Sharing data and information about Welsh literature with the world
The National Library of Wales working in partnership with Menter Iaith Môn for a second time has secured a grant from the Welsh Government for the WiciLlên project, in order to deliver an ambitious project focused on openly sharing information about Welsh literature on the Wikimedia projects.
The project will consist of two main strands. Firstly the National Library will begin sharing a huge dataset of all books of Welsh interest ever published in Wales. This dataset contains information about nearly half a million books, their authors and publishers.
A visualization of linked open data for Welsh interest books published by the University of Wales Press
As part of the WiciLlên project the first 50,000 of those records will be enriched and shared as linked open data on Wikidata. The data will be searchable and reusable in dozens of languages, including Welsh. This will improve access to this important dataset, help improve citations on Wikipedia and provide opportunities for developers and researchers wishing to re-use the data.
The second strand of the project will focus on improving content on the Welsh Wikipedia. The National Library will deliver a Hackathon event and a series of Wikipedia editathons, whilst Menter Môn’s Wikipedian in Residence will deliver events for school children of different ages.
Wikipedia editing events held recently by Menter Iaith Môn and the National Library of Wales
Nia Wyn Thomas, who heads Menter Iaith Môn said: “It’s a privilege, as always, to work with Wikimedia UK and the National Library to enrich open content in Welsh through the skilled hands of Anglesey’s children. Over the period of the collaboration, we are proud of the work that has been achieved, and the impact of the work around developing children’s digital competency through the medium of Welsh, be it their first, or second language. The influence of the work on the development of the Welsh language is also great, in a field where the language is not always seen as progressive”
The project has already started and will run until March 2020.
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.
In December 2017 the Library’s National Wikimedian began work on a Welsh Government funded project to improve the quality of information about people related to Wales on the Welsh language Wikipedia.
The entire project was planned using Europeana’s new Impact Playbook with the aim of exploring and document the changes, or impacts, to different stakeholder groups of delivering a range of Wikimedia based activities focused around collections at The National Library of Wales.
The Impact Playbook works by creating clearly defined change pathways with measurable outcomes (or changes) during the planning process, insuring that a wide range of outcomes and desired impacts can be assessed and measured at the end of the project.
This is the first time a project focused on Wikipedia based activities has been assessed in this way, so this was a great opportunity to explore and document the impact of working with Wikimedia in the culture sector.
The project focused around the release of 4,862 Welsh portraits to Wikimedia Commons, with an emphasis on improving access to Welsh language content and providing opportunities for the public to engage through the medium of Welsh.
Bilingual Wikidata was created for each portrait. This data was used to help create nearly 1,500 new Welsh Wikipedia articles, utilizing 25% of the images. The images generated 1.6 million page views in 55 languages in the space of a month, greatly increasing access to information about Welsh people.
Working with Menter Iaith Môn, a series of events were held at schools highlighting how Wikipedia-based learning can contribute positively to schools’ targets for the Welsh language and digital literacy.
A ‘hackathon’ event demonstrated the value of open data to the creative industries in Wales and a number of use cases were documented.
The project demonstrates how working with Wikimedia can help cultural heritage institutions build and support new communities and achieve outcomes which align with their core values whilst increasing access to, and use of, their digital collections.
During Tudor and Stuart times, heraldic visitations were tours of inspection undertaken by Heralds or their deputies to scrutinise, register and record the coats of arms of the nobility and gentry in England, Wales and Ireland. Having recently purchased a fine pedigree roll of the period, the National Library invited two modern-day heralds to visit us in October: the present Wales Herald Extraordinary, Mr Thomas Lloyd, and his predecessor, the sprightly 90-year old Dr Michael Powell Siddons.
They are seen here inspecting (and no doubt approving of) the heraldic roll, dated 3 December 1591, which was recently purchased by the Library at auction in Shrewsbury. The roll (now NLW MS 24125G) traces the pedigree of Frances Vichan (or Vaughan), heiress of Hergest Court, Herefordshire to ‘Kradog, Earle of Herefourde, Lord of Radnor and Knight of ye Round Table in King Arthur’s time’. Frances married Herbert Jeffreys of Kirham Abbey, Yorkshire, whose grandfather, Col. Herbert Jeffreys, had been Governor of Virginia.
The 2-metre long roll, which seems to be in the hand of Richard Adams, scribe and painter of Ludlow, was produced by Thomas Jones (c. 1530-1609) of Fountain Gate, Cardiganshire. Jones, the almost mythical ‘Twm Siôn Cati’, is popularly depicted in later literature as a brigand and rogue, and is sometimes described as ‘the Welsh Robin Hood’. In real life, he was a canny producer of pedigrees for the up-and-coming Welsh nobility, and had cornered the market for ornate displays of prestige and one-upmanship on parchment. Strict accuracy was not always a primary consideration, and having appealed to the vanity of his patrons, one can almost imagine this entrepreneur’s smirk as the pocketed the proceeds of his latest venture.
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!
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!
The National Library of Wales hosts the second Wikipedia languages conference
On July the 5th and 6th, The National Library of Wales hosted the second Celtic Knot Wicipedia Language Conference.
The conference is quite unique in its ambitions – with the focus on how small and minority languages can grow and develop Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects in their language.
Wikipedia has nearly 300 language editions but some have just a hand full of editors and a few thousand articles. The challenges faced by these communities are often very different to those faced by much bigger Wikipedias. The Celtic Knot conference focused on discussing and addressing some of these issues, such as technical support, community building and partnerships.
The conference was attended by 55 delegates from all over the world, with people attending from as far afield as South Africa, Norway, Spain and Germany. The Celtic Nations were well represented too, with delegates from Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, Brittany and, of course, Wales. We are grateful to the Wikimedia Foundation for funding a number of scholarships which allowed us to help volunteers travel to the event.
Delegates being welcomed to the conference by Jason Evans, National Wikimedian
Day one featured a structured programme of presentations and workshops, and the conference was opened by the Welsh Government Minister for Welsh and Lifelong Learning, Eluned Morgan AM, who spoke very positively of Wikipedia as a means of supporting the development of the Welsh language. And she spoke of the importance of the work that the National Library of wales has done in this area, thanks in part to Welsh Government funding.
Eluned Morgan AM speaking about the value of Wikipedia in giving access to Welsh language information
Wikimedia UK’s Wales manager Robin Owain then spoke, as eloquently as ever, about the growth of the Welsh Wikipedia. The Minister, Robin and several others spoke in Welsh with simultaneous translation and the audience seemed to enjoy listening to the Welsh language, some hearing it for the first time.
We were treated to a number of inspiring presentations and workshops during the day. Ewan MacAndrew of Edinburgh University ran a translation workshop and there were a number of Wikidata talks and workshops led by Lea Lacroix of Wikimedia Deutschland. Presentations highlighting the use of Wikipedia for, or within education were particularly popular, with Aaron Morris of Wici Môn discussing the impact of his work with school children and Koldo Biguri of the Basque Wikimedia user group talking about the Basque Wikipedia for children, or ‘Txikipedia’. The great work of the Basque Wikimedia community in this area was further highlighted by Inaki Lopez deLuzuriaga who spoke about their wider education programme, which is supported by the Basque government.
Pau Cabot of Catalonia talking about using Wikidata to generate infoboxes on Wikipedia
After a long day, delegates were treated to a trip on the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway for food and drinks at Y Consti cafe. The National Library of Wales choir kindly sang us all some traditional Welsh songs before we had a Breton folk dancing lesson!
A group of delegates discussing long into the evening
On the second day we kicked off with the a presentation on the Irish Wikipedia and a journey through language gaps on Wikidata, by the library’s very own Wikidata visiting scholar, Simon Cobb. A personal highlight for me, was a video presentation by Subhanshish Panigrahi, a National Geographics explorer who works with Wikimedia India. His talk focused on the importance of recording and preserving endangered languages, and highlighted an Indian dialect which is has just one serving speaker. For me, this brought home the importance of supporting and encouraging the use of minority languages before their use drops to unsustainable levels.
After lunch we ran an unconference session, where delegates set their own agenda. There were data workshops, strategy discussions, lightning talks and even a tour of the library. Delegates from Cornwall were thrilled to view important Cornish language manuscripts from the library’s collection.
Planning the unconferenced sessions
We all came together again for a productive group discussion before the National Librarian Linda Tomos closed the conference with a brilliant talk about the importance of the National Libraries work with Wikipedia and virtual tour through some of the libraries most treasured and important collections.
Feedback from delegates suggest the conference was a great success, and everyone indicated that they would attend the conference again next year. We will continue to work with interested parties to find a suitable home for the conference next year and Wikimedia Norge have kindly agreed to look at hosting the conference in 2020. We really hope the conference, and the worlds smaller language Wikipedia’s can continue to grow over the coming years, and we thank everyone who was involved in making this years event so successful.
4800 Welsh portraits added to Wikimedia Commons and Wikidata
Over the last 4 years the National Library of Wales has worked with Wikimedia to provide open access to more than 10,000 public domain images. These include the Welsh Landscape Collection, photographs, maps and manuscripts.
This partnership has led to more than 455 million views of Wikipedia articles containing National Library images to date.
Now the Library is pleased to announce that nearly 5000 portrait prints, photographs and paintings have been placed in the public domain on Wikimedia Commons.
Along with the images, the Library’s National Wikimedian has also shared rich metadata for every image as linked open data on Wikidata.
The Library’s main goal in releasing such content is to increase access to our collections and to contribute to the creation and sharing of knowledge about Wales and its people.
It is now hopped that the Wikimedia community will begin to use these images to illustrate Wikipedia articles. The National Library also plans to run a project to increase engagement with this collection, and hopes that volunteers will be encouraged to create Wikipedia articles about the Welsh sitters, artists, printers and photographers involved in the collection.
Because all these images are freely downloadable and in the public domain, we also encourage others to reuse them for any purpose they see fit, from education to the creative industries this is a free resource for everybody.
The creation of linked data for the collection also offers interesting opportunities for researchers and academics. For the first time we can properly disambiguate (untangle) the names of the artists and sitters in order to better understand the makeup of the collection. For example 12 different individuals named John Jones have been identified in the collection, and we now know who they all are, and many are now connected via Wikidata to Wikipedia articles or Dictionary of Welsh Biography entries.
We can query and visualize the data in a number of ways using a Sparql query service. For example, we can analyze which engravers copied works by specific artists, and we can see the most frequently depicted types of people (clerics, by a country mile) and features, such as coats of arms, and border decoration.
visualisation of the data showing which printers copied work by certain artists
Visualization of the most frequently depicted things in the collection
We can easily visualize the sitters who appear most in the images using Wikidata’s ‘Main subject’ property. General Thomas Picton, a Welsh born war hero is depicted most often, with 32 portraits. Interestingly his Wikipedia article reveals he was not such a great hero after all, having been convicted of abusing women.
Visualization of the most frequently depicted sitters
We can also explore the collection chronologically and a first look reveals a clear correlation between the popularity of certain types of portrait and historical events. For example the number of images of preachers and clergymen increase dramatically at times of Religious revival.
A timeline of the most frequently depicted things in the collection over time
Wikidata is a multilingual platform, so it also allows us to utilize the multilingual nature of Wikidata’s descriptive labels to view our data in dozens of languages. The Metadata held by the library for this collection was only available in English, however, by converting it to Wikidata 83% of the 40,000 data items were automatically available in Welsh, thanks to the work of Wikidata volunteers, who have added Welsh language labels to many Wikidata items. We hope to engage with Welsh speaking volunteers in order to make 100% of the data available in Welsh.
Linking our heritage
Another advantage of sharing our data on a public platform like Wikidata is that many other institutions have done the same, and this means that we can begin to build an extensive network of connected data. The data allows us to connect our own collections together, so for example we can see which publishers have published works in both the Welsh Portrait Collection but also the Welsh Landscape Collection. We have also been able to quickly identify over 400 portraits of people featured in the dictionary of Welsh Biography, and we are now connecting those portraits to the Welsh Biography Website.
All images by one publisher. Blue denotes images in the Welsh Portrait Collection and yellow shows images published by the same publisher which now form part of the Welsh Landscape Collection
Beyond our own institution, we can see which of our sitters also have portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, and we can identify the artists and sitters in our collection who have an Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry. In this way the worlds cultural heritage can be connected together to provide the public with easy access, in one place, to a rich and diverse range of sources.
This is a guest post by one of our users, Anthony Rhys.
You are welcome to submit posts for our consideration in Welsh or English. All posts must be in relation to either the Library’s work or collections, the Welsh Language or Wales. We will keep full editorial control over any posts published. Please send your posts through the Enquiries Service.
Two years ago I began researching writing the history of two streets in Cardiff called Charlotte Street and Whitmore Lane, an area notorious for brothels, beerhouses and lodging houses. It started out as an art project that quickly grew into a full length book called ‘Notorious’ that follows the lives of thirty people over thirty year period on these two streets.
Without being able to search for names and places on Welsh Newspapers Online over such a vast timescale this book would not have existed. I’d estimate 60% of the sources I’ve used for the book have come from the website.
Telling the life stories of the people in my book would have been impossible without Welsh Newspapers Online. Searching manually through microfiche records would have taken six months working 9 till 5. With a daytime job that time commitment is impossible. Also crucial was the ability to return back to the sources time and time again to research new names and new leads as they came up. Without constant access to Welsh Newspapers Online I would not have been able to tell these people’s stories.
In January of this year Dr John Powell, Professor of History at Oklahoma State 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. We are very grateful that Dr Powell kindly agreed to write this blog about the part of the collection which is based at the Library.
William Gladstone was a towering political figure in nineteenth-century Britain, a four-time prime minister who transformed Victorian finance and uniquely framed the political landscape in moral terms. Along with his keen mind and unparalleled capacity for work, he brought to every problem a little library of knowledge amassed from his voracious habit of reading. His library of more than 20,000 books was famous in its day. His books, taken together with the record of daily reading found in his diaries and the many annotations left in the margins, have become integral to the study of Gladstone’s intellectual and policy development. Scholars have only begun to notice that the world of Victorian intellectual discourse depended on a heady mix of books, journals, newspapers and the more ephemeral medium of the tract and pamphlet. As Leah Price observed, if we count “what was produced” instead of what has survived, the Victorians might properly be considered “people of the tract.”
We now know that Gladstone himself was a lifelong reader and collector of tracts. He utilized the medium to correct and quickly publish accurate records of his speeches, and to engage in timely debate when the editorial strictures of journal and book publishing hindered immediate response. He campaigned with A Chapter of Autobiography in 1868, defended the Church with The Vatican Decrees and their Bearing on Civil Allegiance in 1874, and quickened the international conscience with The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East in 1876. It is impossible to say how many pamphlets passed through his hands, but it is estimated that some 10,000 are today extant, with the major collections being held at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, and at the National Library of Wales (NLW), where some 5,000 Gladstone tracts have proven to be an invaluable source for scholars of the Victorian era. Added to the inherent value of the tracts themselves, Gladstone’s own annotations in a significant percentage of them provide scholars with a kind of evidence not generally found in correspondence, memoranda, and public papers.
Even before Gladstone’s death in 1898, the British Museum had expressed interest in receiving the Gladstone Papers. But by 1921 when Hawarden Castle was inhabited by Gladstone’s third son, Henry Neville (b. 1852), the four-time prime minister seemed to be of another age. The trustees of the British Museum only wanted a selection of the pamphlets, and these merely to fill in their holdings. This provided an opportunity for NLW librarian John Ballinger to lobby the younger Gladstone, who served on the library’s Board of Governors. As a result, Gladstone agreed to send pamphlets not wanted by the British Library to the National Library of Wales. The bulk of these were bound in 459 volumes and shelved as the “Gladstone Pamphlets.” Tracts from a later donation in 1932 remain unbound in 108 boxes, also labelled as “Gladstone Pamphlets.”
When Gladstone marked pamphlets in the first flush of new revelations or ideas, he often left a very personal glimpse of the feelings which later would be refined and incorporated into a speech, policy, publication, or attitude. Almost any volume of the “Gladstone Pamphlets” might provide a case in point. Pull volume 174 from the shelf, for instance, and you will find Gladstone’s personal copy of E. B. Pusey’s Entire Absolution of the Penitent, which he read on 8 March 1846. He had long admired Pusey’s spiritual temperament and commitment to Church reform, but by the mid-1840s had begun to doubt his elder colleague’s judgment. Upon reading Pusey’s phrase: “One word only of caution may be added to the young,” with its attending footnote:
“See Mr. Newman’svaluableSermon, ‘Dangers to the Penitent’”
–Gladstone underlined “Newman’s valuable Sermon” and noted in the margin: “This is hardly decent, time considered”. Newman had converted to Rome less than four months earlier. Reading this comment in the original pamphlet preserved at the NLW is about as close to being with Gladstone in his study and in his head as we are likely to get.
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.