The experiment: Engaging undergraduates in advanced university research


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. (more…)


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 …

Enhancing the Database of Mid-Victorian Illustration

Just a quick update to introduce myself and say I’m glad to be back at Cardiff and looking forward to working as the research associate on the new phase of DMVI. I’m still getting to grips with the project programme and trying to get in touch with all of the various people involved, but things are proceeding apace and we’ve got lots to look forward to in the new year.

As a reminder, the elements of the project are as follows: the database will be converted to open source software and remodelled to facilitate web-based data-entry; the iconographic cataloguing system will be extended to allow multi-lingual searches and will be integrated with another popular visual hierarchy, Iconclass; the iconographic system will be made available as an Open Source Image Curation System; the scope for integrating DMVI’s systems with Web 2.0 social networking technologies will be modelled; and the possibilities for developing DMVI as a teaching resource will be explored.

The aim of all this is to make the innovative technologies and methodologies developed by DMVI accessible to the widest possible audience – in terms of language, location, discipline and user profile. Elements of DMVI have already been deployed in other projects dealing with themes as varied as the history of Manchester and the history of Victorian periodicals. After the completion of this programme of research and enhancements, much more will be possible.