Author Archives: diu

Copernicus x Smith

The University’s Iconics Collection holds some of the institution’s most valued and treasured items, and the recent push for more digitisation of the University of Edinburgh collections has meant that the Iconic items are a high priority.

Recently I digitised Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres). Copernicus is regarded as one of the central figures of the Scientific Revolution for his heliocentric theory. It is considered one of the key works in the history of western astronomy as it brought forth a new theory about the Universe and our place in it at a time where it was widely believed that everything in the Universe orbited a motionless, central Earth. It was also the first open criticism against Aristotelian and Ptolemic systems, which in addition to claiming Earth was central, employed the classical ideal of ‘celestial motions’ being eternally uniform and circular.  Continue reading

Victorian Veterinary Journals

Tab. II (after p.10).

The Anatomy of the Horse. Stubbs, George.

Recently I worked on digitising a small number of volumes of The Veterinary Journal from the late 19th century and late 20th century. Almost 100 years apart, the earlier volumes from 1889-1898 had some questionable advice and cures for ailments including the free use of toxic chemicals and even a few drams of whisky for a horse’s stomach ache! We view these archaic methods nowadays with humour – after all, some absurdities are expected from a late Victorian medical journal.

The first journal I scanned was compiled in 1889, and there was a brief article about the use of Chloroform as an anaesthetic for horses during surgery, and although the author is “aware that some authorities rather discourage the administration of chloroform, on the ground that it frightens the horse more than the operation does” he noted that “if small doses are administered with very little air the results are much more satisfactory, particularly if Carlisle’s chloroform-bag is used. Of this apparatus I wish to speak in terms of great praise, and would strongly recommend it to chloroformists.”

This short report may have been slightly controversial, as research had been done as early as forty years prior about the dangers of chloroform as an anaesthetic, for both humans and animals, and the first human death due to chloroform poisoning was in 1848, although several professional institutions denied for many years that there was a correlation between the two.

A glass bottle used to administer chloroform, owned by James Young Simpson. In a leather case.

There was an increasing number of human deaths relating to the medical use of chloroform in the 1800s, even when John Snow’s purpose built inhaler was used, often due to incorrect adjustment of the absorbent paper and unregulated dosages. Shock or fright also added to the likelihood of death as the heart and lungs were already in a fragile state, and ironically those who were otherwise healthy and in a physically fit state needed a dangerously high amount to reach the same state as frail patients.

Snow used animals as test subjects and when he found that the other popular anaesthetic Ether did not produce paralysis of the heart, he nevertheless continued to use chloroform. When asked why, he said “An occasional risk never stands in the way of ready applicability.” It must also be noted that in 1824 Henry Hill Hickman discovered that he could use carbon dioxide as a painless anaesthetic in animals, but unfortunately this wasn’t well documented at the time. Perhaps the author of the article in The Veterinary Journal held the same beliefs as Snow and was set in his ways.

(‘Note on Chloroform’ by F. Raymond, F.R.C.V.S., F.R.M.S., E.T.C, Army Veterinary Department, The Veterinary Journal: Volume 28, 1889)


The Veterinary Journal: Volume 46 (XLVI) 1898_1

Another odd article found in the Notes and News section in Volume 46 (1898) was ‘The Value of Hydrochloric Acid in Sciatica Discovered by Accident’. This article describes a man who suffered for many years from sciatica who was undergoing treatment of hypodermic injections of salt and water, but found it ineffective. He felt a stronger salt content would be more successful, so he procured some “spirit of salt” (hydrochloric acid) and painted it on his skin in the affected areas. He was miraculously cured of his pains in only a few days, and told doctors who were interested in trialling this treatment with their patients. “The procedure is simple enough,” the article promises, “Half an ounce of strong hydrochloric acid is put in a small cup and a brush is dipped in it and applied over the painful part of the nerve, three or four coats being painted on. The limb is then developed in a cotton-wool dressing. Of course, the application causes a somewhat severe smarting sensation, but this is quite bearable. A few minutes afterwards the skin becomes reddened and hot, and sometimes bullae are formed which fill with fluid. These, even if they occur, disappear in two or three days. Usually the patient feels better even after a single sitting. The application can be repeated in from twenty-four to forty-eight hours, but not again for several days, for fear of producing sloughs. Of course, too, where there are bullae they must be avoided in subsequent applications.”

The article was overwhelmingly positive with doctors reporting many happy and cured patients. No mention of other health hazards (apart from the burns on the skin’s surface) such as inflammation and ulceration of the respiratory tract, chest pain and pulmonary edema from acute inhalation of hydrochloric acid. Due to limited medical knowledge of chemical toxicity at the time, only autopsies could reveal underlying internal health problems, some caused by the apparent cures.

Lastly, I came across a brief but thought provoking article that is very relevant in today’s climate of awareness for animal welfare, titled ‘Is the Flesh of Tortured Animals Poisonous as Food?’. The opening statement recalls that this is not a new concept; “The idea has been recently started, or rather revived – for it is somewhat ancient – that the flesh of tortured animals may be pernicious as food; and as it has received the support of medical men […] Whether it really does so is a question we cannot pretend to answer, but the popular notion […] [is] that some change does occur in the tissues under the influence of pain or distress.”

Chillingham Bull by William Shiels (1785-1857). Creator: Low, David (b.1786, d.1859).

 More than ever before vegetarianism and veganism is becoming popular as more awareness is spread about animal cruelty and the factory farming industry, and people are making choices that are more emotionally charged when it comes to food and the environment. This article from 1889 doesn’t offer much scientific analysis or any conclusive proof, apart from an anecdotal excerpt; “A medical man at Lancaster lends his countenance to the poisonous character of what he designates “tortured meat,” and he evidently believes that there is danger in its consumption. A toxic product is developed in the flesh of tortured animals, he asserts, one of the class of peculiar bodies known as “ptomaines,” some of which are not destroyed at the temperature of cooking, and which, he contends, are undoubtedly produced under conditions of great pain and distress.”

It was a surprising subject to come across, especially in a volume so old, but clearly showing an awareness for the welfare of animals among veterinary professionals, and those looking closely at the structure of an animal on a scientific basis. Awareness of chemicals that were entering our bodies was evidently a viable research venture in the 1800s. In stark contrast, the journals from the late 1980s are much closer to today’s medical standards and following much stricter procedures and regulations.

Who knows what new discoveries veterinary journals of 2080 may hold!

Juliette Lichman
Digitisation Assistant

New i2S CopiBook V-Shape Scanner in the DIU

Last week the i2S CopiBook V-Shape arrived in the Digital Imaging Unit where it was installed and demoed by Pascale Thuilliez from i2S. This high-quality bookscanner was bought with the view to being used for the next phase of the Session Papers Project (read my previous blog here for more information on the project itself).

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2 and 3D Photography: Practice, Prophecies, and Beyond- Conference at the Rijksmuseum

Team DIU (well, half of it!) have been visiting the Rijksmuseum again for the biennial conference on 2 and 3D photography. 2 full days of speakers followed by another workshop day left us with lots to think about. This year’s conference built on the last, Robert Erdmann released the open source code for his amazing curtain viewer which can be tried out in the Bosh Project here . Malcolm is going to delve deeper in to Erdmann’s latest developments below. Otherwise 3D technology seems to be taking root, with debate over the level of quality and detail needed, and advances such as ‘videogrammetry’ and ‘unstructured light field renderings’ (see below) entering the fray.

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The Gaelic Liturgy; the only copy in Scotland

This unassuming little book is of the greatest national importance: it is the only copy in Scotland of the first book printed in Gaelic (Gaelic Liturgy; year 1567; shelfmark Dd.10.44.).  After the Reformation there was a strong impetus, sponsored primarily by the Campbell Earls of Argyll, to evangelise the Highlands and Islands, where Gaelic rather than Scots was spoken.  John Carswell, Bishop of the Isles, adapted John Knox’s Book of Common Order into Scottish Gaelic.  It was a hugely ambitious undertaking, particularly considering it would be another two centuries before the New Testament was finally published in vernacular Gaelic.  This copy has clearly been well-used.

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Voyages of Discovery

In this weeks’ blog post we are pleased to welcome our newest member of staff, Juliette Lichman. When not working on new orders, she has been preparing old ones to go into our Open Books Repository Juliette has been discovering how easy it is to get drawn in to the complex and fascinating histories of the books…

The university’s cherished Laing collection is an invaluable resource of important historical documents, and is a frequent subject on this blog. The fact that there are still so many unknown works and exciting discoveries to be made within the collection is astounding. I was lucky enough to experience this first-hand several weeks ago, during an afternoon of working through a deeply buried folder of book scans. I came across a Laing collection document that had incorrect and missing metadata. It appeared to be an unassuming manuscript (date unknown) with handwriting that was ornately scribed but difficult to decipher, though certainly English.
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The Stories and Afterlife of Lady Grange

Stories beget stories – it’s one of my favourite things about them – and archives are built on precisely this strength. Archival collections, like those at the University of Edinburgh, do not simply store and preserve artefacts, but actually become a medium through which stories, both existing and those yet to be told, can find a voice. As these musings might already indicate, I’ve been recently reminded of the centrality of stories to archives through my time as a volunteer in the Digital Imaging Unit working on various papers related to Rachel Erskine, née Chiesley (bap.1679-1745), or, as she is more infamously known, Lady Grange.

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Scottish Court of Session Papers; digitisation pilot

At present I am working on a pilot project, digitising the Scottish Court of Session Papers. The collection is held across three institutions; The Advocate’s Library, The Signet Library and the University of Edinburgh’s Library and University Collections. The collection itself consists of circa 6500 volumes, comprising court cases which span the 18th and 19th century.

The aim of the pilot is to determine the most effect digitisation methods for these materials with a view to a potential mass digitisation project covering the entire collection. The digitisation tests and experiments I have been undertaking have raised the many challenges that such a large project would present, namely around the issue of recording metadata and which digitisation practices to employ in relation to the condition and size of any particular volume.

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2nd C. Sculpture to Star Wars Props: 3D, a Force Awakens?

During a photogrammetry training session with Clara Molina Sanchez, we were recommended to choose objects with a matt surface, small to medium in size, and which didn’t have many holes or occlusions. We settled on a Gandharan Buddha from the Art Collection, a Paolozzi maquette from the Edinburgh College of Art collection and, just to test what would happen, a thigh bone trumpet wrapped in shiny metal filigree from the Musical Instruments collection.

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The Association For Historical And Fine Art Photography Conference 2016. “Photography delivers the curatorial message”.

This year’s conference was hosted by The Imperial War Museum London. Diane Lees Director-General of the Imperial War Museums opened this year’s conference with the idea that “Photography delivers the curatorial message”. The presentations that followed certainly backed that statement up and demonstrated the complexity of support that photography brings to the curatorial message. Of particular note during a varied day of talks an emphasis on photogrammetry emerged as opposed to 3D scanning. The presentations that left an impression on me are discussed below but abstracts of all the conference talks can be found here:



The Drexel Digital Museum: Interpreting the digital historic fashion object.

This was a very engaging presentation by Daniel Caufield-Sriklad. He highlighted that there needs to be a different approach to digital interpretation as opposed to physical museum interpretation. Within his presentation he demonstrated how the Drexel Digital museum web site pulled in many different sources of information relating to the one physical object in the collection. Each object entry online could contain still photographs of the object and dedicated detailed shots. The entry would also contain moving image sequences and sound recordings relating to that object. In addition the object entry would also contain Giga Pan Process capturing 720 images per object and stitched those together to give a detailed 360 degree view of the object. These images “can be displayed at 1:1 scale, rotated 360 degrees, and zoomed into details far beyond what can be perceived by the unaided human eye”. 3D Motion capture was also used to create a 3D model to demonstrate the garment during movement using digital draping technology. HTML 5 was used to deliver their site. The overall approach provides multiple layers of interpretation in one central space.


The Strines Journal: Practice-led research into Historic Photographic Processes

Tony Richards from John Rylands Library Manchester gave an illuminating talk on his journey of trying to reproduce historic photographic processing. This included a lot of research into early wet processing formulas and their execution in studio practice. It revealed that published practice was misleading at times and it took a lot of cross referencing of published early formulas to finally achieve any kind of results similar to the early photographic collections that we hold in our museums. This work has brought the early photographic process to life again through in depth practice and research. Definitely an expert view in relation to our early photographic collections.

Digitising, Geo referencing and Transcribing 1100 Tithe maps

Scott Waby from The National Library of Wales delivered an engaging and well-paced talk on the progress of the project. It is an ambitious project to layer the Welsh national historical collection of maps on top of current map data for Wales. Scott and his team built a large curved magnetic wall to facilitate pin sharp capture of large maps in the collection. They had noticed that focus was falling off towards the edges of the map capture and so devised the curved wall to maintain the same focal length across the entire map whilst keeping the camera in a fixed position.


Day Two Workshops

 Tate Britians move to Digital X-Ray
An opportunity to view Tate’s new digital x-ray system launched in January this year, replacing old x-ray set with a more powerful one and specially designed art table.

Fascinating insight into the digital x-ray world. At a cost of £93k Tate Britain have established a digital x-ray work flow. The results of which have uncovered the working process of artist like Picasso, Rene Magritte and Reynolds to name a few. This appeared labour intensive with all six staff having to vacate the studio each time an x-ray is triggered. The capture area is around A3 size so the larger works require multiple exposures which are then stitched together and for the medium sized Reynolds painting that was demonstrated final image was around 1.45 Gb. This in itself adds another cost in terms of processing images. The set up included a tripod to mount the X-Ray generator for use in the field. This also included guidelines and markers to calibrate safe distances before triggering the x-ray.

All round a challenge to implement requiring government inspectors to assure no health risk and a sizeable space away from people. Obviously the final images are a huge boon to conservators and people marketing and studying these historic processes.


Metamorfoze Preservation Imaging Guidelines and its daily use 

Hans van Dormolen & Tony Harris

This was a practical real world walk through of studio implementation of the Metamorphose   guidelines approved by unanimous vote at 2D + 3D Practices and Prophecies conference 2014 Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Metamorphose guidelines are now law in the Netherlands if you are photographing national collections. The guidelines were written over a seven year period of research by Hans van Dormolen a researcher at UK Government Art Collection.

The walk through consisted of a standard copy stand set up with lights and camera in a static position photographing a large version x-rite colour chart. The main opening point driven home by Hans was “Gain Modulation”. Put simply the lights and camera and distance from object all have to remain static in order to maintain a consistent gain modulation. Readings are taken from the digital image of the chart using capture one sampling tool focussing on the reading shown in the green band. These readings are then checked against the Metamorphose guidelines and adjustments are made to the lights until the required readings are achieved. This took 6-7 adjustments to the lights. There is a small tolerance allowed within the guidelines. Once the initial target square patch E5 on the x-rite reads at 242 the setting is achieved and reading continues on J6, F5, I6, K6, G5 etc. following the guidelines.

Hans noted that each x-rite chart has a batch number and advised that more recent charts would aid accuracy. Also clean your chart from dust. After numerous studio tests Hans also noted that a black background was preferable for placing your chart on for optimum colour accuracy.

The walk through diverged at this point into discussion around uniform illumination and how one could check this by photographing a white sheet of paper and using Photoshop’s histogram palette, using the illumination drop down menu and referring those readings to the Metamorphose guidelines. Uniform illumination can also be checked using the threshold tool again in Photoshop and noting the values at the point where black begins to enter the image and the point where white almost leaves the image.

The workshop never completed the task of calibrating for colour accuracy in the two and a half hour slot allocated with it has to be said the experts driving. It’s a complicated task to image using the guidelines and would only be useful in a real world setting where lighting and object distance were static so that gain modulation was static. However this could be achieved on projects that have same size objects like our recent glass plate negative project.


The Imperial War Museum was an astonishing museum in many ways, it had very clever use of moving images that merged with physical collections in an immersive way. However I was struck by just how much energy and physical effort and ingenuity human beings put into killing each other. Tremendously sad.


Malcolm Brown Deputy Photographer Library & University Collections Digital Imaging Unit





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