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Annotating Image Archives To Support Literary Research

A workshop organized by Omer Rana, on 10 - 11 October 2007 at Welsh eScience Centre, Cardiff University.

(pdf) Programme
(pdf) (html) Workshop Report

Context of the workshop

The Centre for Intertextual Research (CEIR) at Cardiff leads an AHRC-funded project to create a Database of Mid-Victorian Wood-Engraved Illustrations (DMVI). Taking 1862 as a representative sample year, it contains over 500 Victorian literary illustrations, drawing in the main on two major collections: the periodical illustrations of the 1860s and 70s in the School of Art Museum and Gallery, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and the Forrest Reid collection in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Each image in the database contains iconographic annotations, enabling searches to be performed not only on the title, artist, author, and other material and bibliographic properties, but also by the pictorial content of the illustrations themselves. Successful iconographic description requires a standardised vocabulary and a set of keywords (divided into a set of pre-defined artefacts) which allow the database user to consistently locate illustrations matching their search terms.

Identifying the best representation scheme to provide these annotations has been the basis of discussion between researchers within CEIR, the Welsh eScience Centre and the School of Computer Science. Based on research within computer science, for instance, such keywords and their relationships may be expressed using RDF and the Ontology Web Language. In addition, there could also be potential benefit in adopting techniques from Content-based Image Retrieval (CBIR) research; which has primarily focused on using the content of an image to match against similar types of images within a database. In this approach, the focus is on comparing a template image with those in an archive, rather than providing explicit annotations/keywords that may be associated with the image.

Aims of the workshop

Given this context, the aim of this workshop was to bring together researchers within literary studies (particularly those focusing on nineteenth-century literature and illustrations), and members of the computer science community focusing on Semantic Web and CBIR technologies:

  • to better understand how individuals from different user groups (historians, cultural critics, journalists, researchers in literature and arts, social scientists) interpret mid-Victorian illustrations;
  • whether common themes emerge in the use of such systems by these individuals, and whether such analysis of use can be used to provide a recommendation system.

The intention was to better understand how a community of users interpret image content based on their own expertise and interests. The workshop will also attempt to determine whether annotations added through a "community of usage" will add value to existing collection in DMVI, and how useful/acceptable this will be for potential users. The two day workshop included invited speakers in literary studies, journalism and history, and computer science.

AHDS Methods Taxonomy Terms

This item has been catalogued using a discipline and methods taxonomy. Learn more here.


  • English Literature and Languages
  • European Literature and Languages
  • Non-European Literature and Languages


  • Data Analysis - Content analysis
  • Data Analysis - Content-based image searching
  • Data Analysis - Searching/querying
  • Data Structuring and enhancement - Markup/text encoding - descriptive - conceptual
  • Data Capture - 2d Scanning/photography
  • Data Capture - Usage of existing digital data
  • Data Structuring and enhancement - Data modelling - flat/rectangular
  • Data Structuring and enhancement - Data modelling - relational