There are many ways of utilising the International Image Interoperability framework (IIIF) in order to deliver high-quality, attributed digital objects online at scale. One of the exploratory areas focused on in Images and Machine Learning – a project which is part of Archives Hub Labs – is how to display the context of the archive hierarchy using IIIF alongside the digital media.
Two of the objectives for this project are:
to explore IIIF Manifest and IIIF Collection creation from archive descriptions.
to test IIIF viewers in the context of showing the structure of archival material whilst viewing the digitised collections.
We have been experimenting with two types of resource from the IIIF Presentation API. The IIIF Manifest added into the Mirador viewer on the collection page contains just the images, in order to easily access these through the viewer. This is in contrast to a IIIF Collection, which we have been experimenting with. The IIIF Collection includes not only the images from a collection but also metadata and item structure within the IIIF resource. It is defined as a set of manifests (or ‘child’ collections) that communicate hierarchy or gather related things (for example, a set of boxes that each have folders within them, and photographs within those folders). We have been testing whether this has the potential to represent the hierarchy of an archival structure within the IIIF structure.
Creating a User Interface
Since joining the Archives Hub team, one of the areas I’ve been involved in is building a User Interface for this project that allows us to test out the different ways in which we can display the IIIF Images, Manifests and Collections using the IIIF Image API and the IIIF Presentation API. Below I will share some screenshots from my progress and talk about my process when building this User Interface.
This web application is currently a prototype and further development will be happening in the future. The programming language I am using is Typescript. I began by creating a Next.js React application and I am also using Tailwind CSS for styling. My first task was to use the Mirador viewer to display IIIF Collections and Manifests, so I installed the mirador package into the codebase. I created dynamic pages for every contributor to display their collections.
I also created dynamic collection pages for each collection. Included on the left-hand side of a collection page is the archives hub record link and the metadata about the collection taken from the archival EAD data – these sections displaying the metadata can be extended or hidden. The right-hand side of a collection page features aMirador viewer. A simple IIIF Manifest has been added for all of the images in each collection. This Manifest is used to help quickly navigate through and browse the images in the collection.
Mirador has the ability to display multiple windows within one workspace. This is really useful for comparison of images side-by-side. Therefore, I have also created a ‘Compare Collections’ page where two Manifests of collection images can be compared side-by-side. I have configured two windows to display within one Mirador viewer. Then, two collections can be chosen for comparison using the dropdown select boxes seen in the image below.
There are three key next steps for developing the User Interface –
We have experimented with the Mirador viewer, and now we will be looking at how the Universal Viewer handles IIIF Collections.
From the workshop feedback and from our exploration with the display of images, we will be looking at how we can offer an alternative experience of these archival images – distinct from their cataloguing hierarchy – such as thematic digital exhibitions and linking to other IIIF Collections and Manifests that already exist.
As part of the Machine Learning aspect of this project, we will be utilising the additional option to add annotations within the IIIF resources, so that the ML outputs from each image can be added as annotations and displayed in a viewer.
Labs IIIF Workshop
We recently held a workshop with the Archives Hub Labs project participants in order to get feedback on viewing the archive hierarchy through these IIIF Collections, displayed in a Mirador viewer. In preparation for this workshop, Ben created a sample of IIIF Collections using the images kindly provided by the project participants and the archival data related to these images that is on the Archives Hub. These were then loaded into the Mirador viewer so our workshop participants could see how the collection hierarchy is displayed within the viewer. The outcomes of this workshop will be explored in the next Archives Hub Labs blog post.
Thank you to Cardiff University, Bangor University, Brighton Design Archives at the University of Brighton, the University of Hull, the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York, Lambeth Palace (Church of England) and Lloyds Bank for providing their digital collections and for participating in Archives Hub Labs.
For our Machine Learning experiments we are using Amazon Web Services (AWS). We thought it would be useful to explain what we have been doing.
AWS, like most Cloud providers, gives you access to a huge range of infrastructure, services and tools. Typically, instead of having your own servers physically on your premises, you instead utlitise the virtual servers provided in the Cloud. The Cloud is a cost effective solution, and in particular it allows for elasticity; dynamically allocating resources as required. It also provides a range of features, and that includes a set of Machine Learning services and tools.
One of the services available is Amazon Rekognition. This is what we have used when writing our previous blog posts.
One of the things Rekognition does is object detection. We have written about using Rekognition in a previous post.
Our initial experiments were done on the basis of uploading single images at a time and looking at the output. The next step is to work out how to submit a batch of images and get output from that. AWS doesn’t have an interface that allows you to upload a batch. We have batches of images stored in the Cloud (using the ‘S3’ service), and so we need to pass sets of images from S3 to the Rekognition service and store the resulting label predictions (outputs). We also need to figure out how to provide these predictions to our contributors in a user friendly display.
After substantial research into approaches that we could take, we decided to use the AWS Lambda and DynamoDB services along with Rekognition and S3. Lambda is a service that allows you to run code without having to set up the virtual machine infrastructure (it is often referred to as a serverless approach). We used some ‘blueprint’ Lambda code (written in Python) as the basis, and extended it for our purposes.
Using something like AWS does not mean that you get this type of facility out of the box. AWS provides the infrastructure and the interfaces are reasonably user friendly, but it does not provide a full blown application for doing Machine Learning. We have to do some development work in order to use Rekognition, or other ML tools, for a set of images.
Lambda is set up so the code will run every time an image is placed in the S3 bucket. It then passes the output (label prediction) to another AWS service, called DynamoDB, which is a ‘NoSQL’ database.
In the above image you can see an excerpt from the output from running the Lambda code. This is for image U DX336-1-6.jpg (see below) and it has predicted ‘tree’ with a confidence level of 94.51 percent. Ideally we wanted to add the ‘bounding box’ which provides the co-ordinates for where the object is within the image.
We spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to add bounding boxes, and eventually realised that they are only added for some objects – Amazon Rekognition Image and Amazon Rekognition Video can return the bounding box for common object labels such as cars, furniture, apparel or pets, but the information isn’t returned for less common object labels. Quite how things are classed as more or less common is not clear. At the moment we are working on passing the bounding box information (when there is any) to our database output.
Clearly for this image, it would be useful to have ‘memorial’ and ‘cross’ as label predictions, but these terms are absent. However, sometimes ML can provide terms that might not be used by the cataloguer, such as ‘tree’ or ‘monument’.
So we now have the ability to submit a batch of images, but currently the output is in JSON (the above output table is only provided if you upload the image individually). We are hoping to read the data and place the labels into our IIIF development interface.
The next step is to create a model using a subset of the images that our participants have provided. A key thing to understand is that in order to train a model so that it makes better predictions you need to provide labelled images. Therefore, if you want to try using ML, it is likely that part of the ML journey will require you to undertake a substantial amount of labelling if you don’t already have labelled images. Providing labelled content is the way that the algorithm learns. If we provided the above image and a batch of others like it and included a label of ‘memorial’ then that would make it more likely that other non-labelled images we input would be identified correctly. We could also include the more specific label ‘war memorial’ – but it would seem like a tall order for ML to distinguish war memorials from other types. Having said that, the fascinating thing is that often machines learn to detect patterns in a way that surpasses what humans can achieve. We can only give it a go and see what we get.
Thanks to Adrian Stevenson, one of the Hub Labs team, who took me through the technical processes outlined in this post.
The BBC is celebrating its centenary this year and the BBC Written Archives Centre in Caversham holds the documents that chronicle the Corporation’s contribution to the cultural history of the UK.
Rather than try and cover all 100 years in one post (you can see our selection of 100 objects here) I have picked out a couple of collections that come right at the beginning of the BBC’s story.
The Company Papers: from Company to Corporation
It’s hard to imagine a world without broadcast media, but in early 1922 the UK’s General Post Office (GPO) and a group of wireless manufacturers were busy negotiating how a nationwide system for wireless broadcasting on a large scale could be implemented and funded.
These discussions resulted in the formation of the ‘British Broadcasting Company’, the BBC’s predecessor before it was established under a Royal Charter in 1927. The commercial company was granted a licence to broadcast by the GPO, funded by royalties from the sales of wireless sets from approved manufacturers. The Company was formed on 18th October 1922, registered on 15th December 1922 and received its Licence from the Post Office on 18th January 1923.
Daily broadcasts began on 14th November 1922 from Marconi House on the Strand. The regular programme on the 2LO London station included music, drama and ‘talks’ for several hours each day. Licences to receive the broadcasts could be obtained for 10 shillings.
There was soon debate about the relationship between the newly formed Company and the government. This came to a head with the General Strike in 1926, which opened up the possibility that the government could use the BBC as a means of promoting its own views. The Company managed to maintain its impartiality while covering the crisis, broadcasting from the point of the view of the strikers and the government, which appealed to the general public.
Partly as a result of navigating the right tone for the strike and partly via the outcome of two committees to review the new medium of radio broadcasting (Sykes Committee in 1923 and Crawford Committee in 1925) the British Broadcasting Company was reorganised as a public service to become the British Broadcasting Corporation on 1st January 1927.
The papers in the archive for series CO1 cover the Company’s formation and organisation, including correspondence with the radio trade, politicians, and the press. The files, which include discussions around the first programme content and the tensions brought about by the General Strike, provide a fascinating glimpse into the origins of an organisation that is now so well-known.
Reith Diaries: the Founder of the BBC
John Reith (later Sir John Reith, and subsequently 1st Baron Reith of Stonehaven) became the first General Manager of the British Broadcasting Company in 1922 and the first Director-General of the Corporation from 1927 to 1938. His name has become so connected with the style and output of the BBC through his mission to ‘inform, educate and entertain’ that the term ‘Reithian’ has come to describe these principles of broadcasting.
Born in 1889, Reith was son of a Scottish minister. He trained and worked as an engineer and factory manager, spending two years in America and serving as a lieutenant in the First World War. He successfully applied for the post of General Manager of the British Broadcasting Company in 1922, when there was little thought as to the direction it should take. This was to become the start of Reith’s ideas of broadcasting as a force for social good, with an intrinsically moral tone.
Having led the BBC through its formation as a Corporation, the introduction of overseas services and the launch of television, Reith resigned in 1938. He was involved in a number of high positions in government and as a chairman of several organisations before his death in 1971.
The archive holds Reith’s personal papers as a Special Collection. Most notable are his diaries, which span from 1911 to his death. The volumes are a mixture of typed and handwritten material and cover Reith’s personal thoughts and decisions on both the business and domestic sides of his life, including the key events of his time at the BBC.
Alongside the diaries are a collection of enclosure volumes, known as scrapbooks. These contain Reith’s hand-picked mementoes of his life and include letters, press cuttings and ephemera such as postcards and greetings cards. They help to provide a more personal portrait of Reith, who is so often associated purely with his working life.
All of this material combines with everything in the written archives to provide extra context to well-known stories and increase our understanding of how past events shaped the BBC.
Collection level descriptions for the BBC Broadcasting Company Papers and the Reith Special Collection are available to view on the Archives Hub:
This blog post forms part of History Day 2022, a day of online interactive events for students, researchers and history enthusiasts to explore library, museum, archive and history collections across the UK and beyond. History Day is part of the Being Human festival, the UK’s national festival of the humanities, taking place 10–19 November 2022.
John Logie Baird papers (1906-2009). Baird was born in Helensburgh and studied electrical engineering at the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College, then attended Glasgow University. After becoming apprenticed with Argyll Motors and then to working with other firms, from 1916 he engaged in various private business ventures in Glasgow, London and the West Indies. In 1922 he began to experiment with transmitting and receiving visual signals. In 1924 his efforts were rewarded by a flickering image on his screen. A public demonstration was given at Selfridge’s Oxford Street store in April 1925 and showed the transmission of crude outlines of simple objects. The world’s first demonstration of television followed on 26 January 1926 at the Royal Institution, London. In May 1927 the first demonstration of television between London and Glasgow took place, and in February of the following year the first transatlantic television broadcast was successfully carried out. On 30 September 1929 the BBC made its first television broadcast using the Baird 30-line system. Material held byUniversity of Strathclyde Archives and Special Collections – see full collection description.
Papers of Marjorie Jean Oswald Kennedy (19th-20th century). Marjorie hailed from the Kennedy family of Kilmarnock which included Thomas Kennedy c1796-1874, founder of Glenfield & Kennedy (producers of valves) and inventor of the world’s first water meter. During the Second World War, Kennedy served with the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS), 1942-1945. She was stationed at HMS Pembroke III, the WRNS training depot at Mill Hill in 1942, then at HMS Beaver, Hull, from 1942 to 1943, at HMS Drake, Devonport, in 1943, and then at HMS Pembroke III again and HMS Pembroke V, Bletchley Park, between 1943 and 1945. At Bletchley Park Kennedy was working with the team of allied codebreakers who were able to decrypt a vast number of messages that had been enciphered using the German’s Enigma machine. The intelligence gleaned from this source, codenamed ‘Ultra’ by the British, had been a substantial aid to the Allied war effort. Material held byEdinburgh University Library Special Collections – see full collection description.
Frederick Lanchester at the wheel of the 8 h.p. two cylinder Lanchester known as the ‘Gold Medal Phaeton’ with his brother George as passenger. c1899. Coventry University [reference no. LAN/1/16/4].
Feature: The Frederick Lanchester archive at Coventry University(December 2018): The work of car manufacturer, engineer, scientist and inventor Frederick Lanchester (1868-1946) is being celebrated by the Lanchester Interactive Archive project at Coventry University. He was one of the UK’s leading automobile engineers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and creator in 1895 of the first all-British four-wheel petrol driven motor car.
Records, publications and artefacts relating to James Watt (1705-1990): Watt was born at Greenock in 1736. He trained as an instrument maker in London and began to practise this trade in Glasgow. Watt soon developed a reputation as a high quality engineer and was employed on the Forth & Clyde Canal and the Caledonian Canal. In 1763 he repaired the model of Newcomen’s steam engine belonging to Glasgow University, and began experiments on properties of steam. Watt improved on the engine’s design and took out a patent for the separate condenser in 1769. He later adapted the engine to rotary motion, making it suitable for a variety of industrial purposes, and invented the flywheel and the governor. In 1774 he went into partnership with Matthew Boulton to make steam engines at their works at Soho, Birmingham. The first engines were used in collieries and iron works and were the driving force behind the transformation of cotton spinning from a cottage to factory industry. Watt’s inventive talents led him to patent a variety of machines and devices including a letter-copier and a smoke-consuming furnace. Material held by Heriot-Watt University Museum and Archive – see full collection description.
Private Telegraph Companies (1846-1899): The development of the telegraph system in the United Kingdom closely followed the growth of the railways with telegraph offices often being located at stations. The Government allowed the network to develop under private ownership and did not intervene significantly in its running. This was in sharp contrast to the telegraph system on the Continent which had been under state ownership since its inception. By 1868 there were five major telegraph companies operating the inland network, all of which were open to criticism regarding errors, delays and high prices. Frank Ives Scudamore campaigned on behalf of the Post Office for them to be nationalised citing how unfavourably they compared with those on the Continent. Despite protestations from the companies a series of Acts of Parliament were passed and the inland telegraph system came under control of the Post Office in 1870. Material held by British Telecom Archives – see full collection description.
Online Resource: Hiroshima Archive – the Hiroshima Archive is a pluralistic digital archive using the digital earth to display in a multi-layered way all the materials gained from such sources as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the Hiroshima Jogakuin Gaines Association, and the Hachioji Hibakusha (A-bomb Survivors) Association. Beyond time and space, the user can get a panoramic view over Hiroshima to browse survivors’ accounts, photos, maps, and other materials as of 1945, together with aerial photos, 3D topographical data, and building models as of 2010. The archive aims to promote multifaceted and comprehensive understanding of the reality of atomic bombing. Stories of Atomic bomb survivors living across Japan. Around 170 testimonies and around 150 photographs can be browsed.
Papers of the Dorset House School of Occupational Therapy (1919-2005): Dorset House, the first School of Occupational Therapy in England, was established by its visionary Medical Director, Dr Elizabeth Casson, in the latter part of the 1920s. Over the years the School has moved from its original base in Bristol to Bromsgrove, and finally to Oxford, firstly in Nissen Huts in the grounds of the Churchill Hospital and then to London Road in 1964. In 1992 Dorset House School of Occupational Therapy became part of Oxford Polytechnic, which, later that year, was conferred with university status and was named Oxford Brookes University. Material held by Oxford Brookes University Special Collections and Archives – full collection description.
John Charnley/William Waugh Collection (1922-1989): John Charnley, orthopaedic surgeon, born in 1911, was educated at the Medical School of the Victoria University of Manchester. In 1937, he took up his first post as a resident surgical officer at Salford Royal Hospital, and demonstrated an early talent for making and developing specialist apparatus and equipment. He first encountered work in orthopaedics and fractures in 1939 as resident casualty officer at the Manchester Royal Infirmary. During the Second World War, Charnley worked at an Orthopaedic Centre near Cairo, applying to become an orthopaedic specialist in 1942. Charnley returned to Manchester in 1946 at the Manchester Royal Infirmary as an honorary assistant orthopaedic surgeon and lecturer in orthopaedic surgery, and later as a consultant. In 1949, Charnley became a visiting orthopaedic surgeon at Wrightington Hospital. He began to work on the mobility of the hip in painful hip conditions due to arthritis. His discoveries in this field were made possible by his outstanding ability in engineering, and in working with materials. In 1961, Charnley established the Centre for Hip Surgery at Wrightington Hospital, where he pioneered and developed prostheses for hip replacement surgery, and studied the acceptance of artificial materials within bone and joint tissues. The hip replacement operation is now one of the most common operations performed in the UK. Material held by University of Manchester Library – full collection description.
Online Resource: London’s Pulse: Medical Officer of Health Reports 1848-1972. This collection features digitised reports of the UK Medical Officers of Health for the London area during the 19th and 20th centuries. These reports were compiled on an annual basis and include written information and statistical data on public health issues, such as infectious diseases, mortality rates, health services and environmental impacts on health. Selected reports are available from the period and the areas covered include the present City of London, the current 32 London boroughs and the predecessor local authorities for these areas. The reports also highlight the differences between different Medical Officers of Health and show how individual personality influenced their work and reporting style. Provided by the Wellcome Library.
Papers of Martindale, Louisa (1872-1966): Louisa Martindale was born in 1872 and studied at the London School of Medicine for Women and in Vienna, Berlin and Freiburg, obtaining her M.D. in London in 1906. She practised in Brighton and was founder of the New Sussex Hospital here in 1918, where she was Senior Honorary Surgeon. In 1921 she moved to London as a Consultant Surgeon and was Honorary Surgeon to the Marie Curie Hospital at Hampstead. During a visit to New York in 1919 she was a moving force behind the foundation of the Medical Women’s Federation and in 1931 she was elected President of that body. Martindale was a pioneer in the treatment of uterine cancer and fibroid growths in women through deep X-ray therapy. She died in 1966. Material held by the Wellcome Collection – full collection description.
Northern Ireland Hospitals Authority Archive (1948-1974): The collection consists of reports and monographs on the location, construction and administration of hospitals in Northern Ireland covering the period 1948 to 1974. Items include reports from The Northern Ireland Hospitals Authority, Hospital Management Committees, research organisations and central government. The archive constitutes the nucleus of the Northern Ireland Hospitals Authority library which passed to The Queen’s University of Belfast at the Authority’s demise in 1973. Queens University Medical Library continues to maintain an archive of material related to health and social services provision in Northern Ireland. Material held by Queen’s University Belfast Special Collections & Archives – full collection description.
Florence Nightingale letters (1882-1883): Florence Nightingale, (1820-1910), nursing pioneer and reformer, is regarded as the founder of modern nursing. Born in Florence, Italy, she dedicated her life to the care of the sick and war wounded. In 1844, she began to visit hospitals; in 1850, she spent some time with the nursing Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul in Alexandria and a year later studied at the institute for Protestant deaconesses in Kaiserswerth, Germany. In 1854, she organized a unit of 38 nurses for service in the Crimean War. In 1860, she established the Nightingale School for nurse training at St. Thomas’s Hospital, London and in 1907 became the first woman to be given the British Order of Merit. This collection contains letters from Florence Nightingale to William Rathbone the MP for Caernarfonshire, concerning public health issues and the typhoid epidemic at Bangor in 1882. Material held by Archifdy Prifysgol Bangor / Bangor University Archives – full collection description.
As part of the Archives Hub Labs ‘Images and Machine Learning’ project we are currently exploring the challenges around implementing IIIF image services for archival collections, and also for Archives Hub more specifically as an aggregator of archival descriptions. This work is motivated by our desire to encourage the inclusion of more digital content on Archives Hub, and to improve our users’ experience of that content, in terms of both display and associated functionality.
Before we start to report on our progress with IIIF, we thought it would be useful to capture some of our current ideas and objectives with regards to the presentation of digital content on Archives Hub. This will help us to assess at later stages of the project how well IIIF supports those objectives, since it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of experimenting with new technologies and lose sight of one’s starting point. It will also help our audience to understand how we’re aiming to develop the Hub, and how the Labs project supports those aims.
Crucial part of modern research and engagement with collections, especially after the pandemic
Another route into archives for researchers
Contributes to making archives more accessible
Will enable us to create new experiences and entry points within Archives Hub
To support contributing archives which can’t host or display content themselves
The Current Situation
At the moment our contributors can include digital content in their descriptions on Archives Hub. They add links to their descriptions prior to publication, and they can do this at any level, e.g. ‘item’ level for images of individually catalogued objects, or maybe ‘fonds’ or ‘collection’ level for a selection of sample images. If the links are to image files, these are displayed on the Hub as part of the description. If the links are to video or audio files, or documents, we just display a link.
There are a few disadvantages to this set up: it can be a labour-intensive process adding individual links to descriptions; links often go dead because content is moved, leading to disappointment for researchers; and it means contributing archives need to be able to host content themselves, which isn’t always possible.
Where images are included in descriptions, these are embedded in the page as part of the description itself. If there are multiple images they are arranged to best fit the size of the screen, which means their order isn’t preserved.
If a user clicks on an image it is opened in a pop out viewer, which has a zoom button, and arrows for browsing if there is more than one image.
The embedded image and the viewer are both quite small, so there is also a button to view the image in fullscreen.
The viewer and the fullscreen option both obscure all or part of the decription itself, and there is no descriptive information included around the image other than a caption, if one has been provided.
As you can see the current interface is functional, but not ideal. Listed below are some of the key things we would like to look at and improve going forwards. The list is not intended to be exhaustive, but even so it’s pretty long, and we’re aware that we might not be able to fix everything, and certainly not in one go.
Documenting our aims though is an important part of steering our innovations work, even if those aims end up evolving as part of the exploration process.
Display and Viewing Experience
❐ The viewer needs updating so that users can play audio and video files in situ on the Hub, just as they can view images at the moment. It would be great if they could also read documents (PDF, Word etc).
❐ Large or high-resolution image files should load more quickly into the viewer.
❐ The viewer should also include tools for interacting with content, e.g. for images: zoom, rotate, greyscale, adjust brightness/contrast etc; for audio-visual files: play, pause, rewind, modify speed etc.
❐ When opened, any content viewer should expand to a more usable size than the current one.
❐ Should the viewer also support the display of descriptive information around the content, so that if the archive description itself is obscured, the user still has context for what they’re looking at? Any viewer should definitely clearly display rights and licensing information alongside content.
Search and Navigation
❐ The Archives Hub search interface should offer users the option to filter by the type of digital content included in their search results (e.g. image, video, PDF etc).
❐ The search interface should also highlight the presence of digital content in search results more prominently, and maybe even include a preview?
❐ When viewing the top level of a multi-level description, users should be able to identify easily which levels include digital content.
❐ Users should also be able to jump to the digital content within a multi-level description quickly – possibly being able to browse through the digital content separately from the description itself?
❐ Users should be able to begin with digital content as a route into the material on Archives Hub, rather than only being able to search the text descriptions as their starting point.
❐ Perhaps Archives Hub should offer some form of hosting service, to support archives, improve availability of digital content on the Hub, and allow for the development of workflows around managing content?
❐ Ideally, we would also develop a user-friendly method for linking content to descriptions, to make publishing and updating digital content easy and time-efficient.
❐ Any workflows or interfaces for managing digital content should be straightforward and accessible for non-technical staff.
❐ The service could give contributors access to innovative but sustainable tools, which drive engagement by highlighting their collections.
❐ If possible, any resources created should be re-usable within an archive’s own sites or resources – making the most of both the material and the time invested.
❐ We could look at offering options for contributors to curate content in creative and inventive ways which aren’t tied to cataloguing alone, and which offer alternative ways of experiencing archival material for users.
❐ It would be exciting for users to be able to ‘collect’, customise or interact with content in more direct ways. Some examples might include:
Creating their own collections of content
Creating annotations or notes
Publicly tagging or commenting on content
❐ Develop the experience for users with things like: automated tagging of images for better search; providing searchable OCR scanned text for text within images; using the tagging or classification of content to provide links to information and resources elsewhere.
In 2027 the Goldsmiths’ Company will celebrate 700 years since it received its first royal charter, which formalised the company’s existence as a craft guild.
To mark this anniversary, a programme of cataloguing and digitisation is underway to make the archives more widely accessible. Sharing the catalogues on public forums – such as the Archives Hub – is a vital aspect of this project.
The archives of the Goldsmiths’ Company date back to the 14th century, with the earliest minutes recorded in 1334. The company prides itself on the breadth of its archival collections; with records covering not only the broad administrative past of the company, but also the history of making and retailing in precious metals. The variety in the archives reflects the strong ties between the craft and the company that remain to this day.
The Podolsky Collection is an excellent example of a maker’s archive, recording all aspects of jewellery craft and trade; from design, to the promotion and sale of wares. Spanning from 1920-2010, the series also offers insight into the resilience of the trade and the evolution of style across the decades.
Most of the collection was donated to the archive by Paul Podolsky, a liveryman of the Goldsmiths’ Company with a career in jewellery spanning over 70 years. Throughout his career he worked both as a designer, then as an executive, dedicating himself to the company set up by his father Eyna Podolsky.
Eyna Podolsky, a Ukrainian immigrant and the son of metalworkers, began his career with an apprenticeship with a jeweller at just 12, eventually becoming a skilled diamond mounter, setter and engraver.
He was able to start his own business in 1920 and was so successful he employed around 40 people. Originally diamond mounters and watchcase makers, the firm was first known as The British National Watch Case Co.
Eyna Podolsky was the first man in Britain to go into mass production of platinum and diamond-set wrist watches, which were mainly sold to wholesalers.
The company also had orders for other pieces of jewellery and commissions from some private clients. In total there are over 130 design drawings in the collection, many of which are from the 1920s and 1930s and so are excellent examples of Art Deco work.
Paul Podolsky’s childhood was spent in and out of his father’s workshops, learning techniques from craftspeople long before he officially joined the firm. Despite this upbringing, Paul didn’t initially want to be a jeweller; he left school at 16 to join a commercial art studio in 1939. The outbreak of war soon closed this down, and Paul joined his father’s studio as an apprentice diamond mounter, by which time the business was thriving in its Hatton Garden premises.
The markets depressed during the war and many young jewellers joined the army, leaving an aging workforce. These gaps were supplemented by an influx of Jewish refugees to Hatton Garden leading up to the war. Paul Podolsky recalls craftspeople from all over the former British Empire coming to work in London at this time, including a German-Jewish refugee named ‘Margot’ who joined the Podolsky workshop.
Like many jewellers E. Podolsky & Co. Ltd. switched to supplying for the war effort – using their small tools to create objects such as fuses. Production at times was 24 hours a day with Paul and his colleagues working night shifts.
After his own service in the army (1944-1947), Paul Podolsky took control of the business, and one of his first actions in charge was to acquire the jewellery subdivisions of Birmingham firms Blanckensee and Albion Chain who had decided to concentrate on engineering work after the war.
This new venture had to pivot away from the fine work produced between the wars to produce cheaper 9ct items. Many of the initial designs were drawn by Paul Podolsky himself as he was unable to afford a professional designer. It was a gamble, but his economy paid off, with the company still producing commercial jewellery well into the 1980s.
Mosque, referred to as a place of worship for Muslims is probably not something that would jump to our minds when we think of archives. It is not surprising then that people are often intrigued to learn that the East London Mosque, which is one of London’s oldest Mosque has its own archive repository located in its complex; the Maryam Centre in Whitechapel. Established as an archive service in 2015, the ELM Archives as it is commonly called, has unique and rich archive collections documenting the various aspects of British Muslim-related history, which is housed in a purpose built Strong Room. At the moment, it is the only mosque in Britain with such facility.
The ELM Archives Project
The ELM Archives holds the institutional records, dating from 1910 onwards of the East London Mosque Trust, which is responsible for the administration and management of the Mosque. What is perhaps not widely known is that the Archives came into existence from a campaign initiated by the Mosque to preserve its own heritage. This all begun in 1995, when the late Muhammad Suleiman Jetha who was a former Chairman of the East London Mosque rediscovered and bequeathed the documents he had taken during the World War II bombings for safekeeping back to the Mosque. The deposit contained the London Mosque Fund Minute Book and collection of letters, which provided wealth of information on the creation and shaping of the East London Mosque. Realising the value, this led to the start of an effort, later to become recognised as the ELM Archives Project, to professionally organise and store the Mosque archives.
Not much was done until 2012 when the Mosque secured the help of a qualified Archivist to carry out a two day scoping study of the existing materials to identify the work required for long term protection and management of the archives. The report compiled at the end offered recommendations on how to classify, catalogue, preserve and provide access to the archives.
Further progress was made as the Mosque submitted a successful application for The National Archives’ Cataloguing Grants programme in 2013. This secured a grant to recruit a temporary Archivist for 1 year to catalogue the archives. At the same time, an Archives Steering Group was formed, comprising of different individuals with relevant expertise within the Mosque and externally from the Religious Archives Group to deliver strategic guidance for the Project. By the end of 2014, the archives were appraised, sorted and catalogued accordingly to best practice in archival standards onto the Archives Hub. Moreover, all the archive materials were labelled, repackaged into acid free folders and put into acid free boxes.
Transition to Archives Service
The success of the cataloguing meant that the archive collection of the East London Mosque Trust went live on the Archives Hub in September 2014, and for the time it was made available to the public for online browsing. To accommodate enquiries and facilitate requests to access the archives, 9 volunteers were recruited. They were given training on how to retrieve and put away documents, supervise researchers and assist with basic queries by the Archivist.
The Reading Room service and the online catalogue were officially launched in January 2015. Since then, the Archives has been hosting both internal and external researchers. Access to the Reading Room is free and open to everyone. The Reading Room currently operates on a part time basis and researchers are requested to book an appointment in advance before their intended visit. Further details of the opening hours can be found on the Archives repository homepage within the Archives Hub.
For the long term storage of the archive materials, the Archives Steering Group researched and developed specifications and requirements to build a purpose built Strong Room in the Maryam Centre. Standards relevant at the time, such as PD 5454:2012 Guide for the Storage and Exhibition of Archival Materials and The National Archives’ Standard for Record Repositories, which gave recommendations for storing and keeping archives within best practice and incorporated factors such as repository construction, storage environment, fire protection and prevention and temperature and humidity parameters were taken into consideration. The built also took into account archival storage needs for the next 50 years. Soon after, fundraising for the necessary construction and equipment began. The building of the Strong Room, equipped with mobile shelving, monitoring system for humidity, humidifiers and extractors, fire proofing and fire alarm system and water drainage arrangements was accomplished and inaugurated on 22 November 2017 by Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
The ELM Archives Now
It has been a long journey and the ELM Archives has now transitioned from a Project to a Service. In 2018, a part time permanent Archivist was employed by the Mosque to manage the growing archive collections. The Archives started with the intention of just preserving the history of the East London Mosque but now endeavours to create a repository for all and any records relating to British Muslims in Britain.
With the collecting remit broadened, at present, the Archives has the following archival collections in its holdings:
To discover the history of the East London Mosque, from the formation of the London Mosque Fund in 1910, the opening of the first Mosque buildings in 1941, making of the Mosque in Whitechapel to the present day, browse the following links:
‘I feel the only thing you can do about life is to preserve it, by art if you’re an artist, by children if you’re not’ (PAL, letter to Monica Jones)
The 9th of August 2022 marks the centenary of the birth of poet and librarian Philip Arthur Larkin.
His approach to life as represented in the above quote will resonate with anyone involved in archival work and research. It speaks to the core function of the archivist in preserving the surviving evidence of past thoughts, beliefs and events.
Although not born in Hull, Larkin was intimately connected with the city. Appointed to the post of Librarian at the University of Hull in March 1955, he spent half of his life in the area, living first in Cottingham, then in Hull’s Pearson Park, and finally in the well-to-do area of Newland Park near the University. Some of his most famous works were inspired by the experience of living in, travelling from and returning to the city. During his time at the University, he guided the library through a period of significant development, helping to transform it from a small operation in a series of makeshift spaces, to a purpose built and sector-leading academic library. Through his collaboration with academic colleagues, he promoted the growth of Hull University Archives from a small selection of manuscripts to an internationally significant repository for archive collections. So, it is fitting that his surviving archive is held at Hull as part of the University Archives.
Creative process of a poet…
‘[T]o construct a verbal device that would preserve an experience indefinitely by reproducing it in whoever read the poem’ (PAL, definition of the purpose of a poet, from Required Reading)
One of the most important of the Larkin related collections held at Hull is his personal archive which contains, amongst other things, his manuscript poetry workbooks.
Written in pencil, they contain manuscript drafts of poems written by Larkin, and provide evidence that he drafted and redrafted individual poems over several days or weeks, even returning to them months later. The pages sometimes feature small doodles or comments, giving us an insight into his feelings and state of mind in a given moment. Thus, the workbooks are a vital and unique record of Larkin’s creative process.
Capturing a view on life…
‘I feel the only thing you can do about life is to preserve it, by art if you’re an artist, by children if you’re not’ (PAL, letter to Monica Jones)
Aside from writing poetry, Larkin was a keen and skilled amateur photographer and the evidence is preserved in his photographic archive [RefNo. U DLV]. Having shown an interest in photography from a young age, Larkin was given a camera to use by his father, a Houghton-Butcher Ensign Carbine No.5. In a letter dated 1947, addressed to a childhood friend, he notes that he has spent a large amount of money on a camera of his own, believed to be a Purma Special. From this point there was no looking back, and later on he became known for his use of a professional quality Rolleiflex camera with timers, lenses and filters.
His approach to photography seems akin to that of his writing. His photographs skilfully capture the experience of everyday life according to fundamental principles of photographic composition. His subjects regularly include self-portraits, rural landscapes, church yards, and the friends, family and women in his life. His surviving photographs often show evidence that he marked up prints for enlargement to create a better composition.
Communication is key…
‘Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out as early as you can, And don’t have any kids yourself’ (PAL, This be the verse)
In an age of emails, texts and social media, we perhaps forget how important letter writing was to communication in the mid-20th century. Larkin was a prolific letter writer, maintaining contact with friends, acquaintances, and family on a regular basis. There are many collections of his correspondence at Hull.
Highlights include letters sent to Monica Jones, his life-long partner [RefNo. U DX341], which reveal their close and frank relationship, along with aspects of Larkin’s character and life views. Another highlight is the correspondence between Larkin and his childhood friend James Sutton [U DP174 and U DP182]. The two friends discuss home life, friends, jazz music, and their current creative endeavours, which provides opportunity to explore Larkin’s formative years at home, school and university.
In this centenary year we’ve been busy working to enhance access to the Larkin collections, improving catalogue descriptions, producing a new source guide and creating an online exhibition.
Rather than regurgitating the Scope and Content of the catalogues in this blog (which you can read if you click on the links above), I’d like to highlight ten thoughts/statements prompted by items I came across when cataloguing.
It must be acknowledged that this material was largely created and collected by the upper echelons of privileged British aristocratic society, and so the view provided by the material relates to people who were, on the whole, white, wealthy and powerful. Glimmers of other peoples’ stories can be ascertained sometimes, but usually as a by-product of the record creation and retention process rather than directly from those individuals.
1. School-aged children will always doodle in their exercise books
A number of 17th century exercise books belonging to the 2nd and 3rd Earls of Devonshire are part of the Hardwick Manuscripts (HMS) and Hobbes Papers (HS). Many of them are covered in griffonage on the flyleaves, just as one might expect of a schoolbook today.
They include the 3rd Earl practising his new name “William Devonshire” When, aged 9 ½ he lost his father, the title of Earl of Devonshire passed to him, therefore entitling him to sign himself with the surname Devonshire rather than Cavendish.
2. Financial account books are a window into daily life
The Hardwick Manuscripts include some astonishingly well-preserved 16th– and 17th-century financial account books from across the Devonshire estates. Some of the most fascinating for the study of daily life in an English aristocratic household are those that record the grocery shop!
Here is an example of Bess of Hardwick’s household spending recorded by her steward for one Thursday in February 1552:
two poteles of claret wine for dinner; eggs; apples to roast; items to make fritters; ale to make fritters; an item delivered to a person for his “bele”; a pint of “momse” for when her ladyship was sick – totalling 4 shillings, 1 ½ pence.
As well as listing provisions (food bought from tenant farmers on the estates) and achats (food bought from town), the kitchen accounts for the 3rd Earl’s household for the years 1640-1678 note the guests dining on particular days. Names include: Lord [Henry] Clifford; Lady Windsor; Lady Salisbury [mother to Elizabeth, Countess of Devonshire]; Lord Cranborne [brother of Elizabeth] and Sir Ed Caple [possibly Cappell, a known Royalist family].
3. Death was still upsetting even though it was common
Losing a family member or friend during one’s own lifetime may have been more common in the 17th and 18th century, but letters in these collections suggest it was not any less of an emotional event because of its regularity.
The letters of Rachel, Lady Russell (c. 1636-1723), show how the execution of her husband – in 1683 for his involvement in the treasonous Rye House Plot – affected her for a long time afterwards. She put on a public show of composure to most of her correspondents. However, her innermost sorrow and grief she shared with her chaplain, Dr Fitzwilliam.
Even three years after her husband’s death she writes:
“…desiring to know the world no more, [I] am utterly unfitted for the management of anything in it, but must, as I can, engage in such necessary offices to my children, as I cannot be dispensed from, nor desire to be, since ‘tis an eternal obligation upon me, to the memory of a husband, to whom, and his, I have dedicated the few and sad remainder of my days, in this vale of misery and trouble.”
4. Women held power
Despite Lady Russell’s deep sorrow that lasted most of the rest of her life, she continued to engage a network of acquaintances through her letter writing. Reading her letters provides a picture of a woman who used the position of a wealthy widow to her advantage in the advance of her estates and her daughters’ positions in society. There are many letters between Lady Russell and her lawyer, John Hoskins (CS1/34); and her cousin Henri de Massaue, 2nd Marquis du Ruvigny (CS1/97). They present an example of how aristocratic women engaged with the management of their estates as much as – and sometimes more than – male landowners, when their widowhood provided them with the opportunity to take control.
Another example of this is Dorothy Boyle (nee Savile), Countess of Burlington (CS1/164), who like Lady Russell, was responsible for the preservation of large groups of inherited family letters, which make up the Cavendish Family and Associates: 1st Correspondence Series, 1490-1839 (CS1) collection at Chatsworth. The archive is a place of power, and the stewardship of family papers ensured these two women could assert theirs.
5. Archival sources and scholarship don’t always align
In most scholarship, the portrayal of Dorothy, Lady Burlington’s influence and legacy is almost non-existent. Eclipsed by the reputation of her architect husband, Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, Lady Burlington has been a footnote or a minor character in repeated anecdotes. Her letters illuminate a more significant role as a facilitator of the Burlington circle and in 18th-century artistic society. You can read more here.
6. Mental health illness isn’t a modern issue
Many references are made to ‘low mood’, ‘upset humours’, ‘delirium’, ‘nerves’, ‘nervous cases’, ‘hysterics’ in the 18th century letters. Whilst some of the language used is different to how we would describe illnesses such as depression and anxiety today, the references do show that mental health was a case for comment just as much as peoples’ physical health.
Elizabeth Biddulph (nee Bedingfeld) wrote to Lady Charlotte, Marchioness of Hartington in 1754 (CS1/378/1) of her prolonged “illness of the nerves” that began after the birth of her last child. Could she be describing what we would nowadays identify as post-partum depression?
7. Fresh air and exercise were known cures for illness
As with the above letter where we see that fresh air and exercise aided Elizabeth Biddulph’s recovery, the 4th Duke of Devonshire’s brother, Lord Frederick Cavendish, in December 1761, advised his brother to partake of the same. The 4th Duke, having suffered from a bout of poor mental and physical health, was given the following warning by his brother:
“if you set in that room in London and fret yourself about our damned politics, you’ll kill yourself. Go down to Chatsworth look at your works, and keep yourself out in the air the whole day, I don’t joke… if you was to sleep once or twice a week on the top of Lindop [woods near Chatsworth] I believe it would be better than all the physic that doctors can give”. (CS4/1565)
8. It’s possible to draw out historically overlooked people in fleeting remarks
A passing reference to three black children arriving on a French cargo ship into Waterford 1756 in one of the letters of Lord Frederick Cavendish led me to research who they were and what might have happened to them. You can read the full story here.
9. Lord Hartington visited Confederate lines and it changed his opinion of the South
Spencer Compton Cavendish, Lord Hartington (1833-1908), visited North America in 1862/3, during the American Civil War. He wrote to his father, the 7th Duke of Devonshire, that seeing the Confederates and their earnestness at Richmond had caused him to begin to support their view. He described himself as becoming more “Southern” as the trip progressed and believed the Southerners to have a lot of “dignity”. This was around the time of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (1 January 1863) that “all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states, “are, and henceforward shall be free”, which would have the biggest effect on some of the Southern states.
Hartington admitted he had not seen enough plantations to be a judge of “the state of things”. However, he wrote that “the “Negroes” hardly look as well off as I expected to see them but they are not [different?] or more uncomfortable looking than Irish labourers” (CS8/184) – a damning indictment of the state of conditions for 19th century Irish labourers!
On the 21 January 1863 he wrote to his father from Charleston, South Carolina, that the Emancipation Proclamation hadn’t seemed to make “the slightest difference” and “even in the Sea Islands [Georgia] in the possession of the enemy, they hear that the “negroes” are doing their work just as usual under the overseers”.
These changed views were clearly private ones as, in another letter to his father, he acknowledges his constituents would not approve of his Southern persuasions (CS8/186).
10. British concentration camps existed before Nazi ones
A reference in a letter from Sir Lawrence Oliphant to Louisa Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, February 1900 (CS8/2824), mentions his arrival in South Africa and the capture of Boer weapons, women and cattle. He mentions a group of “Freestater” women [from the Orange Free State] who were “delighted not to be taken to the camps”. A reminder that the British used concentration camps for Boer women and children in the South African Boer War – a generation before the Nazis.
I hope that these ten points have shown what wide-ranging material is featured in the Cavendish family papers catalogued in this project and the benefit of having the full catalogues available online on Archives Hub!
One of the challenges that we face with our Labs project is presentation of the Machine Learning results. We thought there would be many out of the box tools to help with this, but we have not found this to be the case.
If we use the AWS console Rekognition service interface for example, we get presented with results, but they are not provided in a way that will readily allow us and our project participants to assess them. Here is a screenshot of an image from Cardiff University – an example of out of the box use of AWS Rekognition:
This is just one result – but we want to present the results from a large collection of images. Ideally we would run the image recognition on all of the Cardiff images, and/or on the images from one collection, assess the results within the project team and also present them back to our colleagues at Cardiff.
The ML results are actually presented in JSON:
Here you can see some of the terms identified and the confidence scores.
These particular images, from the University archive, are catalogued to item level. That means they may not benefit so much from adding tags or identifying objects. But they are unlikely to have all the terms (or ‘labels’ in ML parlance) that the Rekognition service comes up with. Sometimes the things identified are not what a cataloguer would necessarily think to add to a description. The above image is identified as ‘outdoors’, ‘ground’ and ‘soil. These terms could be useful for a researcher. Just identifying photographs with people in them could potentially be useful.
Another example below is of a printed item – a poem.
Strange formatting of the transcript aside, the JSON below shows the detected text (squirrels), confidence and area of the image where the word is located.
If this was provided to the end user, then anyone interested in squirrels in literature (surely there must be someone…) can find this digital content.
But we have to figure out how to present results and what functionality is required. It reminds me of using Open Refine to assess person name matches. The interface provides for a human eye to assess and confirm or reject the results.
We want to be able to lead discussions with our contributors on the usefulness, accuracy, bias – lack of bias – and peculiarities of machine learning, and for that a usable interface is essential.
How we might knit this in with the Hub description is something to consider down the line. The first question is whether to use the results of ML at all. However, it is hard to imagine that it won’t play a part as it gets better at recognition and classification. Archvists often talk about how they don’t have time to catalogue. So it is arguable that machine learning, even if the results are not perfect, will be an improvement on the backlogs that we currently have.
AWS Rekognition tools
We have thought about which tools we would like to use and we are currently creating a spreadsheet of the images we have from our participants and which tools to use with each group of images.
Some tools may seem less likely, for example, image moderation. But with the focus on ethics and sensitive data, this could be useful for identifying potentially offensive or controversial images.
The Image Moderation tool recognises nudity in the above image.
This could be carried through to the end user interface, and a user could click on ‘view content’ if they chose to do so.
The image moderation tool may classify images art images as sensitive when they are very unlikely to cause offence. The tools may not be able to distinguish offensive nudity from classical art nudity. With training it is likely to improve, but when you think about it, it is not always an easy line for a human to draw.
Face comparison could potentially be useful where you want to identify individuals and instances of them within a large collection of photographs for example, so we might try that out.
However, we have decided that we won’t be using ‘celebrity recognition’, or ‘PPE detection’ for this particular project!
Text and Images
We are particularly interested in text and in text within images. It might be a way to connect images, and we might be able to pull the text out to be used for searching.
Suffice to say that text will be very variable. We ran Transkribus Lite on some materials.
We compared this to use of AWS Text Rekognition.
These examples illustrate the problem with handwritten documents. Potentially the model could be trained to work better for handwriting, but this may require a very large amount of input data given the variability of writing styles.
Transkribus has transcribed this short typescript text from the same archive well. One word ‘house’ has been transcribed as ‘housd’ and ‘idea’ caused a formatting issue, but overall a good result.
The above example is Transkribus Lite on a poster from the University of Brighton Design Archives. In archives, many digital items are images with text – particularly collections of posters or flyers. Transkribus has not done well with this (though this is just using the Lite version out of the box).
We also tried this with the AWS Rekognition Text tool, and it worked well.
Another example of images with text is maps and plans.
Above are two examples of places identified from the plan output in JSON. If we can take these outputs and add them to our search interface, an end user could search for ‘clerkenwell’ or ‘northampton square’ and find this plan.
Questions we currently have:
How do we present the results back to the project team?
How do we present the results to the participants?
Do we ask participants specific questions in order to get structured feedback?
Will we get text that is useful enough to go to the next step?
Which images provide good text and which don’t?
How might they results be used on the Archives Hub to help with discovery?
As we progress the work, we will start to think about organising a workshop for participants to get their feedback on the ML outputs.
Thanks to Adrian Stevenson, one of the Hub Labs team, who took me through the technical processes outlined in this post.