The University of Wales Centre for Welsh and Celtic Studies (CAWCS) is a partner institution in the IIIF4Research Network and in that role, the hosted an online seminar on Thursday 31st March 2022.

In a fascinating discussion, the invited speakers explored how new digital technologies might assist researchers in the humanities. From medieval manuscripts to eighteenth-century tours, we explored how platforms such as IIIF can enable researchers and institutions to carry out a wide range of research activities, from palaeography and comparative research to crowdsourcing and community engagement. The key question underpinning this workshop was: what are the challenges and the opportunities this technology provides?

Speakers included:

  • Dr Dafydd Tudur, Head of Engagement and Digital Content, National Library of Wales. (3:04 – presented in Welsh)
  • Jason Evans, National Wikimedian and Open Data Manager, National Library of Wales. (22:20 – presented in English)
  • Lisa Cardy, Interim Head of Department, Library and Archives, Natural History Museum. (38:47 – presented in English)
  • Dr David Parsons, University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies. (59:00 – presented in English)
  • Professor Andrew Prescott, Professor of Digital Humanities, Glasgow University. (1:07:45 – presented in English)

Recording of the event

NB: this bilingual event event included live translation, but the trascript of this is not yet available.

Event Summary

The session began with two presentations from colleagues in the National Library of Wales. The Library has been involved in major digitisation projects using IIIF for over a decade now, and Dr Dafydd Tudur gave us an excellent overview of how the platform has helped to showcase and enhance a wide range of cultural treasures, from the earliest Welsh manuscripts to journals, landscape painting and historic maps. Much of the Library’s rich collection of art can now be accessed through their digital galleries – including the lovely illustrated Tours in Wales created by the C18th writer Thomas Pennant and the artist Moses Griffith. Dafydd gave the example of a project which brought together historical tithe maps and their schedule of field- and dwelling names, using crowdsourcing to match the texts with the places and creating a hugely valuable resource for historians, geographers and linguists (Welsh Tithe Maps – Home (library.wales)). Taking some of the Library’s digitized art and photography collections as a starting point, Jason Evans’s talk took us into a dizzying global space of data-sharing across institutions. As NLW’s resident Wikimedian he has been instrumental in opening up this material to the widest possible audience, and gave us various examples showing how linked wiki-data can massively increase the visibility and accessibility of archives and collections. As both speakers demonstrated, digital spaces can allow minoritized languages to punch well above their weight – significant amounts of data can now be accessed and manipulated in both Welsh and English.

Lisa Cardy’s presentation showed, impressively, how crowdsourcing projects and citizen science harness public time and enthusiasm to help amass the ‘big data’ which many research projects need. Her role at the Natural History Museum has been to lead the strategic development of discovery, access and use of their Library and Archive collections, and digitisation and the enhancement of digitised resources has been a key aspect of this. A recent and highly successful project, Digitally Unlocking Nature’s Archive (DUNA) has used the IIIF platform and crowdsourcing to capture data from thousands of zoologically and botanically important images, manuscripts and texts  ‘using the power of the crowd’ Digitally Unlocking Nature’s Archive | Natural History Museum (nhm.ac.uk)

In the second part of the workshop we heard from two scholars whose research has exploited the potential of IIIF. Dr David Parsons and Professor Andrew Prescott both focused on medieval manuscripts, and both gave a clear sense of how high-resolution digital images can (almost ironically) enhance one’s understanding of the materiality of the text. David’s work on the Cult of Saints in Wales Project (Editions of medieval texts – Seintiau (saints.wales)) has benefited from the ability to view different manuscripts from different repositories side-by-side, throwing light on the origins of these texts and the relationships between their early versions. Andrew stressed the importance of understanding the whole history of a manuscript through time – its scribes and owners, and their additions and deletions – and used the IIIF function to take us on a detailed scrutiny of pages from another of the NLW’s great treasures, the Hengwrt Chaucer – one of the most important surviving copies of the works of the great Middle English poet.  The ‘Hengwrt Chaucer’ | The National Library of Wales .

In discussion, we were reminded again of the importance of close collaboration between active researchers and the designers of digital platforms and data collecting projects: we must work together, and ask the right questions, in order to get the information we need in a way that can make it useful and open to the interrogation of future research. Summing up and thanking the speakers, Project PI Professor Lorna Hughes spoke of the collaborative and enabling qualities of this technology – particularly as regards its ability to be multi-lingual and publicly accessible.