Visualising Medical History

I have recently been helping to co-ordinate academic input to a relatively new project supported by Jisc that is building innovative tools to help with searching and presenting data from the UK Medical Heritage Library (UKMHL) project. The UKMHL, which is supported  by the Wellcome Library and Internet Archive, is an ambitious initiative to digitise and provide online access to thousands of books on the themes of medicine and healthcare published during the ‘long’ 19th century (until 1914). The books are being made available to the public in a rolling programme from the Wellcome and Internet Archive websites.

mhl blog

Prof. Williams’ Complete Hypnotism

The books are drawn from ten UK research libraries, including King’s College London, and cover a huge variety of subjects including public health and sanitation, infection and epidemiology, nutrition and cookery, the history of disease and its treatment and psychiatry and psychology. Up to 40% of the books were published abroad, notably in the US, Germany and France, and this international dimension provides a fascinating opportunity for comparative study.

Ultimately, the UKMHL will provide access to some 15 million pages of OCR text and millions of embedded terms including the names of people, organisations, geographical locations, diseases, treatments and associated data such as medical equipment, and references to contemporary culture and society which will mean the resource is useful not only to medical historians but a much broader range of interested scholars including biographers, geographers and literary experts.

The visualisation project, which is led by the Knowledge Integration company in association with Gooii, is developing a range of new data visualisation tools such as graphs, timelines and maps. These will enable established scholars, students and other users such as journalists find what they need quickly from a huge corpus of material, whilst also supporting serendipitous browsing and providing the space in which the user can discover completely unexpected facts and relationships, not least between people, places and ideas.

My work involves the design and review of data sets that will help with the selection of presentation of the data, and its contextualisation, and to co-ordinate the contributions of a number of King’s and other medical historians, who are ensuring that the resulting visualisations are both accurate and useful.

The new visualisations will be available to use in summer 2016.

Geoff Browell

Special Collections internship

SCinternSara[1]By Sara Belingheri, Library Services staff

I started my course in Promotion and Protection of Italian Cultural Heritage Abroad in March 2015. The degree is awarded by the University of Parma through ICoN (Italian Culture on the Net), a consortium of Italian Universities whose mission is the promotion and diffusion of Italian culture and the image of Italy worldwide using distance-learning tools. Classes are held by both academics and professionals from partner institutions, such as the National Cinema Museum of Turin or the Istituto Centrale per il Catalogo Unico.

Due to the vocational focus of the program, students are required to carry out an internship, during which they have to design a conservation or promotion project on material or immaterial Italian cultural heritage.

I decided to ‘play a home match’, interning at the Foyle Special Collections Library and to work on Italian early printed books. As Italian is not among the languages taught at King’s, I wanted to find a theme that might be of interest to a hefty share of our academic community, beyond linguistic knowledge. While browsing the Maughan bookshelves I stumbled upon Globalization in world history edited by A. G. Hopkins, and decided to develop the theme of archaic globalization.

The first step was then to become familiar with the daily work and mission of the Special Collections through induction sessions held by colleagues. After that, I had to identify Italian books on the catalogue and Liz Serebriakoff of Business and Systems Support (and an Aleph expert!) came to my rescue, providing some spreadsheets with records extracted through ARC.

Of the hundreds of items detected, roughly 300 were printed before 1700, among which I had to select a subset of books relevant to the theme; after this skimming process I identified almost a dozen of promising items, mainly from the Marsden and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Historical Collections.

Having mined for my raw material, I had to decide what to do with it. After consultation with my internship supervisor Adam Ray and the Head of Special Collections Katie Sambrook, we agreed on designing posters using images from selected books, with these to be placed on stands around the Maughan Library. Each poster would carry the bibliographic data of the Special Collections item featured in it, plus the details of an item in the Maughan Library collection on the same subject, therefore creating a link between the two. The posters aim to make the presence of the Foyle Special Collections more visible to students visiting the library and possibly stimulate their curiosity about its holdings.

Three posters where produced. The first one showcases the voyages of the Florentine merchant Carletti, who completed a journey around the world in the early seventeenth century. Due to the nature of its binding, digitizing the first printed edition of Carletti’s reports proved to be too risky. We opted to reproduce a map of South America from a beautifully illustrated 1548 Venetian copy of Ptolemy’s Geographia instead. The second poster features the title page of a 1514 surgery treatise by papal physician Giovanni da Vigo, in which he describes the first known outbreak of syphilis in Europe. The last poster focuses on the spread of printing. The chosen image is a detail from a polyglot Psalter printed in Genoa in 1516, showing columns of Arabic and Aramaic text.

As we had to find a balance between aesthetics and relevance of the content, many quite interesting items could not be featured in the posters, but might find their space in further projects.

A link to the Special Collections web page about the project and to the posters is available here

Please contact Sara Belingheri sara.belingheri@kcl.ac.uk for more information