Friday 28 October marked the end of the first quarter of the Library’s PhD digitisation project, with over 3,000 theses scanned to date.
After a challenging first few months, the project is now very much up to speed and the team have exceeded initial scanning and processing targets. At the end of the first quarter, 706 unique and 2,464 duplicate theses had been scanned, 29% and 27% respectively of the in-house target for the whole project. Added to this, several thousand theses are due to be outsourced, with options being explored for their digitisation.
The team has focussed on the twentieth century collection, which is largely typed (and therefore can be OCR-ed), A4 in size and single sided, although, as you will see from the team’s project posts to date, content and structure vary significantly. Following scanning and processing, the theses are uploaded to a bulk import section in ERA and then transferred to their relevant School by the Scholarly Communications team.
A few highlights since the project began:
We welcomed two new members to the team: Pete joined the digitisation team in August and Nicole began working as the Project Conservator earlier this month.
We purchased a second Kodak document scanner, allowing us to double the speed at which we are able to destructively scan duplicate theses. On just one day in September, 46 duplicate theses were scanned (still a team record)!
Many University staff and students are blissfully unaware of the existence of the Library Annexe (I know I was, before starting work here earlier this summer), which is situated in the heart of an industrial unit surrounded by bank and insurance offices – most would pass without giving it a second glance.
The Library Annexe has been operational since 2006, with the second phase opening in April 2011.
Some of the 33,000 linear metres of storage on site.
Its purpose is to provide additional storage for low-use University collections or collections not currently in use. The Annexe also supports Estates redevelopment projects elsewhere, temporarily or permanently holding collections.
Material stored in the Library Annexe includes General collections material relocated including lesser used monographs, journals with current electronic subscriptions, and reference material not suitable for reclassification into the current lending collection. In addition, selected material from the Library’s Special Collections, University archives and Lothian Health Services Archive are stored there, in environmentally controlled conditions.
Some of the ECA artworks stored on site.
There are over 1000 paintings and artworks from the Edinburgh College of Art stored in the Annexe.
Sir Eduardo Paolozzi’s Tottenham Court Road tube station mosaic.
In this project we tackle theses chronologically. We follow a spreadsheet that has been ordered, more or less, by date and name of author. As we move forwards, we have been noticing that:
1. theses get generally longer as the years go by;
2. there are definitely themes that at times, are more fashionable than others. The early 20th century hot PhD topic was, for example, Chorea whilst the 1980s saw an increase in the number of works written about infants and motherhood;
3. Theses get less and less visual as we scan.
It is possible, though, to find beautiful imagery in later thesis, as the 1987’s work Transcultural nursing: the role of the health visitor in multi-cultural situations by Susan Margaret Dobson exemplifies.The following pictures show how skilled (at least aesthetically) Dobson was when documenting her research. The composition, the lighting and the colours of these photographs immediately caught my attention.
This study is concerned with examining the evolution of status areas in the context of Edinburgh. Status areas were defined in three period analyses in 1855, 1914 and 1962…
(Gordon, 1971, vol.1:(i))
Only the second volume of this thesis was able to be scanned at this time, and so the many maps, charts, and illustrations it contained were all discovered without the context of the main volume. Despite this, they still provide evocative snapshots of a former time.
Invisible Cities (Calvino, 1972/1974) also examines how cities change, and how they must continue to change lest they become a dead city, like Troy. Each of the snapshots below, shows a very different city with different characters and different purposes, of different smells and appearances, and very different populations: “cities of delight and desire, cities tinged with regrets, vibrant cities, failing cities, seemingly impossible cities that defy logic and time” (Yuen, 2015) and each pretending to the same name and approximate location of ‘Edinburgh’. Continue reading →
Digitising this thesis collection is an act of time travel. We began in May at the early twentieth century and are currently working through the seventies. We have enjoyed images of a man in a beautiful three-piece suit coaxing a snake into a glass tube from the twenties, and are currently being treated to some majestic large collars, trousers and hair from the seventies. Not only do the fashions change, but the technology changes as well, from hand written, to meticulously typed on typewriters, and finally to modern computers, which we have yet to encounter. In this way the PhD thesis collection is a litmus test for the technological development of the society from which it emerged.
The collection is also an indication of social development. It cannot be denied that the authors of these theses are not representative of society en masse, but a highly educated, largely male minority. But these are not the only people bound within these volumes, and one could argue not the only creators of these theses as physical objects. I am fascinated by the names of countless women who worked tirelessly to create this collection. These are of course the professional typists who pieced together chapters, created tables and graphs and read handwriting that seems to have been often rather illegible. I encounter these women in the acknowledgments section of the theses. I find this particularly amusing because presumably in order to be thanked in the thesis they needed to type their own acknowledgement.
I have been taking note of these women for about three weeks now and so far about 40% of the volumes I have encountered contain acknowledgments to typists. I don’t know if these means the work was typed by its author or if the typist’s name just hasn’t been included. I have recorded sixty different women. Only two women, Helen Scott and Anthea Cormack, have been named twice. Cormack typed two theses addressing fibrinolysis, whereas Scott typed one PhD in chemistry and another MD about the liver. Therefore I’m not sure whether typists specialised in certain topics or not. I have encountered one example of a man typing a thesis for a women, Maureen Child completed her thesis entitled ‘An ethological study of social interaction among nursery school children’ in 1978. She thanks Nick Child, perhaps a relative, for typing her thesis.
These names will not be on the catalogue, they did not receive a new title for their work, and presumably within a decade or so their skills were no longer required. I have managed to find very little information about typists working in Edinburgh in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s but clearly there were several. I would like to type an acknowledgement to them so they don’t have to do it themselves for once.
Hello, I’m Pete Marsden one of the digitisation assistants working out at the Gyle in West Edinburgh, and this is what I get up to……..
Here is a sneak peek behind the scenes at the library annexe where the thesis digitising team are hard at work. We have over 20,000 theses, most of which are duplicates, to scan over the next 18 months.
The theses are double checked on our spreadsheet to ensure that they are indeed duplicates and haven’t previously been scanned, when we are happy with this, the thesis has its boards removed with a sharp knife.
Removing the boards with a Stanley knife
The next stage is to remove the binding using a manual guillotine and a bit of elbow grease. The thesis is now ready to move on to the scanning stage.
Removing the binding with a manual guillotine
A Kodak i4250 document scanner is utilised for this step, this scans at 150 pages per minute producing pdf format files which are then sent to the image processing stage (more of which later).
Kodak i4250 document scanner
Next time we will look at the image processing using Limb software.
When we think about submitting a piece of academic work/reserach, whether it is a PhD thesis, an essay or an article, standardisation always comes to mind. Formatting, referencing, and structuring are an integral part of academic writing and although most students dread the final adjustments, they are necessary. Most of us have been
Figure 1 Detail of a marbled endpaper
encouraged to use specific fonts, framing the page with xx margins, using formulaic headers. Personally, during my studies, I stayed away from unusual/somewhat artistic document structures and layouts, used the paper provided by the library’s printer and applied Cambria à gogo. I was required to provide both print and digital versions of my essays, but always followed the department guidelines. I did not think much of it. I understood that beautiful formatting was not necessary and might have cost me time and efforts.
Standardisation is a key component of essay writing but it was not so crucial in the past. Digitising theses from different decades of the 20th century, we have noticed how free the students were when it came to producing and printing their own work. Not all theses have acknowledgements, indexes, or even page numbers. They are printed on different sheets of papers, bound by different covers. Some early theses are of course, are handwritten and impossible therefore to ‘standardise’ But even with the spread of typewriters, homogeneity was hard to achieve; an Olivetti might have a different font from an IBM typewriter. Here at the Library Annexe, we have seen thesis bound in snakeskin leather, cardboard, and dealt with a lot of poor quality carbon copies. Authors seemed free to experiment with what suited them, what they found most aesthetically pleasing (and probably with what they could afford.).
Figure 2 A Marbling bath
Working in digitisation gives you the privilege of dealing closely with physical collections items, scrutinising them, handling physical objects every day, We have the opportunity to experience all the material that gets lost in the digital translation: the binding, the weight and sometimes the smell and texture of the book. After looking at hundreds of theses, spotting differences gets easy. One thing I love to keep my eye on is marbled endpapers (figures1,3,4,5).
Marbling is a printing technique that creates patterns similar to the ones naturally found in stone marble. In paper marbling, paint colours are transferred to a liquid surface, usually water or other adhesive solutions. With the help of chemicals, colours float on the surface and it is possible to manipulate them, creating different patters.Sheets of paper are the immersed into the liquid mixture (bath) .The patterns are then transferred into the paper. It creates monotype prints, so all marbled papers are unique works.
Figure 3 More marbled endpaper
Paper marbling is widely used in bookbinding and has ancient origins. Scholars are in dispute on its birth place; Japan, China and Turkey have their own historical traditions of paper marbling. In Europe, marbling arrived in the Netherlands first, in the 17th-century.
So far, at the Annexe we have encountered beautiful marbled endpapers from the 20th-century. Most of them created by Edinburgh-based bookbinders. Figure 1 and 5 look very similar; they were probably created by the same bookbinder. He/she used the overprinting technique Overprinted papers have been ‘marbled’ twice, the first marbling transferred through bathing ; the second marbling is instead printed over the first one using a lithographic process.
Image x instead shows an example of nonpareil papers.
“This pattern is created when the desired colors are dropped sequentially onto the bath using some sort of implement to regulate the drop sizes. A comb with one set of teeth set at intervals of 15-30mm is drawn through the bath horizontally, once in either direction with the second pass halving the first. Then another comb with teeth set at 2-3 mm is drawn once across the bath vertically (or horizontally)”
Figure 4 Even more marbled endpaper
Image 4 was most likely created using a piece of paper laid out on a flat surface coated with a color. Then marbling brushes would be used to sprinkle color directly onto the surface causing the characteristic spots of dispersed (bleeding) ink to be absorbed into the paper. This specific technique is called papier tourniquet.
These are only a few examples of end papers we have spotted in theses so far and I am sure there are more to come.When reading pdfs online we tend to leave bookbinding and all its artistry behind. As digitisers though, we have the opportunity to document what goes behind the scenes and bring to light what gets lost in the ‘translation’ from physical to digital.
The theses have initially been uploaded in a bulk import and will be redistributed by cataloguing staff to appropriate collections before the next upload in August.They all date from 1900 to the present day and include handwritten and typewritten PhDs; all typed theses have been OCR-ed and are searchable by keyword.
The collection covers a broad range of academic subjects, ranging from explorations of disease through to microbiology, chemistry and histories of the Middle East. Some of the most popular, and slightly unexpected, topics include:
Iron Age burial excavated at Châlons-sur-Marne, France (Ritchie: 1968)
Highlights from the PhD digitisation project
Exploring the theme of cemeteries and memorials showcases some of the most visually rich and striking theses that we have seen thus far in our digitisation project. This selection of works date from the 1960’s a period throughout which we see an increase in topics drawn from the Humanities and Social Sciences. The images collated here come from theses discussing subjects raging from martyred saints to housing development and time periods from the Iron Age to 1967.
Discovery of the relics of St. Luke the evangelist in the church of the Holy Apostles (Vat. Grec. 1613, p.121; Powell: 1963)
One such fascinating subject is the depiction of the treatment and burial of martyred saints in the Byzantine era. These images are drawn from the thesis by Ann Powell (1963) entitled “Byzantine landscape painting, with special reference to the Illustrations of the Monologian of Basil II, Vat. Grec. 1613”.
Funeral of St Matthew (Symeon), (Vat Grec. 1613 p186; Powell: 1963)
The history and culture of Scotland also features prominently. Another gem discusses the period of the 14th to 17th centuries including images of the cemeteries and tombs found in Ayrshire (Largs, Skelmorlie Aisle) and Perthshire (Grantully). As part of this work (MR Apted’s, 1964, “painting in Scotland from the 14th to the 17th centuries with particular reference to painted domestic decoration 1550-1650) the interior design of this period is recorded with painstaking detail.
St Mary’s, Grandtully (Apted: 1963)
Skelmorlie Aisle, Largs (Apted: 1964)
The Montgomerie tomb, Skelmorlie Aisle (Apted: 1964)
A thesis on Celtic weaponry delivers stunning images of burials and funerary stele, from Iron Age France (depicted above) to Roman Britain (below): G Ritchie, 1968, “Celtic defensive weaponry in Britain and its continental background”.
Wroxeter (Shropshire) Roman grave stele (Ritchie: 1968)
Colchester Essex, Roman grave stele (Ritchie 1968)
Finally moving all the way from the 1st century AD we reach Edinburgh’s rural fringe development between 1850-1967, in: AJ Strachan, 1969, “The rural-urban fringe of Edinburgh 1850-1967”. In this case we see cemeteries rather oddly paired with recreational areas such as parks, golf course and sports grounds. The darker areas reflect housing developments over time.
The development of cemeteries and recreational spaces between 1850 and 1967.(Strachan: 1969)
The theses selected here have been scanned and are currently being processed to be made available online soon. They take us on a journey through the development of research in the Humanities and Social Sciences from 1963 to 1969, but what will the 70’s bring us?