Edinburgh Beltane Annual Gathering 2010

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Oct 122010
 

Last week our Project Officer Nicola represented AddressingHistory at the Edinburgh Beltane Annual Gathering 2010, a workshop and networking event on community engagement.

Last Wednesday afternoon around 40 members of educational, research and cultural organisations from Edinburgh and beyond gathered together at the Engine Shed (native Edinburghers may know it better for it’s delicious tofu than as an events space) for a workshop organised by Edinburgh Beltane, a National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement with partner organisations across – and beyond – Edinburgh.

All of the attendees had signed up for the day with a tweet to the event hashtag (#ebag2010) describing areas of interest and ideas so we knew we would be meeting a really interesting group with a diverse set of ideas for engagement and communication – from mathematical knitters to theatrical chemists. I grabbed a space for AddressingHistory with this tweet:

“Social Media evangelist seeks genealogy & local history collaboration and/or expertise for @Addresshistory project and blog”
Image: Our Group's Ketso Board halfway through the afternoon...

Our Group's Ketso Board halfway through the afternoon...

The idea of the workshop was to develop event ideas and we split between tables representing various possible venues (AddressingHistory joined the National Museum of Scotland’s (NMS) table) and began forming ideas for events using the “Ketso” planning and ideas tool. The goal was to find three viable event ideas for each of six venues that could then be voted on.

Ketso, which I’d not used before, is a tiny bit like Fuzzy Felts for groups of adult brainstormers. A large felt planning area with several “stems” forms a background (which looks like a tree root structure) to add ideas and comments on little leaf shaped cards which you can stick anywhere on the stems. The process involves several rounds of idea sharing and, in this workshop, also several rounds of switching tables to comment on other’s emerging idea boards (adding comments and approval to their ideas, suggesting new event ideas based on their interest areas).

The National Museums of Scotland table attracted a diverse group and, in addition to representatives of NMS and AddressingHistory, there was a scientist working on communicating renewable energy projects, an expert on language and language preservation, a member of the BSLUptake project and a representative from the University of Edinburgh’s sustainability office.  Having written our ideas and resources down (on brown leaves), our good ideas and clever solutions to combine lots of ideas (on green leaves), our concerns (on grey leaves), our comments (on white strips) and having picked out our favourite ideas (little yellow ticks and red exclamation marks) we had an enormously fruitful and full Ketso board and three fully formed ideas to take forward.

The NMS Group's Ketso Board at the end of the day.

The NMS Group's Ketso Board at the end of the day.

The ideas that went through from our table were all for possible events to be held in a new area of the National Museum of Scotland (in part of the building being refurbished under the Royal Museum Project):

  1. LangEvol: Language diversity and diversity in language: origins, evolutions and futures of language
  2. Meaning: Debunk the jargon! Speed dating exploration of science through sign language, visual arts, dance, etc.
  3. Idea: Mapping the ideas and innovation of Edinburgh institutions.

I was particularly excited about the potential for AddressingHistory to be a part of either the possible event on the history of ideas in Edinburgh or the possible event on  language – since the origins and changes in place-names are a really interesting c0nnection to the historical post office directory data.  The history and changes in language over time was an important part of forming the “LangEvol” idea but one of the most interesting contributions that first sparked the idea was from Bob of BSL:Uptake who explained that the sign language for telephone has changed three times since telephones was first invented and that all three signs remain in use. The signs each says something about the type of phone being described and about the signer since they represent either an early mouthpiece/earpiece set, a relatively modern handset or a mobile phone.

Post It Note of our LangEvol idea

The main reason for compiling all of these ideas was to share experience and make new connections but some of the ideas may go on to become real events which is a thrilling prospect as every group came up with superb suggestions any one of which would be huge fun to take part in (all of the ideas are listed on the workshop blog). All eighteen event ideas also went forward to the evening networking event at InSpace where both workshop attendees,  and lots of additional communicators and researchers who had joined us, were able to vote on their favourites.  The results of the voting have just been released on the Beltane Blog (see the graph below and click on the image to go to the full results) – I am delighted to see that Langevol received the most votes but I think all of the winning ideas sound fantastic!

#ebag2010 Votes

The remainder of the workshop consisted of presentations from two previous Beltane grant recipients who presented on  two very different projects.

BSL Sign Language Interpreter - from the BSL:Update Website

BSL Sign Language Interpreter - from the BSL:Update Website

The first presentation, from Bob Duncan of Heriot-Watt and BSL:Uptake, was about a Knowledge Exchange Cafe for the deaf community that enabled networking, engagement in public policy – particularly the ability to contribute to a consultation document by being videoed signing their responses – and socialising over tea and cake as well of course.

3D Tree Image ("3D-02-22-09-0018a geese in holding pattern above the trees") - Image by Flickr user Jim Frost (jimf0390)

"3D-02-22-09-0018a geese in holding pattern above the trees" by Jim Frost (jimf0390) from Flickr

The second presentation, from Dan Ridley-Ellis of the Centre for Timber Engineering at Edinburgh Napier University, was on “Real Life Science – Wood Biomechanics 3D”. This was a weekend of activities at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh in which various organisations concerned with increasing public awareness of trees and woodland worked with a secondary school student to create engaging displays including a 3D tree exhibition.

Awaiting the results of the Public Engagement Challenge Award

Awaiting the results of the Public Engagement Challenge Award

The afternoon workshop was followed by a lovely evening meeting others’ working at academic organisations, museums, galleries and similar organisations throughout the city, and also finding out the winner of the Public Engagement Challenge for the year (which was the BSL:Uptake project!).  I was able to share AddressingHistory flyers with various researchers and made contact with organisations including the National Museum of Scotland, the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Hopefully AddressingHistory may feed into the work or events of some of the organisations we met at the Beltane Annual Gathering but we’d also love to hear from you if you your local history groups would like flyers, posters or would like to include AddressingHistory in an event or piece of work of yors or of a community group you are involved in.

Huge thanks to Heather Rea at Beltane and all who organised the Annual Gathering – I had a superb time and was delighted that my fellow attendees were really excited to hear about AddressingHistory and keen to have a play with the website when it launches in November!

Project Update: The Preview is Here!

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Sep 302010
 

Things have been a little quiet on the blog recently as we have been busy working away on the AddressingHistory tool.

If you signed up for our Preview then you should have already received an email inviting you to test out AddressingHistory (please get in touch if you asked to join the preview but have not yet heard from us) and you can send us your feedback here. Feedback from our previewers so far has been very positive and we are excited about the full launch – details of which will be coming soon (you can also sign up to be alerted to the launch, or join our mailing list)

In preparation for our launch we would be really interested in hearing how you hope to use AddressingHistory to find out more about your area, your ancestors or historical residents or businesses that might have special meaning for you. Please let us know about your interest in the project and the history of Scotland in the comments below or drop us an email with your story as we’d love to do some special blog postings on these stories and the information available in AddressingHistory. Look out for a great guest blog post from Chris Fleet, of the National Library of Scotland, on the history of Causewayside that we hope will inspire you to share your stories!

Finally, for our Australian readers, there will be an opportunity to grab a flyer for yourself or your local history or genealogy group over the next few weeks as Chris Paton, a Scottish history and genealogy expert who runs the Scottish GENES blog, is taking some of our flyers on his Scottish Research Roadshow in October which includes appearances at the History and Genealogy Expo Sydney 2010.

Remember if you would like further information on the project or would like us to send some posters and flyers to you, your local history group or genealogy community then please get in touch.

Guest Blog Post: Putting Street Directories on the Map

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Sep 212010
 

This week we are delighted to bring you a guest blog post from Chris Fleet, Senior Map Curator at the National Library of Scotland. Chris shares his perspective on the history of mapping, and particularly urban mapping, and how the historical post office directors fit into this history. Chris also looks at how the AddressingHistory tool will enable a new perspective on these valuable historical resources.

Putting Street Directories on the Map

Towns like Edinburgh are well mapped these days – in electronic and paper forms – but it was not always like this.

Flickr Map Showing an Image of the National Library of Scotland Maps Building

Flickr Map Showing an Image of the National Library of Scotland Maps Building

These days, in addition to ubiquitous electronic maps and satellite images from Google, Bing, or Yahoo, a fresh handful of new paper maps are published every year by mainstream publishers such as the Automobile Association, Collins, Geographers A-Z, or Philips, as well as smaller specialist cartographers. This is without even considering the much larger number of publications including maps within them.

So its easy to forget that this modern abundance of urban mapping doesn’t extend back in time much before the 19th century for Edinburgh. The relatively limited earlier mapping of the burgh from the 16th century onwards for small and specialist audiences, dominated by military concerns, was replaced in the later 18th century by a diverse and steadily expanding civilian urban market. Maps appeared in a range of new publications – almanacs, directories, newspapers, travel accounts, books on history and geography, and publications of learned societies – for new literate audiences.  In addition, the steady replacement of copper-plate engraving by lithography during the 19th century allowed maps to be produced and updated much more cheaply.

Lithographic stone by edinburghcityofprint (the Edinburgh City of Print initiative)

Lithographic stone by edinburghcityofprint (the Edinburgh City of Print initiative)

Maps for Post Office Directories grew both in frequency and in the towns they covered as the century progressed, but they were always driven by these commercial and technological constraints. Only Aberdeen, Dundee,  Edinburgh, and Glasgow were regularly mapped before 1850 in Directories. After Ordnance Survey mapped Scotland’s towns at large scales from 1855-1880, many smaller towns – Ayr, Banff, Dumfries, Greenock and Perth – were mapped for Directories, whilst for the larger towns there were fresh new maps every year. Map publishers such as W & AK Johnston and Bartholomew – both based in Edinburgh too – rose to the fore to dominate production. Although plain and utilitarian, Post Office Directory maps are a key information source. Their value in illustrating the dramatic urban expansion and change at this time is heightened when we put them into a longer historical cartographic context. Ordnance Survey may have mapped these towns in more detail, but far less frequently, so that the Directory maps allow a much more precise record of the changing townscape.

Screen capture of the Bartholomew Post Office Plan of Edinburgh and Leith, 1893-4

Part of the Bartholomew Post Office Plan of Edinburgh and Leith, 1893-4 (click the image to view the map on the NLS website)

For me, whilst Post Office Directory maps on paper have always been fascinating and useful for urban history, digitising, geo-referencing and integrating them with the textual content of the Directory brings out a whole new dimension to their value. Geo-referencing the maps allows them to be readily overlaid and compared to later and present day maps – the Visualising Urban Geographies project allows the advantages of this to be appreciated for maps of Edinburgh from 1765 to 1940. Geo-referencing the written content of the Directory, and creating dynamic spatial distributions of people or professions at the touch of a button, opens up a whole new graphical way of visualising the Directory content. By linking the results to a map of the same time period, the distributions can also be understood and appreciated much more readily. The AddressingHistory tool illustrates this new and powerful way of interrogating the Directories cartographically and geographically, and allows an important, but often neglected genre of urban mapping to be given a new relevance today.

Perth 800: A Place in History

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Sep 092010
 

A Place in History, a two-day conference which forms part of a year long event celebration of the 800th anniversary of Perth (see the Perth 800 website for more information), begins tomorrow at Perth Concert Hall. The event will include presentations on the history and development of the city through the ages and AddressingHistory will be represented at an EDINA stand. Addy Pope will be showcasing various EDINA projects and services including Walking Through Time and AddressingHistory.

If you would like to grab a poster or flyers about AddressingHistory to share with your community or organisation, or if you would like a very early peek at the AddressingHistory tool, do stop by the EDINA stand and say “Hello!” to Addy.

Repository Fringe 2010

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Sep 092010
 

Members of the AddressingHistory team attended the very enjoyable Repository Fringe 2010 event in Edinburgh last Thursday and Friday with Nicola giving a short “Pecha Kucha” presentation on AddressingHistory to the 90 or so attendees.

The Repository Fringe, which has been running for three years and always takes place around the time of the Edinburgh Festivals, is an informal conference for people who work with all types of repository. We thought that this event would be a fantastic opportunity to share the AddressingHistory project as many of the repositories represented at the event contain academic papers, historical items and research data that discuss or relate to the same time periods and geographic areas as AddressingHistory.

In our Pecha Kucha (a novel super-short presentation of 20 slides shown for 20 second each) we particularly wanted to highlight the fact that AddressingHistory will provide an API (Application Programming Interface) as many of the attendees – including the excellent opening keynote speaker Tony Hirst – already create inventive “mash-ups” of online information and we think there is lots of potential for AddressingHistory to connect into these types of ideas and tools.

We were delighted with the reaction we had to the project and were thrilled to hear lots of very interested and supportive comments and to see lots of enthusiastic Tweets!

You can find out more about the event at the Repository Fringe website (where there is also a live blog) and you can view the AddressingHistory Pecha Kucha by looking in the “O” section of the Videos page there.

Guest Blog Post: Using Post Office Directories to Research “Lower Class” Ancestors

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Aug 252010
 

Today we are excited to introduce our first guest blogger, Emma Jolly. Emma is a professional genealogist and historical researcher (more information on her website: www.genealogic.co.uk), she is also the author of Family History for Kids. Emma has written for us about how she has found post office directories, like those in AddressingHistory, valuable whilst undertaking research and particularly focuses on those people who may not traditionally appear as prominently in the directories.

Using Post Office Directories to Research “Lower Class” Ancestors

Most family historians know how useful post office directories can be in researching ancestors of high social status or those with shops. But directories often seem less useful for investigating the lives of the working classes.

London Post Office directories are similar to those in Edinburgh and have helped me to trace owners of private schools, china shops, lawyers and senior members of the clergy. However, I have also used them to find out more about members of the working class.

Although the Private Residents section tends to include middle or upper class inhabitants, the Trades section can include workers like cabinet makers, commercial travellers or laundresses. And the appearance (or not) of your ancestors in a series of years provides an insight into the success of their business over time.

For those tracing the history of a school, the directories’ school lists are essential for pinpointing when the school opened and any subsequent name changes. Street and public house name changes can also be thus identified – useful for all in streets, and for those who either worked in or regularly visited local pubs.

The descriptions of areas of the city tell us about the nature of your ancestors’ immediate environment in that specific year. Was it ‘healthy’ or ‘populous’, rural or industrial; how many railway stations did it have, and were there any trams? What workhouses existed and where in the city were they?

My great great grandfather, William Jolly, lived and worked as an apprentice blacksmith in the Auchinblae and Fordoun area in 1861. Even though I have visited this quiet and remote region, I may never have known that it once included “a thriving modern village” without the use of a local directory [Pigot and Co.’s National Commercial Directory of the whole of Scotland, and of the Isle of Man 1837 (Kincardineshire)]. And the description of the flax mill and the weaving industry in which “the greater proportion of the industrious classes here find employment” could explain why William’s sisters were later working in a flax mill in the town of Montrose.

When trying to track a likely church for a baptism or burial for any class of ancestor, the list of churches with denominations for the relevant year can help to simplify the search. In the later Victorian years, churches were built regularly and our ancestors often shifted adherence. With a shorter list, the research should be less arduous.

A glance at the Commercial section for businesses in that street where your ancestors lived [by using censuses or BMD (Births, Marriages, Death) certificates] gives an indication of the world with which they were familiar. A street of hotels, or coffee houses; piano makers or dressmakers; schools or factories – what did your ancestors see everyday? Was there a library on the corner, long since closed, where they could educate themselves in adulthood?

I have traced Londoners of every social class within the city and to as disparate parts of the globe as Scotland, France and India. Directories are always useful in my research and if I can access them online, then, all the better.

If you are would like to contribute a guest post to this blog on any topic related to the AddressingHistory project then please email us: addressing.history@ed.ac.uk.

Would You Like to Be Our Guinea Pig?

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Aug 122010
 

We are pleased to announce that you can now register to be one of our early testers of AddressingHistory. Over the next few weeks we will be looking for feedback and comments on the look-and-feel and functionality of the web tool before it is launched to the world.

If you would like to be one of the very first to try out AddressingHistory (and hopefully give us some feedback) please head on over to our sign up form and we’ll be in touch.

If you’d rather wait for the full launch then you won’t have too much longer to wait!

Jul 302010
 

We’ve been a little quiet lately as most of the AddressingHistory team have been taking summer holidays. However AddressingHistory has been much discussed this month:

Nicola presented an AddressingHistory poster at the ARLIS 2010 conference in Edinburgh and debuted our lovely new flyers and posters (do email us if you’d like some of these for your own library, community group, or similar space).

AddressingHistory Flyer

The project also appeared in two National Library of Scotland publications which can be picked up in person from either the George VIth Bridge or Causewayside buildings or can be viewed online:

AH appears on Page 13 of the Summer issue of the Discover NLS magazine:  http://www.nls.uk/about/discover-nls/issues/discover-nls-16.pdf

Discover NLS (July 2010)

AH is also featured on Page 4 of the July issue of Cairt, the newsletter of the Scottish Maps Forum – http://www.nls.uk/collections/maps/subjectinfo/cairt17.pdf

CAIRT (July 2010)

And finally AH is mentioned in the current issue of Practical Family History Magazine on page 9 (that’s us in the fetching lime green on the right hand side of the image below).

practicalfamilyhistory1

Thanks to Chris Fleet at the NLS and to Chris Paton at Practical Family History for the above mentions. We’ve been so excited that so many people are getting excited about AddressingHistory and have heard some amazing stories of family history connections to Edinburgh as we’ve given poster presentations so we’re really looking forward to seeing what happens as you start to use the tool for your own explorations of the past.

We will have more news about the beta tool for you soon: watch this space…

Jul 142010
 

Hello – and welcome to my first post!

I’d like to let everyone know how things are progressing with the software side of AddressingHistory.  I’ve been working on all aspects of AddressingHistory, from the database (at the back-end), storing information from the Post Office Directories, to the public-facing webpages at the front-end.

A large part of the challenge so far has been to take raw text from the Post Office Directories and turn it in to useful, structured data. This is necessary before you, our future users, can search through it – and add your own data!  I’ve created software that parses the Post Office Directory text, extracts the useful information and loads it in to a spatial database (a database with special features to manage geography). For those who are interested, all the software I’ve written is made with Java, using Spring MCV, runs on Apache Tomcat and the database is PostgreSQL with PostGIS extensions.

I’ve written software which allows easy access to the organised, structured information from the Post Office Directories. It’s known as middleware, or an API.

There is a development version of the API available here, where you can change the parameters to search for your own surname, or address:

http://devel.edina.ac.uk:8082/ah/ws/search?surname=Alexander

http://devel.edina.ac.uk:8082/ah/ws/search?profession=baker

You can also search for addressess (using an ‘address=’ parameter) and perform spatial searches on specific areas.  Results are returned in plain-text (comma separated format) or, by default, in JavaScript Object Notation (JSON).

I’ve also been experimenting with Google’s Geocoding API, with some success!  After extracting the address text from each entry in the directories, I send a query to Google’s mapping service in much the same way as you’re probably used to using Google Maps.  It looks as though we can get accurate locations (a process known as ‘geocoding’) for the majority of entries in the Post Office directories.  That will mean we will be asking you to help us locate the small percentage of addresses we cannot automatically geocode, and to help us make sure what we have coded automatically is in the right place. Once we have the coordinates of each entry, they can be shown on a map – and be used to search for results.

So combining the data loaded in the database, the web service to request entries using specific search terms – and the newly geocoded data, we’re able to make some quite interesting maps. For example, this map (unfortunately shown on a modern map of the city for now) is a quick look at the location of some of the bakers, yes, bakers, in Edinburgh, in 1905.

2

And here, are all the people with a surname of ‘Alexander’…

1

Thanks for reading – there’ll be more soon!

– Joe.

Jul 022010
 

The AddressingHistory team may have been a little quiet lately but we’ve been very busy…

January 2010 Issue of Cairt

January 2010 Issue of Cairt

Joe, our software engineer, has been creating a fantastic beta/test version of the AddressingHistory tool (and as promised in our last post he’ll be writing us a guest blog post on how that has been going).

Stuart has been working with Chris Fleet, at project partner the National Library of Scotland, to create an article on AddressingHistory for Cairt, the Scottish Mapping Forum magazine, which should be out later this month. We will link to the digital copy as soon as it is available. Stuart has also written a piece on the project for the next issue of ALISS Quarterly (due out in August).

Nicola has also been out and about talking about the project. In mid June she gave a presentation to the JISC Regional Support Centres Scotland Web 2.0 Forum for Academic Librarians. The title, “AddressingHistory: Using Social Media to Frame an EDINA Crowd-Sourcing Project“, reflected that the talk looked at how we are using social media – tools including this blog, twitter and facebook – to help build awareness of the project.

ahprezi

Also presenting at this event was Gillian Hanlon of Ask Scotland. They are a real time service for asking librarians in Scotland questions about libraries, research, Scottish heritage questions… almost anything in fact (at the event we Gillian demonstrated the system live by asking a question about Cranachan and the history of this delicious Scottish desert). If you’re interested in giving it a try then take a look at the Ask Scotland website.

Nicola also attended a workshop run by the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement in London in mid-June and was excited to hear about a new Micheal Wood TV series for the BBC called “English Story” that will look at the history of a single village, Kibworth in Leicestershire, from it’s earliest origins through to the present day.

Kibworth Church by RATAEDL
Kibworth Church by RATAEDL

The programme makers (MayaVision) are still completing filming and post production so it may be some time before it hits TV screens but the initial glimpses looked fascinating and the wealth of local history knowledge and enthusiasm that the programme makers had found was inspiring. Given how many fascinating events had taken place in this one small village it is also fantastically exciting to think about what we may be able to find out about Edinburgh’s past when the AddressingHistory tool is launched.