Julia Thomas

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The experiment: Engaging undergraduates in advanced university research

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It started out as an experiment. We took the brains of a dozen undergraduate students and carefully placed them into the flailing bodies of several research projects; we fired up the electricity (well, actually, set up a webpage) and … the Project Management and Research module was born.

I have become very fond of what we have all created this year. Anthony and I have worked together on projects for over a decade now (hard to believe, I know) and it seemed like a good idea to share some of what we have learned along the way and pass on our genuine enthusiasm for project-based work. In an academic environment that is increasingly stressing employability and the transferability of skills, this module ticks all the boxes. I hope that it has given our first cohort of students a taste of research in an academic context and the opportunity to exploit the talent they have and bring out new talents they never knew they had. Read the rest of this entry »

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DMVI schools workshops

On Thursday 13 October, we held two workshops with local schools to explore the potential use of the Database of Mid-Victorian Wood-Engraved Illustration as a teaching and learning tool. The fact that the database is full of images that illustrate literary texts and contain a wealth of historic detail makes it significant for a range of humanities subjects, including English literature, history and religious studies.

The morning workshop consisted of staff and students from Stanwell Comprehensive School in Penarth. The first exercise involved giving the participants 25 illustrations and asking them to arrange them in order, with the aim of analysing how pictures can create narratives. Anthony had spent a considerable amount of time cutting the images out with great precision and they looked impressive spread along the desks. Some interesting stories emerged, a few of which came near to recreating the actual source text (Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner). We then gave out the captions to see if that would help or hinder the creation of the story. The exercise was a very valuable one both for the participants and for us because it made us think about the relation between word and image in illustration and how these Victorian pictures can be ‘read’. The second half of the session involved a demonstration of the database and the new social networking features, which the students seemed to particularly enjoy. They were given the chance to try it out for themselves before a very hearty buffet lunch was served.

We had just about demolished the chocolate éclairs when the next school arrived for the afternoon session: St David’s College, Cardiff. We tried out the same exercises again with similar interesting results. This group were slightly older and managed to work out that the pictures were from Coleridge’s poem. After another demonstration of the database, tea arrived, so we forced ourselves to eat more plates of sandwiches and crisps.

The day provided us with lots of ideas of how to go forward with the education strand of the project and convinced us that this was really something worth doing. The feedback from the students suggested that the workshop had made them think differently about illustration and its value, so our job was done. Now all that was left was to do was to finish off that plate of muffins …

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DMVI: Workshop 1 summary

On Wednesday 15 December, just before we all departed for the Christmas break, we held the first of our DMVI/DEDEFI  Workshops on ‘Planning and Development’. In attendance were Julia Thomas (PI), Anthony Mandal (CI), Tim Killick  (PDRA), Mike Pidd  (HRI  Sheffield), David Skilton (consultant), Paul Goldman (Honorary Professor, Cardiff University) and Rebecca Blackwell (Research and Consultancy Division, Cardiff University).

David began by circulating a list of experts who had been recruited to test the new features of the database. The discussion then turned to how we might best publicize the open source image management tool that will be made available at the end of the project. This presents and exciting and challenging opportunity to expand the structures and iconographic classification system developed on the Database of Mid-Victorian Wood-Engraved Illustration by making them freely available to those wishing to manage their own images. Omer Rana, who is directing the social tagging aspect of the project, could not be present at the meeting, but Tim reported that they had discussed how this might develop, starting with a workshop which would experiment with different ways of marking up and describing images. Finally, we looked at how the ICONCLASS  mapping was progressing. This is being undertaken by Etienne Posthumus  and Hans Brandhorst  (Amsterdam), who are translating our image tags into ICONCLASS  codes, with the aim of allowing multi-lingual searching of DMVI  and enabling the database to be compatible with other archives using ICONCLASS. The mapping is well underway and should be completed in the next few weeks.

The meeting concluded on a festive note with a Christmas lunch in Aberdare Hall and several bad cracker jokes. Luckily, everyone made it home before the snow began to fall …

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