On Friday 28th February there will be a special concert at the Drwm, ‘GIG: ATGYFODI’R HEN GANEUON (Literally translates as ‘resurrecting the old songs’) with Arfon Gwilym and Sioned Webb. Tickets are available here.
Arfon and Sioned are both well known in Wales as versatile and experienced performers of Welsh traditional music, they are singers and they also play the violin and harp. They were invited to an evening at the Drwm following the success of their ‘O’r Archif’ (From the Archive) session at ‘Tŷ Gwerin’ (Folk House) at the Llanrwst National Eisteddfod, when they performed a selection of songs which they had discovered while researching the J. Lloyd Williams archive.
Who was J. Lloyd Williams?
J Lloyd Williams (1854 – 1945), was a botanist and musician born in Llanrwst. He earned a D.Sc. (Wales) for his work on marine algae in 1908, and received an honorary DMus degree. (Wales) in 1936. He was one of the leading collectors of Welsh folk music, played a major role in establishing the Welsh Folk Song Society in 1906, and was editor of the society’s journal.
He also edited the general music magazine ‘Y Cerddor’ (The Musician) from 1931 to 1939 and, jointly with Arthur Somerville, compiled the two volumes of Sixteen Welsh Melodies, 1907 and 1909. Read more about him in the Dictionary of Welsh Bibliography
What’s in the J. Lloyd Williams archive?
Music manuscripts and papers, 1750-1945, including hundreds of folk songs brought together by Dr J. Lloyd Williams in his role as Editor of the Welsh Folk-Song Society journal, and papers relating to his research into the history of Welsh music; material relating to his interest and vocation in the field of botany; and personal papers. (53 boxes) More details in the online catalogue.
The archive contains songs that J Lloyd Williams himself collected, songs collected by a group known as the ‘Canorion’, and by Ruth Herbert Lewis, Mary Davies and Grace Gwyneddon Davies. Also importantly it includes older collections of songs in the manuscripts of Ifor Ceri, Llywelyn Alaw, and Mari Richards Darowen. Sioned Webb as a harpist was particularly attracted to a volume of mainly Welsh and English airs and songs collected by Evan Jones (‘Ifan y Gorlan’), harpist, of Gorlan, near Llanrwst. (AH1/46)
Some of the most important manuscripts have been digitised at the Library, namely:
A composite volume containing two treatises in Welsh on angling and musical theory, three lists of tune titles, and a large collection of tunes, compiled by John Thomas for the violin, some from printed sources and others written down from oral tradition. The tunes have been published, with related notes, in Cass Meurig (ed.), Alawon John Thomas: a fiddler’s tune-book from eighteenth-century Wales (Aberystwyth, 2004).
“Every one who attempts to deprive bad men of power expect to meet with the hostility of those men whom he assails, and we all know perfectly well that the worse use they make of power the more do they desire to retain it” – John Frost.
“Ye serpents and generations of vipers, why seek ye the life of Frost? You may succeed but what think ye of the mighty millions? If ye can escape the bullet, who can escape the match?” – Risca Letter, 17 December 1839.
Today marks the 180th anniversary of the Newport Rising, and it is fitting that we’ve recently digitised the transcript of John Frost’s trial published in 1840 as The Trial of John Frost, for High Treason: under a special commission, held at Monmouth, in December 1839, and January 1840, as part of an ongoing project to digitise all the 19th century Welsh or Welsh interest biographies in the Welsh Print Collection. Based on the shorthand transcription of Joseph and Thomas Gurney, presumably the court stenographers at the trial, it’s a fascinating document, giving us a courtroom seat for one of the most sensational trials of the 19th century.
Frost, along with his fellow Chartist leaders Zephaniah Williams and William Jones, had been charged with high treason following the uprising, but it was Frost who was put on trial first. The build-up to the trial had been tense with campaigns and agitation in support of Frost, especially amongst Chartism’s working class supporters, across south Wales and the rest of Great Britain. Frost was able to retain two very capable lawyers, Sir Frederick Pollock, a former Attorney-General, and Fitzroy Kelly, considered to be “one of the most acute and powerful advocates at the bar.” Both lawyers were ably assisted by Foster’s stepson, William Geach, who identified a technicality in relation to the prosecution’s sharing of a list of witnesses, which raised the possibility of a dismissal of the trial.
There was, however, no dismissal and Frost’s trial took place between 31 December 1839 and 8 January 1840. While Frost was at a serious disadvantage from the beginning having been unable to find many witnesses to testify in his favour, facing a large list of witnesses ready to testify against him and facing an expectation that he would duly be found guilty and punished accordingly. However, as The Trial of John Frost shows us, both Pollock and Kelly were able to mount a spirited defence through both their examination of the witnesses and in their summing up, destroying the credibility of at least one witness and undermining the evidence of several key witnesses, most notably the idea that the Chartists planned to stop the mail at Newport as a signal for a larger uprising across the rest of Great Britain.
Pollock and Kelly’s efforts bore some fruit, with the prosecution abandoning much of their case against Frost in the summing up. However, the Attorney General maintained that by marching thousands of armed men into Newport and attacking the Westgate Hotel they were guilty of treason by levying war against the queen. More unexpectedly, it also led the trial judge, Lord Justice Tindal, to sum up in favour of acquittal, much to the chagrin to the Attorney General. The jury, however, comprised of propertied men, was not swayed returning a guilty verdict in just half an hour, a not entirely unexpected result considering the jury’s class composition. Frost, Williams and Jones were be sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, later commuted to transportation for life in Tasmania. In an act of defiance as they left the court at Monmouth after sentencing, William Jones shouted to the crowd, “Three cheers for the Charter!”
Despite receiving conditional pardons in 1854, Williams and Jones would remain in Tasmania, with Williams making a considerable fortune in the coal industry. Frost, however returned to Britain in 1856 on receiving a full pardon, having first travelled to America in 1854. Returning to Britain, Frost remained a committed Chartist, and also a vocal campaigner against the horrors of transportation. Frost had himself been sentenced to two-years hard labour not long after arriving at Port Arthur following disparaging remarks made about the then Home Secretary, Lord Russell, and had witnessed countless floggings which had greatly disturbed him. Frost summed up his attitude to the penal colonies in his Horrors of Convict Life, originally published in 1856 noting, “Never, in my opinion, in any age or country, has society existed in so depraved a state as I have witnessed in the penal colonies, produced, too, by laws not equalled in severity in any part of the civilised world.”
As noted above The Trial of John Frost is a fascinating and valuable work, documenting one of the most sensational and politically charged trials of the 19th century. It’s also one of over 2,000 Welsh or Welsh interest biographies that are currently in the process of being digitised by the Library. So, as we remember the Newport Uprising of 4 November 1839, why not take the opportunity to take your seat in the courtroom for The Trial of John Frost.
John Frost – The Horrors of Convict Life (Hobart, 1973, original published London, 1856)
Joseph and Thomas Gurney – The Trial of John Frost (London, 1840)
David J. V. Jones – The Last Rising: The Newport Chartist Insurrection of 1839 (Cardiff, 1999)
Ivor Wilks – South Wales and the Rising of 1839 (Llandysul, 1989)
David Williams – John Frost: A Study in Chartism (Cardiff, 1969)
Dr. Douglas Jones
Published Collections Projects Manager
 John Frost – The Horrors of Convict Life (Hobart, 1973), p. 5.
 David J. V. Jones – The Last Rising: The Newport Chartist Insurrection of 1839 (Cardiff, 1999), p. 188.
 David Williams – John Frost: A Study in Chartism (Cardiff, 1969), p. 266.
The Peniarth Manuscripts form one of the most important collections held by the National Library of Wales. Its 560 manuscripts date from the 11th Century onward and contain some of the most important and iconic Welsh literary works in existence, including stories from the Mabinogion, the Book of Taliesin and the earliest copies of the ancient Laws books of Wales. In 2010 the collection was included in the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register, further underlining its importance as a national treasure.
The collection has of course been catalogued and digitisation of the entire collection is currently underway. So now seemed like a good time to explore the potential of linked data in order to better understand and explore the makeup of the collection.
At the National Library of Wales we have now converted collection Metadata to Wikidata for a number of collections including paintings and printed material. This has lead to an enrichment of data and easy access to tools for querying and visualizing the collections. Creating Wikidata for each of the Peniarth manuscripts would result in similar advantages, but first the existing metadata would have to be cleaned and refined before being mapped to entities within Wikidata. Some mappings were easy, for example metadata tags for parchment and paper were easily matched to the relevant Wikidata entities. Dates and measurements simply needed formatting in a particular way in order to add them to Wikidata, and the QuickStatements (QS) upload tool contains detailed instructions on how to do this.
Much of the data already existed in set data fields making mappings fairly straight forward. However the metadata for many manuscripts also included a text based description of the item, which in many cases included additional information such as the names of scribes and people whose works are represented within the manuscript (authors). Extracting this data was more difficult. By filtering searches for specific sentence structures and/or certain keywords it was possible to semi automate the extraction of this data, but it also required manual checking to avoid mistakes. Once the names, works, subjects and genres were extracted they then had to be matched to Wikidata items. If these items did not yet have a Wikidata item, they were created whenever possible using data from other sources.
The ontology for describing manuscripts on Wikidata is still being tweaked, so in order to properly separate and describe both the scribe/copyist of a work and the authors of works included in a manuscript it was necessary to create a new property on Wikidata, which can now be used to describe the scribe, calligrapher or copyist of a manuscript work.
Once the data was prepared in a spreadsheet it was uploaded to Wikidata in stages using the Quickstatements tool. We also uploaded sample images of the 100 or so manuscripts which have already been digitised to Wikimedia Commons. Since the implementation of structured data on Commons any upload which links to the relevant item on Wikidata it now pulls in much of the relevant descriptive data automatically, meaning there is a lot less work involved in preparing a batch upload of images than in days gone by. Since the National Library uses IIIF technology to display its digital assets, we also included persistent id’s to our image viewer and links to IIIF manifests in our Wikidata upload.
Once the data is uploaded it can immediately be queried and explored using the Wikidata SPARQL Query Service. This tool has a suit of visualisation options, but there are a number of other useful visualisation tools which can be used in conjunction with a sparql query without the need for any coding knowledge, such as the Wikidata Visualisation suit and RAWGraphs.
In many cases it is technically possible to retrieve the same data from standard Metadata as you can from the linked data – it’s just that we don’t have the tools to easily do so. For example we could easily list manuscripts from smallest to largest, or oldest to youngest, or perhaps explore the relationship between the size of a manuscript and the date it was created.
Interestingly, this query clearly shows a trend of increasing size in the manuscripts over time and it also seems to point to a trend towards producing manuscripts of similar sizes at different periods in time.
We can also easily analyze data about the language of the works in the collection. It’s worth remembering that many works contain texts in more than one language, but we know that 43% of items contain Welsh language text whilst 33% contain English and 19% contain Latin.
Whilst this is definitely useful, the extra information extracted from text descriptions in the metadata begins to enrich and add further value to the data, allowing us to perform new queries on the data. For example we can attempt to break down the collection by genre and main subject for the first time. This of course is only as accurate as the original data, and in some cases the variety of content within a single manuscript makes it impossible to apply an overarching content type, but in terms of research and discoverability, the data certainly provides new insight. For example, we can identify all manuscripts which contain correspondence, and then see who the main subject of those correspondence are, and because Wikidata is linked data we could then access biographical data about those people.
Many of the manuscripts in the Peniarth collection include copies or partial copies of other notable works, in fact some of the manuscripts are copies of other manuscripts in the same collection. Using Wikidatas ‘Exemplar of’ property it was possible to connect the manuscripts to data items for the works they contained. Again, I suspect the original metadata does not identify all the works included in the manuscripts so the results of any query will not be exhaustive but they will represent all of the current data in our catalogue.
We can see from the visualisation the no fewer than 22 manuscripts contain text from the codification of Welsh Law by Hywel Dda, 21 manuscripts are copies of other manuscripts in the collection and 12 are exemplars of various printed books.
Using the newly created Scribe property on Wikidata we have been able to link data for each manuscript to the data items for every scribe mentioned in the metadata. Three scribes stand out as the most prolific, with their hand writing appearing in dozens of Manuscripts. Two of the three, Robert Vaughan of Hengwrt and W.W.E Wynne of Peniarth once owned much of the collection and did much to annotate and copy the texts. The third, John Jones, was a well known collector and scribe, and is credited with copying many texts which might otherwise have been lost forever. By exploring which scribes contributed to which manuscripts we can identify connection between otherwise unconnected individuals.
Finally, it’s important to underline the fact that Wikidata doesn’t just allow us to explore individual collections in new ways, it acts as a hub, joining collections together in an ever expanding web of cultural heritage data. We have added a lot of data for people in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography for example, and a simple query now allows us to identify all of those who contributed to the Peniarth collection.
In the same way, we can link to collections in other institutions, many of whom are also beginning to add their collections to Wikidata. Oxford University is one such institution and this means that manuscripts of Welsh interest at Jesus College like the Book of the Anchorite of Llanddewi Brefi and the Red Book of Hergest are now connected through linked data to the copies of those manuscripts in the Peniarth Collection.
As more and more collections are added to this huge linked open network we will increasingly be able to reconcile, explore and make sense of our combined cultural heritage, which for hundreds of years has existed in closed silos. By applying new technology and Open licensing, cultural institutions can now breath new life into old data, and reach a wider audience than ever before.
For the last 14 weeks as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, the Library has welcomed 10 students from the MA Archive Administration and MSc Digital Curation courses from Aberystwyth University’s Department of Information Studies to work on one of our sound collections. We would like to thank the students for all their hard work and contribution towards the project, and to Crystal Guevara for writing this Blog about their time spent with us.
Timber, forest fires, road building, and World War II stories are just some of the subjects that are covered in a collection made up of 167 MiniDiscs, each containing interviews recorded from people who worked for or around the Forestry Commission.
As part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, the National Library of Wales is working on preserving and making available sound recordings that tell the story of wales through oral histories. Dr. Sarah Higgins, professor at Aberystwyth University arranged for ten students in the post-graduate Archive Administration course to help the Library work on a project called the Story of the Forest.
I was one of ten students that got to work on the project and I found that my appreciation for the people who had started the work for this story grew from admiration to urgency so that more people could hear and learn from the experiences of the forest workers who transformed the landscape of rural Wales.
The majority of these recordings are in Welsh, the remainder being in English. To place you somewhere in the timeline of history we’re talking about mid-Twentieth Century Wales. Due to a high demand for timber, the Forestry Commission bought slate quarries and farms to transform those areas into plots for forestry farming. Naturally, this meant an adjustment in lifestyle and some people adjusted well to it while others longed for the way that things used to be. The people who were a part of these changes weren’t interviewed until 2002 and 2003 by a team of interviewers who were motivated to get on record the rich details of this time of transition and change.
Because the interviews were recorded on MiniDiscs, they needed to be rescued from becoming completely inaccessible, since so much of the technology around MiniDiscs has already become obsolete. So, our job as archive students was to digitise the recordings on the MiniDiscs, catalogue all of the interviews, transcribe them, and then put together an online exhibit to showcase some of these interviews along with old photographs provided by the interviewees. To get all of this done we got to work with some of the Library staff. They gave us guidance on what to do and we in turn strategized the timetable and roles and responsibilities.
Everyone on the team got to perform unique tasks and we sought to rotate everyone through all the necessary jobs to get a chance at trying different things out. Each task required a different learning process and each one was vital to make these stories publicly available.
During the digitising I was able to appreciate having technology that allowed us to continue preserving these stories. While transcribing, I got to hear first-hand the core of what we were doing. Listening to the interviews, was insightful and eye-opening. They contain stories about forestry policy, road building, nursery work, farm life, and other topics like Land Army Girls, Prisoners of War, and life post-World War II. Then, while cataloguing we strived to do things meticulously, but efficiently to create useable information that would help future users navigate through the collection.
To become more connected with the project and feel the real human connection with the interviewees and their stories, we organized a trip to Corris. Corris is one of the places mentioned often in the oral histories and only a 40-minute drive from Aberystwyth. While we were there, we could see for ourselves the different types of trees in their separate sections, covering the hills. We took pictures of our visit to include in the online exhibit and add our own perspective to continue telling the story of the forest.
It was a great journey beginning to end. As we are only aspiring archivists at the moment, we relied heavily on the knowledge of all the library staff helping us work the technology and understand the metadata standards. Alison Smith, Berian Elias, Rhodri Shore, Gruffydd Jones, and Elena Gruffudd were especially helpful. That in and of itself was a lesson applicable in how to help and educate people who are learning to use archives.
To see these oral histories start off in a cardboard box and now find them searchable on the British Library catalogue brought a great sense of accomplishment for the entire team.
17 of these stories are now available to listen to online on the People’s Collection Wales website, along with more detailed stories about the specific process of cataloguing, digitising, transcribing, and work on the exhibit.
In September-October 2018, Dr Stéphanie Prévost, Senior Lecturer in 19th-century British History at Paris Diderot University, spent some time in the UK, both here at the National Library of Wales and in Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, undertaking research into the Gladstone’s Pamphlet Collection on the Eastern Question, including former Premier William E. Gladstone’s response to the Armenian massacres of the 1890s.
This blog appears on the 2019 anniversary of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
‘To serve Armenia is to serve Europe’ was British Liberal Premier W.E. Gladstone’s mot d’ordre to former French Ambassador in London on his last visit to the Grand Old Man, most probably in the winter of 1896-1897. Estimates now indicate that the three waves of the Armenian massacres that occurred in the Ottoman Empire in 1894-1896, possibly at Sultan Abdul Hamid II’s explicit behest (hence their being referred to as ‘Hamidian massacres’), killed some 200,000 to 300,000 Ottoman Armenians, not to mention other forms of violence. Gladstone’s long-lasting interest in Ottoman Christians, which is traditionally associated with his fiery defence of Ottoman Bulgarians in 1876, was again revived when news of massacres, this time against Ottoman Armenians, first appeared in the British press in late 1894.
Regarding Gladstone’s reading on the Armenian massacres, the Gladstone’s Pamphlet collection at the National Library of Wales, but also at the Gladstone’s Library at Hawarden where the volumes once owned by the Liberal Premier are also now held, partly make up for the silence of the last volume of the Gladstone’s Diaries. His long-standing public interest in the fate of Ottoman Christians, his speech at Chester in 1895 in defence of Ottoman Armenians immediately after the Liberal General Election defeat and his international status as the ‘defender of the oppressed’ account for the inflow of material (foreign or else) published about the Armenian massacres. As such, not only did Father Charmetant, Director of the French Works of Catholic Schools in the East, send him a copy of his original pamphlet Martyrologe arménien: Tableau officiel des massacres d’Arménie (1896), in which he produced an estimate of victims of the Armenian massacres across the Ottoman Empire, but he also made sure that ‘the Grand Old Man’ could read the English version en avant première. That he did shows through the many annotations, absent from the French text.
Deeply stirred by the Armenian massacres, Gladstone translated in his own words Charmetant’s ‘final appeal to dying Armenia of Christian Europe’ in his own forthcoming pamphlet. Penned in Southern France where he was staying at Lord Stuart Rendel’s to restore his declining health, The Eastern Crisis: A Letter to the Duke of Westminster eventually appeared in March 1897 and proposed an assessment of Turkish policy vis-à-vis Ottoman Christians since the 1856 Treaty of Paris, by which European powers protected Ottoman territorial integrity and independence against the promise that reforms (especially regarding the equality and protection of Ottoman non-Muslims) would be fulfilled. Gladstone cited another foreign authority on the Armenian Massacres, this time German missionary in Armenia Dr Lepsius, for his assessment of casualties as evidence of Ottoman misconduct. The copy of the English translation of Dr Lepsius’s Armenia & Europe: An Indictment (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1897) at the Gladstone’s Library is replete with notice lines of different colours and marginal marks, which all give a sense of the intense outrage reading in that case created.
The HTV Wales archive is a significant record of Welsh popular culture, politics and history captured on both film and video and it constitutes a large part of the Screen and Sound Archive. An archive of that size and age will have an assortment of conservation challenges, especially in the area of restoration. By far the most common problem with old tape is Sticky-shed syndrome (SSS) or hydrolysis. SSS is symptomatic of the breakdown of the tapes’ polyester binder due to absorption of moisture.
The tell-tale squealing of the tape as it passes over the playhead and the accumulation of dirty deposits upon the guide and playhead indicate a tape has SSS. A tape with SSS will, amongst other issues, exhibit ‘crabbing’, i.e. the moving from side to side of the moving image, and if not treated continued playback could further damage the tape.
So how do we restore that believed lost episode of ‘Gwesty Gwirion’? The answer may surprise you! The standard practice is to bake the tape at low temperatures for relatively long periods of time, such as 130 °F to 140 °F (54 to 60 °C). Strictly speaking we don’t ’bake’ our tapes but instead use a commercial food dehydrator that removes all moisture from the tape pack. How long we do this to the tape will depend on the severity of the SSS; up to a week we’ve discovered is time enough. We have been successful with the majority of the tapes that have undergone the process, with many lost gems brought back from the brink of oblivion. You can see some of them on the ITV Wales YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCT2NfMee-YxsGaH852qTx3Q or view them at the Library.
In the wake of the Armistice Day Centenary commemorations, it is perhaps timely to draw attention to the Library’s maps relating to the conflicts of the First World War, a cataclysm in which 20 million lives were lost, some 40,000 being Welsh.
The Library’s many war maps and atlases display frontlines, trenches and other military paraphernalia, the war’s geopolitical impact in changing political boundaries, post-war redevelopment schemes and even include recreational map-based war games. The maps are of both military and civilian origin, the latter published to inform the public and boost morale.
Some two hundred maps have been digitised as part of the Library’s War Centennial programme. Included are these two examples of maps from the unsuccessful Gallipoli Campaign – which was associated with inaccurate maps that regularly included outdated information gathered during the Crimean War.
The Gallipoli collection comprises contemporary War Office maps such as the two illustrated examples showing Ottoman defences on the campaign’s opening day and a later map of ANZAC positions, together with commercially published sheets.
The Allied attack on Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula, popularly known as the Gallipoli or the Dardanelles Campaign, lasted from April 1915 to January 1916. Here, British Empire and French forces engaged the Ottoman Empire in an unsuccessful attempt to aid Russia and break the impasse on the fighting fronts by opening a shipping route with Russia unimpeded by excessive winter sea ice and extreme distance.
A failed naval attack in the Dardanelles Strait in early 1915 progressed to a major land invasion on 25th April by British and French troops together with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps or ANZAC forces. A later landing occurred at Suvla Bay on 6th August.
Allied intelligence deficiencies, indecision and delay, combined with fierce Ottoman resistance thwarted headway and success and mired the belligerents in an entrenched battle of attrition and consequential heavy casualties. The British authorized evacuation began in December 1915, and ended the following January.
Back in March, the Library published the first group of Peniarth Manuscripts to have been digitised as part of an ambitious plan to present the contents of the entire collection online.
This week, as the Library celebrates items and collections which have been inscribed on UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World Register, we announce that images of a further 25 manuscripts from the Peniarth Collection have appeared on our website. They are presented here according to dates of creation:
From the 14th century, we welcome 190, a Welsh manuscript containing religious texts such as Lucidar and Ymborth yr Enaid, together with 328 and 329, two legal manuscripts in Norman-French, with the latter containing the text of Magna Carta.
From the beginning of the 15th century, we welcome the Latin and English religious texts of 334, and from the middle of that century, the work of Petrarch in a Latin manuscript produced at Oxford (336), and the Welsh text of Gwassanaeth Meir (191). An abundant crop from the second half of the century includes Welsh Law (175), a calendar in the hand of Gutun Owain (186), and poems written by Huw Cae Llwyd (189).
A dearth of sources from the first half of the 16th century is followed by an abundant crop from 1550 onwards, including the manuscripts of Roger Morris of Coed-y-talwrn (169), Thomas Evans of Hendreforfudd (187), lexicographer Thomas Wiliems (188), Simwnt Fychan (189), and another version of Gwassanaeth Meir (192). Pedigrees are represented in 193, and medical tracts in 184, 206 and 207.
Robert Vaughan did not neglect contemporary manuscripts, and 17th century examples include a collection of Welsh poetry (184), grammars and vocabularies written by John Jones of Gellilyfdy (295, 296, 302, 304 and 305), and volumes written by Robert Vaughan himself (180 and 185).
Finally, one lonely manuscript of Welsh sermons (324) from the 18th century, possibly the product of Montgomeryshire.
For a complete list of all Peniarth Manuscripts available digitally, consult the dedicated page on our website. Meanwhile, our diligent digitizers continue to work through the collection!
As of October 2018 the Library will share a number of additional items from its collections on Europeana, a European digital cultural platform. We are currently working with 12 other partner institutions on a project entitled ‘The Rise of Literacy’ which aims to explore the history of reading and writing in Europe. In this weekly blog series – ‘Revealing the Objects‘, some of the Library’s contributions will be disclosed on a thematic basis.
Here’s a selection of dictionaries and grammars that will be digitized as part of the project.
Gruffydd Robert – Dosparth byrr (1563)
Gruffydd Robert was a Roman Catholic scholar, a grammarian of the sixteenth century and a humanist of the Renaissance. It comes as no surprise therefore that Robert was concerned with the study of language and the Welsh language in particular. As a Catholic exile he had to contend with rigorous press censorship across Europe which made the process of publication a daunting task. Gruffydd Robert’s multi-volume Grammar ‘Dosbarth byrr’, the earliest grammar to appear in Welsh, was at least partly published in Milan from 1567, where the author had settled. Robert was a firm supporter of the art of translation and believed it was a vital component in the expansion and development of a language in the modern world. He put his ideas into practice in his grammar. In addition, he converted the Ciceronian style into a Welsh medium by including a select translation of Cicero’s De Senectute in his sixth volume of ‘Dosparth byrr’.
John Davies – Antiquae linguae Britannicae, nunc vulgo dictae Cambro-britannicae, a suis Cymraecae vel Cambricae, ab aliis Wallicae, et linguae Latinae, dictionarium duplex. Prius Britannico-Latinum, … posterius, Latino-Britannicum. Accesserunt adagia Britannica (1632)
‘Dictionarium Duplex’ was a Latin-Welsh, Welsh-Latin dictionary and the first of its kind. This publication showcased John Davies’s lifetime study of the Welsh language, from Old Welsh poetry dating from around the sixth century down to the seventeenth century. Davies was a Renaissance scholar and these humanistic values were evident is his ‘Dictionarium Duplex’. The preface to the volume presented an interesting statement on the uniqueness of the Welsh language, its history and its place within an international linguistic context. In addition, his familiarities with the ideas of influential humanistic scholars were evident within the publication. This dictionary was aimed at, and produced for, scholars or Latinists. It was certainly not a practical resource for the ordinary Welsh-man, nor the uneducated poet. The ‘Dictionarium Duplex’ came to the attention of some of Europe’s leading linguists in the seventeenth century and laid the foundations for many future Welsh linguists and scholars. It also had a great impact on lawyers and priests during that time. Its publication is considered as one of the most important events in the history of the Welsh language in the seventeenth century.
Thomas Jones – Y Gymraeg yn ei Disgleirdeb / The British language in its lustre (1688)
‘Y Gymraeg yn ei Disgleirdeb’ or ‘The British language in its lustre’ was the first Welsh-English dictionary to appear in published form. This volume, by the almanacer Thomas Jones, was pocket sized and relatively cheap. Jones used John Davies’s Welsh-Latin section in ‘Dictionarium Duplex’ as a starting point for his publication. However, this dictionary was not intended for the educated minority, like Davies’s Latin version, but rather the ordinary population. Jones wished to enhance the lower class’s ability to write and spell both in Welsh and English through ‘Y Gymraeg yn ei Disgleirdeb’.
Want to see more posts from this series? See below:
Creating linked open data for Victorian shipping registers
Volunteers at the National Library of Wales have been transcribing 19th century shipping records for Aberystwyth and these are now being shared openly on Wikidata by the Library’s National Wikimedian.
For the first time it is now possible to visualise and query this rich historical record giving us a glimpse of life in 19th century Aberystwyth.
In the 18th and 19th Century the Welsh ‘interior’ was not easy to reach. Before the coming of the train and the invention of tarmac, the best way to get goods in and out of West Wales was by boat. Shipping was a booming industry in towns and villages along the West Wales coast and Aberystwyth was no exception. Records for more than 500 ships registered in Aberystwyth survive at the National Library of Wales and Ceredigion County Archive.
Aberystwyth Harbour by Alfred Worthington
Volunteers at the National Library began transcribing the Aberystwyth shipping records in 2012. The data they extracted contained information about the ships, their crew and the voyages they undertook.
In 2016 the library began to explore the possibility of enriching some elements of the data using Wikidata as a platform to share this data. If you are unfamiliar with Wikidata, it is part of the Wikimedia family of websites, which includes Wikipedia, and is a massive database of free to use data. It isn’t even six years old but it already contains 50 million data items about all sorts of places, people, things and concepts, all added by volunteers and organisations wishing to share their data with the world. The library’s Wikimedian collaborated with Ceredigion County Archives, who held additional information about the ships in order to create linked data about the ships themselves. This data included details such as the type and size of each ship, the date and location of construction and, where known, their fate.
From this, we were able to begin digging around in the data, and creating revealing visualisations. If you wanted to see the most popular names for ships registered in Aberystwyth, for example, we can easily retrieve and present this information. A map of where the ships were built revealed some interesting facts too. As you might expect, many ships were build locally in Aberystwyth, Borth and Aberdyfi, for example, but the data also reveals that dozens of ships were built in Canada. A little more research revealed that the government of the day was so concerned about a French invasion that they deliberately established ship building yards in safer lands, such as Prince Edward Island off the Canadian Coast, in order to safeguard the ability to move good around the uk by boat.
We were also able to plot all the shipwrecks mentioned in the records. This not only highlights the perils of 19th century shipping, but reveals how ships from West Wales villages were traveling the world. From India, China and Africa to South America and even the South Pole, Welsh sailors were very well traveled.
After the initial transcription work, many of the volunteers who had worked on the collection were keen to do more, to collect more information about the ships, their crew and their owners, so in 2017 a series of new tasks were set. Volunteers began searching for photographs and paintings of the ships, investigating the fate of more of the vessels, recording the owners of each vessel and they began the mammoth task of researching the lives of every ship’s master mentioned in the records.
Whilst the task of identifying all the ships masters will take some time yet, the first of the tasks has now been completed. Data about the owners of each ship exists in the original shipping records, but was not within the scope of the initial project, so two of the volunteers who worked on the original project, Lilian and Myfanwy kindly went back through the records, and other sources such as the Crew List Index Project and extracted the the data. Much of this has now been incorporated with the rest of the data for each ship on Wikidata. Apart from providing an easy way to search and explore the data held within the collection the improved Wikidata allows us to query and visualize the data in new ways, which helps us better understand what these records tell us.
The new data now means that for many ships, we can chart its ownership throughout its life on the seas. We have also been able to create data items for each of the ships owners, be they individuals or established shipping companies. We know where the companies were based, and where individuals lived, and we know, from their names whether they were men or women.
For example we know that of the 630 owners identified, 47 were women. More research would be need, but at first glance it would appear that most of those 47 took ownership following the death of their husbands.
The records show how the ships often changed hands regularly. If we take the rather appropriately named ‘Volunteer’ we can plot a chart which shows all of its owners, the other ships those people owned, and the other owners of those ships – painting a complex picture of the business of ship ownership in West Wales. And it should be stated that the 630 owners identified will, in many cases, simply be the majority shareholders, or the appointed owner/manager. Many of these ships had multiple shareholders, meaning people from many walks of life could afford to invest in the busy shipping trade.
Owners of the ‘Volunteer’ with other connected ships and their owners
We can also see who the big players were in Aberystwyth by querying ship owners by the number of ships they owned. Thomas Jones, an Aberystwyth shipbuilder comes top of the pyle, owning more than 20 vessels at one time of another.
Ship owners, ordered by the number of ships they have owned
Timeline showing the ships owned by Thomas Jones
Wikidata, like Wikipedia, is a platform which anyone can edit so any one can now help to improve the data. If they spot mistakes, or have extra information it can be easily added directly to Wikidata. Our volunteers are still working hard to collect even more data so the amount of data connected to the Aberystwyth Shipping records will continue to grow over the coming months and years. Everyone is free to explore and reuse the data, so for the technically minded among you, please feel free to hack, create, mash and re-work our data, and be sure to share the results with us!
A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.
Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.