What Wikidata offers Oxford’s GLAM Digital Strategy

As part of Oxford’s GLAM Digital Strategy, there has been some interesting research into audience archetypes. This work examines the many different aims people can have when engaging with our GLAM institutions: from “have fun” to “use collections in teaching”. The technology we use in GLAMs can help users in these goals, or can throw up frustrating barriers, and this strategic work explores how it could help.

Meanwhile, open platforms like Wikipedia continue to be the principal way in which people encounter cultural heritage. A growing “GLAM-Wiki” movement involves cultural institutions and volunteers in sharing collection data and building new tools, with some of those data sets coming from Oxford University. So is there an overlap between Oxford GLAMs’ aspirations and what Wikidata enables? In this post, I draw together some of my previous posts to show Wikidata’s role in advancing some aims mentioned in the document. Continue reading

Build your own Digital Bodleian with IIIF and SPARQL

This post describes a simple way to create a customised, interactive view of a set of documents. Despite my provocative title, it’s not a rival to Digital Bodleian, having far less content and without the personalisation and commenting features. BUT it is 1) customisable in terms of the items it displays and 2) not limited to Oxford collections. So in the long term this technique could be useful to researchers who want to focus on a set of items, such as the manuscripts, printed works or art works of a particular culture or era.

IIIF is the International Image Interoperability Framework (discussed previously). At the time of writing there are around 32,000 objects with IIIF manifests linked from Wikidata, from over 100 GLAM collections. Just under two thousand of these are from Digital Bodleian. The Bodleian items are usually multi-page documents such as manuscripts, incunabula, or other printed books, many of which are in this digital form thanks to the Polonsky Foundation Digitization Project.

With some code in the SPARQL query language, we can request the IIIF manifest for each document we are interested in, and send it to a reader application that will give us a nice interactive interface. Continue reading

Making Wikidata visible

→ Cet article en Français

I’ve been experimenting with a way to show how Wikidata represents knowledge; specifically how it makes pathways out of relationships between things. In a previous post I wrote about how Wikidata’s representation enables new pathways between entities. Since those pathways link into a giant web they offer new ways to discover existing collection objects. Now that I have been describing Oxford’s GLAM collections on Wikidata, we can show concrete examples of this expanding knowledge graph.

Normally with Wikidata we specify properties and get results that are identifiable things. For example if we ask for “female historians born in the 1730s with a biography in Electronic Enlightenment”, we get Catherine Macaulay. Here I’m using queries that specify a group of things and request the properties connecting them. So we get a tiny fragment of the Wikidata knowledge graph (which right now has just over 54 million people, places, publications, object and concepts). We can see how different kinds of data (biographical, bibliographic, and catalogue data) are combined in the same model. I’ve captured these graphs as screenshots, but I recommend clicking through to the live query where you get a draggable, stretchy graph. Continue reading

Detailed depictions with IIIF, Wikidata and Wikimedia Commons

Extract from “High Street Oxford.” Ashmolean Museum WA2016.48

The International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) is a standard, developed by a consortium including the Bodleian Libraries, that allows images and associated metadata to be shared across the web. It’s used by many sites including Digital Bodleian and Wikimedia’s image server, Wikimedia Commons.

As of November this year, Wikidata can point to the IIIF manifests associated with a digitised object (example near the foot of this page). However, the opportunity of Wikidata and IIIF is not just about discoverability of the IIIF data itself. Included in IIIF is the ability to address a specific rectangular region of an image with a URL. Wikidata can use this to express statements about part of an image

Anyone familiar with Turner’s “High Street, Oxford” will recognise several landmarks included in the scene. In this sense, there is a lot of structure in the image that is obvious to humans but not naturally captured in the painting’s digital representation (image + catalogue record). My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to express in open data not just that the painting depicts the Church of St. Mary the Virgin but that a specific part of the image depicts the church. Continue reading

Workshop invitation: Textual editing workshops for undergraduates and postgraduates

A collaboration between the Bodleian’s Department of Special Collections and Centre for Digital Scholarship, and Cultures of Knowledge, a project based at the Faculty of History

We are looking for enthusiastic undergraduates and postgraduates from any discipline to take part in workshops in textual editing culminating in the publication of a citable transcription.


Sign up for a workshop: see below for details.


After two successful series, we are entering the third year of Bodleian Student Editions workshops, held in the Weston Library’s Centre for Digital Scholarship. There will be 6 standalone workshops taking place in the year 2018-19, two per term, on the following dates:

Michaelmas Term 2018

  • 10:00–16:30 Tuesday 5th week, 6 November
  • 10:00–16:30 Wednesday 8th week, 28 November

Hilary Term 2019

  • 10:00–16:30 Wednesday 3rd week, 30 January
  • 10:00–16:30 Thursday 7th week, 28 February (places still available)

Trinity Term 2019

  • To be announced in Trinity
  • To be announced in Trinity

Textual editing is the process by which a manuscript reaches its audience in print or digital form. The texts we read in printed books are dependent on the choices of editors across the years, some obscured more than others. The past few years have seen an insurgence in interest in curated media, and the advent of new means of distribution has inspired increasingly charged debates about what is chosen to be edited, by whom and for whom.

These workshops give students the opportunity to examine these questions of research practice in a space designed around the sources at the heart of them. The Bodleian Libraries’ vast collections give students direct access to important ideas free from years of mediation, and to authorial processes in their entirety, while new digital tools allow greater space to showcase the lives of ordinary people who may not feature in traditional narrative history.

Our focus is on letters of the early modern period: a unique, obsolescent medium, by which the ideas which shaped our civilisation were communicated and developed. Participants will study previously unpublished manuscripts from Bodleian collections, working with Bodleian curators and staff of Cultures of Knowledge (http://www.culturesofknowledge.org), to produce a digital transcription, which will be published on the flagship resource site of Cultures of Knowledge, Early Modern Letters Online (http://emlo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk), as ‘Bodleian Student Editions’.

The sessions are standalone, but participants in previous workshops have gone on to further transcription work with Bodleian collections and with research projects around the country, as well as producing the first scholarship on some of the manuscripts by incorporating material in their own research (from undergraduate to doctorate level). The first-hand experience with primary sources, and citable transcription, extremely useful for those wishing to apply for postgraduate study in areas where this is valued: one participant successfully proceeded from a BA in Biological Sciences to an MA in Early Modern Literature on the basis of having attended.

The sessions provide a hands-on introduction to the following:

  1. Special Collections handling
  2. Palaeography and transcription
  3. Metadata curation, analysis, and input into Early Modern Letters Online
  4. Research and publication ethics
  5. Digital tools for scholarship and further training available

You can read about research conducted in previous workshops here. To hear about future textual editing workshops and other events as they are advertised, please join the digital scholarship mailing list.

Participation is open to students registered for any course at the University of Oxford. If you would like to participate, please contact Francesca Barr, Special Collections Administrator, francesca.barr@bodleian.ox.ac.uk, and include:

  1. your ox.ac.uk email address
  2. your department
  3. your level and year of study
  4. particular access requirements
  5. particular dietary requirements

Please note that owing to the workshops being oversubscribed both years running, we can only confirm places on this term’s workshops. You may register your interest in subsequent workshops, and will be notified of the dates for each term before they are advertised more widely.

The Bodleian Libraries welcome thoughts and queries from students of all levels on ways in which the use of archival material can facilitate your research. For an idea of the range of collections in the Weston, visit the exhibition Sappho to Suffrage: Women Who Dared in the Treasury gallery in Blackwell Hall (http://treasures.bodleian.ox.ac.uk), which showcases some of the Bodleian’s most treasured items in celebration of 100 years of suffrage. Our current flagship exhibition, Tolkien: Maker of Middle Earth is open in the ST Lee Gallery until 28 October; entry is free but timed, and tickets are available at the Information Desk in Blackwell Hall, or online for a £1 booking fee (https://tolkien.bodleian.ox.ac.uk).

Conference announcement—Digitizing the Stage 2019

What: Digitizing the Stage

When: 15–18 July 2019

Where: Weston Library Lecture Theatre (map)

Registration: required—please see the conference website to sign up for notices

Together with the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Bodleian Libraries’ Centre for Digital Scholarship is delighted to announce that Digitizing the Stage will return next summer. The event will take place on 15–18 July 2019 at the Weston Library. There will be a small pre-conference workshop preceding the three-day, single-stream conference, which will have a renewed emphasis on performance. More information can be found on https://www.digitizingthestage.com.

The inaugural conference in 2017 gathered scholars, librarians, theatre professionals, and others in a convivial and productive series of talks and demonstrations highlighting digital explorations of the early modern theatre archive. The success of the event was due in no small part to the energy, creativity, and thoughtfulness of the participants, for which we remain profoundly appreciative. Thank you for your interest and participation.

If you would like to stay informed about conference developments, including the upcoming call for proposals, please email the Folger Shakespeare Library via digitalconf@folger.edu to be added to the 2019 mailing list.

A global collection of astrolabes in linked open data

I previously wrote about how easy it is to describe a GLAM collection item in Wikidata: it’s quicker than writing a blog post in WordPress and the resulting data are endlessly reusable. This time I’ll go into more detail about using Wikidata’s interface to describe items from museum collections, and announcing a new tool to browse the aggregated collection.

The Museum of the History of Science recently shared catalogue data about its outstanding collection of 165 astrolabes on Wikidata. Although Wikidata already had the power to describe astrolabes, very few had been entered, so this donation is a huge leap forward. If nothing comes to mind when I say “astrolabes”, here’s an image gallery generated by a query on Wikidata.

I’m going to take a random entry from David A. King’s “A Catalogue of Medieval
Astronomical Instruments” and describe it in Wikidata. Having checked that it isn’t already there, I click “Create new item” on the left hand side of any Wikidata page. At first I’ll be asked for a name and one-line description in my chosen language.

Continue reading

Translating a blog post into structured data

Timur Beg Gurkhani (1336-1405) plays a small role in our story. Public domain image via Wikimedia Commons

Recently my Bodleian colleague Alasdair Watson posted an announcement about an illuminated manuscript that is newly available online. To get the most long-term value out of the announcement, I decided to express it as Linked Open Data by representing its content in Wikidata. This blog post goes through that process. Continue reading