Sep 212012
 

The waiting is finally over! The AddressingHistory team are pleased to announce that the remodeled AddressingHistory crowdsourcing tool is now available. We have added six further Post Office Directories to the collection for the years 1881 and 1891 (to coincide with census years) and extended the geographic coverage to include the cities of Aberdeen and Glasgow in addition to Edinburgh.

The tool itself has been refashioned with refined parsing capabilities incorporated. Searches can now be made across those instances of records with multiple addresses, those records with multiple addresses also being editable. Spatial searching can now also be conducted using a bounding box facility and the searching of professions has been enhanced by assigning Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes to Professions.

As mentioned in a previous blog post you can now explore an “Augmented Reality” version of AddressingHistory using your iPhone or Android device.  Currently this is for Edinburgh only but plans are afoot to extend this to other geographies within the web tool.

In addition to new features and functionality it is now possible for requests to be made for a new POD to be added to AddressingHistory.  Once a request for a new POD has been made we can either provide assistance in using our POD parser (this requires some time and technical knowledge) to convert the requested POD, or we will add that POD to our priority list for future AddressingHistory development.

We are currently evaluating possible business models for sustainability and would like to hear of any ideas or initiatives that could feed into this exercise.

Please get in contact and let us know what you think.

Stuart Macdonald
AddressingHistory Project Manager

Feb 172012
 

We are extremely excited to let you know that you can now explore an “Augmented Reality” version of AddressingHistoryusing your iPhone or Android device. You can stand on a street in Edinburgh and see who used to live there!

How does it work?

The AddressingHistory layer works with the Layar App to compare information about your current location (from your phone) and the geo-referenced entries in AddressingHistory to work out which historical residents and businesses used to be located near where you are standing at that moment. These are displayed as “points of interest” – little icons that hover over the appropriate locations.

On your phone you will see these points of interest – historical people and places of business – overlaid on a live image from your camera. Moving the camera around lets you see historical addresses in all directions. Tapping on the resident brings up their record from AddressingHistory and will sometimes be illustrated with an icon representing the profession of that addressee.

Screenshot of the AddressingHistory Augmented Reality layer.

Screenshot of the AddressingHistory Augmented Reality layer.

Above is a screen capture of the view at night looking out of our offices but we will add some additional images to the website along with more information about how to use the layer shortly.

 It all sounds complicated but it’s actually very easy to use once you are all up and running.

How to Install 

To use the AddressingHistory Augmented Reality layer you will need to download and install the Layar App on a compatible iPhone, Android or Nokia phone.  Once you have done this and have opened the app you need to add the AddressingHistory layer as a favourite. To do this search for “Addressing History” within the App. Alternatively you can do directly to the layer page (http://www.layar.com/layers/buildar11124) as shown below:

Image of the Addressing History Layer download screen.

Image of the Addressing History Layer download screen.

 

QR code leading to the AddressingHistory Augmented Reality layer

Once you have added the AddressingHistory layer as a favourite you can start exploring the history of Edinburgh street by street – a perfect weekend activity!

The layer was built by the very talented EDINA software engineers using the buildAR tool. If you are interested in finding out more about the properly geeky parts of creating great geographic content for mobile phones then take a look at the occasional EDINA Mobile Geo blog.

Please do give the layer a try and let us know what you think – we think you’ll agree that this is a fantastic new way to browse AddressingHistory. We’d love to hear your feedback and experiences.

And if you think this is exciting…

Look out for another update from the AddressingHistory team very shortly with news of what we’ve been working on for the last few months…

 

Aug 222011
 

We have secured the services of two  University of Edinburgh PhD students (theses submitted), Marc Di Tommasi and Tawny Paul,  for the next couple of weeks to assist with geo-parsing Scottish Post Office Directories (PODs). Their work involves identifying and cleaning entries in the XML POD data files (through OCR inaccuracies, inappropriate line breaks, inaccurate geo-references from mass geo-coding exercise, cross-referencing old streetnames with modern equivilant etc) and feeding this back into configuration files which can, in turn be used to refine future POD parsing exercises. Further details regarding the geo-parsing exercise and how it will impact on genealogists and local historians, in addition to further AddressingHistory tool refinement will follow shortly so watch this space!

Stuart Macdonald

AddressingHistory Project Manager

 

 

May 272011
 

We’ve been hinting on the blog for a while that we hope to bring you some improvements to AddressingHistory and we are finally able to bring you more news on those developments…

Earlier this year we kicked off several months work (using internal funds) to improve AddressingHistory with our developer, George, currently working on some very clever ways to improve the way address information from the directories is parsed (understood by machine) that will help us to present historical directory information more clearly and more accurately. The work will address some of the feedback we have had on AddressingHistory since we launched and it should mean that it is much easier to find your way around the maps and lists of search results.

We are not only improving what is already in place but we are also hoping to add some new directories including several fom cities outside of Edinburgh – one of which we know a lot of AddressingHistory users will be pleased to see. We can’t tell you more for now but we are confident you will be able to see a really positive difference once the changes are rolled out later this year. Keep an eye on this blog for updates over the coming months.

Finally we were delighted to see a post by Dr Peter Mattews, a lecturer at the School of the Built Environment at Heriot Watt University, on his excellent Urbanity and History blog.  Peter recently found out about AddressingHistory through his Twitter account and decided to use it to look at the distribution of advocates in Edinburgh and how that changes with the development of the New Town. His blog post “Historical development and concentrations of affluence” includes some more background and some screen shots of the maps he created through AddressingHistory.

We love to hear about how you are using AddressingHistory and are always happy to feature research and interesting discoveries here on the blog so please do leave comments here, let us know about your own blog posts and websites or get in touch via email (addressing.history@ed.ac.uk) if you have a story to share.

 

Mar 102011
 

This is a super short post to let you know that we are preparing to make some changes, improvements and expansions to AddressingHistory. We can’t say much more at the moment but we will post a fuller update here later in the spring.

We are also looking for new guest bloggers and stories of how you have been using AddressingHistory since we launched in November.  To get in touch leave a comment here or email us: addressing.history@ed.ac.uk.

Jan 212011
 

A quick update that we think will make for some fun weekend browsing.

AddressingHistory project partners the National Library of Scotland have recently added a new page to their website allowing you to browse the Post Office Directories that have already been scanned and made available online. Each directory is listed and the number of directories available is shown in brackets after the town or city name. This can be found at: http://www.nls.uk/family-history/directories/post-office and the page looks like this:

A screen shot of the NLS Scottish Post Officer Directories page

A screen shot of the NLS Scottish Post Officer Directories page: http://www.nls.uk/family-history/directories/post-office

Clicking through to a directory lets you either look at the PDF file or browse the directories in an online viewer at the Internet Archive – I decided to have a look at the Glasgow directory and rather liked the “names too late for insertion” section:

Glasgow Post Office Directory in the online viewer

The new Scottish Post Office Directories page is a really useful way to browse the collection, and the directories are always huge fun to read through, so we know you will be pleased to see that so many Scottish directories can now be viewed from there for free.

On a related note: currently only three Edinburgh directories that appear in the AddressingHistory search and mapping tool so you may also be pleased to hear that we are currently looking at several possible developments to AddressingHistory including the possibility of broadening coverage to another or several other areas of Scotland. If there are areas you think would be particularly useful we’d love to hear your comments below.

Have a fantastic weekend and do let the National Library of Scotland know your thoughts on their new directories page!

Dec 082010
 

Apologies for things being rather quiet on the blog lately. Following the launch we’ve been busy following up with various new contacts, new interest in AddressingHistory and writing reports of the event.

The AddressingHistory Launch event seemed to be a fantastic success from our point of view. We had a super array of speakers but, most importantly, we had the opportunity to meet over 50 of you. It was fantastic to finally meet such interesting and engaged AddressingHistory supporters and to hear about your historical research and interests. It was also fantastic that some of you who weren’t able to attend in person were able to join us via Twitter.

We wanted to make sure that no-one would be left out of the launch so over the last few weeks we have been busy updating the live blog posts that were added during the event to include images, links and to remove some typos and errors that crept in on the day.

Now we bring you the videos of the launch event. These are currently provided as they are but if you would be willing to volunteer a little time helping us to create transcripts and subtitles for these we would love to hear from you.

Speaker Videos from the AddressingHistory Launch Event

The videos are presented in the same order that the speakers appeared on the day though some talks have had to be split into two shorter videos for upload to YouTube. You can view all of these films on the AddressingHistory YouTube channel as well as here – and you are very welcome to embed them on your blog, website, Facebook page, etc. You could even respond with a video about how you are using Post Office Directories or AddressingHistory if you’d like  (do let us know if you do – we might be able to feature your video, playlist, website, or a guest post from you here on the blog).

Welcome – Cate Newton (Director of Collections and Research, National Library of Scotland)

Cate Newton, Director of Collections and Research at the National Library of Scotland welcomed everyone to the event and explained how AddressingHistory complements the wider digitisation work undertaken by the NLS over the last decade:

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Introduction – Professor Robert Morris (Emeritus Professor of Economic and Social History , University of Edinburgh)

The introductory presentation was given by Professor Robert Morris who highlighted the advances made in the digital era by showing punch-cards from the 1970s version of computerised directories. He emphasised the need for an appreciation of both context and content when using digital resources for rigorous research:

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AddressingHistory presentation and launch – Stuart Macdonald (AddressingHistory Project Manager, EDINA) & Nicola Osborne (AddressingHistory Project Officer & EDINA Social Media Officer)

Stuart Macdonald and Nicola Osborne from the AddressingHistory project team gave an overview of the work that had been undertaken to convert digitised trade directories into a geo-referenced database which facilitates both browsing and editing and concluded by officially launching the AddressingHistory website (provoking a flurry of excitement on the event’s Twitter hashtag #AHLaunch):

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Visualising Urban Geography Project – Professor Richard Rodger (Professor of Economic and Social History, University of Edinburgh) and Stuart Nichol (University of Edinburgh)

The afternoon continued with presentations on the Visualising Urban Geographies project – including demonstration of some innovative usage of the AddressingHistory API:

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Statistical Accounts of Scotland – Dr Helen Chisholm (EDINA)

Helen spoke about the Statistical Accounts of Scotland online service highlighting some of the gems from the Dumfries accounts and the new Statistical Accounts Facebook and Twitter presences:

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At this point on the day there was a coffee break so why don’t you join us in grabbing a tea or coffee and a piece of shortcake for an authentic bit of refuelling before the second set of speakers?!
NLS Digitised Historic Mapping – Chris Fleet (Senior Map Curator, National Library of Scotland)

The penultimate presentation looked at the wide ranging National Library of Scotland Digitised Historic Mapping activities including discussion of how maps, like those used in AddressingHistory, are digitised and geo-referenced:

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Tobar An Dualchais – Kenny Beaton (School Of Celtic and Scottish Studies, Univ. of Edinburgh)

Kenny provided an overview of the Gaelic media project “Tobar An Dualchais” and talked about the audio digitisation process, the types of materials included and the innovative way in which the project had been run across Scotland to reflect the digitised content.

[NB: post updated 21st March 2011: YouTube video removed by request]

Internet Archive digitisation project(s) – Ines Mayfarth (National Library of Scotland)

The final talk from Ines Mayfarth of the National Library of Scotland gave a very interesting overview of the Internet Archive digitisation project that has inspired and provided data for the AddressingHistory work:

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Wrap Up – Peter Burnhill (Director, EDINA)

Peter Burnhill, Director of Edina wrapped up the event sending us forth for several hours of socialising and productive networking and chatter:

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The evening ended with wine, nibbles and discussions of the various projects that had been demonstrated during the day. Do post comments below to join in the extended conversation (wine optional).

We would love to hear what you thought of the speakers and the online version of the event and we hope you have had a chance to look at and try out the AddressingHistory tool.

Thank You!

A huge thank you from all of the project team goes to all of our speakers, our event hosts and project partners the National Library of Scotland, those who encouraged us and joined in via the blog and Twitter on the day and to all who have been so supportive and inspiring throughout the project. It has been hugely exciting to get AddressingHistory ready for launch and we are extremely excited to see what you now do and research with the tool – we’d love to hear your stories, ideas and find out how we have helped you to trace your ancestors, your area or your other historical interests. 

Finally, we are also indebted to Hot Aches Productions for recording and producing these videos of the launch event so quickly and to such a high standard. Hot Aches do corporate filming but they specialise in climbing films and have just released a historical documentary about Scottish mountaineering that may be of interest to AddressingHistory readers. The Pinnacle is a tribute to Robin Smith and Jimmy Marshall’s famous week on Ben Nevis in 1960.

Nov 172010
 

Note: This blog post is the tidied up and illustrated version of a post typed live from the venue during the AddressingHistory launch. Your live blogger today is Nicola Osborne of the AddressingHistory Project Team.

Chris Fleet, Senior Map Curator, National Library of Scotland: NLS Digitised Historic Mapping Work

Chris Fleet worked in the Bodleian Library, Oxford and the National Library of Wales, prior to joining the National Library of Scotland (NLS) in 1994. His main work has focused on digital mapping, particularly scanning and making available historic maps on the NLS website, as well as working with modern digital map applications. He is currently Senior Map Curator at NLS, and a partner in the AddressingHistory and Visualising Urban Geographies projects.

“It is important to be sceptical about maps and the kind of views they give: decoding and understanding cartographic silences is a very interesting process and allows us to read maps much more intelligently. For example if we look at Broughton in the 19th Century the village of Broughton was encroached upon by the ever expanding New Town and we can see this vividly on a map of the time.

When we talk about the National Library of Scotland’s digitisation of historic maps we are talking about historical maps which are out of copyright and are listed on our website. But it is worth noting that we also have access to the last 15 years of the most detailed Ordnance Survey MasterMap data available to those visiting the NLS.

However for the last few years we have been making georeferenced historical maps available as applications – web applications, mobile applications and through a georeferencer tool. And there is a NLS WMS for 1930s historic maps which can be layered on a Google type interface.

A georeference consists of two numbers, an easting and a northing, and can identify a unique tile which can be set up as a URL. MapTiler is the tool that the NLS use, it is a free open source software for creating georeferenced tiled maps.

Chris Fleet of the National Library of Scotland talks about digitising historic maps.

Chris Fleet of the National Library of Scotland talks about digitising historic maps.

Using these tools we’ve been able to make available all sorts of resources from detailed historical town plans as well as the 1903 Bathymetrical Survey Maps. We also had a student interested in the military mapping of Belgium and 1940s mapping and he was kind enough to give the data he created around these resources back to us so we now have a good array of Belgian military maps as well. Despite our focus on Scotland we’re not fussy! We are happy to share georeferenced maps on our website from anywhere in the world.

In terms of collaborative applications we make mapping available and others are using these for their specific need. For instance Heritage Paths have been creating walking routes with heritage relevance and combining this with historical maps is very simple. Maps can be bundled in many ways and in the case of the Walking Through Time project maps were made available through mobile.

We have also recently developed a dynamic API and that allows sets of historic mapping from the 1930s to be easily delivered and incorporated into any other website – so they can be shown on an iPhone or on a website or used in OpenStreetMap. There are multiple servers so it can deliver maps for all sorts of uses. For instance:

  • For the Portable Antiquities Scheme finds are geographically referenced and though this is originally done on a Google Map interface a historical layer can also be used to show the find in it’s historic context.
  • Stravaiging Around Scotland is a personal website from a freelance eyewear designer in Edinburgh and he uses our mapping when he goes out, as a hobby, georeferences standing stones, burial grounds etc.
  • The Society for All British and Irish Road Enthusiasts (yes, there is a society for everything!) are neither pro or anti roads but are interested in researching roads. They are very hardworking and interested in historical maps. They have not only used our API but are also in the process of georeferencing a set of Bartholomew maps of England that we hope to put on our website as well.

Once the maps are in places new possibilities open up. One website we are now involved in engaging with is ScotlandsPlaces, an RCAHMS project to combine objects and places in one search. Around 18,000 maps are in use on that tool now and this is all done via our API via queries to our server.

Chris Fleet talks about the NLS mapping APIs and Georeferencer.

Chris Fleet talks about the NLS mapping APIs and Georeferencer.

The NLS Map Georeferencer

Georeferencing is usually quite complicated to do and tends to be left to geographers but we have designed this tool to make it much much simpler. It’s very much work in progress but the basic idea is that you select an ungeoreferenced map and you are then guided through the georeferencing process. The Georeferencer also makes use of the EDINA Unlock gazeteer API which allows you to look up a location and receive a georeference.

Over the next few years this tool will be significantly improved as it needs a more powerful server to work more snappily and we hope to get funding for that soon. At this stage it’s limited but the potential is there to do a lot more with it. And the georeferencs are built up via a Google spreadsheet that we hope will help us in building up our resources.

We have various Ordnance Survey and Bartholomew maps coming soon, we are hoping to do more with automatic edge matching of maps and we are also working with MapRank Search, another mapping project with Petr Pridal.”

Kenny Beaton, School Of Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh: Tobar An Dualchais

Kenny Beaton is the Technical Manager of the Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches project and also runs the Edinburgh office of the project, based at the School of Scottish Studies. Kenny was previously employed by HMV and educated at the University of Paisley. His is a Gaelic speaker from South Uist, from a family of pipers and singers.

“Today I won’t be talking about maps per se but more about using technology to make historical material available.

The Tobar an Dualchais project has digitised 12,000 hours of Gaelic and Scots material. Our materials were sampled at an archival standard of 96KHz/24 bits. Although this sampling rate is more than required right now it should meet future needs because as technology increases expectations do too. We required some 12 terabytes of server space for the collection as a result of this decision. The Tobar an Dualchais material is the University of Edinburgh School of Scottish Studies archive, combined with a smaller collection from BBC Alba, and a smaller collection still of the National Trust of Scotland’s Canna Collection from John Lorne Campbell.

  • School of Scottish Studies: 10,000 hours of material, two thirds in Gaelic, one third in Scots. There are folklore, music and all types of materials here
  • BBC Alba: All Gaelic and from reel-to-reel and DAT tapes, these are radio programmes, spoken word, song and music.
  • The National Trust of Scotland Canna Collection: material from Scotland and Nova Scotia.

The project has cost £3 million with funding, from the Heritage Lottery Fund, starting in 2006 and running until the end of this year. Our digitisation centres are in Edinburgh and in South Uist: one of the aims of the project was to put money from the funding into some of the areas where the materials had originated. Our head offices are in Skye but our cataloguers are based all over Scotland (and a few even further afield).

Kenny Beaton of Tobar an Dualchais talking about how the project was set up.

Kenny Beaton of Tobar an Dualchais talking about how the project was set up.

There is quite a complex process involved in capturing the audio and processing it to the end point of the audio appearing on the website. The main technologies we use are Otari tape machines (MX5050); Sadie BB2 (a sort of high end sound card); Skype; FTP; and a browser based cataloguing application – which EDINA developed for us, they also developed our website.

Our official launch is 9th December 2010 but our website is already available. We discovered in the course of the project that it would not be possible to catalogue all of the data in our collection to the depth we needed sp we have only catalogued what we can do in-depth. However over 50,000 hours of material will be available online in December. And who is this resource for? Well, schools, researchers, local history societies, and anyone interested in the history of Scotland.

We find the idea of a map very seductive too so on our website you can browse a map or search the counties to discover materials (based on pre-1976 county boundaries). I have searched for Midlothian here and there are lots of records because many of the sound files were recorded at the school of Scottish studies but we hope to do more with the mapping feature. For instance for people who have been recorded we have their full name, their Gaelic name, their nickname, their alternative name, their patronymic name (as many people had the same English names but more unique patronymic names).

We record the county, parish, and the village names but the Gaelic villages do not necessarily relate to Ordnance Survey placenames. The Scottish Place-Names Survey relates to this as it is the listing of multiple placenames that were not necessarily recorded by map makers at all. There is potential to develop the map features further using these alternative place names.”

Ines Mayfarth, National Library of Scotland: Digitisation at the National Library of Scotland and the Internet Archive digitisation project

Ines Mayfarth is a graduate of the Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany and started working as the National Library of Scotland’s Digital Project Officer in 2009. She coordinates the library’s current mass digitisation project which focuses on the digitisation of Scottish Post Office Directories. Ines will be talking about the Digitisation of Scottish Post Office Directories at National Library of Scotland bringing us full circle to the AddressingHistory project.

“I should start by saying that although this project is very linked to the AddressingHistory project now it was an independent initiative when we started work on it.

Ines Mayfarth talks about the digitisation projects at the NLS.

Ines Mayfarth talks about the digitisation projects at the NLS.

This material, the historical Post Office Directories, was hugely in demand for family history uses and we wanted to make a huge amount of data available very quickly. Our current mass digitisation project will digitise 600,000 pages within 15 months. And, in fact, there are no longer 400 Scottish post office directories but some 750 volumes. They run from 1770s to 1911 and we end there for copyright reasons.

The areas covered include Edinburgh, Lothian, Glasgow, Stirlingshire, Perth & Kinross, Fife, Dundee, Angus…. etc. A huge area of Scotland

This project would not be possible without the participation of partner libraries that have helped us fill the gaps in our collections – Aberdeen, Angus, Dundee, Edinburgh, Inverclyde, Perth & Kinross, Renfrewshire, South Ayreshire, Stirling, Glasgow Mitchell, etc.

I want to get onto the process of scanning – we have already heard a video of this process mentioned – but we use a v-shaped scanner. This is very very lovely for many reasons. The book rests on a v-shaped rest and a v-shaped glass then sits on the book so the book only has to be open to 110 degrees, it doesn’t damage the spine, it is a lovely way to scan. The nice side effect is that you do not get curvature issues in the scanning even for books with tight bindings. In fact we actually don’t use a scanner but a 300dpi image shot with two Cannon 5Ds. The pages are shot with a colour chart for reference. The pages are then delivered as PDFs to the readers.

The Internet Archive's V-shaped POD Scanner used at the National Library of Scotland.

The Internet Archive's V-shaped POD Scanner used at the National Library of Scotland.

The OCR for the pages has a line division (the text has been processed as separate lines that break at the end) but as you’ve already heard today that this doesn’t always make sense. We know that these cause problems for the EDINA AddressingHistory project but it also causes some issues for our project so how we get readers aware of these issues when they look at the scanned materials is an important question for us.

The directories are so much more than A to Z’s. They are directories listed in multiple ways with church directories, law directories, insurance directories, etc. There are so many interesting items in these. There are crane sizes, ferry rates etc. They are fascinating.

The alphabetical lists of people – the groundings of the georeferenced data – include phone listings in the later books. But the adverts in these volumes are also fantastic. There is advertising throughout the volumes and these are wonderful records of the place.

There is a new element to this project – an indexing project on the PODs – to help return just the relevant set of pages. So the index is looking at the first three letters of each name as a simple guide to which page a name occurs on and this will be applied to all of our directories.

Ines explains how the PODs are licensed and shared.

Ines explains how the PODs are licensed and shared.

All of the directories will be online at the Internet Archive and they are available freely there as soon as a week after scanning. It takes a little longer for them to go on the NLS website but we will be putting some of the directories online before Christmas 2010. The indexing will come in in Summer and Autumn 2011.

Both websites images are made available for free under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 UK: Scotland Creative Commons license, allowing for non commercial use worldwide. But if you want to use them commercially you just need to contact the NLS directly.”

Peter Burnhill, Director of EDINA: Wrap Up

Peter Burnhill summarises and closes the launch event.

Peter Burnhill summarises and closes the launch event.

“Although AddressingHistory is the excuse for today this has been more a digital gathering to celebrate the history and place of Scotland. And the day has been very much about coming together and learning about the many resources and tools that exist. There is another blend, not only between the working together of the University of Edinburgh and the NLS and EDINA but also a blending of computation and documentation. And today we have been reminded that maps and records, just because they are there are not necessarily true: we take away the sense of capturing the past but not necessarily believing in and always critically appraising those materials.

I’d like to thank everyone who has organised the day – not only the AddressingHistory team but the many other projects that contribute to and support this work.

And now go forth and wine and nibble and discuss!”

Nov 172010
 

Note: This blog post is the tidied up and illustrated version of a post typed live from the venue during the AddressingHistory launch. Your live blogger today is Nicola Osborne of the AddressingHistory Project Team.

Cate Newton, Director of Collections and Research, National Library of Scotland: Welcome

Cate Newton introduces attendees to the AddressingHistory Launch.
Cate Newton introduces attendees to the AddressingHistory Launch.

Cate Newton introduced and welcomed everyone to the day. Cate spoke about the National Library of Scotland‘s ongoing interest in the digitisation of historical resources and maps. “The AddressingHistory work in which we have been partners very much fits into both this ongoing work and the collaborative projects we are involved with around both digitised resources and maps”.

Professor Robert Morris, Emeritus Professor of Economic and Social History , University of Edinburgh: Introduction

Chris Fleet, Map Curator at the National Library of Scotland is chairing the first session this afternoon and he began by introducing Professor Bob Morris:

Professor Morris is Emeritus Professor of Economic and Social History in the School of History of Edinburgh University. His interest in social class formation and industrial towns in the nineteenth century has extended to a wide ranging interest in the nature of urbanisation and in all aspects of urban social structure, especially gender, ethnicity, religion and language. All these themes link to an interest in the distinctive nature of urban Scotland. Studies of family, property, power and space also link them to a long term interest in the creation and nature of the urban built environment. He was a past President of the European Urban History Association in addition to being President of the Economic and Social History Society of Scotland and patron of the Thoresby Society.

Professor Robert Morris holding punch card versions of the historical Post Office directories.

Professor Robert Morris holding punch card versions of the historical Post Office directories.

“Well, this is a great occasion and when Stuart talked to me he said: “will you come and launch AddressingHistory here?”. Now, those of you who know the Clyde and those of you who from the Northeast will know that a launch is a great occasion, but you’ll also know that many tasks remain, there’s a lot of fitting out in the ship and the sea trials are still there waiting to be done: this is just such a launch.

But before we look at what has been done I thought it would be useful to see just how far we’ve come. When I first started using directories the way in which you could digitise them was to put them on 80 column punch cards like these (see image above). These are just the “A’s” from the 1834 commercial directories from the city of Leeds. So, although I’m going to raise lots of issues around this don’t forget that that’s where it all came from. And don’t forget that when I started in the 1970s queries were run overnight and you would wait for the cards and the print out to come back and you’d realise you’d put one character wrong in your instructions, or got one parameter wrong and you’d have to start all over again. So just remember how far we’ve gone.

I think a lot of you will know that directories are a major resource for history makers: social history, historical geography, local history, family historians and many more will use these directories. They are one of many sources which historians called “nominal listings”. In other words they have a name and a number of characteristics – voting poll books, rate books, the census, wills, things of that nature. The directories are deceptively simple and hence very attractive to use whether you are describing an individual or a whole social or economic group. The real cost of using a directory is still data entry: there is no easy way to get data in. The ones I have used and others will have used have been put in keystroke by keystroke as you read across from the directory and in that way anybody who has done that – whether you have put in a whole directory, paid someone else to do it or done it yourself – the ambitions and achievements of AddressingHistory are very welcome here.

It’s an ambitious project, it’s a very thoughtful project, and I would say a very brave project in its methodology and the very wide range of audiences it is reaching out to. Will it arouse the curiosity of a 15 year old school pupil? Will it survive the critical scrutiny of the local historian? No one is more knowledgeable on their own particular patch and they always terrify professors like me because they know there area street by street, field by field, person by person. It’s a tough set of audiences here. Will it survive critical scrutiny of the academic, people like me? My answer is a typically academic one as it is “yes” and “no”.

Both in this project and VUG we can see that people are increasingly using maps to explore information and we just have to think a bit about how we view information on a map. They are very attractive, very appealing, very engaging. But the very fun of using a map can act as a barrier to thinking. Don’t be completely seduced by these maps. Historians talk about a spatial term: distribution. Things happen in space. It matters who the people are, it matters where it takes place. I think the map is a very direct way of engaging here and now. You can pull up a map here and go outside and walk out onto that place. In the 1850s you could step out of the door here and within 15 minutes you would be in fields. So we can think about this and how that relates to our experience of urban environments.

Professor Robert Morris demonstrates a search for photographers in AddressingHistory.

Professor Robert Morris demonstrates a search for photographers in AddressingHistory.

So, off I go to look at the preview and look at the Royal Mile – which I’m really interested in. I search for the Cannongate and I look at 96 results that come back. Here they are (image above). I took my courage in my hands and tried the API. And looking at these results I’m already concerned that s a resident has her occupation listed as “New Street”.

I save my information as a word file and import it into Excel and I feel happy again, I’m on safe ground. I then look at the occupation field and the results are not great but a pivot table gives me a rough idea of what it was like to live on the Canongate at this time: the most common professions at that time were the grocer, the painter, the writer – who was of course a library at this time, the tailor, and the watchmaker. We’ve come a long way here from struggling finger by finger inputting and fiddling with the cards. There’s a background noise here of bad OCR but our background noise isn’t too bad because crowd sourcing data should put much of that right in terms of spelling etc. There are some things here that will really test your ideas and ambitions in that way.

Lets plug in the same location in the 1860s here. Something more interesting is happening with many of our 120 addresses. Some of the locations are showing in other areas of Edinburgh though we’ve found them for a search of the Canongate. And if I move onto the 1905 directory the same thing happens again – I’m just being the neive user here, plugging things in – and we find now that people are scattered all over the place. I ask fro Canongate and I get Portobello: what is happening at this particular level?

Lets have a look at some of the entries which are here. There are really wonderful facilities. I mean I think one of the most powerful facilities of AddressingHistory is the way that you can see the PDFs, the way that you can see the image of the directories on one side of the screen. So if your occupation can’t be “New Street” then I can immediately have a look at the original document.

So here’s John D Dawson – he’s got two addresses here so we can start to see where some of our weird results come from. When you spot that second address you can see he’s listing his home and work addresses and this is what’s causing the quirky results. This documents a key feature of urban development, which is the particular way in which home and work become separated. So our Mr Dawson is the head teacher and he does not live in his school, the janitor lives in the school at this time.

More troubling is D. Donaldson who is listed as 1 Canongate and 9 Royal Park Terrace. It’s almost certain that that Donaldson is at 9 Royal Park Terrace (and walked to work) But he’s gotten muddled with another Donaldson here. And mucked things up no end. Even mroe complex is this entry Flockhart Duncan & Company, Manufacturing Chemists, etc. – with a full series of addresses. To cut a long story short these people are part of the pharmeceutical industry of the lower Canongate. They made chloroform for Simpsons. Unfortunately they might be able to handle the demands of the pharmaceutical industry but they mess up AddresingHistory! Why? Because when you set up the structures there there is a reasonable structure that says that every entry has a forename, a surname, a profession and an address. Now as you look more and more through the directories you’ll find that many entries don’t have a forename, they’re simply a company. Many people who have forenames and surnames don’t just have a work address but also a home address. And again you can see Duncan Flockart – do you want his telephone number? Well, it might be useful since it’s available – you might want to get a list of all those entries with telephone numbers. I’m being a bit mean here as I probably have the most complex entry in the whole of the 1905 directory. Nonetheless the challenge that I’m kicking out to the project, and it’s important if crowdsourcing is going to be helpful to you, unless you give them structures into which they can put complex entries such as companies, such as institutions, such as multiple entries etc. then the crowdsourcer will scratch their head.

So there are several points coming from this:

  • There is a high error rate of OCR as I think around 40% of the entries are compromised and, more problematically about 20% compromise the data structure
  • The Google location system is quite good though it is always taking the last address in the list. Google always try but for old street names that can be a bit of a danger and pins can end up in very strange places on the map.
  • There’s the issues of placing correct information in the appropriate field. Occupations showing addresses – there are clearly issues here but the directories will kick up problems again as many entries will be entirely without occupations.
  • And there are issues are not technical but one of the growing complexities of the directories over time. It is hard to tell if it’s an OCR error, a Google error, or related to the changing nature of directories. Are we looking at the changing nature of Edinburgh or the changing nature of directories? Early directories listed only the top professions of the city, by the 1900s these are far more thorough directories with many more and varied listings.

When you put something online it has enormous authority and to get a critical sense, particularly of the sources. We need some sense of context will be useful here – introductory essays such as those on Statistical Accounts of Scotland that explain how and why the directories were put together and that context is something we need to see reflected here.

But these are “sea trials” as I say. OK I’m picking on the problems here but look at this guy: John Deacon Football maker – great fun and he fits the data structure beautifully! There is hugely useful information here and we must not forget that!

So another interest here: Photography. None in 1784 (which is just as well!) but in 1865 we find 29 results mainly along Princes Street and the main shopping areas of Edinburgh. Remember that number of 29. So, we go to 1905 and there is only 20. I know of no economic, social or technical reason for only 20 photographers to appear. I think if you looked in the professional listings you would find a lot more. You couldn’t write an economic history of photography with this data as there are clearly missing entries. And some of our photographers are listed under their home addresses – if you are doing the economic history of photography do you want that?

So lets see here a map I did earlier… of 1890 and 1857 – and that actually represents the artisan level based on this data – we see that the photographers did indeed leave Newington. But I entered this stuff line by line and that takes a lot of time. You can see the sorts of huge gains to be made by crowdsourcing here. So I think this is an enormously interesting project and there are huge gains to be made here, especially compared to those punch cards I showed earlier. But there are enormous problems and risks here so we need context, we need ways of dealing with complexity and we need ways of thinking about data structure. There is also an issue that you are getting a huge amount of information here and we have to think about ways to processing and analysing huge amounts of data like this. There is so much data here that we need to devise ways of presenting and analysing this.

I think this is a ship which has a great future, but it’s not quite yet ready for sea… but I do hope it will be!”

Stuart Macdonald (AddressingHistory Project Manager, EDINA) & Nicola Osborne (AddressingHistory Project Officer & Social Media Officer, EDINA): AddressingHistory presentation and launch

Stuart MacDonald speaks about the project just before it is launched live.

Stuart MacDonald speaks about the project just before it is launched live.

Nicola Osborne of the AddressingHistory project team explains how the project has been using social media.

Nicola Osborne of the AddressingHistory project team explains how the project has been using social media.

Your brave blogger was up on stage at this point in proceedings but the presentations and videos of the event will fill you in on what was said. Stuart spoke about the AddressingHistory project, Nicola spoke about social media and community engagement throughout the project and then Stuart officially launched AddressingHistory!

Professor Richard Rodger, Professor of Economic and Social History and Stuart Nichol, University of Edinburgh: Visualising Urban Geography

Richard Rodger is a professor of economic and social history at Edinburgh University. He has published widely on the economic, social and urban history of Britain since 1800. Recently Richard returned to Edinburgh after a number of years as professor of urban history at Leicester University, since when he has collaborated with Bob Morris and Chris Fleet on several projects relating to mapping the landscape, environment and history of Edinburgh and Scotland.

But it is really the partnership with Stuart Nichol that has proved most productive. Stuart has been a key member of projects funded by the AHRC, HE Academy and the University and hard work and e-learning skills have provided new tools for historical analysis, which Richard and Stuart will present now.

Richard Rodger and Stuart Nichol beginning their presentation on the Visualising Urban Geographies project.

Richard Rodger and Stuart Nichol beginning their presentation on the Visualising Urban Geographies project.

“One thing that I want to start off by saying is to welcome the addition that AddressingHistory makes the history of Edinburgh. It’s a genuinely public history or community history project. A lot of the history that takes place in academic institutions doesn’t leave those walls and I think this collaboration between communities will be hugely fruitful and I want that to be

Location is crucial to identity – even today we are asked for a bill with our address on to confirm who we are. AddressingHistory, in the best sense, really will enhance our historical understanding.

As Chris said we have been doing some work which connects in to this project is Visualising Urban Geographies. It is anti GIS. We don’t want to put barriers in front of students so that they are confronted with a huge learning curve to using spatial data. And so we have been looking for easy ways for users to develop maps. In my own classes I’ve been able to get students who’ve never been able to do these things before from a list to a map in 20 minutes. They look up data, we put that into the system and we map the data and we share the different professions either all together and separately.

I’ve been involved in directories in England for years and the approach there was to go county by country and get a series of directories from each of these. AddressingHistory takes us into a new era with digitising data and promises many possibilities. At this point we should look at the wealth of digitised town maps that the National Library of Scotland have made available. Some of you may use these every day, for some of you they may be new. So we thought we’d highlight the maps digitised and geo-referenced by the NLS but there are other ways in which the tools and techniques could be reused.

The idea here is that you can take data from any different source. For many of us we can make a list of the 50 or 100 addresses we are interested in and then make a map of pretty much anything else we want. In VUG we are taking nominal data and relating it to other data of the period. It is very hard to take data of a particular time without looking at a historical map. I ask my students what distribution they might expect – current knowledge is of the developed modern city so one needs to look at how the map looks at the time of the data and how the city had developed at this time.

Stuart is now demonstrating a search for bakers in 1865 from AddressingHistory and placing them on the map. If you have a lot of spots on the map like this you can get a sense of the clustering and concentrations that take place. We may not have a publishable piece of work but we have something valuable to explore. So by seeing the locations of bakers we can get a sense of the ways in which rental agreements worked for these buildings for instance. So here is the example of how AddressingHistory works – we can switch between maps since the addresses are geo-referenced, we can compare it to data from a different period.

Richard Rodger shows the distribution of legal practitioners using one of the VUG tools.

Richard Rodger shows the distribution of legal practitioners using one of the VUG tools.

Lets try something different using address data but not through the AddressingHistory API. We are looking at 1861 and 1911. This is a list of data (from Excel) and we find the geo-reference from the address. There are about 150 observations in this which is a spatial distribution of solicitors and advocates at two points in time. There is little change to the location of advocates but there is a significant change to the locations of solicitors. I don’t know what is going on for sure but I suspect that the elite addresses have become less desirable and more affordable. And I also think solicitors move from single general practitioners to practices with multiple solicitors covering various specialities. My assumptions may be wrong but using these visualisations in asking and answering these types of questions offers much.

Now with this new visualisation that Stuart has brought up we are looking at areas not just addresses. One area I have been working in is the colonies. It’s very obvious why they were called that when we look on a map – they are colonies scattered across the city and located in greenfield spaces. Where are the growing trends here? We are using polygons to show data on particular colonies – such as the employment rates and types in households in various areas. It’s just a different way to represent that data. Some people, like me, think spatially, and others don’t – this is just a new way to understand and explore the data. You can also construct bar charts of professions in a given area.

And we have another tool here – that allows us to measure the distance of a particular route of, say, a developer of the colonies who is travelling around on foot collecting rent. Looking at his route there are substantial distances involved so he eventually requested a pony and trap! The serious point is that we can test ideas and measure distance and areas of ownership and scale of space. As someone who has calculated the area of polygons before by hand this is brilliant – it’s wonderful to be able to get a sense of land use in this way and this is one of the tools we are developing within the project.

Finally we are working hard to develop an idea of the boundaries of Edinburgh and working on having them expressed as such. When we have information in the census and other sources we have information by ward or by registration district – the boundaries involved are very important. For instance we can look at the male to female ratio in 1861 – one area has a level balance of genders but much of the city has more women than men. These are represented with 3D colourful polygons. By working on these boundaries we have containers – and this is where the crowdsourcing comes in for us! – where local historians can come in and input their data on sanitary districts say. This business of developing the boundaries of the 18th and 19th centuries is immensely complicated – for instance a Google Earth visualisation of 3D boundaries in the city. [Your blogger confirms that Richard and Stuart did show a dizzyingly complex array of overlapping 3D boundary lines here]

This builds on the type of work of AddressingHistory but also goes further to provide tools for further exploration and great utility for academic researchers.

VUG has been working with Edinburgh data but the tools could be used for other places as well. We have a workshop on 6th December and that will include a hands-on demo with much more information so do sign up for that if we’ve piqued your interest here.”

Statistical Accounts of Scotland – Dr Helen Chisholm (EDINA)

Helen is the User Support Manager at the EDINA National Data Centre at the University of Edinburgh and she works with the Editorial Board in developing the Statistical Accounts of Scotland service.

“The Statistical Accounts of Scotland give a feeling for what it’s like to have lived in these parishes around the time of AddressingHistory. The accounts were first instigated by Sir John Sinclair – also known as “Agricultural Sir John”. The First Accounts form twenty-one volumes that were published in 1799 and they were an account of “the quantum of happiness” of the communities of Scotland – I heard something on the radio about something similar this morning so Sir John was very ahead of his time!

The Accounts were an edited account of the parishes based on returned responses from 938 parish ministers. Some166 questions went out to ministers covering climate, agriculture, fishing and wildlife, schooling, health, wealth, poverty… a huge range of subjects were covered. Looking at the questions they are not only thorough but also include some catch-all questions for anything else that might have been missed.

Helen Chisholm talking about the Statistical Accounts of Scotland at the AddressingHistory Launch Event.

Helen Chisholm talking about the Statistical Accounts of Scotland at the AddressingHistory Launch Event.

This was a huge and revolutionary view of life and at a revolutionary time in history since the accounts are timed such that they record life just before and during/just after the industrial revolution and the huge changes that accompanied this.

In the 1990s we started digitisation led by the late Henry J. Heaney (former librarian of the University of Glasgow) with support from SCURL using volumes from the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. This work to digitise 280,000 pages took place in 1998. And further work took place, funded by the Carnegie Trust, to create a transcription and a full text search. After four years of the site being launched the service was handed from the original Editorial Board for the project to EDINA and we now develop and run the service with the guidance of our current Editorial Board, chaired by Dr Ann Matheson.

I will now demonstrate the service by searching for Leith. In this search we are able to view the original scans, the full text, and the links to related gazetteers, and the URLs back to the appropriate account and to the specific page – we have been using the latter in our new tweets from the service (@statacc).

I also wanted to cover some of the highlights of the first accounts here to give a sense of day to day life. We read about shoes, industry, steam boats, etc. and the export of sheep:

At a fair in February an incredible quantity of hare skis is purchased – the number cannot be under 30,000 at a cost of 6ooo pounds.

We also have a very full description of a Cholera Outbreak that took place from 15th Sept to 27th Nov 1832. Two doctors in Dumfries died and a third came from Edinburgh and also died – the first two were missed (the third apparently not so much). Pits are dug for bodies and the bodies are buried in lime. The people think it is the air that is infected so when a thunderstorm eventually comes they think that it blows the Cholera away but with our modern knowledge we can see that it is likely to be the terrific downpour of rain cleaning out the water supplies. During this outbreak some 837 people had Cholera – around one in ten of the Dumfries population at this time.

In the Related Resources section of the Statistical Accounts online service we also have a number of resources that relate to the Accounts. You can also use the essays that set the Accounts in context from the home page of the service.

We also now have a Facebook Page and a Twitter account where Nicola and I have been sharing our very favourite stories and bits of information from the service.

If you are not a subscribed user you can view the full page scans but not search the full text of data. But we do now have personal subscriptions available on our subscriptions page.

When I first started work on the Statistical Accounts I found a painting by Sir David Wilkie age 19 and this is the image used on the flyer. This is the painting of the Pitlessie Fair and as it happens this is actually listed in the Account of 1834-45 of Fife:

Pitlessie Fair which was his first regular effort as an artist, is now in the possession of the proprietor in an adjoining parish, Charles Kinnear esq. of Kinloch. It is a fine picture, containing upwards of 150 figures graphically delineated and admirably grouped, including portraits of Wilkie himself, his father, his brothers and sisters, and many other characters well known in the parish and neighbourhood, during the painter’s earlier years.”

Nov 172010
 

Welcome to our first posting to launch the AddressingHistory Launch Event Live Blog!

This afternoon AddressingHistory will be launched in a fantastic event featuring speakers from a huge number of Scottish history resources and projects. The full programme for the afternoon is:

13.30 Registration
14.00 Welcome – Cate Newton (Director of Collections and Research, National Library of Scotland)
14.05 Introduction – Professor. Robert Morris (Emeritus Professor of Economic and Social History , Univ. of Edinburgh)
14.35 AddressingHistory presentation and launch – Stuart Macdonald (AddressingHistory Project Manager, EDINA) & Nicola Osborne (AddressingHistory Project Officer & Social Media Officer, EDINA))
15.00 Visualising Urban Geography project – Professor. Richard Rodger (Professor of Economic and Social History, Univ. of Edinburgh)
15.25 Statistical Accounts of Scotland – Dr Helen Chisholm (EDINA)
15.45 Coffee Break
16.00 NLS Digitised Historic Mapping – Chris Fleet (Senior Map Curator, National Library of Scotland)
16.25 Tobar An Dualchais – Kenny Beaton (School Of Celtic and Scottish Studies, Univ. of Edinburgh)
16.50 Internet Archive digitisation project(s) – Lee Hibberd /Ines Mayfarth (National Library of Scotland)
17.00 Wrap Up – Peter Burnhill (Director, EDINA)
17.05 Demonstrations
18.00 Close

We will be live-blogging throughout the event and those posts will appear here as soon as wifi allows. We will also be tweeting from the event (#AHLaunch is the hashtag) and trying to take lots of super pictures of our speakers so that if you can’t make it in person you should still get a good idea of the event. Videos of all of the speakers will appear online in a few weeks time.

Useful links for today’s event