This year marks the centenary of the publication by J. Gwenogvryn Evans of his monochrome facsimile of the contents of the Black Book of Chirk (notwithstanding the 1909 imprinted on the title-page!). Through the generosity of a patron, and to mark the occasion, the National Library has published new digital images of the manuscript on our website.
This manuscript – Peniarth 29 – was once believed to be the earliest written in Welsh. Today, it is regarded as among the earliest, sharing a birthdate, as it were, with another Black Book, the rather more famous one from Carmarthen. Both were produced in the mid-thirteenth century, one in the South, and the other in North Wales.
The Chirk manuscript was written in Welsh, on parchment, by six scribes, in regular and professional style, although their familiarity with written Welsh may not have been fluent.
The volume contains legal texts relating to the king and his court, according to the ‘Venedotian’ or ‘Iorwerth’ code, associated with Gwynedd. The ‘king’ is a native ruler, one such as the young Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, known as ‘the last native Prince of Wales’, whose influence was becoming apparent at the time when the manuscript was written. Following the Law of the Court (reminiscent of those fine images in Peniarth 28, a contemporary Latin law manuscript), the scribes record laws that were relevant to ordinary inhabitants, including elements such as the values of wild and tame animals. A summary, text and translation is available on the Cyfraith Hywel website.
The manuscript also contains non-legal additions, such as proverbs, and Dafydd Benfras’s elegy on the death of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (Llywelyn the Great) in 1240, harking back perhaps to the ‘golden age’ of native law in the Gwynedd tradition.
But why is the volume associated with Chirk, in Denbighshire? The contents suggest affiliation with medieval North Wales, and by 1615, it was owned by John Edwards of Plas Newydd, Chirk, a scholar and recusant who lost many belongings by sequestration before his death in 1625. Llanstephan MS 68 is a copy of the manuscript, made by Francis Tate whilst the Black Book was owned by Edwards. Subsequently, probably via John Jones of Gellilyfdy, it became part of Robert Vaughan’s library at Hengwrt, and on the upper part of page 114 is part of his ornate inscription identifying the work as ‘Y llyfr du or Waun’ (the Black Book of Chirk).
The original black covers are long gone, but the remains of the binding leaves survive at the end of the manuscript.
Since the beginning of the year work has continued on digitising our collections and the following items and collections are now available to view from home on the Library’s website and/or the catalogue:
33 Ystrad Marchell charters have also been made available and can be accessed via the catalogue.
A selection of volumes relating to King Arthur were selected for digitization in 2019. The following 13 volumes are already available and the work of digitizing the remaining items will continue over the coming months:
As much of medieval life was centered around religious belief, the daily services of the church (Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline) helped to mark the passing of time, particularly for those in holy orders. Consequently, one of the most common types of manuscript to be found in medieval homes were those that allowed the laity to observe these services – known as the ‘books of hours’.
For those who could afford them, books of hours were often richly illustrated, and could serve just as much of a decorative purpose as a religious one. But for the average lay person, life was more concerned with the farming year and the passing of the seasons. Many books of hours included illustrations of agricultural tasks which were carried out at various times of the year, such as sowing crops, harvest time, or tree felling, often associated with the various feast days across the year.
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The De Grey Hours: [mid. 15th cent.]. A task for midsummer – an illustration of scything in June, with the symbol of the zodiac denoting Cancer, the crab (f. 6r)
In a legal sense, these holy and saints’ days were also commonly used in medieval charters to record the date. Hundreds of examples of this practice can be seen in the collection of the charters of Margam Abbey, Glamorgan, part of the Penrice and Margam Estate Records at NLW.
Margam Abbey was founded in 1147 as a daughter-house of the Cistercian order at Clairvaux and was endowed with a large amount of land by Robert, earl of Gloucester (charter 1). By the late 13th century, Margam was Wales’ richest monastery, owning land and granges in both Wales and England, and Gerald of Wales wrote of Margam in his Itinerarium Cambriae (c.1191) that it was ‘by far the most renowned for alms and charity’. As a result, the Margam Abbey charters, including those of the Penrice and Mansel families, comprise one of the largest and most complete monastic collections in Britain. The majority of its records consist of sealed land grants to and from many of the ruling families of Glamorgan, ranging from the 12th to the 16th centuries. As well as being a source of local history for Glamorgan, Margam’s charters also help to place it in a wider European context – not only containing royal charters and letters patent, but also a number of 13th-century papal bulls (charters 82-84, 141, 171, 173-4, 185, 245) confirming the importance of Margam to the Cistercian order.
Typically, each charter records the day upon which it was signed or sealed, usually given as a feast day or saints’ day, and the year of the reigning monarch. Midsummer Day or Canol Haf – usually celebrated on 21st June but also known as Gŵyl Ifan due to the feast day of St John the Baptist falling on the 24th June – was a significant date in the farming year as it marked the longest day and the turning of seasons as the days shortened and harvest time was nearing. In Margam’s charters, Midsummer is used as a dating clause in several instances. A quit-claim by a William de Marle to Margam Abbey (charter 227, 1354) is dated Midsummer Day, while charters 193 (1312) and 228 (1357), also quit-claims to the Abbey, are dated at Margam ‘the Sunday after Midsummer’ and ‘the Saturday after Midsummer’ respectively. It is not only within land grants that this dating occurs. Charter 233 (1366), which detailed assizes recovering the Abbot of Margam’s salmon fishery from one Res [Rhys] and one Howel, stated that for their piscine thievery each were fined threepence in damages on ‘the Monday before Midsummer Day’.
This theme of agriculture is abundant when looking at the rent requirements in some of Margam’s charters, which stipulate what is given in exchange for each piece of land. Rents could include livestock, crops, or spices, as well as money, and could stipulate a nominal amount in order to make a legal exchange. Charter 302 (1315) asks for just ‘a rose at Midsummer’ in exchange for the rent of half an acre of land; a rose is also given in charter 329 (1383) for a burgage. Charter 306 (1315) more generously specifies a garland of roses to be given annually at Midsummer in exchange for six and three-quarter acres. Symbolically, the only time roses are stipulated to be given is at Midsummer, and they do not appear as an exchange at any other date in Margam’s charters.
Of course, these dates were not always reliable. Margam may have been the wealthiest Abbey in Wales but news in the medieval period travelled more slowly than today and could be hampered by events of the time. Charter 336, for example, issued during the Wars of the Roses, was dated at Oxwich, Gower, on 4th April, yet supplies the year (1461) as the reign of Henry VI, rather than that of Edward IV whose accession had been on the 4th of March previously. Evidently the announcement of Edward’s accession had not yet reached Gower at the time.
Margam Abbey was a prominent landmark in south Wales for nearly four centuries, but it did not survive Henry VIII’s dissolution. In 1540 the Abbey and its lands, including its church, bell-tower, fisheries, cemetery, water-mill, and a large number of its granges were sold to the Mansel family for £938, six shillings and eightpence (charter 359). Incidentally, the charter granting Margam’s dissolution was dated at Westminster on 22nd June. It appears that the Abbey saw its final day at Midsummer.
Although our building is closed at the moment a great deal of work has continued behind the scenes and since June the following items and collections have been made available to view from home on the Library’s website and/or the catalogue:
Almost 10,000 images of personal papers and papers relating to the public offices of members of the Wynn family of Gwydir, Caernarfonshire have been made available. 2,786 items from the Sir John Williams Group, 1519-1683 (NLW MSS 463-470) and the Panton Group, 1515- [c. 1699] (NLW MSS 9051-9069) can be found in the catalogue.
Sir John Herbert Lewis Papers
8 diaries in the Sir John Herbert Lewis Papers from the period 1925-1933 are now available:
Every year, the Digital Preservation Coalition holds a World Digital Preservation Day with the aim of drawing attention to the complex strategic, cultural and technological issues involved in ensuring sustained access to digital content. This year has brought into particular focus the global reliance on digital information, infrastructure and connectivity and the theme this year: Digits: for Good, reflects the positive impact of preserving and providing access to trustworthy digital content. This theme aligns perfectly with the Library’s innovative approaches in traditional conservation, digitisation and digital preservation which integrate to ensure that the Boston Manuscript of the Laws of Hywel Dda are accessible now and in the future.
The Boston Manuscript was purchased in 2012 by the Library with assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Friends of the National Libraries and the Welsh Government. The manuscript, written in Welsh, dates from around 1350 and records the native Welsh laws, which were thought to have been codified by Hywel Dda. It is a key text in the history of Welsh law and provides insights into Welsh identity and cultural life. It was used as a working text, being annotated by a Judge in South Wales, who carried it around in his pocket. By the 19th century, the manuscript had reached America and was in the custody of the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, having probably been taken there by an emigrant.
A conservation assessment revealed that the manuscript was very fragile, with many tears and splits, meaning that it could not be handled without the risk of further damage. The decision was taken to dis-bind the volume and digitise the content, which would enable the re-binding of the original, the creation of facsimile copies and digital access.
End to end workflow
A complex workflow has been developed to manage the digitisation process from selection to access and storage. A Benchmarking exercise ensured that the manuscript was digitised according to the standards and methodologies established for digitising manuscript materials. The protocols for scanning were specified, including the essential information to capture, such as file name attribution, conversion process and the file formats specification for master and derivative files.
Digitising the manuscript
The scanning process was facilitated through the dis-binding, enabling each folio to be captured in entirety, without the need to de-warp. This assisted with the process of digitally extending the outside edges of the parchment. Each flattened folio could be scanned through the use of a line scanning system, rather than the usual method of using a single-shot camera and cradle. Through the use of this method, the images could be captured at a higher resolution than usual practice allowed and there was greater consistency in lighting and enhanced colour accuracy.
The scanning process generated TIFF master files, with the JP2 derivatives being generated on ingest to Fedora, the Digital Asset Management System. The METS files, which included descriptive and structural metadata were also generated on ingest. The master TIFF files were stored in the Digital Archive. Preservation actions, including checksum verification, fixity monitoring and preservation planning ensure the preservation of the digital content.
Creating the facsimiles
Another benefit of the disbanding and scanning process was the ability for the Library to demonstrate its pioneering techniques in creating facsimiles, which are almost indistinguishable from the originals. Printed copies of the scanned leaves, on high quality archival paper, were joined together and pasted back to back to form folios and gatherings. This back to back format ensured that the facsimile would be the same thickness as the original manuscript. The innovative technique of emulating parchment through manually stretching the paper unevenly, whilst the leaves were still damp, resulted in an authentic cockled appearance.
The facsimiles were bound in the same way as the original and have been used for teaching and outreach purposes, allowing extended access to the manuscript, whilst safeguarding the original.
Spot the difference!
The digitised manuscript can be viewed on the Library’s website. The images are served up through a IIIF manifest, linked to the derivative files held in Fedora, which supplies the Universal Viewer. The images can be manipulated, with the ability to zoom in on parts of the manuscript, turn the pages and have a variety of views. The descriptive metadata is available with the images to provide contextual information.
Through its integrated approach to preserving and extending access to one of Wales’s most significant treasures, the Library has certainly used its digits, both figuratively and literally, for good and for all.
Sally McInnes, Head of Unique Collections and Collections Care
A new crowdsourcing project aimed at documenting the built heritage of Wales through photography and Wikipedia articles.
The National Library of Wales is once again teaming up with Menter Iaith Môn, with funding from the Welsh Government language unit, to deliver this exciting new project.
Wales has thousands of important listed buildings, from great castles built by the Welsh princes to churches, stately homes and terraced houses. In Wales there were once more seats in chapels than there were people to sit on them and now those chapels are disappearing fast. We also have more modern buildings which need documenting, such as hospitals and health centres, schools, libraries and sports facilities.
For this project we are asking you to check out what needs photographing in your area. If you are out walking the dog, running, cycling or just stretching your legs after that Sunday roast just take your phone or camera and snap a few shots for us along the way.
These images will form a new collection at the National Library of Wales and will be made freely available for reuse on Wikimedia Commons, so that they can be used to improve Wikipedia articles. Wikipedia is a fantastic platform for us to collaboratively record and share our local history and recent studies have shown that having good quality Wikipedia articles can help to significantly boost tourism.
We are not looking for professional quality photographs, or fancy stylized shots. Just simple documentary images which you can snap on anything from a DSLR to your mobile phone, so everyone can get involved, from Grandma to the Grand kids.
As part of the project we are even planning on working directly (remotely) with schools to get kids snapping buildings in their area and then we will teach them how to use those images to improve relevant Wikipedia articles.
Contributing to the project is easy. An interactive map will show you all the places that need photographs in your area, and our video tutorial will talk you through the simple upload process. So please, check out what needs photographing in your area, and register today to ensure that your images are included in our new digital archive.
Nine hundred years ago, in May 1120, the bones of the sixth-century saint Dyfrig were taken from Bardsey and reburied at Llandaff, where bishop Urban was rebuilding and enlarging the church to match what he considered to be its proper status. As bishop of Llandaff, Urban claimed jurisdiction over every church dedicated to the founding bishops and patron saints of Llandaff, namely Dyfrig, Teilo and Euddogwy, and this brought him into conflict with the bishops of St Davids and Hereford, whom he saw as his inferiors. The translation of Dyfrig’s relics to Llandaff was intended to strengthen Urban’s case, but the centrepiece of his campaign was Liber Landavensis, the Book of Llandaff, which is now one of the Library’s treasures. Through it, we can see how Urban’s ambitious claims played an important part in redefining not only the Welsh church but its relations with the English church and the papacy.
The contents of the manuscript were compiled with the intention of showing that Llandaff possessed metropolitan status, direct ecclesiastical authority from the Tywi to the Wye (an area roughly equivalent to the old kingdom of Morgannwg) and an unbroken tradition from Dyfrig, appropriating the traditions of other churches in the process. It dates from between around 1120 and Urban’s death in 1133 (although other material was added later), and consists of the Gospel of St Matthew, the ‘Lives’ of Dyfrig, Teilo, Euddogwy and other saints, the ‘Privilege of Teilo’ in Latin and Welsh, an account of the foundation of Llandaff, a list of its bishops, and incomplete or corrupted copies of charters by which secular rulers granted land to Llandaff from the sixth century to the eleventh century. There is also some contemporary material, including a copy of the agreement made in 1126 between Urban and Robert of Gloucester, lord of Glamorgan, putting a stop to predations on the temporal possessions of the diocese. As is usually the case with propaganda, Liber Landavensis contains a mixture of fact, insinuation and fabrication that is often difficult to pick apart.
St Davids responded by creating its own propaganda, claiming metropolitan status over the whole of Wales and revising Rhigyfarch’s eleventh-century ‘Life’ of St David (or Dewi) so that Dewi became superior to Teilo and any reference to his consecration by Dyfrig was removed, but the matter was not to be decided in Wales. The growing power of the Anglo-Norman church and a reforming papacy meant that recognition from the pope and the archbishop of Canterbury was crucial to the success of Llandaff’s cause, and the manuscript carefully documents how Urban sought to achieve this. He owed his position to the Normans; having been appointed by Henry I and consecrated by archbishop Anselm in 1107, he was one of the first Welsh bishops to be installed by authorities from outside Wales, and the first known to have sworn canonical obedience to Canterbury. Liber Landavensis reflects this new reality, claiming (falsely) in the ‘Life’ of Euddogwy that Llandaff had been subject to Canterbury and obedient to English kings since the time of St Augustine, and that its customs were the same as those of the English. Similarly, Urban’s involvement in ecclesiastical affairs on a European level was novel for a Welsh bishop. He attended the Council of Rheims in 1119, where he first appealed to pope Calixtus II for recognition of the status of Llandaff; he received Cardinal John of Crema, the first papal legate known to have visited Wales, in 1125; he attended the Councils of Westminster in 1125 and 1127, and took part in the consecration of English bishops; he took his dispute with St Davids to the papal curia in person in 1128 and 1129; and he died in Italy while pursuing another case. Liber Landavensis records almost all of this, including copies of papal letters and accounts of Councils and of Urban’s journeys to Rome.
Urban was encouraged by a provisional ruling in his favour from pope Honorius II in 1128, but ultimately he lost his case. He had been presumptuous – Llandaff had only been an important church for a century or so, and Urban himself had been the first bishop of Glamorgan to style himself bishop of Llandaff – but he had made a significant difference. As a result of his ambition, St Davids won the boundary dispute and established itself as the leading Welsh diocese, Canterbury tightened its hold on Welsh bishoprics, and English churchmen were given new encouragement to take their complaints to the papal curia. Liber Landavensis bears testimony to Urban’s vision, and his failure.
A digital copy of the manuscript is available on the Library’s website, revealing text that was obscured until the volume was rebound at the Library in 2007.
Dr David Moore (Archivist)
Illustration: The bronze image of Christ on the manuscript’s only surviving original oak cover board. It was probably attached shortly after being made in England in the middle of the thirteenth century. The covers are now kept separately.
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.
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.