A collection-level description of the records of the Stationers’ Company Archive is now accessible via the Archives Hub portal (https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/search/archives/33966ba3-871b-3d6d-81ba-3312c78583ac).
The Archives Hub (https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/) is a portal for over 300 repositories across the UK. It provides advanced subject searching tools to help researchers to locate collections they may be interested in. Signing up to the Hub also means that our descriptions will be automatically harvested by Archives Portal Europe (https://www.archivesportaleurope.net/), and we will receive regular Google Analytics reports to help us monitor how researchers our accessing our information, and how we can improve our outreach in this respect.
Information technology has transformed our lives in many ways: DNA sequencing, Google searches, MRI scans and cash machines all rely on the ability of computers to perform rapid and accurate calculations on large volumes of data. However, pattern recognition is one task in which the capacity of the human brain easily excels. Developing an artificial intelligence which can perform anywhere near as well, even in a limited context, poses a significant challenge.
Nevertheless, machine reading has developed rapidly over the last few years. Whenever you use a free text search, on a website, electronic document or digital image of a typed or printed text, that search is carried out by software using Optical Character Recognition (OCR). OCR algorithms parse structured texts and match the shapes of the letters, with varying degrees of sophistication. OCR has revolutionised our ability to search documents, but because it relies so much on structured and standardised text, its use has largely been limited to printed material. Hand-written documents present a whole new set of problems: even a trained scribe will not reproduce all of their letters identically each time they write. Because the human brain is very good at second-guessing and ‘filling in the gaps’ to make sense of what is around us, these are problems which, with a little training, we can surmount. Getting an artificial intelligence to do this is not so easy.
When it comes to reading written texts, humans with a competent level of literacy do not process text letter by letter: we generally scan for recognised combinations which we expect to occur in a given context. So it’s not surprising that in the last few years, IT developers have been trying to emulate this approach in developing software which will read handwriting, or Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) software. This is done by using ‘training data’. Handwritten texts are fed into the software, along with their transcriptions, allowing the programme to correlate between the handwritten and printed texts. The more training data is available, the more accurate the results will be, as false correlations will be eliminated. It’s a sophisticated example of machine learning which is being improved all the time.
We’re delighted to inform you that Adam Matthew Digital are now implementing HTR on some of the material in ‘Literary Print Culture’, their resource presenting the digitised documents from our archive. HTR enhanced texts have a pencil symbol next to their titles. AMD have posted a news story on their website which you are encouraged to share: https://www.amdigital.co.uk/about/news/item/htr-technology-added-to-literary-print-culture
We hope that the new HTR facility will help researchers to make the most of our digital resources. Please be aware, though, that no electronic search system is flawless; so if you don’t find what you’re looking for, please feel free to contact the Archivist for further information. In particular, earlier hand-writing is not always easy to parse. For instance, a search on Liber C for the word ‘goose’ produced some odd results, including the following:
The highlighted and misidentified texts read ‘[preac]her of’ and ‘peace’ respectively – clearly the software has been looking for the down stroke of the ‘g’ followed by a sequence of curved letters without up or down strokes, and I think most of us would agree that the actual writing in the texts is far from obvious! So do use a combination of search techniques (in the case of the early entry books of copy, the transcriptions of Arber and Eyre are also available to search) – including emailing the Archive.
If you’re interested in learning more about HTR technology, there is an excellent blog post by Richard Dunley on HTR at work in the National Archives at https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/blog/machines-reading-the-archive-handwritten-text-recognition-software/, and regular, highly informative blogposts on UCL’s Bentham Project at http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/transcribe-bentham/.
A report from our Archive volunteer, Freeman Richard Gilpin:
If any members of the Company happened to be at the University of London’s Senate House on Tuesday 27th November for its History Day, they will not have failed to notice the Stationers’ Archivist, Ruth Frendo, promoting opportunities for researchers needing to access the Company’s Archive.
History Day, organised by the Institute of Historical Research, was aimed at researchers, and offered a series of high quality panel sessions. These included advice on using archives and libraries; exploring business records; a case study of information-gathering from University archives; the latest news about digital tools and methods (including an update on UCL’s Bentham Project on HTR – handwritten text recognition); researching people across collections; and different approaches to the use of sources.
It also brought together over seventy organisations and publishers, with their displays in three halls on the ground floor of Senate House, alerting visitors to the rich library, archive and digital collections that are held across London and beyond.
Ruth’s display, against a backdrop of images from the archive, included copies of the Company’s new colour leaflet The Stationers’ Company Archive at the Tokefield Centre. This describes the funding and construction of the Carfax Room and Gateway Room, both of them contained within the Tokefield Centre, and offers a brief history of the Stationers’ Company. It lists the records that are currently held within the Archive, including the Registers; the Court Books; membership records from 1555; English Stock records; property records from 1674; Company legal and financial records; many family papers; and a collection of ephemera such as invitation cards, programmes and menus.
The leaflet gives advice and guidance on using the Tokefield Centre’s facilities, suggests areas of research supported by the Archive, and gives days and times when the Gateway Room is open to researchers – by appointment only.
While other Livery companies were notable largely for their absence from the occasion, the Stationers’ Company was a conspicuous participant.
The Company’s display and leaflet, enhanced by Ruth’s enthusiasm, not only fitted in perfectly with the objectives of History Day, but succeeded in raising awareness of the Company’s contribution to research into the regulation of the book trade; copyright; publishing; and the technologies of communication.
In the photo you can see on the left Victoria West, Archivist for the Worshipful Company of Barbers and on the right Ruth Frendo.
Next Tuesday (27th November) sees the return of the University of London’s annual History Day. This free one-day event offers researchers an opportunity to meet librarians and archivists from research organisations including universities, heritage organisations and specialist repositories. Last year the Stationers’ Company became the first livery company to participate in the event, and this year we’ll be joined by the Barbers’ Company and the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries.
As well as finding out more about collections across the country, visitors can also attend a programme of talks on research methods and developments. Topics covered in this year’s programme include corporate histories, digital research tools, and using archival research in creative writing.
To find out more about History Day, and link to blog posts from some of the organisations that will be taking part, visit https://historycollections.blogs.sas.ac.uk/
Our Archivist, Dr Ruth Frendo, writes:- It’s fair to say that most of the records in our Archive relate to men. Given that, throughout most of history, women have had less access to education than men, the fact that, for centuries, men dominated the activities of producing, selling and acquiring books is hardly surprising. However, it’s important to remember that archives only ever hold partial truths: to some extent, archival research is always an act of joining the dots between fragments of evidence.
Some of the latest research into the complexity of women’s historical relationship with the printed word is being presented at a forthcoming one-day conference at the University of London’s Institute of English Studies. Women and the Book (26 October 2018, 9.30am - 6.45pm at Senate House) will explore aspects of women’s participation in reading, writing, commissioning and collecting books, from the Middle Ages to the twentieth-century. To find out more, and to book a place, visit: https://www.ies.sas.ac.uk/events/conferences/women-and-book
To mark Black History Month Dr Ruth Frendo our Archivist researched and wrote up a fascinating piece on The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African. In fact it was so interesting that we felt it deserved star billing and so has been made a feature. You can find it by clicking here. Please do click through to read it.
The Company is a member of this group which is a network for archivists working in the City of London, and it also welcomes anyone with a professional or personal interest in the City’s archives. It was set up in 1986 by our Honorary Archivist Emeritus, Robin Myers MBE and earlier in the Summer Ruth Frendo the current Archivist attended one of the sessions which was held held at the Museum of the Order of St. John (photo above). Her report is in the Features section of the website here. The City Archivists Group's website can be seen here. Do explore both links.
The Archive held a workshop immediately before the Archive event yesterday. Prof Ian Gadd, Dr Giles Bergel and the Stationers' Archivist, Dr Ruth Frendo, led c10 academics and researchers in a three hour session looking at how to use the Stationers' Archive. This was a first for the Company and the Archive and we hope that it will lead to more research being undertaken in this valuable collection which, bit by bit, reveals insights into the history of the book and of the Company.
The Stationers’ Company is one of the most important cultural institutions in British history. From its foundation from 1403, it has been the primary membership organisation for the English book trade. By the seventeenth century, practically every important printer, publisher, and bookseller in England was a member, and while the growth of the provincial book trade from the early eighteenth century onwards diminished its oversight of the national trade it nonetheless continued to include many key members of the trade amongst its ranks.
Stationers’ Hall contains archives for the Company dating back to the mid-sixteenth century: not only the famous Stationers’ Register into which members recorded their publishing rights but also membership records, financial accounts, minutes of meetings, property holdings, articles of governance, and so on. It is only one of several dozen London livery companies but, thanks to the scholarly interest in the books they printed, published, and sold, we know more about its members, their activities, and their associated artefacts than any other trade or craft in Britain.
Taking place in the Company’s new Tokefield archive and research centre, this workshop will introduce you to the diversity and range of the Company’s records. It will explain the structure of the Company, what records it kept, and how to interpret the documents. Guidance will be given on using relevant reference works, catalogues, and other resources (including the latest digital tools), and you will be encouraged to come with your own research questions. Special attention will be given to the Stationers’ Register and the membership records. You will also be given three weeks of access to Adam Matthew’s Literary Print Culture which includes digitised scans of the vast majority of the Company’s records.
The workshop will be led by Ruth Frendo, the Company’s Archivist and two leading scholars of the Company and the book trade, Dr Giles Bergel and Professor Ian Gadd.
The workshop is aimed at graduate students, researchers, archivists, scholars and anyone else interested in learning more about the history of the Company, its members and their activities. There will be bursaries covering attendance and travel expenses for graduate students, generously provided by the Bibliographical Society.
Refreshments will be provided.
The workshop will be followed by the Company’s annual ‘Archive Evening’, running from 6pm to 8pm and including a wine reception and buffet. Participants in the workshop can attend the evening at a discounted rate. More information about the Archive Evening is available at https://stationers.org/events/event/0/53-events/172-archive-evening-2018-a-celebration-of-the-tokefield-archive-centre.html
To apply, please send a brief biography along with a 200-word statement of how the workshop will be of benefit to you to Ruth Frendo at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are a graduate student, please provide your institution, degree and subject you are enrolled on, and if you would like to be considered for a bursary.
Applications should be received by Friday 13 April.
£40 for workshop and evening; £20 just for workshop
From L-R in the photo – Dr Giles Bergel, Professor Ian Gadd and Ruth Frendo
We’re delighted to announce that the Adam Matthew digital resource, Literary Print Culture: The Stationers' Company Archive, can now be accessed remotely by all members of the Stationers’ Company via the Members’ section of our website.
It’s very straightforward: log in as usual, and you’ll see that the final entry on the left-hand sidebar is ‘Access to Digitised Archive’. Click on this and you’ll be linked through to a document containing the Terms and Conditions of Access to the resource. Please do read through these, at least on your first visit, and make sure you understand them! If you’re happy to accept, click on the link at the bottom of the page, and you will be redirected to the Adam Matthew website.
Once there, if you are using the resource from the comfort of your own home (or any other favourite haunt) you will then need to log in with the details provided by Adam Matthew exclusively for members of the Stationers’ Company. You can view the log in details here.
And that’s it! The historical documents of the Stationers’ Company’s Archive are now at your fingertips.
You can navigate through the Introduction to the Resource, read essays about the archive and the history of the Stationers, or browse documents and images from the collection. The high-quality digitisation allows you to zoom in on texts, and the resource as a whole offers a fantastic entry point to the collections.
You may find the Search Directories section of the resource useful to help you locate documents. This uses some information derived from the archive catalogue, such as the names of record series, and some information, such as keywords and themes, which was created and added by the Adam Matthew Editorial Team. Free text searching of documents is available, and there is a search-bar on every page. This is a very convenient way to start your research. Please bear in mind, though, that free text searching only works on typed and printed documents – so occurrences of a name or term which appear in letters and manuscripts will not be picked up, unless those documents have been transcribed into print, or the relevant search terms are used in the catalogue description.
If you have any questions about any aspect of the resource, from the Terms and Conditions and what they mean to you, to how best to conduct a search, please don’t hesitate to email me directly at email@example.com.