Phil Blume and Nick Tyson

Submitted Entry for 2016 Competition


Abstract

Everywhere in the UK people live against a backdrop of historic buildings, man-made landscapes and other material components of the past. These elements are more than just a collection of inert physical remains; they are central to our sense of self, community and nation. Collectively, they form a record of where we came from and who we are.

Typical of this, here in Brighton the focus has been on major landmarks: the Royal Pavilion, the squares and terraces, pleasure piers, promenade; while the razor gangs of Graham Greene and the Mods and Rockers of Quadrophenia passed into the city’s popular folklore.

Rather than re-tell these stories of old, our Here in the Past community history project gets beneath the skin to explore the changes wrought by centuries of frantic development upon the buildings, streets, people and practices that comprise the less well known areas of our city.

To do this, we will build tools to enable thousands of historical documents to be transcribed, indexed and uploaded to the project website and, in doing so, provide access to millions of facts and figures that currently lie buried in archives.

Uniquely, the free-to-use Here in the Past website will combine the data from numerous different record types in a layered search and filter system. The interface to this will enable visitors to the website to drill down through history, exploring our city by time and place, by area, street and rooftop, by family and individual.

In doing this we aim to connect the people of today with the history of those who lived and worked in their neighbourhood in times past, to create a new and fascinating heritage and a pride-in-place for all to enjoy.

Local records are essential when it comes to telling these stories, but nationally held data can complete the picture and it is here that partnership with the British Library Labs provides a unique opportunity.

The data contained in the Electoral Roll for the Borough of Brighton for the period 1855 to 1931, held in the British Library digital collections, appears to be complete and accurate and can be incorporated as an essential layer in the story we want to tell.

We will integrate this data into Here in the Past to make an inspirational product for the residents of Brighton & Hove and a model of how people in other parts of the UK can explore the heritage of their town and cities.

URLs: Our pilot project, MyHouseMyStreet can be found here: http://www.mhms.org.uk

Our heritage centre website is here: http://www.rth.org.uk

Our wholly-owned technical company website is here: http://www.adaptivetechnologies.com

MyHouseMyStreet website image 1.png
Image from the MyHouseMyStreet website

Assessment criteria

The research question you are trying to answer


- We will test various methods, tools and interfaces to enable the transcription and indexing of the historical records to determine the most appropriate for each specific record type.

- We will explore ways of using social history data sets to visualise the transformation of an urban landscape through two centuries of change.

- We seek to discover if, by providing residents with the tools to discover who lived in their own home in the past, we can enhance pride-in-place and civic awareness.

- We will explore the extent to which connecting residents with their heritage develops in them a strong local voice to participate in decision-making about their neighbourhoods and to protect their heritage when under threat.

- We will discover how best to encourage student developers to make tools to visualise the data, to enable it to be browsed, filtered and re-purposed in ways that will make it accessible for non-expert users.

- We will ask how the methods used in Brighton & Hove can be deployed in towns and cities elsewhere.

Please explain the extent and way your idea will showcase British Library digital content.
Please ensure you include details of British Library digital collections you are showcasing.

The digital collection from the British Library that we wish to showcase is Electoral Roll for the Borough of Brighton for the period 1855 to 1931. The data from this will be incorporated into our Here in the Past website and database.

Here in the Past* has its roots in a social history project we began five years ago that has published online thousands of street directory pages and census returns relating to one of Brighton’s historic neighbourhoods. You can find these at www.mhms.org.uk.

Here in the Past will expand on this geographically to include all of Brighton’s historic neighbourhoods. It will also add additional layers of historical data lifted from the pages of street directories, census returns, school registers, burial records, other documents and, of course, the aforementioned electoral roll provided by British Library Labs.

By doing this we will publish millions of pieces of data layered, year-on-year, that can then be manipulated by users as they drill down through time to discover the human story of their home and neighbourhood and of the people and places that shaped the history of our city.

This not only informs and educates, but it connects the people of today with the history of those who lived and worked in their neighbourhoods in the centuries past, creating a new and fascinating heritage for all to enjoy.

- British Library digital content will be acknowledged on the Here in the Past website.

- Exhibitions will be mounted to showcase the Here in the Past project and the role of the British Library Labs.

- Talks will be delivered about local history research and the role of the British Library in the project.

- Our social media channels will encourage users to explore the historical records, to attend the exhibitions and talks and to acknowledge the British Library contribution.

- We will collaborate with staff at British Library Labs to identify additional data sets of value to local history projects such as ours.

(*Here in the Past is enabled by the Heritage Lottery Fund.)

Please detail the approaches you are going to use to implement your idea, detailing clearly the research methods. Indicate and describe any research methodologies and approaches you are going to use.

We will make a Drupal open source website. The design will employ a responsive template to ensure mobile compatibility. The navigation and content will meet W3C accessibility requirements. An Apache Solr search engine will enable the content to be filtered and searched.

We will design, test and build a series of systems and interfaces that will enable handwritten historical records to be indexed and transcribed by volunteers and the public. This crowdsourcing will be encouraged and progress reported using our social media channels.

We will design, test and build data visualisation tools, such as an interactive timeline; a multi-layered map with selectable record types showing geographical coverage against time; and graphing tools to compare different data sets on variable axes.

We will explore the economies and flexibility of serving the website from the cloud and pulling in image records from a local database server.

There will be sandbox areas of the website where student interns at our heritage centre will be able to experiment with data sets and tools for browsing and sorting and visualizing the datasets.


We will use our social media channels to encourage the public to contribute to the record set.
- - - - - -
We will use quantitative, qualitative, observational and statistical analysis.

We will review crowdsourcing interface design to arrive at prototype systems. These will be tested with volunteers. Their feedback will be used in an iterative process to produce the most effective solutions.

Visitors to our exhibitions will be surveyed on issues such as, the impact of history and heritage on their perception of neighbourhood and civic awareness.

The Here in the Past website will survey visitors to gather feedback for improvement.

Statistical user data from the Here in the Past website and social media channels will be gathered for analysis and publication.

The results of the project will be published in our end-of-project report.

Please provide evidence how your team have the skills, knowledge and expertise to successfully carry out the project by working with the British Library.

We have done this before

For the last five years our MyHouseMyStreet social history project has collected around 100,000 pages of street directory information, together with census returns that span 6 decades.

The street directories were indexed by volunteers using an online system that displays the image of a page alongside form fields in which its content can be recorded. We designed, tested and built this system entirely in-house.

The census returns have been transcribed into an online database that can be sorted by street name and by house number to display the past occupants of any address in its database. We designed and built this, too.

These records can be found on the project website: http://www.mhms.org.uk.

Paper: My House My Street: Engaging Local Communities of Volunteers to Learn, Train and Gain from Lost Local Heritage -
http://network.icom.museum/fileadmin/user_upload/minisites/cidoc/ConferencePapers/2012/tyson.pdf

We make lots of websites

Through our trading company, Adaptive Technologies Limited, we make websites and databases for other museums and galleries as well as our own.

A good example is the website we made for The Museum of Design in Plastics, (MoDiP). It can be found here: http://www.modip.ac.uk.

modip.ac.uk bamboo plate image 1.jpg

The website is a research resource for students and currently includes more than 13,000 objects, each displayed with thumbnail images providing multiple views. Each artefact is categorized within a hyperlinked three-level classification and is displayed with linked metadata relating to aspects of its design, manufacture and materials. The whole collection can be searched and filtered using Apache Solr.

To my knowledge, there is no other online collection of this size that includes such a comprehensive facility for searching and filtering.

Other examples of our work include an archive of the cultural history of the Elimu Carnival Band which can be found at:
http://www.elimu-archive.uk/

…and Profiles of the Past, documenting 250 years of British portrait silhouette history, here: http://www.profilesofthepast.org.uk/.

Elimu Carnival Band image 1.jpgProfiles of the Past image 1.jpg


We bring original ideas

In 2013-14 we were the technical partner, along with MoDiP (arts partner) and University of Brighton (research partner) in a crowdsourcing initiative funded by Nesta called 10 Most Wanted. It was a research project to explore and report on ways of using social media to engage the public in the search for missing information about objects in a collection.

We conceived the project, brought the partners together, built and supported the website and made presentations about it. The website is archived now but can still be found here: http://10most.org.uk/

Papers:

Case Notes: Turning crowdsourced information into evidence trails for collection metadata -
http://www.cem.brighton.ac.uk/staff/mw159/DRHA2014_extended_abstract_Winter_et_al_111.pdf

10 Most Wanted Complex game-based crowdsourcing to enhance collections metadata Research Report -
http://www.10most.org.uk/sites/10most.org.uk/files/Nesta 10Most report - final.pdf

Slide show:
10 Most Wanted: Hunting missing information about cultural artefacts -
http://www.slideshare.net/museumscomputergroup/03-ukmw13-10most

We explore new technologies

Another area of our work has been to explore the use of augmented reality (AR) to present historical data.

In partnership with the Computer Science Department at UCL we have been experimenting with an immersive, mobile, augmented reality experience to tell the stories of those who lived in Brighton in the past. Our role in the partnership is to set the technical challenges, to write the stories, to user test the beta versions and feed back to developers at UCL.

You can find out more here:
https://www.bartlett.ucl.ac.uk/space-syntax/research/projects/Visage

And see me talking about it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaNpAGQQT84

Please provide evidence of how you think your idea is achievable on a technical, curatorial and legal basis.

Technical
The evidence that this is achievable is in our background and the work we have done before.

The website will be similar to MyHouseMyStreet but will contain additional record types.

The user tagging and indexing interface will be similar to ones we have made before.

The mapping interfaces have been developed by others for similar projects, we will follow their best practice examples.

The crowd sourcing will draw on our growing social network and on our experience of using social media to engage the public with collections in the 10 Most Wanted project.

The Solr search and filter functionality will be similar to that which we used on the collection for the Museum of Design in Plastics, you can find the collection here: http://www.modip.ac.uk/category/the/collection

Curatorial

We will seek the opinion of curators at the British Library regarding ways of presenting data, other record types to add to the Here in the Past project and the possibility of linking from records in our website directly to the British Library online catalogue.

We will draw on the experience that we have gained in developing our own heritage centre and museum here at The Regency Town House where we are based. For more information see: www.rth.org.uk.

We can also draw on our experience of having originated Profiles of the Past, a project dedicated to 250 years of British portrait silhouette history. This required us to locate, photograph, record and upload the largest online collection of silhouette art to be found anywhere.

And finally we can draw on our experience of having made websites and applications for museums and archives since 1995.

Legal

We will consult with British Library regarding the license under which we are able to publish Electoral Roll for the Borough of Brighton for the period 1855 to 1931.

The website software and search software will be open source and the website will meet W3C accessibility requirements.

The IPR license for user-contributed content will be similar to that used for our 10 Most Wanted project.

Our goal is that the data sets will be free to use for non-commercial purposes, using a Creative Commons agreement or similar.

Please provide a brief plan of how you will implement your idea by working with the Labs team. You will be given the opportunity to work on your winning idea between May 26th - November 4th 2016

June 2016
BL - Consult with BL regarding the data structure and technologies.
BL - Provide the data: Electoral Roll for the Borough of Brighton for the period 1855 to 1931.
RTH - Write a script to chop the data into a series of discrete entries
RTH - Organise the data structure.

July 2016
RTH - Upload the data.
RTH - Design an interface in which to display it.
BL - Provide feedback during the design process and during the testing of the user interaction.
BL - Invite British Library Labs to participate in a joint presentation to highlight our partnership.
BL/RTH - To co-promote the project on the British Library and The Regency Town House websites and social media channels.

August 2016
RTH - Decide how to combine the BL data with other data in the website.
BL - Provide advice and feedback on the functionality.
RTH - Configure Solr search functions.
BL - To look for additional data types.
BL/RTH - To co-promote the project on the British Library and The Regency Town House websites and social media channels.

September 2016
BL - To advise on technologies used to explore the data.
RTH - Make tools to explore and display the data.
RTH - Decide how to construct the sandbox area.
BL/RTH - To co-promote the project on the British Library and The Regency Town House websites and social media channels.

October 2016
RTH - Test the tools, feedback, iterate.
RTH - Blog and post about the project on social media channels.
BL - Invite British Library Labs to participate in a joint presentation to showcase the project.