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Over 25,000 early English books released into the public domain

Lieke Ploeger - January 29, 2015 in Featured, News, Public Domain

Since January 2015 over 25,000 early English texts from 1473-1700 have been released online to members of the public under the CC0 Public Domain Dedication through the Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership (EEBO-TCP). Since 2000, the university libraries of Michigan and Oxford and ProQuest have been working together in this initiative to create electronic text versions of early printed books from ProQuest’s Early English Books Online, Gale Cengage’s Eighteenth Century Collections Online, and Readex’s Evans Early American Imprints. goe_image-sm-2

While these texts were previously only available to users of academic libraries participating in the partnership, at the end of the first phase of EEBO-TCP the current 25,000 texts have now been released into the public domain. They include highlights such as first printed editions of Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Milton, but also a wide variety of lesser known texts on topics ranging from sword fighting to witchcraft and gardening manuals. Users can not only browse and read through the text of these early English books, but also search through the entire corpus (which consists of two million pages and nearly a billion words). Searching for keywords and themes is possible as well because the text has been encoded with Extensible Markup Language (XML). An additional 40,000 texts will be released into the public domain by 2020.

More information about the release is available through the Bodleian Libraries website.

Join the EuropeanaTech conference

Lieke Ploeger - January 26, 2015 in Events/Workshops, Featured

Under the subtitle ‘Making the beautiful thing – Transforming technology and culture’ the second EuropeanaTech Conference will be held on 12-13 February 2015 at the National Library of France in Paris. This event brings invites all those working in the cultural heritage field, including application developers, information professionals, technology researchers and decision makers, to come together and explore technical challenges around digitisation and re-use of cultural content, learn about new developments and establish future collaborations.

The programme includes keynote speeches by Dan Cohen of the Digital Public Library of America (one of the OpenGLAM Advisory Board members) and Tim Sherratt, manager of the Trove service that brings together Australian digitised cultural heritage. Also of special interest to OpenGLAM is the session ‘Opening up with technology’, which focuses on what can be achieved in this area with tools such as the Europeana Content Reuse Framework, Public Domain Calculators and the GLAMwiki toolset, while also discussing technological and organisational barriers to opening up our cultural heritage. The complete programme is available from this page.

Registration is possible through Eventbrite: more information on the event can be found on the Europeana Professional Website.


DPLA: New Strategic Plan

Lieke Ploeger - January 8, 2015 in Featured, News, Uncategorized

horizontal_logo_blue_withoutWhiteBackgroundThis week the DPLA (Digital Public Library of America) published its Strategic Plan, which details the organisation’s goals for the period 2015-2017. DPLA brings together the riches of America’s libraries, archives, museums, and cultural heritage sites, and making them freely available to students, teachers, researchers, and the general public. Since the start in 2013, nearly 8,5 million items are now available through the DPLA portal.

The Strategic Plan formulates several priorities for the organisation, such as increasing the amount of content hubs throughout the USA, enhancing and improving metadata, streamlining rights statements (bringing the current 26.000 different rights statements down to 15-20 total), improving the technical infrastructure and increasing use of the DPLA portal and platform through increased dissemination efforts. As part of this, DPLA will be organising a yearly public event called DPLAfest: the 2015 edition takes place on 17-18 April in Indianapolis.

The full plan and an introduction to it by director Dan Cohen are available from



Autochromes from the Te Papa collection

Lissa Mitchell - January 4, 2015 in Curator's Choice, Featured, Public Domain

CURATOR’S CHOICE #18: LISSA MITCHELL FROM Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Lissa Mitchell, Curator of Historical Documentary Photography at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, explores the work of three photographers creating autochromes in early 20th-century New Zealand.


Announcements of the Lumiére brothers’ autochrome process were reported widely in New Zealand newspapers during late 1907 and early 1908. The process was described as a dream come true for photographers longing to discover a way of making photographs in a process that was able to represent natural colours. However, while the process was eagerly anticipated and widely discussed it has remained a minor footnote in histories of photography related to New Zealand. Like the earlier daguerreotype and ambrotype, autochromes are unique, one off photographs which produce an image directly onto a glass plate rather than a negative, an aspect which no doubt appealed to amateur photographers with artistic aspirations.

In early 1908, Wellington photographer Elizabeth Greenwood gave a reporter from the Dominion newspaper a first-hand demonstration of the process.1 Greenwood exposed two plates – one a portrait of a group of girls and the other a still life – giving the reporter the chance to compare the resulting plates with the real subjects in the studio. The portrait plate was exposed for 30 seconds with the only favourable result being the brilliant reproduction of a blue dress worn by one of the subjects. Meanwhile Greenwood exposed the second plate of a still life scene for three and half minutes resulting in a plate the reporter described as more brilliant than the actual scene – rich in colour and detail including in the shadows.

However, it wasn’t long before the inadequacies of the autochrome process for widespread commercial use was raised. In May 1908, in response to rumours in Auckland, the city’s Star newspaper printed an advertisement in which a monetary reward was offered to the person able to produce a colour print on paper using a process that could be of commercial value. According to the advertiser someone in the city was claiming to have done ‘what the cleverest scientific men in Europe have so far failed to do, that is, to produce Photographic Prints in Natural Colours.’2 The advertiser, G. F. Jenkinson, stressed he was not interested in ‘an autochrome transparency upon glass, which are now fairly common and of no value except as lantern slides.’3

From the top of Shortland Street, 1913, Auckland, by Robert Walrond. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (A.018201) – Source.


If exposed autochrome plates were so common in New Zealand during the early years of the twentieth century, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa only has a small but representative collection of photographs comprised of the work of just three photographers: Robert Walrond, James Chapman-Taylor and A. H. Eaton. The collection is notable for the similarity of the subject matter with photographers from other countries who also used the autochrome format in so far as images of women, floral and still life compositions, and scenic landscapes dominate. The cost of the autochrome plates limited use of the format in New Zealand and perhaps also lead to a greater adherence by photographers here to careful use of their plates and staying with the subjects suggested in guidebooks.

Autumn, 1915, Auckland, by Robert Walrond. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (A.018208) – Source.


That autochromes were mounted on glass seems to have meant that their use remained mainly in the hands of amateur photographers and those seeking to make colour images for use in scientific lectures. The autochrome’s ability to represent scenes in colour made it an appealing process to those wishing to pursue it for artistic and scientific uses. One such use in the name of science was by Captain Scott’s expedition photographer Herbert Ponting who, in October 1910, was on his way south via New Zealand with photographic equipment he hoped would enable him to document on autochrome the ‘natural colouring’ of Antarctica.4 Both the Getty and the National Gallery of Australia hold some of Ponting’s autochrome photographs of the ice continent.

Later in 1928, another visitor, this time from the United States, came to make autochrome photographs of New Zealand’s indigenous Māori people. Photographer Fred Payne Clatworthy was part of the National Geographic Society’s project to record ‘native races of the world, especially those which are dying out, and is making every effort to secure autochrome photographs of representatives of every native race.’5 Today the photographs Payne took in New Zealand have fallen into obscurity unlike the indigenous Māori culture that he sought to record for prosperity.6

The majority of autochrome photographs in Te Papa’s collection were made by Robert Walrond, an Auckland photographer whose work was published in New Zealand newspapers and who was an enthusiastic and highly regarded member of the Auckland Camera Club. Like Elizabeth Greenwood’s demonstration for the reporter, Walrond’s autochrome photographs tend to be more successful when made under controlled light situations though there are some exceptions. “Cleopatra” in Domain Cricket Ground (1914), is a theatrical group portrait of four young women dressed in costumes. The combination of sun and wind on the appearance of the textiles is stunning, especially the effect created with the silk scarf suspended over the woman on the couch. Why Walrond made this photograph is unknown but it might have been related to an event that was part of the Auckland Exhibition which was on in the same location that year.

“Cleopatra” in Domain Cricket Ground, 1914, Auckland, by Robert Walrond. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (A.018196) – Source.

Auckland Exhibition Grounds, 1914, Auckland, by Robert Walrond. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (A.018178) – Source.

Due to their suitability as subjects for long exposures, still life compositions made for rich autochrome photographs. This fine art genre was ripe for photographers to create set ups that evoked nature and the changing seasons rather than just documenting found scenes. For still life arrangements photographers could select objects of certain colour combinations to compose stronger colours in response to their knowledge about the autochrome palette. Placing complementary colours together enhanced richness – hence the popularity of red and green colours in autochrome photographs. For the still life Gaillardias (1918), Walrond combined a dominant palette of yellow and blue to achieve a strong painterly three dimensional effect. While, Wellington Amateur Photographic Society member Albert Eaton’s cool Still life with vase (1900-30), almost captures the view out of windows reflected in a large sky blue vase.

Gaillardias, 1918, Auckland, by Robert Walrond. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (A.018206) – Source.

Still life with vase, 1900s-1930s, Wellington, by A. H. Eaton. Purchased 2009. Te Papa (B.076040) – Source (NB: Not Public Domain)

In one of Walrond’s still lives Ranunculi (1914) a green book sits on the table beneath a vase of flowers. Under magnification the book is revealed to be the Barnet Book of Photography (1898), presumably influential enough as a guide book for the photographer to include it within one of his formal compositions. The multi-authored Barnet volume promoted the gaining of a high level of knowledge and skill in the many different processes and applications of the medium by professionals and amateurs alike. The aim of the book was to help those with a love of photography in the art of improving their photographic work. The book advocated studying the work of great portrait painters and photographers and attending as many exhibitions as possible to view prints.

Ranunculi, 1914, Auckland, by Robert Walrond. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (A.018176) – Source.

In Te Papa’s collection of autochrome photographs there are three portraits of different women – one by each of the three photographers whose work is held. From vases of flowers to floral patterned curtains, all three photographers combined elements of the still life genre into their portraits of women dressed in clothing presumably chosen to highlight the textural and tonal effects of the autochrome process. Like still life, portraiture was another long established genre of art which photography commercialised and made available to larger numbers of people during the nineteenth century. In these portraits the photographers make use of the still life mode to help them recover photographic portraiture back from the commercial realm to that of an art.

Left: Woman with sunflower print curtains, 1900-1930, New Zealand, by James Chapman-Taylor. Te Papa (A.010640/01) – Source. Right: Portrait of a woman, 1915, Auckland, by Robert Walrond. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (A.018212) – Source.


In New Zealand there are few recorded uses of the autochrome and it seems to have remained largely within the realm of amateur photographers and the camera club movement. The inability to reproduce images made with the process alongside the awkwardness of viewing the plates with an illuminated light source hindered the popularity of the process. The sad reality that there are so few examples held within public collections in New Zealand is perhaps a combination of several factors, among them the fragility of the glass plates and a reluctance to address photography from the Pictorialist era as a serious art form. Hopefully, as understanding of the process increases, more plates will be identified, with many potentially lurking hidden within collections of glass lantern slides.


Lissa Mitchell is Curator of Historical Documentary Photography at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Her main research areas concern photography made during the colonial period related to New Zealand. Follow Lissa on Twitter @rainyslip

1. ‘Colour Photography’. Dominion. 24 February 1908, p. 10.

2. ‘Photography in Natural Colours’. Auckland Star. 7 May 1908, p. 4.

3. Ibid.

4. ‘Antarctic Expedition’. Press. 13 October 1910, p. 7.

5. ‘Photographing Dominion’. New Zealand Herald. 14 March 1928, p.8.

Information about the location of any of Clatworthy’s autochrome photographs taken in New Zealand would be much appreciated by the author.


Explore more images from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa collection here.


This post is part of our Curator’s Choice series, a monthly feature consisting of a guest article from a curator about a work or group of works in one of their “open” digital collections. Learn more here. See this post in all its full page width glory over at The Public Domain Review.

The Crusade for Curious Images

Marieke Guy - December 19, 2014 in Digital Humanities, Events/Workshops, Featured, Front Page, Open Humanities

In December last year the British Library released over a million images on to Flickr Commons. The images were taken from the pages of 17th, 18th and 19th century books digitised by Microsoft and gifted to the British Library. One-year on and it seems pertinent to mark the anniversary with an event held at the British Library Conference Centre in London looking at what researchers and artists have been doing with the released images, and other open content, and considering what the next phase is for the British Library Labs.

Christmas Carol

Image taken from page 17 of ‘A Christmas Carol … With illustrations [from drawings by S. Eytinge.]’, British Library on Flickr, public domain


The British Library Flickr images received over 5 million views on their first day online and by October 2014 they were up to over 200 million image views, with every image being viewed at least 20 times. There are also now 150, 000 tags on the tags. Despite these fantastic results there remains a massive disparity between what has been digitised and what the British Library physical holds and there always plans in the pipeline for more opening up content.

The Curious Images event held yesterday offered a whirlwind tour of the reuse of the images by artists, researchers and other institutions and of the challenges that tracking use and finding appropriate images continue to pose.

Ben O'Steen

Ben O’Steen introduces the Mechanical Curator

Ben O’Steen, technical lead at British Library Labs, kicked off the day by giving an overview of the Mechanical Curator, a tool which randomly selects small illustrations and ornamentations and posts them on the hour on Tumbr and Twitter. He also highlighted other great digital scholarship work like the map tagathon, an effort to tag over 25,000 maps, and the book metadata and community tags now on Figshare.

Grouping and Organising

If we can’t search, group and organise images then we fail to use them on a grandscale. The Lost visions Project: retrieving the visual element of printed books from the nineteenth century was presented by Ian Harvey of Cardiff University. The project addresses the challenges of working with big data and making the information more accessible and easier to interpret by a lay audience. They have taken 65,000 volumes of literature / 1 million illustrations and are looking at ‘organising them’ by considering what do humans do well, what do computers do well (machine learning). Much of their work is around tagging through crowdsourcing and reusing Flickr tags, they have also been creating metadata linkages to external sources: for example, illustration and the original drawing. Through their work they have been able to identify various groupings e.g. women in trousers; Indian Mutiny; Shakespeare.

Software developer Peter Balman has been looking at what has exactly happened to the 1 million images and gauging their impact using various techniques (online detective work!) for the ‘Visibility’ project funded by the Technology Strategy Board. Methods include Googling using image search, using TinEye reverse image search, looking at the taxonomy of website using dmoz, searching for information on the domain the images are on using, detecting the language using Alchemy language API, Dbpedia for more info about the URL. You can learn more about Peter Balman’s Visibility project here in this video.

Creating new work

It was fantastic to hear from two artists who have been reusing the British Library images. David Normal, a San Francisco based artist, has created 4 collages representing ‘a collection of dynamic human dramas’ using the images. His Crossroads of Curiosity project was showcased as four large iluminated light boxes (2.4 metres by 6 metres) at the Burning Man festival held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert earlier this year. Personally I was blown away by David’s fantastic tour of photophilia (inbedding of icons within icons within icons and recognising icons of faces in things that don’t have facial form) and crazyology. His process of taking an image, identifying patterns, replacing elements with things with similar patterns is just brilliant!

Burning Man

Crossroads of Curiosity project by David Normal at Burning Man, photo from British Library blog

Mario Klingeman, a Code artist from Germany works on teaching computers to create art. He sees himself as an ‘Obsessive Compulsive Orderer’ captivated by trying to find clusters between images. His approach is to let human sort, then machines scale the sort and finally humans QA the machine. Mario reflected on how the British Library images had inspired his work and reflected on finding a Victorian image with one view and being the first person to (digitally) see it. Mario has created his sorting lap on his laptop in adobe air – it would be great to see some his work online and available for partners.


44 Gentlemen who look like 44, by Mario Klingemann, Flickr, CC-NC


Later in the day we heard from researchers who are using the British Library images as a test bed. Joon Son Chung from the University of Oxford has been looking at woodblocks and checking for wear and tear in 1,000 images. Elliot Crowley, also from the University of Oxford demoed ImageMatch, a tool which uses computer vision machine learning to aid image search. It employs the Google image search to check 100 images and ‘learn’ what an item looks like e.g. what does a dog looks like? It then applies these newly learned algorithms to other images. Tests so far have been run on the Yourpaintings database and they hope to soon test on the British Library images. All tag information is fed back in to the database. A beta version of the software will be out in the new year.

Image taken from page 139 of '[Sing-Song. A nursery rhyme book. ... With ... illustrations by A. Hughes, etc.]'

Image taken from page 139 of ‘[Sing-Song. A nursery rhyme book. … With … illustrations by A. Hughes, etc.]’, British Library on Flickr, public domain

Researchers have also been using a mixture of computational techniques to analyse digitised handwritten manuscripts (some from the British Library’s collections) and either connect them to their corresponding transcriptions or try and ‘read’ handwriting and create transcripts using machine learning / computational approaches. Enrique Vidal from the Universitat Politècnica de València spoke about the EU-funded Transcriptorium Project which is developing HRT handwriting recognition technology and has been recognising handwriting using the Bentham collection.

Desmond Schmidt from Queensland University also shared his Text and Image Linking Tool (TILT) tool that links transcripts with images of texts. He explained that we need to bring historical texts to a modern audience who can search and analyse them. The TILT software links at word level but unlike other tools takes an automated approach that doesn’t embedded markup. They use a geoJSON overlay of polygons.


The GLAM world are not quite there when it comes to offering quality open content that can be easily used by others. Conrad Taylor, illustrator and cartoonist, considered the complexities of digital imaging and reprinting. He covered the challenges of processing pre-1870 images before Fox Talbot invented half-toning and lamented that people “can’t tell their ppi’s from their dpi’s (doesn’t specify no of pixels in images)”. He has been working on a book entitled Contracts Textures and Hues by Anita Jeni McKenzie and shared the issues reusing low-quality items from Flickr.

Tim Weyrich from Univeristy College London explained how digital acquisition is now prominent in Cultural Heritage applications but digital humanities expectations probably need to be lowered . We are often over optimistic about what is possible, while engineers are good at making tradeoffs. He also offered a reminder that for researchers solving complex real world problems should come before just writing papers. He delivered two cases studies: Firstly reassembling the Theran Wall Paintings (3d heritage ‘jigsaws’!) and asked us to consider how you computationally replicate the real world feel of an exact match? And secondly the digitally reproducing the great Parchment book, a Domesday type book that describes property relation in Ireland. The book was damaged by fire 1786, parchment doesn’t burn so easily but it does warp. The team made a decision to treat the book as a 3d object, photographing it from many angles rendering it as a ‘globe type structure’. This allowed them to later flatten the book and transcribe.


Crossroads of Curiosity postcards by David Normal

Mixing with Science

In the final session of the day we were given a perspective on image analysis from health and science. Liangxiu Han from Manchester Metropolitan University talked about large-scale data processing and analysis on images. MMU used climate data from NASA and combined it with other data so it could be applied to life sciences using pattern recognition and annotation approaches. The last talk of the day was from Ros Sandler of the Missouri Botanical Garden on the Biodiversity Heritage Library who have instigated the Art of Life project Crowdsourcing identification of Natural History images. They currently have 93,000 pages uploaded to their Flickr stream and on wikimedia commons including images of extinct species. They are building algorithms to find images, volunteers classifying images, then push to description platforms for metadata, then bring it back, share more widely. They have a Macaw classifying tool which allows volunteers to put pictures into broad groupings – including false positives.

The event ended with Adam Farquhar, head of Digital Scholarship at the British Library, sharing insight into in the next phase of the British Library Labs project: more data, more events and more images! The project has been funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for another two years from January 2015, congratulations to Mahendra Mahey, the British Library Labs project manager, and the rest of the BL Labs team!

We were then all treated to mulled wine and mincepies! Season’s Greetings everyone!

The British Library images are available on Flickr at: You can also browse British Library images on Wikimedia Commons.

Thanks to James Baker for sharing his notes which proved useful for fill in the gaps.

 Image taken from page 16 of 'The Coming of Father Christmas'

Image taken from page 16 of ‘The Coming of Father Christmas’, British Library on Flickr, public domain

GIF IT UP winners

Thomasin Sleigh - December 15, 2014 in Contest, Featured, Public Domain

GIF IT UP Banner -- 3

Over the last six weeks DigitalNZ and the Digital Public Library of America have been all about the GIFs. GIF IT UP was an open competition to find the most excellent GIFs reusing openly licensed images and video from the collections searchable on the sites of the two digital libraries. Entries were received from all over the world and the winners were judged by Adam Green, Editor of the Public Domain Review and Brian Wolly, Digital Editor of the Smithsonian magazine.

Here are all the awesome winners from each of the seven categories.


Lillie Le Dorre, from Wellington, New Zealand, wins this category with her precocious typing dog. Source material courtesy Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga.


Darren Cole, from the United States, wins this category with his moving (and smoking!) monowheel patent. Source material courtesy the National Archives and Records Administration.



Richard Naples, from Washington DC, is awarded the winner for his elegantly fluttering butterflies. Source material courtesy Smithsonian Libraries via the Biodiversity Heritage Library.



Jason Varone’s mesmerising map overlay of Brooklyn wins this category. Source material courtesy the US Government Printing Office.



Ron Leunissen in the Netherlands takes this award away with this stereoscopic image of the Penna. Cavalry at Newport News, en route to Porto Rico during the 1898 Spanish-American War. Source material courtesy Boston Public Library.



The Othmer Library in Philadelphia wins this award with their wagging WWI enlistment dog. Source material courtesy the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources via the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center.

Wagging dog


Nono Burling takes away the open category award for this romantically dancing couple, created from the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge. Source material courtesy University Southern California Libraries.



Jessica Pyburn’s beautiful snowflake GIF is the winner of the People’s Choice Award for the GIF with the most Tumblr ‘notes’, 381 in total. Source material courtesy Smithsonian Institute. More information about the original photographer, known as ‘Snowflake Bentley’, can be found on the Public Domain Review here.



Looking for the rest of the GIF IT UP submissions? Check out the competition gallery here.

The Dowse Art Museum goes Wikipedia

Courtney Johnston - December 5, 2014 in Featured, Guest Blog Post, News, Projects

During the next two months, The Dowse Art Museum in New Zealand will be running a new Wikipedia project designed to increase the profile of New Zealand craft artists and history. In this guest blogpost, director Courtney Johnston shares more information on this project and why Wikipedia is so important for museums.

Contemporary research into any topic begins today on the internet. However, when searching for information about New Zealand craft artists – historical and contemporary – online researchers are likely to be met by a gaping hole rather a wealth of information. I’m delighted to announce that The Dowse Art Museum, with financial support from Ngā Taonga a Hine-te-iwa-iwa A Treasury of New Zealand Craft Resources, is addressing this problem with an innovative Wikipedia project. The core aim of the project is to increase the amount of accurate and up to date information about New Zealand craft artists available online.

In the next two months we are employing two Wikipedia researchers who will research and write entries for approximately 100 New Zealand craft and applied art practitioners. Our Wikipedia researchers will also identify and copyright clear and digitise primary resource material (e.g. book chapters, exhibition catalogues and journal articles) to support the entries.

Visitors at the The Dowse Art Museum. Photographer Mark Tantrum, courtesy of The Dowse Art Museum, New Zealand

Visitors at the The Dowse Art Museum. Photographer Mark Tantrum, courtesy of The Dowse Art Museum, New Zealand

Why Wikipedia?

Since launching in 2001, Wikipedia has become the starting point for almost anyone with an internet connection and a research question. Museums have recognised that Wikipedia is now an important discovery place for their collections, their history, and information about artists they represent.

This recognition comes in many forms. For example, a number of institutions from around the world – from the British Museum to the Palace of Versailles to the Derby Museum and Art Gallery – have hosted a ‘Wikipedian in Residence’ in which a researcher familiar with Wikipedia is hosted by the institution to create entries, release material under open licences, and raise interest in the institution amongst Wikipedia contributors and users.

The Brooklyn Museum is regarded as a world-leader among cultural institutions harnessing the power of Wikipedia’s strong community of writers and editors and vast audience of readers and researchers. For example, in 2010 the Museum opted instead of printing a traditional catalogue to accompany the exhibition Seductive Subversion, curated to bring attention to lesser-known female Pop artists, to invest their energy in writing Wikipedia pages for each artist.

Preliminary research by Museum staff showed that these artists were very under-represented on Wikipedia. They argued “To get the research into the hands of the biggest audience possible, updating Wikipedia made the most sense. After all, more people go there for information than any other source, so why not take the information we have and make a contribution where it will count?”

We have identified that there is a paucity of information about New Zealand craft artists – historical and contemporary – online. A quick Wikipedia search reveals no entries for established artists such as Warwick Freeman, John Edgar, Alan Preston, Emma Camden, Donn Salt, Gordon Crook, or Malcolm Harrison. Others such as Ilse von RandowPatricia PerrinDame Rangimarie Hetet and Ida Mary Lough have ‘stub’ entries – a sentence or two drawn from official sources. These are significant figures in our cultural history and while there is information about all scattered around the web, no central collating point.

One option for improving this lack of information would have been for us to write and add these biographies to The Dowse’s website. However, I see four advantages to using Wikipedia:

  • Wikipedia scores well in Google searches, putting the information in front of people who might not even know about The Dowse (I know, it’s nearly unimaginable, but it does happen)
  • Wikipedia articles can be updated by any interested person. This takes the onus off The Dowse to keep these biographies up to date (a task we’re not resourced for)
  • We hope that people seeing this activity might be inspired to start their own editing and adding of information in Wikipedia
  • We hope to use the information that is ‘kept alive’ on Wikipedia in our own future collection digitisation.

Project objectives

We want to get as much value as possible out of the funding Ngā Taonga a Hine-te-iwa-iwa have generously provided. This is what we’re aiming for with this project:

  • The amount of information about New Zealand craft and applied art practitioners available online is dramatically increased
  • The amount of primary resources about New Zealand craft and applied art available online is increased
  • The researchers for the project develop a wide understanding of the history and current state of New Zealand craft and object art, and connections with artists and museum professionals
  • The researchers develop fluency in working with Wikipedia’s editorial protocols and can pass this expertise on to others
  • The project is openly documented and freely shared, to encourage others to run their own programmes
  • The Dowse’s knowledge about artists represented in our collection is increased.

Who is involved?

The Dowse has partnered with Ngā Taonga a Hine-te-iwa-iwa on this project. Apart from Dowse staff members being involved in the project, we’re reaching out into the New Zealand Wikipedia and international GLAMs (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) Wikipedia community to provide mentors for our two dedicated Wikipedia researchers. This has also started with them attending a NDF workshop on Wikipedia last week.

An advisory group has been formed to review the list of artists to be profiled and help build understanding of the project and connections with artists and research resources. The advisory group includes representatives from Ngā Taonga a Hine-te-iwa-iwa, Toi Māori, Auckland Museum, Te Papa, and Objectspace.

Digital New Zealand (a collaborative project run by the National Library of New Zealand to support the availability and use of New Zealand digital content, with a special emphasis on culture and heritage) will help us to make digitised material available through their Shared Research Repository.

An open project

We are treating this as an open project, and we plan to blog about the process and share information such as the budget for various aspects of the work transparently. This is being done in hopes that other institutions and sectors could pick up our project as a model and either finance the creation of another group of entries, or use it to profile another group of makers (such as design, photography, music or architecture).

Next steps

This is very much a project under development. We are currently collating basic biographical information and references for about 70 artists, from a long list of nearly 300 names. The first thing we need to nut out is Wikipedia’s standard around “notability” and making sure the entries we put up meet it. This means a lot of research online and through our (luckily quite extensive) collection of craft books, catalogues and serials.

We know we will learn a great deal, and hope to pass it on to all those interested in running or contributing to similar projects. Let us know if you have any questions – you can find more information on the project and post your comments through this extended blogpost on The Dowse Art Museum website.

Boys will be Boys: Playing Around in a 17th-Century Friendship Book

Dr Lynley Herbert - December 2, 2014 in Curator's Choice, Featured, Public Domain


Dr Lynley Anne Herbert, Robert and Nancy Hall Assistant Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at Walters Art Museum, investigates a mysterious image and accompanying rebus found within the pages of a liber amicorum or “friendship book”, an album for recording friendships and social connections that amounted to a kind of seventeenth-century version of Facebook.


In the spring of 2012, the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore purchased a charming illuminated liber amicorum, or friendship book, that had never before been known to scholars and on which research has just begun (Fig. 1). Started by Joannes Carolus Erlenwein when he entered the Jesuit seminary school at Fulda in 1614, the book contains 13 watercolor images and 55 painted heraldic devices, all accompanied by personal dedications from friends and family. Paintings of his home, of him hunting and rescuing damsels in distress, and of playing games with friends provide an intimate view of his world. In constructing his book, Joannes chose to interleave blank pages with a newly published emblem book based on Homer’s Iliad, the first (and only) edition of Isaac Hillaire’s Speculum Heroicum (Fig. 2). The images were engraved by Crispin de Passe the Elder, who had come to realize that some of his books were being converted into liber amicorums, and began producing engravings with blank versos to provide room for inscriptions. As this book fits that pattern, it is likely that the Speculum Heroicum was designed with this purpose in mind. A partially trimmed inscription on the cover page indicates the book was gifted to Joannes at some point between its publication in 1613 and the binding of his amicorum in 1615, so it is possible that the gift of the emblem book inspired him to begin his friendship album.

Left – Fig. 1: Original Binding of the Liber Amicorum of Joannes Carolus Erlenwein, dated 1615. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, W.922 – Source. Right – Fig. 2: Title page of Isaac Hillaire’s Speculum Heroicum. Crispin de Passe the Elder, 1613. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, W.922, p. 7 – Source.

Books of this kind grew out of university culture in Germany in the sixteenth century, but by the seventeenth century had become a form of social networking used by people of all professions and stages in life – the seventeenth-century Facebook. Often these books were kept up over decades, with their owners eagerly gathering inscriptions of those they met throughout their travels, and seeking autographs of the notables of their day. Through these inscriptions, they built relationships, documented their worldliness, and created an image of who they were through the people they had gathered. Despite its creation in this later period, the entries in Joannes’ book rarely extend beyond his school days, and therefore provide a snapshot of youthful joy and playfulness, full of anticipation of life to come as he and his friends prepared for manhood.

The school they attended, the seminary at Fulda, was modeled on the uniquely German Knight’s Academies – finishing schools designed to train the sons of the elite to become the next generation of courtiers. The curriculum concentrated on activities that helped develop courtly and knightly skills, such as fencing, dancing, painting, shooting, horseback riding, and ball playing. Several of these activities have been depicted in the book’s strikingly personal and informal images. The most unusual and charming of these is the tennis game (Fig. 3), which the students seem to have chosen as their “group portrait.” After exploring the meticulous work by Heiner Gillmeister on the subject, the Walters’ image appears to be unique in that it depicts the students playing outside in the cloister instructed by the clergy, rather than playing in the famous enclosed, paved ball court at Tübingen as all other known amicorum images do. Tennis was in fact a surprisingly popular topic in proverbs, mottos, and poetry in the seventeenth century, and Joannes’ book might have resonated on many of these levels. It is an image of playfulness, of healthy competition, and teamwork – an eternal moment of fraternity frozen in time.

Fig. 3: Tennis game. Anonymous, 1616. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, W.922, p. 306. – The page depicting the tennis game – Source.

Although the book’s images focus on his time at school, there is one intriguing exception. Nearly three decades after he began his amicorum, Joannes allowed a new friend to add a playful painting. In 1642, Johannes Blittersdorff provided a straight-forward inscription with an image that is anything but (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Painting and inscription contributed by Johannes Blittersdorff. 1642. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, W.922, p. 303 – Source.

The painting is surmounted by a rebus, a riddle of words and images, which contains three pictorial symbols (Fig. 5, detail).

Fig. 5: Detail of rebus from Fig. 4 – Source.

The first one, a heart, is a common element in rebuses of the period, and simply stands for “heart”. The last symbol is a globus cruciger, which in Christian iconography usually indicates Christ’s dominion over the earth, but in contemporary rebuses is interpreted more generally as the “world”. The middle symbol is crucial for interpretation, yet is the least comprehensible. At first glance, it appears key-like, allowing for a romantic phrase that reads “The hearts of women are the key to the world”. However, further contemplation of the symbol complicates this interpretation, for its resemblance to a key is vague at best, suggesting it is either poorly painted or meant to represent something else entirely. It actually most closely resembles a jaw harp, a small instrument played with the mouth that produces a distinctive twanging sound (Fig. 6). The possibility that this is the intended meaning of the symbol at first seems untenable, as it does not appear to fit the phrase in any logical way. Inserting the common French term for the instrument, guimbarde, gives us nothing, as does the German term maultrommel. However, discovering earlier French names for it, jeu-trompe and trompe de Béarn, suddenly supplies the image with a double entendre. If the word “trompe” is inserted in the phrase, an unexpectedly negative phrase emerges: “Le coeur de dames trompe le monde”, or “The hearts of women deceive the world”. There is little doubt that this is the correct interpretation, as it is a known proverb. The phrase in fact appeared on the Queen of Hearts in a playing card ca. 1500 (Fig. 7). Yet while this mystery is solved, the question of how it relates to, and informs the image above, is just as cryptic.

Left – Fig. 6: Jaw harp, etching, from El mundo físico : gravedad, gravitación, luz, calor, electricidad, magnetismo, etc. / A. Guillemin, Barcelona Montaner y Simón, 1882 – Source. Right – Fig. 7: French playing card with Queen of Hearts holding inscription found in rebus. Anonymous, c. 1500. Originally from Leo S. Olschki, La Bibliofilia, Firenze, Giuseppe Boffito, 1906. – Source.

The painting is titled the “Arbor Saxonica”, usually a reference to the royal family tree of the Saxons going back to the early medieval period, so calling this image by such a pretentious, regal title is surely tongue in cheek. Here we are presented with a literal tree with four women perched on different branches. The heraldry of the signer Johannes Blittersdorff is attached to the trunk, suggesting he is the man standing below. He has removed his hat, cloak, and sword, and holds a stick in one hand, and perhaps a feather or leaf in the outstretched one. The woman on the right precariously balances on a limb and comically flails as she begins to fall, while the man below strikes a seemingly heroic pose, yet makes no chivalrous move to catch her. The heraldry attached to the tree, along with the “Arbor Saxonica” inscription, suggest perhaps the image is meant as a commentary on Blittersdorff’s family tree. However, taken with the rebus above, another line of interpretation becomes possible. Perhaps the phrase appearing on a playing card – a Queen of Hearts – is a clue to the image. Playing cards of this period varied greatly in themes and imagery, but many German cards depict a vine or tree from which various items sprout. In a famous example, Jost Amman created a series in which the usual German suits – bells, acorns, hearts, and leaves – have been substituted for objects related to his printing profession (Fig. 8).

Two of Books. Jost Amman, Charta Lusoria, 1588. – Source.

Trees shoot up behind the charming vignettes below, carrying objects such as books and inkpots in their branches. The type and number of objects in the tree reveals the suit and number of the card. Perhaps in the liber amicorum, the women in the tree serve a similar function. The rebus refers to the “hearts” of women, and the skirt of the falling woman, as well as the man’s cloak, echo the reference through their heart-like shapes. Is this the “4 of hearts?” Could the image be a reference to, or joke about, a card game shared between Joannes and his friend? Or perhaps do we read the women, with their deceptive hearts, as the ones playing games of love with the man? The image is strange, and funny, and defies easy interpretation. It has the feel of a visual pun, an inside joke between friends that has been lost to time. Thus is the challenge, and the charm, that comes with visual games that are both highly personal and four centuries old. But perhaps someone out there holds the key to the image’s secrets…is it you?

Thoughts or feedback? Please contact Lynley Herbert at

Dr. Lynley Anne Herbert is the Robert and Nancy Hall Assistant Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. She received her doctorate in May, 2012, from the University of Delaware, and while the subject of her dissertation was a Carolingian manuscript, her research interests also include later manuscripts and early printed books. The above discussion of the Walters’ liber amicorum is part of a larger article soon to be published in the Journal of the Walters Art Museum.

The Walters Art Museum is in the process of digitizing its nearly 1,000 manuscripts, thanks to three generous grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Digitized cover to cover, these books can be found at, and the images can be used freely under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. To explore the Liber Amicorum discussed above, go to

This post is part of our Curator’s Choice series, a monthly feature consisting of a guest article from a curator about a work or group of works in one of their “open” digital collections. Learn more here. See this post in all its full page width glory over at The Public Domain Review.

1st Swiss Open Cultural Data Hackathon

Lieke Ploeger - November 27, 2014 in Events/Workshops, Featured, Hack days, Working Group

On 27-28 February the local Swiss OpenGLAM working group will be organising first Open Cultural Data Hackathon in Switzerland. The event will take place at the Swiss National Library in Bern, and focuses on using cultural heritage data/content online for research purposes in Digital Humanities and related areas, as well as in the context of Wikipedia and Wikimedia. Participants are welcome to re-use the open data/open content provided for other purposes, such as the development of apps or artistic re-mixes. 

In preparation for the event, the Swiss OpenGLAM Working Group is calling on all Swiss heritage institutions to provide data and content for the upcoming hackathon. The event is an excellent means for heritage institutions to enter into dialogue with software developers, researchers, and Wikipedians, in order to put their data and digitized collections to wider use.

Datasets from Swiss institutions are listed on the event wiki: more information on the event is also available from this event page. A preparatory meeting for data providers will be held in the afternoon of 23 January 2015 at the ETH Library in Zurich.

Swiss National Library, Photo: Marianabeauty, CC by-sa 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Swiss National Library, Photo: Marianabeauty, CC by-sa 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

State of the Commons: OpenGLAM highlights & what the future holds

Sarah Stierch - November 21, 2014 in Featured, News

In this blog (cross-posted from her blog The Culture Feed) Sarah Stierch discusses some of the OpenGLAM highlights in the recently published Creative Commons report ‘State of the Commons’, as well as some suggested future steps.

“Creative Commons’ goal has always been “realizing the full potential of the internet,” with greater access for everyone to culture, knowledge, information, and education.”
(Image: CC BY 4.0)

(Image: CC BY 4.0)

I was very happy to wake up this morning to discover that Creative Commons (CC) had published the State of the Commons report. While reading through the report and exploring the colorful infograph, I found myself getting very emotional about the shift in culture that has taken place since the inception of CC, and their open option to copyright, 12 years ago.

Freemedia fighters

The past five years has seen an uptick of cultural heritage institutions opening up their digitized works, with the inception of the GLAM-Wiki movement and OpenGLAM initiative. Freemedia fighters from within institutions and from the outside have made it our mission to enable the public access and to artwork, objects, film and writing. A small crop of contemporary artists have begun to explore it as well (most recently, Danish artist Filip Vest and the Hack the Bells contest). I can’t even imagine copyrighting my own work anymore, as a writer, public speaker or as a photographer, and perhaps that is my ego believing freedom is a more satisfying legacy (versus restrictive ownership).

OpenGLAM Highlights

There are a few highlights that I think can be attributed to the work we are doing in the OpenGLAM community:

  • In 2006, 50 million works were CC licensed/CC0. Today, over 882 million works are CC licensed/CC0. That number will continue to increase as we continue our efforts to open up more cultural heritage material and provide improved resources to the public about how the Commons works and why free licensing is so important.
  • The trend is moving towards free culture licenses. About 56% of those works are free culture licenses, meaning it will end up on Wikimedia Commons to be used in Wikipedia articles and can be adapted and used for commercial use. More restrictive licenses (non-commercial, no-derivatives, etc.) fail the mission of open culture and, in my opinion, are the last vestiges of copyleft imperialism.
  • The USA and Europe lead the way in open licensing, which is no surprise given that open licensing advocacy groups involved in OpenGLAM are primarily headquartered in both the USA and Europe (i.e. Creative Commons, Wikimedia, Open Knowledge Foundation, Europeana). We need to provide more multi-language resources and support to empower our brothers and sisters fighting restriction around the world.
I have used this awesome cheshire cat toy image in many presentations about OpenGLAM. It's a gem and was freed to the Commons in 2011. A Cheshire cat toy from the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, CC BY SA 3.0

I have used this awesome cheshire cat toy image in many presentations about OpenGLAM. It’s a gem and was freed to the Commons in 2011. (Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, CC BY SA 3.0)

What the future holds and needs

We have lofty dreams, or at least, I do. A dream where all public domain material that is locked up under image rights fees and faux-copyright claims are truly free; where all cultural institutions release their metadata CC0, and where artists are not scared of being starving artists or losing control of their creativity by releasing their works under free culture licensing. But enough about my dreams, here are a few ideas on where I think “we” need to move next:

  • Multi-lingual outreach, without over stepping it: we don’t want to be seen as imperialists moving into a country to demand they give it all up to the Commons and we’ll show them how to do it because their people aren’t capable of doing it on their own (especially given the Anglocentric nature of where the most Commons impact has been made, thus far). We need to create more multi-lingual multi-cultural resources, tools, and events that empower people – workshops not just lectures – throughout the world.
  • More FREE workshops and conference activities: these are key component to getting people engaged and empowered. The OpenGLAM US Workshop was a hit with participants, and led to further understanding and internal buy-in within many of the institutions represented. We need to keep these programs free, we need to keep them accessible, and at times, localized. We also need more booths/tables at conferences – lectures and panels are just the beginning. Keeping things free provides accessibility and doesn’t just empower the “GLAMs with lots of money”.
  • We need more investment – financially from institutions and organizations. While the idea of volunteers being the people power behind openness is romantic, the movement won’t be able to survive. We need more financial investment (and in-kind) from foundations, organizations, and individuals. Money funds the hiring of people (I like that idea!) and paid internships, events, attendance scholarships, evaluation, technology, etc.
  • More case studies: as the old proverb goes, “the proof is in the pudding“. Without more case studies, blogs and data about what has been released to the Commons we won’t be convincing more people to contribute. Here in the US, case studies are a critical component to getting institutional buy-in – from boards, curators, librarians, executive directors, etc. It’s lovely that your organization has openly licensed tons of pictures of paintings, but what impact has that made and what has been learned from it? Evaluation – with successes and failures – is an important tool to making more people jump into the Commons boat.
  • I use this image as my computer wallpaper. It was released into Flickr Commons under a "no known copyright restriction" license by Archives of the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle. This makes it a part of the broader Commons, but, it was not included in the CC report.

    I use this image as my computer wallpaper. It was released into Flickr Commons under a “no known copyright restriction” license by Archives of the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle. This makes it a part of the broader Commons, but, it was not included in the CC report.

    See where “no known copyright restriction” fits into this report. You can read more about this “faux license” here. It’s used to release media where the institutional holding it has done it’s fair share of research (or so they claim) to figure out the copyright status of the image and no one can figure it out, so it enters free licensing purgatory. I’d love to see more research around this – how to crowdsource licensing status and how this “license” fits into the State of the Commons.

The State of the Commons will continue to improve and grow as more people are empowered, engaged and inspired. Let’s get to work.

What other successes, challenges and next steps do you foresee for the OpenGLAM Commons? Share your thoughts below.