More filler this week as I’m too busy to write anything intellectual. As it’s Remembrance Sunday, here’s a selection of WW1 pictures from my random ebay acquisitions. Click the thumbnails to see full size versions at Flickr. First of all I bought another photo of the frisky horse that I posted here. Not much need for an epic Errol Morris style investigation as I think it’s pretty obvious what order they go in.
London Division horse show, Overath, Germany, 1919. Even during the war divisions and corps often held horse shows to encourage the men to look after their horses as well as possible. This was important because infantry and artillery depended very heavily on draught horses throughout the war. This one’s really worth viewing at full size as there’s so much detail.
This looks like two women in the uniform of the Scottish Horse. It apparently wasn’t unusual for women to dress up in men’s uniforms to have their photos taken.
A mounted artillery driver, photographed in Edinburgh. Photos like this cause lots of confusion because people get the idea that their ancestors were in the cavalry and then go off looking in the wrong places and asking the wrong questions.
Girls on ponies watching a Royal Artillery column. Not strictly WW1 as it looks like it was taken in the 1920s or 1930s. The Royal Field Artillery wasn’t fully mechanized until 1939. This photo captures the period when horses were making the transition from useful work in the army and economy to a hobby seen as mostly for girls.
Back in July I posted about a Python script I was working on to help with organizing photos of archival documents. I didn’t think it would all that interesting to many other people, but a comment from Chris Williams made me realize that there’s potentially quite a lot of demand for something like this. Digital photography in archives doesn’t seem to be much of a sexy buzz topic among digital historians, but it’s something that lots of researchers do even if they’re not into digital history (although Melissa Terras‘s latest book seems to cover it). As far as I know there aren’t any tools specifically designed to help with organizing large numbers of document images. The python script I’m working on is just a stopgap thing which is mostly specific to what I’m doing and how I work, and is never likely to be very user friendly. Maybe what we need is a Firefox extension that plugs into Zotero, or maybe image management features in Zotero itself. Some features that might be useful:
- Browse a directory of images in Firefox (I used to use MozImage for this, as I was reminded when I found this old post)
- Mark a page image as being the first or last in a document (this is the really crucial thing, and I’m not aware of any image browsers that can currently do it)
- Create sub-directories for documents and move images into them based on first and last markers
- Create Zotero items for marked documents, maybe with some fields pre-filled in a standard form which can be applied to all documents in a directory. For example, if I’m working through box SP 24/30 from the National Archives, set Repository to “TNA” and Loc in Archive to “SP 24/30”.
- Upload images to Flickr and create sets for them, maybe based on associated Zotero items; attach Flickr links to relevant Zotero items
I’m not in a position to do this myself right now, but I need to learn how to make Firefox extensions sooner or later. Apart from image management stuff, I also need a word count extension (I usually draft most of my writing in a private wiki instead of a word processor; having Firefox count the words for me is much easier than pasting into Open Office just to see how much I’ve written). The one I used to use isn’t compatible with Firefox 3.6 and the author hasn’t updated it for a long time. Counting words can’t be that hard can it? Or maybe it is.
So, does anyone have any thoughts on image management? If you take lots of photos in the archives, how do you deal with them once you get them home? Is there any software I don’t know about which would do what I need? What features would make your life easier?
As part of the research for my book (saying that still feels a bit weird, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it) I’m going through indemnity cases in class SP 24 in the UK National Archives (aka the PRO). The Indemnity Committee was set up by parliament in 1647 to protect soldiers and officials from prosecution for actions that they had carried out under the authority of parliament, such as requisitioning things for the army or arresting royalists. It also dealt with disputes over sequestered rents and debts, and helped to enforce parliament’s order that apprentices who joined the army should be allowed to count military service towards their term of apprenticeship. If someone was prosecuted in court for acts which were covered by the Indemnity Ordinance (and many were despite the Ordinance banning people from bringing cases of this kind) the defendant could send a petition to the Indemnity Committee asking for protection. In SP 24 there are 58 boxes of petitions and other papers relating to cases, such as depositions and lists of expenses. Unlike some classes these are quite well sorted: papers relating to each case are grouped together and sorted in roughly alphabetical order of the plaintiff’s name (although confusingly the plaintiff in an indemnity case is the defendant in the corresponding criminal prosecution). I’m particularly interested in cases relating to horse requisitioning. According to Ian Gentles, about 30% of the military cases involve horses, although from what I’ve seen so far military cases seem to be a minority as many cases are disputes between civilians over payment of rents and debts due to sequestered estates. It usually takes me less than an hour to skim through a box, look at the first petition in each case to see if it’s about horses, and photograph the relevant cases. Sometimes I get cases that look interesting for other reasons, but I try not to wander too far off topic too often. Since I’m photographing these papers for my research, and since the National Archives allow document images to be uploaded to Flickr, that’s just what I’m doing. I’m also putting transcripts or summaries of the documents, along with links to the images, on the Your Archives wiki. You can see what I’ve done so far, and follow my progress in future, via a Flickr collection and Your Archives category.
So far I’ve uploaded cases from the first 2 boxes. I have another 16 boxes ready to be uploaded, but I’m working on some Python scripts to automate the process. The trial run on the first two boxes proved that doing it all manually is quite labour intensive. First I copied the image files from my camera and sorted them into directories for each box. The directory structure is based on the archival reference, so there’s a directory called “SP 24” with sub-directories called “30”, “31” etc. Then I went into each of these directories and made sub-directories for each case, so it looks like this:
- SP 24
- 1 Abeary vs Windebanke
- 1 Adams vs Haughton
- 2 Alford vs King
And the path to a particular case would be:
SP 24/30/2 Alford vs King
Which looks quite similar to the archival reference.
The numbers at the start of the case name are the part number (each box usually contains three folders called part 1, part 2 and part 3 but I decided not to make directories for these). Up to here it has to be done manually as arranging cases into directories involves looking at the documents to see where a new case begins and to check the names. But from here a lot of it can be automated.
Each directory containing one case needs to have its own photoset on Flickr. I used Postr to upload one case at a time and then used Desktop Flickr Organizer to create a set and add photos to it (I got both of these applications from the Ubuntu repository – if you’re on Windows then… stop using Windows!). Then I used the Organizr on the Flickr website to drag each set into the “SP 24 Indemnity Cases” collection. Once the Flickr photos and sets were in place I went to the web page for each set, manually created a Zotero item for the case, and attached a link to the page. Finally I created a Your Archives page for each case and attached a link to it in Zotero. This includes a template that I made for indemnity cases which gives some basic information in a standardized form and includes a link to the relevant Flickr set. Doing all this manually for each case is quite tedious and takes a long time, so I’m working on some Python scripts to automate the process. What I want the scripts to do is:
- Upload photos from multiple directories
- Create a separate photoset for each directory, with a name based on the directory name and path
- Get the ID of each set and write the IDs and names to a CSV file
- (At this point I’ll manually edit the CSV file to add data that will be needed for Your Archives and Zotero and which can only be got by looking at the document images, eg full names of plaintiffs and defendants, date of the petition, summary of the case, categories/tags)
- Use the data from the CSV file to construct a wiki page with the correct template and upload to Your Archives through the MediaWiki API
- Export an XML file which can be imported into Zotero
So far I’ve written a Flickr upload script which does the first three steps and more or less works. Rather than working directly with the Flickr API I’m using the Python Flickr API library, which makes things very easy. It provides a flickr class with methods to handle API calls and authentication. Before using it you have to go to the App Garden and request an API key, but that doesn’t take long to do. App pages can be kept private, which is what I’m doing in this case as I don’t really have the time or skills to make my scripts fit for public consumption. The next step is to add error handling as the script only works as long as nothing goes wrong. In the real world, there are lots of things that could go wrong. The library throws an exception if it gets an error response from the API. Until I add some exception handling this means that the script just stops on an error. The script will need to keep track of what has and hasn’t been done (photos uploaded, sets created, photos added to sets) so that I can run it again if anything was left undone, and so that it doesn’t try to do the same thing again if it’s already been done. One annoying thing about Flickr’s public API is that it provides no way to create a collection or add sets to a collection. I assumed I’d be able to automate that part of the process but it looks like I’ll still have to do it manually.
For step 5 I’ll be using the Pywikipediabot library. I’ve already done some simple tests on a local MediaWiki installation and it seems quite easy to create a page. Once I’ve finished the script and thoroughly tested it I can ask for a bot account on Your Archives. Step 6 will involve learning a bit more about Zotero RDF. The easiest way to find out how to generate the right code is to export some similar existing items and look at the results.
So just because I’m writing a monograph it doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned digital history. I’ll still be using lots of digital tricks in the background, but they won’t necessarily be obvious in the text of the book. New technology is certainly making my research quicker and cheaper than it used to be. The stuff that I’ve written about above isn’t exactly revolutionary: it saves labour but it doesn’t offer new insights that couldn’t have been found before. But later in the project I’m planning to do some text mining which I hope will show me things that I couldn’t otherwise have found. I’ll also be revisiting phonetic algorithms for place name identification. And if I can’t think of anything else to blog about, there are likely to be some interesting stories in the indemnity cases.
This is a selection of First World War photos from my collection, mostly bought from ebay. I’ve posted some horse photos over at The horse in history and culture. The ones here have more of a gender theme. Click on the thumbnails to see bigger versions.
Four male prisoners of war, two in drag. This was taken in the theatre at Cottbus PoW camp, where my great-grandad was held from 1917 to 1918. He performed in the theatre but there’s no evidence that he dressed as a woman. One of the paradoxes of the hyper-masculine environment of the 20th century British Army was that it often forced men into stereotypically feminine roles in order to stand in for the women who were excluded.
Royal Army Medical Corps group, taken in France, 1919. It clearly shows how uniforms reinforced gender roles. The men are wearing army service dress, just like combat soldiers, although their role is to provide medical care. The women are wearing long skirts and big head-dresses. Also notice that some of the men are very short. The man on the left of the middle row, standing between the corporal and the nurse with a dog at their feet, looks shorter than some of the women. If you look very closely you can see that some of the group are holding puppies.
A man and woman called Fred and Kitty, but I don’t know their surnames. Fred is a sergeant in the Army Service Corps, and Kitty is in civilian clothes. The poses reinforce the differences in dress, suggesting male dominance and female submission.
Territorial Royal Field Artillery corporal with a small boy. Probably taken in Cardiff or Pontypridd. Like the Sergeant in the previous photo, the corporal is wearing spurs. These were standard equipment for troops classed as mounted, which included field artillery and service corps because they relied on horses for transport. I love the little boy’s pose. Although man and boy are both male, they illustrate the hierarchy of masculinity: the corporal is more of a man because of his age, independence and military service.
A group of female munitions workers. The unprecedented expansion of both the British Army and the arms industry in the First World War, along with the assumption that women couldn’t or shouldn’t fight, led to more women working in munitions factories. This temporarily gave some women increased pay and freedom, but 90 years on women as a group still earn less than men as a group. Although the uniforms make some concessions to the practicalities of working in a factory, they also signify femininity.
There has been some bad news for historians recently: the RHS Bibliography of British and Irish History has lost its direct government funding and is being privatised in a move disturbingly reminiscent of PFI (and to add insult to injury the IHR claims to be “delighted” about this!); the UK National Archives (or PRO to most of us who use it) can no longer afford to open on Mondays or offer free parking.
But it’s not all bad. There’s also some good news from the National Archives which has got much less attention than the bad news – in fact I’m not even sure exactly when it happened. They are now allowing and encouraging users to upload photos of public records held at Kew to Flickr and similar photo sharing sites. Crown Copyright had already been waived to allow republication of the text of public records but previously publishing images of documents didn’t appear to be allowed. Now it’s confirmed that uploading images to Flickr is allowed (provided that you’ve taken them yourself – this doesn’t cover documents bought from DocumentsOnline or Ancestry). This is a win situation for everyone, because these documents will be made freely available without it costing the archives anything – a major advantage when budgets and funding are being cut drastically.
The NA has its own Flickr account, and a group for visitors. Combined with the Your Archives wiki this could lead to some really exciting stuff. Some people are already using Flickr and Your Archives to publish Metropolitan Police leavers’ registers. The possibilities are endless. I’m certainly going to upload all the photos I take in the course of my research. To start with I’ve put up the service record of my ancestor Tom Wenham from the First World War (photographed from the screen of a microfilm reader).
Still to come are some indemnity cases from SP24, and sooner or later I’ll have loads of SP28 to share. It would be fantastic if other archives would do this too, although some will probably be too conservative to try it. The British Library still doesn’t allow digital cameras, which just makes me not want to bother with BL manuscripts.