland for centuries. She could not have imagined that within six years, the stronghold would be handed over to an Irish government, in a scene that would be repeated around the world in the coming decades as former colonies broke free.

The following telephone messages, each time-stamped to the minute, capture the cascade of events. At 11:20am: “Fifty volunteers have now travelled by tram car 167 going in direction of the city”. At 11:50, an anonymous report: “The volunteers are turning everyone out of St Stephen’s Green Park”. By 12:20, the world had changed. The Superintendent of the G Division, which tracked political crime, telephoned to the representative of the British Monarchy in Ireland, Lord Lieutenant Wimborne: “The Sinn Fein volunteers have attacked the Castle and have possession of the G.P.O.”

I came across these hundreds of telephone messages in the personal papers of Sir Matthew Nathan, who was the top civil servant in Dublin Castle that spring of 1916. Jotted down in the thick of events, sometimes in frantic handwriting, they such give a vivid account of the six day rebellion I felt my pulse beat faster.

Their brevity and immediacy reminded me of my own reporting of live events as a journalist, particularly of protests that threatened to spill out of control.

With the kind permission of the Bodleian Library and the help of volunteer transcribers, I have put together a project to mark the centenary of the rebellion by publishing each update on social media at the time it was logged, exactly one hundred years later. A short version of the updates will go out on Twitter from @1916live, while full documents will be published simultaneously at www.1916live.com.

The reason the documents survive as a collection is precisely because they give such a rich account of the rebellion. As the most senior figure in Dublin Castle, Nathan resigned after the revolt and was called to explain how it had happened to a Royal Commission of Inquiry in London. He gathered up his correspondence along with the telephone and telegraph records of Dublin Castle, and arranged them into chronological order into a collection that was later bound in leather. It was one among hundreds of boxes of his papers given to the Bodleian Library after his death. The documents in it span the course of the rising, concluding with the rebels’ surrender on April 29th.

This project will allow anyone in the world to experience this key moment in history as it unfolded through a unique primary resource. Publishing the telephone notes on Twitter seems particularly appropriate, as they are the records of a new system of technology from the time that allowed for real-time communication, which ultimately gave British authorities a key advantage in their response to the rebellion. The material will remain online afterwards as a freely accessible resource for the future.

For any questions or suggestions, please contact 1916live@gmail.com

Catching butterflies

Archival Uncertainties: International Conference on Literary Archives at the British Library – 4 April 2016

This one-day conference focused on digital humanities, with papers from a spectrum of interested parties including academics working on digitisation projects, authors, translators, archivists and curators. I attended three panels on the day and the unifying theme was a contrary message of dispersal and amalgamation (and butterflies).

The first thing that has been dispersed or discarded is any idea of a literary canon. As plenary speaker and archivist Catherine Hobbs pointed out, scholarship now focuses less on established set texts and more on themes like “environmental literature”. Over the past few decades, in response to this, archives have collected more non-traditionally canonical literary papers but, Catherine reminded us, as archivists we can’t stop paying attention to the ways that literature continues to change. We need to keep tabs on what is going on in the literary world in order to document it, and this will include tackling new forms of experimental, avant-garde and self-published writing.

Caterpillar: Schwalbenschwanz (Raupe)

Caterpillars and collection development [By Eric Steinert – photo taken by Eric Steinert at Paussac, France, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=338409]

As Catherine noted, it used to be easy to find the avant-garde – pretty much whoever was hanging out on the Left Bank – but now it’s up to archivists to not only collect this material, but to track it down in the first place, and not to default to the temptingly easy path of collecting only the papers of that tiny sliver of authors considered publishable by mainstream publishers.

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What I learned in London…at the DPTP Digital Preservation Workshop!

A few months ago I applied for a scholarship through the DPC Leadership Programme to attend the DPTP 14-16 March course for those working in digital preservation: The Practice of Digital Preservation.

It was a three-day intermediate course for practitioners who wished to broaden their working knowledge and it covered a wide range of tools and information relating to digital preservation and how to apply them practically to their day-to-day work.

The course was hosted in one of the meeting rooms in the Senate House Library of the University of London, a massive Art Deco building in Bloomsbury (I know because I managed to get a bit lost between breaks!).

Senate House, University of London

The course was three full days of workshops that mixed lectures with group exercises and the occasional break. Amazingly this is the last year they’re doing it as a three day course and they’re going to compress it all into a single day next time (though everything they covered was useful, I don’t know what you’d cut to shorten it—lunch maybe?).

Each day had a different theme.

The first was on approaches to digital preservation. This was an overview of various policy frameworks and standards. The most well-known and accepted being OAIS.

No Google, not OASIS!

Oman-Oasis

Oasis, Oman. Taken by Hendrik Dacquin aka loufi and licensed under CC BY 2.0.

After a brief wrestle with Google’s ‘suggestions’ let’s look at this OAIS Model and admire its weirdly green toned but elegant workflow. If you click through to Wikimedia Commons it even has annotations for the acronyms.

OAIS-

After introducing us to various frameworks, the day mostly focused on the ingest and storage aspect of digital preservation. It covered the 3 main approaches (bit-level preservation, emulation and migration) in-depth and discussed the pros and cons of each.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a method and depending on what your main constraint is: money, time or expertise, different approaches will be more suitable for different organisations and collections. Bit-level preservation is the most basic thing you can do. You are mostly hoping that if you ingest the material exactly as it comes, some future archivist (perhaps with pots of money!) will come along and emulate or migrate it in a way that is far beyond what your poor cash strapped institution can handle.

Emulation is when you create or acquire an environment (not the original one that your digital object was created or housed in) to run your digital object in that attempts to recreate its original look and feel.

Migration which probably works best with contemporary or semi-contemporary objects is used to transfer the object into a format that is more future-proof than its current one. This is an option that needs to be considered in the context of the technical constraints and options available. But perhaps you’re not sure what technical constraints you need to consider? Fear not!

These technical constraints were covered in the second day! This day was on ingestion and it covered file formats, useful tools and several metadata schemas. I’ve probably exhausted you with my very thorough explanation of the first day’s content (also I’d like to leave a bit of mystery for you) so I will just say that there are a lot of file formats and what makes them appealing to the end user can often be the same thing that makes a digital preservationist (ME) tear her hair out.

Thus those interested in preserving digital content have had to  develop (or beg and borrow!) a variety of tools to read, copy, preserve, capture metadata and what have you. They have also spent a lot of time thinking about (and disagreeing over) what to do with these materials and information. From these discussions have emerged various schemata to make these digital objects more…tractable and orderly (haha). They have various fun acronyms (METS, PREMIS, need I go on?) and each has its own proponents but I think everyone is in agreement that metadata is a good thing and XML is even better because it makes that metadata readable by your average human as well as your average computer! A very important thing when you’re wondering what the hell you ingested two months ago that was helpfully name bobsfile1.rtf or something equally descriptive.

The final day was on different strategies for tackling the preservation of more complex born-digital objects such as emails and databases (protip: it’s hard!) and providing access to said objects. This led to a roundup of different and interesting ways institutions are using digital content to engage readers.

There’s a lot of exciting work in this field, such as Stanford University’s ePADD Discovery:

ePADD

Which allows you to explore the email archives of a collection in a user-friendly (albeit slow) interface. It also has links to the more traditional finding aids and catalogue records that you’d expect of an archive.

Or the Wellcome Library’s digital player developed by DigiratiMendel

Which lets you view digital and digitised content in a single integrated system. This includes, cover-to-cover books, as pictured above, archives, artwork, videos, audio files and more!

Everyone should check it out, it’s pretty cool and freely available for others to use. There were many others that I haven’t covered but these really stood out.

It was an intense but interesting three days and I enjoyed sharing my experiences with the other archivists and research data managers who came to attend this workshop. I think it was a good mix of theory and practical knowledge and will certainly help me in the future. Also I have to say Ed Pinsent and Steph Taylor did a great job!

Shakespearean Talk

This year, 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare, the Bodleian Libraries are taking part in Oxford’s year-long celebration Shakespeare Oxford 2016.

On the 18th of March, David Crystal and his actor/director son Ben Crystal gave the second of a series of fifteen free talks on Shakespeare that will be held at the Weston Library. The lecture, ‘How To Talk Like Shakespeare’, focused on the inspirations and evidence for David’s soon to be published book, the Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation, which is the first full description of the way that Shakespeare and his cohort actually spoke in the 16th-17th centuries. The talk featured short performances by David and Ben to demonstrate the differences between the usual modern ‘received’ pronunciation of Shakespeare’s work and the way the plays would have sounded in their original pronunciation (OP).

You can see them in action for yourself in this Open University video.

Friday’s lecture beautifully illustrated the case David makes on originalpronunciation.com for why we should be care about how Shakespeare and his actors spoke:

  • Rhymes that don’t work in modern English suddenly work.

  • Puns missed in modern English become clear.

  • New assonances and rhythms give lines a fresh impact.

  • Original pronunciation illustrates what is meant by speaking ‘trippingly upon the tongue’ (Hamlet).

  • Original pronunciation suggests new contrasts in speech style, such as between young and old, court and commoners, literate and illiterate.

  • OP motivates fresh possibilities of character interpretation.

As archivists, we get to add that OP makes us consider our early manuscripts in a new light! In the Q&A session after the talk, Mike Webb, the Curator of Early Modern Manuscripts here at the Weston Library, mentioned the 1645-1649 account book of Mary Gofton (described online here). Spelling wasn’t fully fixed in this period and Mary often writes phonetically. It would have been easy to overlook this or perhaps even to mark the author as badly educated, or just a poor speller, but this phonetic spelling turns out to be a fantastic gift. Reading the account book aloud and doing your best impression of OP, Mary’s voice jumps out of the text. You can see a sample of the account book below: the perfectly OP-sounding ‘Lettell Mall’ and ‘Lettell Neck’ [Nick] are her grandchildren.

Gofton account book (MS. Eng. e. 3651)

Gofton account book (MS. Eng. e. 3651) – Click to enlarge

David Crystal also discussed the effect that OP has on audiences and actors. One outcome of using OP is that the plays become more engaging to people who are put off by, or find difficult to understand, the ‘posh’ received pronunciation (RP) that we have all come to associate with Shakespeare. (Interestingly, there was nothing like received pronunciation in Shakespeare’s day – distinct class-based accents seem to be a product of the nineteenth century.)

Another advantage is that actors who would normally fake RP don’t have to hide their native accents because OP wasn’t itself an accent, more of a dialect, and it underlay many distinctive regional accents in the early modern period. So, for example (with apologies to all linguists!) ‘temptation’ and any other word ending in ‘tion’ was pronounced something like ‘temp-tay-see-on’ in OP, whether the speaker came from Devon or London, while today it’s pronounced something like ‘temp-tay-shun’ by most English speakers, wherever you come from. And for that majority of modern English-speaking people who don’t use RP, whether they’re from the UK or other English-speaking countries, OP can sound more familiar and intelligible than RP – not surprising, as it was the foundation accent for so many English-speaking countries.

If you want to hear more OP in action, there are plenty of demonstrations and transcriptions online. Why not start with Ben Crystal performing Hamlet’s ‘To Be, or not to be?’.

DPC Student Conference: What I Wish I Knew Before I Started

The world of digital preservation can appear a bit daunting: a world full of checksums and programming and OAIS models, AIPs and DIPs, combined with the urgency of acting before it all becomes too late and technological obsolescence creates a black hole, swallowing up our digital heritage. The Digital Preservation Coalition’s What I Wish I Knew Before I Started  Student Conference provided an opportunity to meet others beginning to work in digital preservation, and hear advice and reassurance from a range of interesting expert speakers.

Fancy words and acronym bingo

The day began with an Introduction to Digital Preservation by the DPC’s Sharon McMeekin who introduced us to current models, methodologies and frameworks, which she warned could also be known as fancy words and acronym bingo. Her presentation was very practical and informed us about resources which will be invaluable when putting digital preservation into practice. Sharon emphasised the importance of active preservation: it isn’t only the digital materials which are vulnerable to obsolescence, but the digital preservation systems that they are stored in. Crucially, digital preservation needs to be embedded into day-to-day work to make it sustainable.

The need for active preservation was echoed by Steph Taylor from the University of London Computer Centre, who urged us all to learn to keep up to date and engage with the digital preservation community through twitter, blogs and forums. She counselled us to be prepared to explain again and again that digital preservation is really not the same thing as backing up files.

Matthew Addis from Arkivum then gave a technologist’s perspective, introducing us to a range of software and tools including the DROID file format identification tool; the POWRR Grid that maps preservation tools against types of content and stages of their lifecycle; the PRONOM registry of file formats; the Exactly checksum tool, among many others, carrying on the game of acronym bingo. The amount of choice of tools and standards can lead to what Matthew called preservation paranoia and then to preservation paralysis where the task seems so big and complex that it seems better to do nothing at all.

It’s people that are the biggest risk to digital content surviving into the future. People thinking that preservation is too hard, too expensive, or tomorrow’s problem and not today’s. (Addis, 2016)

Being a digital archivist = being an archivist with extra super powers

The afternoon sessions were launched by Adrian Brown from the Parliamentary Archives. The Parliamentary Archives hold a wide range of digital material, from the expected email and audio-visual records to the more surprising virtual reality tours and reconstructions of sinking ships. He emphasised that digital archiving was still essentially archiving, involving selection, appraisal, preservation, cataloguing and supporting users. Being a digital archivist, he said, is the same thing as being an archivist, only with extra super powers.

Next, Glenn Cumiskey, Digital Preservation Manager at the British Museum spoke about the importance of engaging with technology, decision makers and user communities. In the current environment, Glenn  illustrated through the roles associated with digital preservation: Archivist, Records Manager, Librarian, Information Technologist, Digital Humanities, and Software Programmer all at once, that you may need to be all of these things at once.

We then heard from Helen Hockx-Yu from the Internet Archive. Here at the Bodleian, the digital archive trainees are actively involved with the Bodleian Libraries Web Archive which uses the Internet Archive’s ‘Archive-It’ and ‘wayback machine’ services. It was interesting to hear from Helen about the redevelopment work she is involved in and how her own career developed in web archiving. Her final advice to us was to keep learning and not worry about being a perfectionist.

Ann MacDonald from the University of Kent inspired us with a talk about her own career began and developed over the last few years, and emphasised that technical innovations are not all about big machines and that small actions can go a long way in implementing digital preservation.

Only point of digital preservation is reuse of data. Nothing else.

Finally, Dave Thompson, Digital Curator at the Wellcome Collection, gave an entertaining presentation which made the point that digital preservation is not an exercise in technology  for its own sake.  He argued that the only point of digital preservation is the reuse of data, therefore data needs to be reusable, consumable and shareable. Digital preservation should be seized as a social opportunity to do this.

Overall, the DPC’s Student Conference: What I Wish I Knew Before I Started was an engaging mixture of reassurance, ideas and advice to prepare us to begin working practically with digital preservation. Key themes which emerged across the presentations were the importance of people in the process, the importance we must give to what users actually want from digital collections, and the importance of selling the benefits and opportunities that digital preservation can bring. It introduced us to technology, tools and processes, but at the same time stressed that you do not need to be a qualified programmer to work in digital preservation.

John Clay Sanskrit Librarian

Camillo-crop

The library welcomes Camillo Formigatti  who will take up the position of John Clay Sanskrit Librarian on 1st February. Camillo has a doctorate in Indology from the University of Hamburg and has previously worked as a Research Associate on the Sanskrit Manuscripts Project, Cambridge.  He is extremely excited at the opportunity to promote the world of Sanskrit literature, which is brought to life in the Clay Sanskrit Library series and which is preserved in the Bodleian Libraries’ historic collections of manuscripts and books. Describing it as, ‘the type of job I always hoped I might one day be able to do,’ Camillo looks forward to sharing insights into this rich and ancient literary heritage over the coming months.

Event: Exploring the UK Web, 11 December 2015

 

Wab Archives TalkExploring the UK Web:
An introduction to web archives as scholarly resources

11 December 2015
2.00pm – 4.00pm

Venue: Lecture Theatre, Weston Library

Speakers: Jason Webber, Prof Jane Winters, Dr Gareth Millward, Prof Ralph Schroeder

‘The Web’, in the 25 years of its existence, has become deeply ingrained in modern life: it is where we find information, communicate, research, share ideas, shop, get entertained, set and follow trends and, increasingly, live our social lives.
As much as we rely on traditional paper archives today to find out about the past, for anyone trying to understand life in the late 20th and early 21st century, archived websites will be an invaluable resource.

Join us and our expert panel for an afternoon of exploring the archives of the UK web space, focusing on their potential use for research and teaching. Short presentations will introduce the resources and tools available for web archives research in the UK, and the opportunities (and challenges) they come with in theory and practice: from web archives curation, preservation and research tool development at the British Library, to current research in the Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities (BUDDAH) Project and at the Oxford Internet Institute.
Afterwards there will be plenty of time for questions and discussion – your chance to ask everything you ever wanted to know about web archives and to contribute your thoughts and ideas to an emerging discipline.

Admission free. All welcome.
To secure a place, please complete our booking form via What’s on

Jason Webber is the Web Archiving Engagement and Liaison Manager at the British Library, working with the UK Web Archive and the Legal Deposit Web Archive.
Jane Winters is Professor of Digital History at the Institute of Historical Research, and Principal Investigator in the BUDDAH Project.
Gareth Millward is a Research Fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and one of the BUDDAH Project bursary holders.
Ralph Schroeder is a Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute.

Digital.Bodleian + Wikipedia

For anyone looking to define Taijitu, Putso or Sangha, or to learn about Elizabeth Fry, the Junior wives of Krishna, or the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, one of the top internet search hits will be Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Articles about these, and hundreds of other topics, are now being improved using the Bodleian Libraries’ historic collections.

Images from Digital.Bodleian collection are being uploaded to Commons, the database of freely reusable digital files. From here they can be embedded in articles not just in English Wikipedia, but in other languages and in other educational projects. So far, more than six hundred articles, across many different languages, are illustrated with images from the Bodleian Libraries, reaching a total of nearly 1.5 million readers per month.

Military Insignia of the Late Roman Army (Insignia of the magister militum praesentalis. Folio 96 v of the manuscript Notitia dignitatum. Bodleian Library, MS. Canon. Misc. 378.) Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Military Insignia of the Late Roman Army (Insignia of the magister militum praesentalis. Folio 96 v of the manuscript Notitia dignitatum. Bodleian Library, MS. Canon. Misc. 378.) Licensed under CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Bodleian images come from many different countries and eras. The themes range from the serene watercolours of 19th century Burma (present-day Myanmar), via geometrical diagrams in an 11th century Arabic book, to the nightmarish demonic visions of the 14th century Book of Wonders.

A taste is given in an image gallery on Commons. Clicking on any of the images – here or in Wikipedia – and then on ‘More details’ will bring up a larger version, along with links and shelfmarks so that interested readers can track down the physical object.

Anyone is allowed to edit the entries for the images, for example to translate descriptions into other languages. However, these edits are monitored to make sure they respect the educational goals of the site.

This is just the start of an ongoing project: more files and more themes will be added over the next nine months. The Bodleian Libraries’ Wikimedian In Residence, Martin Poulter, welcomes enquiries – you can get in touch via the form below.

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