Pioneering illustrations database to be enhanced

Funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s ‘Digital Equipment and Database Enhancement for Impact’ (DEDEFI) initiative will enable the developers at CEIR to enhance and expand the pioneering Database of Mid-Victorian Illustration (DMVI) in the coming year.

Directed by Dr Julia Thomas, Dr Anthony Mandal and Professor Omer Rana, the one-year project grows out of two other AHRC  projects, in addition to DMVI: an ICT Methods Network Workshop on ‘Annotating Images’ (2007) and a Museums, Galleries and Libraries Network on Literary Images: Conservation, Access, Usage (LICAU  2007–08). The project exploits recent technical advances not only to improve DMVI as it now exists, but to enhance it so that it can become the core for more extensive database work with literary illustration.

DMVI’s  unique value to humanities research lies in its digitised  storage and bibliographic and iconographic descriptions of almost 900 illustrations that accompanied literary texts in 1862, a key year in the so-called ‘golden age’ of illustration. The images and metadata are accessible on a fully-searchable  website. DMVI  has played a major role in elevating the status of illustration. The project was graded ‘outstanding’ by AHRC assessors, who commented on its significance across the fields of print culture, visual arts and cultural history. A review in the Journal of Victorian Culture said DMVI  ‘raises the entire profile of illustration as a semi-autonomous category and a proper field for scholarly investigation’ (13:1, 108–113). This proposal arises because of the widespread recognition that DMVI’s significance is considerably more extensive than originally envisaged. Its iconographic system has been adapted by other Victorian databases (e.g. Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition), while its structures have been used in diverse image-based projects: the Imagining Victorian Manchester and Illustrating Scott database. DMVI images have also been requested for use by television, film and publishing companies, graphic designers, community and tourism websites, and the heritage industry.

Recognising the major impact of DMVI in such a range of academic and commercial contexts, this proposal seeks to guarantee its sustainability and enhance its impact as follows:

  1. Ensuring technical sustainability by converting the data to PHP/MySQL. For archiving purposes, a version of DMVI will be deposited with key image repositories (e.g. NINES; Europeana).
  2. Increasing the impact of content by the mapping of ICONCLASS  codes, enabling browsing in languages other than English and cross-searching between DMVI and third-sector collections worldwide.
  3. Allowing for community editing, first, by providing an interface for the addition of new records, allowing non-specialists to add material, and accommodating new fields for medium, date, language and verbal context; second, by exploring the use of community tagging to generate meaningful and authoritative data.
  4. Enhancing the search facility to permit further development and the implementation of the database mechanisms in other contexts.
  5. Developing an open source Image Management System, so that users (academics or others) can develop their own image-based datasets based on DMVI. This follows the successful adaptations by the Victorian Manchester Image Database and Illustrating Scott.
  6. Creating impact in schools through teaching-support sites and resources, with the advice of a consultant from the Institute of Education.

By these developments, the significant existing benefits of the AHRC’s  investment will be multiplied by turning DMVI into a resource with international cross-sector reach and by enabling a broad range of users to directly contribute to the further growth of a rich, multifaceted resource.

Interviews for the Postdoctoral Research Associate to be attached to the project will take place early this month, and the project is due to commence shortly thereafter.

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