Category: Virtual restoration

Continued evidence of interest in Great Parchment Book and the history of the Plantation

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The Great Parchment Book blog has been rather quiet over the last few months, but that’s not to say that interest in the content and the project has declined. To the contrary, the Great Parchment Book continues to prove relevant to research in the UK and across the globe. Page views to the Great Parchment Book website have now exceeded 160,000 and downloads of the XML data are also steadily increasing in number.

And it’s also good news for our partners Derry City & Strabane Museum and Visitor Services. Statistics recently received record that to 31 December 2017 nearly one and a half million visits (1,479,598 to be precise) had been made to the to the Plantation, People, Perspectives exhibition in Derry Guildhall. Just to put this in perspective and indicate the impact of the exhibition, this figure is many times the population of Derry itself and more than three quarters of the population of Northern Ireland. The exhibition is still going strong and we look forward to this year’s figures.

So, if you have done research based on the Great Parchment Book, why not share it more widely on this blog? Please contact the editor via for more information.

And finally, here are the updated statistics for the Great Parchment Book by numbers:

  • 1 Great Parchment Book of The Honourable The Irish Society
  • 165 folios and fragments, stored in 30 bespoke boxes (originally 16)
  • 11 Great Twelve livery companies’ holdings recorded (should be 12, but the Merchant Taylors’ portion is missing)
  • 1095 personal names indexed on the website including variations in spelling
  • 992 place names indexed also including variations
  • 49 occupations and titles recorded such as barber-surgeon, fellmonger, muster master and winecowper
  • 120 entries in the glossary including occupations and titles, but also terms such as ballibetagh, creete, kill house, rampier, standall and vayle
  • Over 160,000 page views of Great Parchment Book website and blog to 9 November 2018
  • 148 blog posts published including this one
  • 270,000 visitors to Plantation, People, Perspectives exhibition in Derry Guildhall in the first year (opened 30 May 2013) when an original folio of the Great Parchment Book was on display. Nearly one and a half million visitors (1,479,598 to be precise) to the exhibition to 31 December 2017 (many times the population of Derry and over three quarters of the population of Northern Ireland). Still going strong.
  • 37 downloads in 7 countries across 3 continents of the Open Access set of 326 XML documents containing encoded transcriptions of the individual folios (2.56MB of data)
  • 6 presentations about the project in countries outside the UK across 3 continents, and innumberable links from other websites across the world
  • 20 project partners including 14 funders
  • 4 awards, 3 shortlisted/finalist, 1 highly commended
  • 1 inscription on UK Memory of the World Register (inscribed on 21 June 2016)

All summed up as 1 unique record of the 17th century Plantation of Ulster.

International interest in Great Parchment Book continues

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International interest in the Great Parchment Book continues unabated and here we share two recent connections with projects and programmes in France and Finland.

Les rescapés du feu

Colleagues in France were very interested to find out more about the digital reconstruction of the Great Parchment Book and invited the project to present at a study day in Chartres on 17 November 2017 entitled Les rescapés du feu: L’imagerie scientifique au service des manuscrits de Chartres (Fire survivors: Contribution of imaging techniques to the study of Chartres manuscripts).

The parchment collection at the heart of the study day has many parallels to the Great Parchment Book, being a form of doomsday book of the region of Chartres, and having fallen victim to a fire. The Municipal Library at Chartres was one of the great European libraries and home to a prestigious manuscript collection dating from the 11th century. On 26 May 1944 the library was bombed and fire destroyed many of the manuscripts. However, 220 of the 518 medieval manuscripts survived; some are almost intact, others as charred blocks or shrivelled fragments. Extremely fragile and often difficult to identify, the manuscripts remained inaccessible to researchers for more than seventy years.

The project REMAC – A la REcherche des MAnuscrits de Chartres – got underway this year. Like the Great Parchment Book project, the collaborative research has brought together a range of experts to work on the use of different imaging techniques to retrieve the written content in the damaged manuscripts. In parallel, research is being undertaken to set up new imaging and microscopy techniques to assess the degradation of parchment.

The study day aimed to present the research project from the perspective of historians, imaging scientists and conservators. It also included presentations from other research teams in Europe concerned with improving the accessibility and conservation of damaged manuscripts which is where the Great Parchment Book came in.

Tim Weyrich, Professor of Visual Computing and Deputy Director of the Centre for Digital Humanities (UCLDH) from project partner UCL, delivered a well-received presentation (in French!) on the Great Parchment Book at the study day. We hope that this will be available online in due course along with all the other presentations (watch this space).



Finland’s DIGIHUM programme

Tim has also been making connections with Finnish digital humanities researchers. On 4 October 2017 UCLDH were delighted to meet with delegates from the Academy of Finland’s multidisciplinary DIGIHUM programme, with the aim of sharing the latest British and Finnish research in digital humanities, and strengthening collaborations between the two. UCLDH presented on three projects including the Great Parchment Book.

Great Parchment Book attracts visitors from across the world

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London Metropolitan Archives receives regular requests from individuals and groups which want to visit to discover more about the Great Parchment Book project. These include archivists, conservators and other heritage professionals, and academics and students, especially those interested in digital humanities, from across the world.

A visitor from Down Under

In April, LMA welcomed Kit Kugatoff, Director, Collections and Access at Queensland State Archives who was keen to visit to discuss our approaches to digitisation and technology assisted conservation with particular reference to the Great Parchment Book project. During her visit Philippa Smith, Head of Collections and Caroline De Stefani, Conservation Studio Manager were delighted to show Kit some original folios of the Great Parchment Book and discuss other ways in which we see technology assisting conservators to make accessible to researchers the information locked in damaged documents. Laurence Ward, Head of Digital Services also talked to Kit about LMA’s digitisation programmes and showed her the Digital Services Suite. As always we found that we shared lots of experiences and issues and it was beneficial to exchange knowledge and ideas with a professional colleague from the other side of the world.

Exploring technology and heritage in London

In June LMA was pleased to host a group of students from Michigan State University in the United States based in London for a month for their “Technology, Humanities, and the Arts in London” programme. The course focussed on how archives, libraries and museums see the relationship between their physical (and digital) materials and the digital interfaces of those materials. The students especially wanted to find out more first hand about the Great Parchment Book project, but also to look at LMA’s regular digitisation processes as well as new developments.

Once again Philippa Smith and Caroline De Stefani talked about the Great Parchment Book project and the students were thrilled to see original folios of the book in a display in the Conservation Studio. Philippa and Caroline also showed the students examples of other documents where technology might not only improve accessibility, but also reveal hidden information about how the items were created and even more about former conservation treatments. LMA is currently working with UCL under the auspices of SEAHA on a project to explore the possibilities presented by multispectral imaging of documentary material. We were delighted to share with the students some of the documents we had been looking at with the doctoral student only a few days before which may provide the raw material for her research. Laurence Ward then showed the students some of the ways in which digitisation is transforming how we work at LMA and took them down to the Digital Services Suite to learn more about our digitisation processes.

This is becoming a regular annual visit and we look forward to welcoming another group of students next year.

Taking a closer look back home

Also in June Caroline met with Gwen Spicer, an art conservator from the United States who was interested very specifically in the technique of using magnets to flatten parchment which we had used in the Great Parchment Book project. Gwen was also intrigued by one of the materials we had used in the project when humidifying parchment – Bondina. She hadn’t come across it in the US and took samples back home so she could take a closer look. Gwen wrote about her visit for her own blog and you read about it here.

Great Parchment Book goes to Glasgow (and Finland)

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edcr2016-2We were fortunate that the launch of the major academic paper on the Great Parchment Book project coincided with London Metropolitan Archives’ Charlie Turpie presenting the project at the Symposium on Evaluating Digital Cultural Resources (EDCR2016) in Glasgow on 13 December 2016.

Charlie commented afterwards that one of the themes that emerged from the symposium was that physical and digital often go hand in hand and continue to have a relationship – this came out in various papers. The Great Parchment Book presentation captured that perfectly – seeing the transformation from shrivelled parchment to digital image was a real wow for the audience. The audience also got the pathos of the membranes being preserved for 200 years just in case they could be made accessible one day.A box of folios from the Great Parchment Book before they were conserved and repackaged

One attendee was very pleased that the Great Parchment Book website features both the before and after shots of the folios as other projects only show the digitally enhanced images which is not as useful as having both.

That the presentation was very well received is reflected in the contemporaneous comments on Twitter of which a selection is given below:

  • Fantastic #GreatParchmentBook project presented by @CharlieTurpie @LdnMetArchives #EDCR2016 Loved the poppadoms analogy!
  • Gasp from audience as @CharlieTurpie shows an image of the #greatparchmentbook fragments in a box. Yikes! #edcr2016
  • ‘a mass of scorched and dirty fragments’ – tricky task to create a digitised version of the #greatparchmentbook #EDCR2016
  • Project allows users to navigate and flatten digital images to digitally uncover the text within. Cool! #greatparchmentbook #edcr2016
  • Digital reconstruction to enable access is fab; book & its contents are also significant for local community #edcr2016 #greatparchmentbook
  • Definitive article on fascinating #greatparchmentbook released today! Can’t wait to read more on it after #EDCR2016
  • #greatparchmentbook is such an awesome project!

You can catch up with the Great Parchment Book project on Twitter by using the hashtag #greatparchmentbook.

The paper, published in Oxford University Press’s Digital Scholarship in the Humanities journal, is freely available online. At the time of writing it is doing very well online and is already in the top 5% of papers in Altmetric (which tracks online research outputs), and 99th centile for attention; it is the number one output from digital scholarship in the humanities.

Great Parchment Book in Finland

The Great Parchment Book’s world tour continued with Tim Weyrich, Professor of Visual Computing, Virtual Environments and Computer Graphics Group, Department of Computer Science, University College London, lead of the project digital acquisition and reconstruction, giving the keynote at SyysGraph 2016, the Finnish computer graphics scene’s leading annual event, the previous evening. His talk on Problem-Aware Digitization of Cultural Heritage Artifacts featured the Great Parchment Book as one of the case studies and he was able to promote the paper which was published the following day.

Great Parchment Book: major paper published

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EssenceOur partners at UCL have announced the publication of a major paper describing the process of conserving, imaging, virtually flattening, and finally reading the Great Parchment Book of the Honourable The Irish Society, held in London Metropolitan Archives. As followers of this blog will know the project saw archivists, conservators, imaging scientists, historians, computer scientists, and digital humanities experts working together in an interdisciplinary, international partnership. We developed a low-cost process for conserving, digitizing, 3D-reconstructing, and virtually flattening the fire-damaged, buckled parchment, enabling new readings and understanding of the text to be created.

GlobalThe paper, published in Oxford University Press’s Digital Scholarship in the Humanities journal, presents a complete overview of the project, detailing the conservation, digital acquisition, and digital reconstruction methods used. It is freely available in open access, meaning anyone can read the details of the project, and see our images and videos to understand the scope and scale of the project, and its contribution to the restoration of the Great Parchment Book. It is freely available online.

Note: Please use the hashtag #greatparchmentbook when referring to the project on social media.

Significance of the project for some of the key partners

ucl-veivProfessor Tim Weyrich, Professor of Visual Computing, Virtual Environments and Computer Graphics Group, Department of Computer Science, University College London, lead of the digital acquisition and reconstruction said: “I feel privileged having been able to conduct computer science and imaging research in the context of a project of such cultural importance. We were fortunate enough that the engagement with the humanities’ unique problem domain allowed us to go beyond mere application of known techniques, pushing the boundary in our own research field while making a tangible difference to the wider public.”

irish-society-coat-of-arms-colour-jpgEdward Montgomery, Secretary of The Honourable The Irish Society, said: “We are delighted that The Honourable The Irish Society has been part of a major collaborative project to bring The Great Parchment Book, one of its most historic documents, ‘back to life’. The Book is a marvellous testament to history and provides a detailed account from 1639 of the City of London’s role in the Plantation of Ulster and its administration. It is a valuable tool for anyone interested in their ancestral history within Ulster and an excellent teaching aid for those exploring early modern Ireland.”

lma-logoGeoff Pick, Director of London Metropolitan Archives said: “The City of London Corporation, through London Metropolitan Archives, has been delighted to be a major partner in the Great Parchment Book project, one of the most innovative in the archive sector in recent years.  It places great value on the Book, not least in helping the City’s support for the 400th anniversary of the building of Derry’s city walls in 2013 and the state visit to London of the President of Ireland in 2014.   The Book has also been recognised by UNESCO as being of outstanding national importance this year when it was inscribed on the UK Memory of the World Register, the first on the Register concerning Northern Ireland.”

UCLDH logoProfessor Melissa Terras, Director of UCL Centre for Digital Humanities said: “It has been a pleasure to work on this project, which has brought together expertise from so many different angles, allowing us to finally provide advanced access to this important, but very damaged, document. The conservation, imaging, and reconstruction have all contributed to the creation of a digital resource of lasting value for researchers, students, and the wider public. Our work encourages further understanding of the role of the City of London in the plantation, and the importance of the Great Parchment Book to its local, national, and international contexts. It also shows us the benefits of undertaking advanced digital projects in the area of cultural heritage.”

Full citation details

Pal, K., Avery, N., Boston, P., Campagnolo, A., De Stefani, C., Matheson-Pollock, H., Panozzo, D., Payne, M., Schüller, C., Sanderson, C., Scott, C., Smith, P., Smither, R., Sorkine-Hornung, O., Stewart, A., Stewart, E., Stewart, P., Terras, M., Walsh, B., Ward, L., Yamada, L., Weyrich, T. (2016). “Digitally reconstructing the Great Parchment Book: 3D recovery of fire-damaged historical documents” Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, Oxford University Press.

The Great Parchment Book in Trieste

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The Great Parchment Book project was referenced in a paper on the Scientific Use of Archives given at the International Institute of Archival Science of Trieste and Maribor conference on 25 October 2016.

trieste-1Over 150 delegates from 25 different countries heard Tim Harris talk about the variety of sources available for scientific research at London Metropolitan Archives, the way LMA uses science in the preservation of archives, and the success of the STEM education stream working with London schools to promote discovery in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through historical sources.

The article accompanying the paper has been published in Atlanti vol 26 (2016) Number 2  ISSN 1318-0134.

Great Parchment Book goes to South Korea

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seoul-1At the International Council on Archives Congress at Seoul, South Korea Friday 9 September 2016, London Metropolitan Archives’ Tim Harris presented on the collaboration and cooperation which resulted in the successful outcomes of the Great Parchment Book Project.

The audience was excited to see the transformation of the Great Parchment Book and several members of the audience noted the excellence of the blog.

seoul-2One member of ICA, Gerard Foley from the Archives of Western Australia, revealed that he had found two of his ancestors who had been carpenters in Londonderry.

People were pleased to learn that the products and outcome were continuing to be shared and developed.


For another view from Seoul, go to the Borthwick Institute of Archives blog post Up and AtoM: The Borthwick Institute Goes To South Korea.

An essential and enduring online resource

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The Great Parchment Book website is proving to be an essential online resource in several fields of study, with even the blog itself used as a case study.

Examples which have come to our attention recently include:


If text then code websiteThe Great Parchment Book project is being used as a case study in an undergraduate course in the Digital Humanities. If text then code is taught by Dr Diane Jakacki at Bucknell University, a liberal arts college in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania in the United States of America. On the course students write and critique code as a form of textual engagement, and amongst other skills, gain competency with TEI­-compliant XML, the code we used to encode the text of the Great Parchment Book and facilitate online accessibility. Currently, London Metropolitan Archives, in partnership with UCL, are looking at how we can make the XML from the Great Parchment Book more widely available.


1641 depositions learning websiteThe Great Parchment Book is referenced as an enriching research resource for understanding the history of the Ulster Plantation on Trinity College Library Dublin’s learning website about the 1641 Depositions. The digitisation of the depositions, which we have looked at previously on the Great Parchment Book blog, has opened up these sources for use in the classroom and 1641 Depositions Bridge21 Learning Resources website enables secondary school students in Ireland to hone their skills as young historians while learning about the plantations, the 1641 rebellion and their impact on Irish history.


NMCT case studiesThe National Manuscript Conservation Trust, to which we are grateful for funding the Great Parchment Book conservation project, features it as a case study on its website and also highlights the blog as one of the best about conservation projects that have benefitted from NMCT grants.


Cilip blogThe Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) also asked London Metropolitan Archives to write about the pleasures and pitfalls of writing the Great Parchment Book blog for their own blog as a case study.



Inside HistoryAustralia and New Zealand’s Inside History Magazine has included a link to the Great Parchment Book website in its latest issue as a handy hint for those searching for Northern Ireland ancestors, especially those from the County of Londonderry. This has been driving a lot of traffic to the website since it was published, and some of those visitors are then going on to look at other related Irish genealogical sources for which we provide information and links.


Sometimes we are frustrated as we can’t see exactly what the Great Parchment Book website is being used for. For example, we know it’s  referenced in an online learning module run by the University of Haifa in Israel, but we can’t see what it is as it’s for registered users only!


UCLThe Great Parchment Book website is used cross-discipline and worldwide, reflecting the comprehensive and enduring nature of the work it represents. Not least, the Great Parchment Book is used by our close partners at UCL in the Centre for Digital Humanities and Department of Computer Science and you can follow this on UCL’s own website relating to the project and on related pages.

Studying digital humanities in London

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In London we are fortunate to have two leading centres for the study of digital humanities, the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and King’s College London Department of Digital Humanities. The Great Parchment Book project and follow-on research is very closely allied to the former, but we also have had links to the latter.

UCLDH logoDigital Humanities research takes place at the intersection of computational technologies and humanities and is a relatively new field of research and teaching. It is highly collaborative and typically works across a wide range of disciplines, involving different institutions, both nationally and internationally. It has a crucial role to play in developing the use of advanced technology in the arts and humanities, making possible new kinds of research which positively impact on cultural heritage and memory institutions, libraries, archives and digital culture.

King's College LondonBoth UCLDH and King’s College Department of Digital Humanities offer MAs in Digital Humanities for which applications are currently open. Both have also produced very accessible videos which explain more about Digital Humanities research and study and are well worth viewing. Find out more via the links below:


UCLDH MA/MSc in Digital Humanities

UCLDH video

MA in Digital Humanities at King’s College London

King’s College Department of Digital Humanities video


SEAHA Special Seminar in Multispectral and Hyperspectral Imaging

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SEAHAAn impressive line-up of world class speakers will be sharing their experience and recent findings and showcasing the power of  multispectral and hyperspectral imaging at a SEAHA special seminar in Oxford on 30 June 2016. This is an event not to be missed if you are an Imaging Scientist and Heritage professional keen to learn and share more about this exciting area of research.

Speakers include colleagues from UCL, LMA’s partners in the Great Parchment Book project with whom we are continuing to be involved in research around multispectral imaging under the auspices of SEAHA (the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Science and Engineering in Arts Heritage and Archaeology).

Delegates are also invited to submit a poster so they can share their own knowledge and discoveries.

Date & Time: 30 June 2016 09.30-19.00 (17.30-19.00 Wine Reception)

Location: Wolfson College, Linton Road, Oxford OX2 6UD

Price: £70.00
Includes registration, refreshments, sit down lunch and wine reception.

More details and booking information may be found here.


Great Parchment Book retrospective: imaging

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In our previous post in this occasional series reflecting on the different elements which make up the Great Parchment Book project we looked at conservation; now it’s the turn of digital imaging.

It had been evident for many years that traditional conservation alone would not produce sufficient results to make the Great Parchment Book accessible, although there had been at least one attempt in the past. Following discussions with conservation and imaging experts, it was decided to flatten the parchment sheets as far as possible appropriate to their fragile state to enable digital imaging with the ultimate aim of reconstructing the manuscript digitally. We knew from the first that this was an undertaking without a certain result as we were committed to exploring new techniques and technologies; nothing else had any chance of success.

A partnership with UCL established a four year Engineering Doctorate in the Virtual Environments, Imaging and Visualisation programme in September 2010 (jointly funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and LMA) with the intention of developing software that would make the distorted text legible. The doctoral student, Kazim Pal, was supervised by Melissa Terras, Director of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and Professor of Digital Humanities in the Department of Information Studies at University College London and Tim Weyrich, Professor of Visual Computing in the Virtual Environments and Computer Graphics group in the Department of Computer Science, University College London and Deputy Director of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities.


During the digitisation phase, which in part ran alongside the conservation, a set of images was captured for each page and used to generate 3D models. Ground-breaking software was developed to allow these models to be flattened and browsed virtually.

digitally flattened parchmentKazim’s work was more successful than we could have hoped with the digitally flattened images of the folios featuring on the dedicated Great Parchment Book website alongside a transcript making the Great Parchment Book available for consultation by researchers once more.

The digitisation of the Great Parchment Book was recognised in 2014 when the project received a European Succeed Award (for digitisation focussing on textual content) Commendation of Merit.

You can explore the digital imaging of the Great Parchment Book in detail on the blog (go to the end of the page once you’ve clicked the link to read in chronological order).

See also the UCL project web page which includes access to the free software produced in the course of the project and the amazing video of the flattening software in action.

We also continue to highlight other developments which are revolutionising access to archives through the use of new technology and innovation on the blog.

Great Parchment Book retrospective

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When we embarked on the Great Parchment Book project, we were very uncertain that we would be able to achieve our aim: a digitally reconstructed and fully accessible manuscript that could take pride of place in the exhibition in Derry Guildhall opening in June 2013 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the building of the city walls.

Great Parchment Book partners

The project was an ambitious collaborative undertaking committed to exploring new techniques and technologies; nothing else had any chance of success. Each element was a major piece of work in its own right and different partners and funders were approached for each aspect of the project.

Now with the successful outcome well-established and the project in the public eye once again, it seems a good time to reflect on the different elements which made up the project and look back on the journey.

Over the next few weeks watch out for posts about –

  • Conservation
  • Digital humanities: imaging, transcription and textual encoding
  • The history of the Plantation and synergy with other original sources
  • Public engagement and recognition
  • The legacy and the future

And to help you get your bearings here is the Great Parchment Book project timeline –

  • Initial discussions between LMA, University College London and other potential partners, March/April 2010
  • Imaging – Four year EngD at UCL, September 2010-September 2014 (first year taught so project got underway in September 2011)
  • Conservation, April-September 2012
  • Transcription and encoding, September 2012-May 2013
  • Great Parchment Book website launch, 30 May 2013
  • Derry Guildhall exhibition opened, 10 June 2013
  • Public engagement, recognition and future developments – ongoing

X-ray technology reveals a hidden library

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The Great Parchment Book project through interdisciplinary research has allowed researchers to digitally explore the contents of a badly damaged and distorted manuscript. Recently, we’ve come across another collaborative project which has allowed researchers to digitally leaf through invisible pages and gain access to a hidden library.

Early-modern books contain hidden treasure: fragments cut from medieval manuscripts placed inside bindings to reinforce the textblock and to provide support for the binding. In his blog Medieval Books, Dr Erik Kwakkel from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands looks at how to gain access to the fragments using the Macro X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometry (MA-XRF) technology developed by Joris Dik and his team at Delft University in collaboration with industrial, academic and museum partners.

The blog post – X-Rays Expose a Hidden Medieval Library – gives an exclusive look behind-the-scenes at the process, and discusses the challenges and opportunities it presents for the future.

Technology meets Scholarship: Handwritten Text Recognition

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If like us you are excited by ways to revolutionise access to archives through the use of new technology and innovation, you might be interested in a conference on Handwritten Text Recognition in Germany early next year (2016) as part of the co:op project.

Technology meets Scholarship, or how Handwritten Text Recognition will Revolutionize Access to Archival Collections.

Hessian State Archives, Marburg, Germany

19-21 January 2016

Participation at the event is free, but please register on the project website where you will also find the detailed programme.

If you want to get an idea of the possibilities of Handwritten Text Recognition, take a look at the website of the EU project tranScriptorium, as well as the Virtual Research Environment TRANSKRIBUS.

We’ve posted before about HTR – see also Magic in Action which refers to tranScriptorium and Update in developments in HTR technology which looks at the READ (Recognition and Enrichment of Archival Documents) project.

Update May 2016: The presentations at the Marburg conference were all filmed and have been published on the co:op blog and co:op Youtube channel.

Great Parchment Book project in The Observer

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The Great Parchment Book project has featured in an article in The Observer, 5 July 2015 on conservation technology.

The Observer interviewed project lead Philippa Smith and conservation project supervisor Caroline De Stefani at LMA, and Professor Melissa Terras, co-supervisor with Dr Tim Weyrich, of the Great Parchment Book project at UCL.

The project is the meat in the sandwich between discussion of the British Library’s work on preserving old newspapers and project partner UCL’s research into multispectral imaging.

LMA is continuing to work with the Centre for Digital Humanities at UCL and also with the British Library through a SEAHA fully-funded studentship on the Multispectral Imaging of Documentary Material as reported in an earlier Blog post.

We’ll be updating this Blog with news of the SEAHA Multispectral Imaging project in due course, but watch this space for some exciting news about the Great Parchment Book project coming soon!


Visit to see multispectral imaging set up at UCL

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Interesting visit this morning (Tuesday 28 April 2015) to see the Multispectral Imaging System in the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities Multimodal Digitisation Suite. Meghan Hill, a hyperspectral imaging technician, gave an insightful demonstration using examples from the Library of Congress in the USA, as well as showing the live set up. The system gives UCL world-leading capabilities in the advanced imaging of cultural and heritage material and London Metropolitan Archives is pleased to be associated with UCLDH in this important research.

UCLDH multispectral digitisation

The visit has already given us some ideas about archives held by LMA to which the non-invasive techniques shown us can be applied to help us better understand the documents physically and make the information they contain more accessible, and indeed even reveal hidden treasures. Watch this space!

Research opportunity in the digital humanities

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Applications are being sought for a SEAHA fully-funded studentship: An optimised system for Multispectral Imaging of Documentary Material

This exciting cross-disciplinary project focuses on the multispectral imaging of documents to enhance the reading of lost text, corrections and watermarks. The project aims to develop standards for capturing and processing multispectral imaging in libraries, archives, galleries and museums; these standards do not currently exist. The student will work with conservators, archivists and industry specialists. The project will be supervised jointly by UCL Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering and UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, R B Toth Associates, British Library and London Metropolitan Archives.

The project is part of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Science and Engineering in Arts, Heritage and Archaeology.

More details of the studentship and how to apply are available here. The application deadline is midnight on 1 April 2015.

Digital humanities in a new timeframe

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As we near the end of 2014 and reflect on what we have achieved in the past year and what we hope to achieve in 2015,  I encourage you to read “Digital Humanities in the Anthropocene”, a talk by Bethany Nowviskie delivered at the Digital Humanities 2014 conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. 

Of course Bethany mentions the Great Parchment Book, “a brittle wad since the Guildhall fire over two centuries ago, and now unfolded virtually and legible again”, in the context of successes with “the digital recovery of texts, objects, and traces of human experience thought long since lost to time. Here (from the outside, at least), DH accomplishments look magical.”

This thought provoking piece on the place of technology and the humanities in the world as it is now and will be in the future, has provoked a wide-ranging discussion which you can follow from the links in Bethany’s blog.

And if you want to catch-up more generally with what happened at the the Digital Humanities 2014 conference, details – including videos of many of the talks – are posted on the DH2014 website. Professor Melissa Terras from UCL who was Programme Committee chair delivers Bethany’s talk which was the Community Plenary lecture.

Spreading the word

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UCLLMA’s partners at UCL have set up a web page dedicated to the Great Parchment Book project that serves to disseminate academic publications and related presentations and reports resulting from the project, as well as the free software developed in the course of the project. Keep an eye on the page for news about publication, and for updates on the software.

Great Parchment Book in Australia

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Professor Melissa Terras, Director of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and Great Parchment Book project partner has been visiting Australia and was one of the featured speakers at eResearch Australasia 2014. She also gave a talk about the Great Parchment Book project at The University of Melbourne on 31 October.

Her lecture at eResearch Australasia 2014 – entitled Across the Humanities and Science Divide: Advanced Digital Projects in Cultural Heritage – examined the ever increasing need for the development and appropriation of advanced computational methods within the Humanities and Cultural Heritage. Although the Arts, Humanities and Heritage sectors have often been early adopters of available computational technology, the use of such methods to answer novel research questions often depends on close relationships with those in the computational sciences to ensure that technologies can be applied with enough specificity to be useful to a certain case or domain. How can we best build such interdisciplinary research projects to ensure success? How can the field commonly called Digital Humanities help us to explore and push against disciplinary boundaries?

In the lecture, Professor Terras demonstrated some of the leading-edge work that has been carried out at UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and its related partner institutions including the Great Parchment Book project. She used specific case studies to illustrate the benefits, and common pitfalls, encountered, whilst working in large scale, interdisciplinary teams, and explore how a centre such as UCL Centre for Digital Humanities could work as a catalyst within a research institution to encourage people to undertake such activities. She also addressed the issue of how universities and external partners support such resource intensive experimentation.

Professor Terras’s talk at Melbourne University looked at issues involving using advanced imaging methods within cultural heritage, particularly regarding the relationship the resulting model has to the primary historical text. Using the Great Parchment Book as a focus, she asked how we can best integrate multi-modal imaging into our humanities research practices? What issues are there for both research and practice? More details are available here.

Professor Terras is also speaking at the University of Western Australia in Sydney at a Digital Life Seminar.

Is digitising historical texts a bad idea?

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A recent debate online has been examining whether digitising historical texts is a bad idea. The Great Parchment Book project was put forward as evidence in support of the positive reasons for digitising texts. As  Professor Melissa Terras, Director of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and Great Parchment Book project partner says –  “its really good to see the Great Parchment Book changing people’s perceptions of what digitisation can do!”

You can read more about the debate here.

Programme announced for Great Parchment Book Day

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LMA is holding a Great Parchment Book Day at LMA on Friday 25 July 2014. The morning will focus on the Great Parchment Book story; the afternoon will look to the future and explore accessing historical documents through innovative technologies.



10.00am Registration, coffee and housekeeping

10.15am Welcome (Deputy Catherine McGuinness)

10.20am Introduction to LMA, collections overview, where the Great Parchment Book sits within those collections, why it became the focus for the project and why it mattered (Philippa Smith)

11.00am  TEA/COFFEE

11.15pm Accessing History through Innovative Technologies:
The Great Parchment Book Project Story
Conservation (Dr Caroline De Stefani)
Transcription/textual encoding (Dr Patricia Stewart)
Digital flattening (Kazim Pal)



14.00pm Welcome and introduction – impact, outcomes and wider context (Dr Tim Weyrich)

14.30pm Display of damaged original materials including Great Parchment Book and LMA Rogues Gallery; demonstration of digital flattening software; opportunity to discuss further possible applications of flattening software and other techniques being researched on LMA material; demonstration of textual encoding (Dr Caroline De Stefani, Marie Poirot, Dr Tim Weyrich, Kazim Pal, Dr Helen Graham-Matheson, Dr Patricia Stewart)

15.15pm TEA/COFFEE

15.30pm HISTORY FUTURES PANEL (Professor Melissa Terras – UCL, Chair, Dr Tim Weyrich – UCL, Emma Stewart – LMA, David Howell – Bodleian Library)
How new technologies can and may impact on challenging materials, access and availability, preservation issues – how can we take projects forward? HLF partner bid proposal, Q&A and expressions of interest

16.30pm  CLOSE

The event is already full, but if you would like to be added to the waiting list, please go to

Great Parchment Book website viewed more than 50,000 times

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This week the Great Parchment Book website passed the landmark of 50,000 page views since it was launched on 30 May 2013.

In addition, the Derry Guildhall exhibition – Plantation: Process, people, perspectives – which until recently displayed an original folio of the Great Parchment Book, has had 323,033 visitors from its opening in June 2013 until the end of March 2014.

We are really pleased that the Great Parchment Book has been seen and appreciated by so many both as an original folio in Derry, and remotely through the website. There will be a further chance to see the real thing at the Great Parchment Book Day at LMA on 25 July 2014 so book your place now at

Booking opens for Great Parchment Book Day on 25 July 2014

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LMA is holding a FREE Great Parchment Book Day on Friday 25 July 2014. The morning will focus on the Great Parchment Book story; the afternoon will look to the future and explore accessing historical documents through innovative technologies. A more detailed programme will be posted as soon as it is available.

In the meantime, you can book your place at


Friday 25 July 2014

London Metropolitan Archives

9.30 am – 4.30 pm

FREE, booking is essential; tea and coffee available, but bring a picnic for lunch.

Great Parchment Book project receives Succeed Award Commendation of Merit

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LMA and UCL are pleased to announce that the Great Parchment Book project has received a European Succeed Award Commendation of Merit. The winners were selected from 19 nominations world-wide and, due to the high quality of the project, the Board decided to distinguish it with one of two Commendations of Merit.

Succeed is funded by the European Union. It promotes the take up and validation of research results in mass digitisation, with a focus on textual content.

You can find further information about the awards by clicking on and

The project represents a major partnership of international significance between a number of institutions. LMA and UCL gratefully acknowledge the support of the following:

Clothworkers’ Company; Derry City Council Heritage and Museums Service; Drapers’ Company;  ETH Zurich; Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council; Fishmongers’ Company; Goldsmiths’ Company; The Honourable The Irish Society; Ironmongers’ Company; Marc Fitch Fund; Mercers’ Company; Merchant Taylors’ Company; National Manuscripts Conservation Trust; Skinners’ Company; The British Library; The National Archives; The Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library.

Save the date!

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Planning is underway for a Great Parchment Book Day at London Metropolitan Archives on Friday 25 July 2014. The morning will focus on the Great Parchment Book story; the afternoon will look to the future and explore accessing historical documents through innovative technologies.

Save the date now! A more detailed programme and details on how to book will be posted as soon as they are available.

The wow factor!

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Our colleagues at UCL, Kazim Pal and Tim Weyrich, in collaboration with Olga Sorkine-Hornung’s group at ETH Zurich, have put together this video to present the ground-breaking interactive method they have developed to digitally restore severely damaged historical parchments based on their work on the Great Parchment Book. The response of those here at LMA was “Wow!” both when we first watched the video and on subsequent viewings.

You can see the amazing results of the method when applied to the Great Parchment Book in the sample of new and improved enhanced images we have uploaded for folios A1r, B18r, H4r, K3r, N2r, N3r and Q1r. Here are the images for K3r as an example with the original image on the left and new, improved flattened image on the right.

 K3r originalk3r flattened

It will take us some time to digitally flatten and upload all the improved images using the method developed by UCL: we’ll keep you posted about progress.

If you want to know more about how they did it, Kazim Pal, Christian Schüller, Daniele Panozzo, Olga Sorkine-Hornung and Tim Weyrich have published the method in an academic paper entitiled “Content-Aware Surface Parameterization for Interactive Restoration of Historical Documents” which will appear in Computer Graphics Forum (Proc. Eurographics), 33(2), 9 pages, 2014.


Spot the difference!

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We have now finished uploading on to the website all the original images of the Great Parchment Book folios, and enhanced images for at least two thirds of the folios.

The original images are of the folios in their original state before the conservation treatments were carried out. The enhanced images show the folios after both the conservation treatment which was carried out to facilitate the imaging process, and the advanced imaging work carried out by UCL.

Can you spot the difference between an original folio and an enhanced folio? The enhanced folio often looks very different owing to the way the imaging process has flattened the folios to reveal the text. Read more about the imaging process under Project history.


h6r original image


h6r Enhanced image



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You can now start to explore the Great Parchment Book for yourself.

A good place to start is the video on the Home Page which illustrates the challenging nature of the project.

To continue your exploration, click on “Take a look inside the book” or search for a person, place or livery company.

If you want to know more about the historical background, book or project history, investigate the history tabs at the top of the Home Page.

The website is dynamic. Work is continuing on the transcription, and transcriptions and images will continue to be added to the site. Once the transcription is complete, the book history page will be expanded to take account of new insights into the codicology of the book, and to explain the arrangement of the folios.

The Great Parchment Book Blog is now embedded into the website and you can subscribe to the Blog on the website. Work is continuing to align the original Blog and the website Blog.

If you have any comments on the website, or can offer additional insights into the Great Parchment Book and what it reveals about the people, places and organisations involved in the history of 17th century Ulster, please share via the Blog or use the comment form at the bottom of the website Home Page.

Exploring and Flattening Parchments Interactively

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We recently had our paper, Interactive Exploration and Flattening of Deformed Historical Documents, accepted for publication in the Computer Graphics Forum and to be presented at Eurographics 2013.

Our procedure begins by capturing a set of high resolution photographs of the pages of the book, and generating from them a detailed 3D scan of each page. Typically we need between 40 and 60 images per folio to capture every fold and crease in sufficient detail. Using these scans we attempt to “virtually restore” the pages and produce undistorted images of the pages.

Three pages of the Great Parchment Book. Top: our reconstructed surface model. Bottom: the models textured with images of the text. The surface models show the level of distortion the parchment has suffered, which differs greatly from folio to folio.

Three pages of the Great Parchment Book. Top: our reconstructed surface model. Bottom: the models textured with images of the text. The surface models show the level of distortion the parchment has suffered, which differs greatly from folio to folio.

Having generated scans for the majority of the pages in the book, we realized that producing a globally flattened and undistorted image of a page is not always possible for the more damaged pages due to the sheer variety and complexity of the deformations present.

To get around this problem we instead created an interactive browser application, effectively a “Google Earth for documents”. Google Earth allows users to navigate over the surface of the earth following lines of latitude and longitude, and always see a locally flat map of the region of the earth they are looking at. In a similar way, our viewer allows users to navigate over the surface of the page following lines of text, and see a locally undistorted image of the region of the page currently in view. One of the key insights here is that flattening multiple small, local regions of a page is much simpler than flattening the entire page at once.

Sections of text before and after the local flattening procedure

Sections of text before and after the local flattening procedure

We also understand the importance in the digital cultural heritage field of being able to trust digital representations of artifacts. To help users gauge the quality of the reconstruction and be more confident in what they read, our application includes a “provenance feature” which allows them to compare the 3D scan and the original photographs which were used to generate the scan. For every point on the scan surface, the application can display an original input photograph next to it which allows the user to verify what they are seeing in the scan.

Left: A region of a reconstruction of a page, containing a suspect marking which looks like it might have been introduced by an error in the reconstruction process. Right: One of the original photographs, looking at the same region of the page. We can see that the marking is in fact present on the page.

Left: A region of a reconstruction of a page, containing a suspect marking which looks like it might have been introduced by an error in the reconstruction process. Right: One of the original photographs, looking at the same region of the page. We can see that the marking is in fact present on the page.

Our application will soon be used as an additional tool for the transcription of the Great Parchment Book and possibly later as a means of dissemination of the book’s content.

Virtual flattening

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Alongside all the conventional conservation work happening on the book, here at UCL we are experimenting with ways to “virtually restore” the book using a mix of imaging, computer vision, and computer graphics techniques.

Our approach is two-fold. First create a virtual 3D model of each page, and second flatten the 3D model into a 2D plane. It sounds fairly simple but is deceptively complex.

Creating detailed models of the pages requires a careful imaging process to try to get inside every crease and fold and capture every letter at as high a resolution as possible. The result is a set of 50 or so high-resolution images (for each page of the book). These are fed into a pipeline of computer programmes which (after a considerable amount of processing time) generates the 3D model.

Before flattening

Before virtual flattening

3D mesh

3D mesh

Then comes the problem of flattening the page in a sensible way. At first glance, it would seem that we want to just “unfold” the page as you would a crumpled piece of paper. However, the way the pages are distorted is not like crumpling a piece of paper and so there is no nice and easy way to “unfold” them. So now the problem becomes “how can we flatten the page into a 2D plane in such a way that the text does not become distorted”, and that is what we are trying to solve at the moment.

After flattening

After virtual flattening