As part of a large donation from emeritus Art History Professor Jean Michel Massing, Cambridge University Library now possesses 13 works from the collection Bibliotheca Hermetica, an illustrated, encyclopedic collection of works on alchemy, astrology, and magic, dating across the Medieval to the late Renaissance period. Directed by René Alleau, with translations into Modern French, this collection, published in the 1970s, hoped to contribute to a greater understanding of traditional hermetic teachings.
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).
As part of the Cambridge Festival 2022 programme, you can now book a place to attend a talk exploring the representations of French children during the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune. It will take place on Thursday 31 March from 5 to 6 pm in the Milstein room. We will be using literary and visual material from a historical collection of caricatures that will be on display at Cambridge University Library from 10 March to 7 May 2022.
From September 1870 to May 1871, the siege of Paris by the Prussians was followed by a civil war which opposed the radical left-wing members of the Paris Commune to the more moderate Republicans leading the French government. The French military defeat, the hardships of life under prolonged sieges, and the political experiments of the Paris Commune –which ended in a massacre–, had a profound impact on the daily lives of Parisian people and especially children.
Their perspective is reflected in the works of writers such as Alphonse Daudet and Guy de Maupassant. In Paris, this fuelled the production of a flurry of caricatures which circulated widely, often disseminated by the illustrated press. They portray children as victims of the war as well as privileged witnesses of the historical events unfolding around them. If children are often used as beacons of hope, torchbearers for the progressive aims of the Commune, they are also invested with the ideology of revenge against the Germans…
This special event is hosted by Cambridge University Library, in partnership with the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics, and the Cambridge Alliance Française.
We are also delighted that a long awaited display of the Franco-Prussian caricatures, featuring, among others, Emperors Napoleon III and Wilhelm I, and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, will take place from 10 March to 7 May 2022 in one of the Royal enclosures on the first floor of the University Library. Members of the University need to bring their blue card. External visitors can sign in and get a lanyard from the Reader Services Desk in the entrance hall, in order to come and see the small exhibition. If you cannot make it in person, here is a link to the virtual exhibition!
Cambridge University Library was recently awarded a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant to continue work on the Spanish chapbooks catalogued and digitised under the “Wrongdoing in Spain, 1800-1936” project, as featured in the Cambridge Digital Library. This new year-long project aims to reliably date about 67% of chapbooks bearing estimated dates, often drawn from the printer’s period of activity. To establish more accurate dates of printing for these items, we aim to conduct visual search on woodcut illustrations within the chapbooks to compare prints made from the same woodblocks.
Printing houses used woodblocks (as well as metal stereotype plates in the nineteenth century) to illustrate the chapbooks. Woodblocks were expensive to produce, so printers often had a limited stock that they reused, sometimes through several generations of printers. Earlier woodblocks were crudely made on softwood, but the technique developed to produce much more detailed woodblocks etched with metal-engraving tools on harder wood. More intricate images are typical of the later period, although many older woodcuts continued to be used in later years to cut costs. It comes as no surprise then that wood blocks deteriorated over time, becoming less sharp, developing cracks. We see how, after many printings, the finest lines began to fade, and it is this wear-and-tear that we are hoping to use to our advantage to date the Cambridge Digital Library Spanish chapbooks more accurately.
During the first phase of the project (October 2021-to date) images of the chapbooks were run through a machine learning model created by Oxford University’s Visual Geometry Group. The model was pre-trained on similar Scottish chapbooks from the National Library of Scotland. This process recognized the woodcut images and created annotations to mark them using bounding boxes, but the result was not perfect. Manual input was needed to ensure that the gathering of images suited the parameters of the project. Our aim was to isolate individual woodblock prints (i.e., woodcuts made from a single woodblock). The software missed the fact that some images consisting of two or three separate woodblocks had been combined to make an individual image. It also missed borders and garlands and made “false detections”, so manual input was essential not just to serve our purposes for the project, but also to train the machine learning model to make more accurate predictions in the future.
On the next phase of the project, all the images and annotations, alongside metadata from Cambridge Digital Library, will be imported into an instance of VISE (Virtual Geometry Group Image Search Engine). VISE will allow us to visually search many images (we annotated a total of 18,757 images out of 26,527 scanned images of chapbooks). By using an image or a metadata field as a search query, we are hoping to use machine learning and computer vision to explore relationships between the illustrations and not only narrow down the publication dates of the chapbooks, but also open up fields for research in printing and social history.
Sonia Morcillo García