A few years ago, Cambridge University Library funded a temporary position to finish most of the cataloguing of the Chadwyck-Healey Liberation collection, which is now considered complete and contains more than 3,200 titles, mostly French, published between the summer of 1944 and the end of 1946. At the time, we also pioneered an additional technical feature which was to add thumbnails of the book covers (and links to the full-size images) in the library catalogue. We are delighted that the final phase of this project was recently completed, with the support of Charles Chadwyck-Healey, the work of photographer Fanny Bara, and the help of our colleague Tristram Scott in Digital Services. You can see the results with keywords search in the catalogue. The thumbnail of the cover picture allows readers and researchers to have a glimpse of the physical aspect of the books, ahead of a potential visit to the library, or in order to carry out bibliographic checks. It also sheds light on the iconographic interest of the Liberation collection, which contains many illustrated books and many illustrated covers (some of them feature in the Liberation collection Flickr album).
A side aspect of this project has been the creation of a large digital collection of historical book covers, which can be used as the basis for Digital Humanities projects. We decided to explore this avenue, as a follow up to our 2019 blogpost, with Professor Wooseob Jeong (from Emporia State University, Kansas, USA), who had previously published a paper on “Media Visualization of Book Cover Images”, using the ImagePlot visualisation software to explore differences among a sample of 100 bestseller book covers in different countries. This time, we used ImpagePlot on the Liberation collection digitised covers collection, and we are delighted that the results of our enquiry have just been published in the World Libraries journal: “Visualization of French Book Covers from the Liberation Collection (1944-1946) at Cambridge University Library”.
As a summary, ImagePlot is a software that analyzes the brightness, hue, and saturation of each image in a data set, and uses it as a basis for the visualization of a whole book collection as an organized display. In this paper, we examined what insights it can give into Cambridge University Library Liberation Collection’s digitized book covers. This article discusses some of the findings and research questions resulting from the use of ImagePlot on this specific set of digitized historical book covers provided with rich metadata. The visualization of the ‘brightness’ of covers from groups of books written by the same authors show how cover illustrations contribute to the visual identity of some juvenile literature series (such as “Patrie Libérée”) and magazines (such as “L’Armée française au combat”), even when they are not all produced by the same artist. The visualization of the ‘saturation’ and ‘hue’ of some of these book covers leads into the field of colour symbolism and of the aesthetics chosen by some publishers. With our corpus, we found the ImagePlot visualizations of books covers by year less easy to interpret in terms of general trends and evolution.
We hope that our experiment with the ImagePlot software will be a first step towards future uses (Digital Humanities research) of the Liberation collection dataset which has been deposited and published ouron Cambridge University institutional Apollo Repository (it includes the library catalogue metadata on the Liberation collection). Do get in touch (email@example.com) if you would be interested in accessing the image files of the digitised book covers and using them for research purposes.