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Emblems Digitisation Project
Workshop on 21st/22nd June 2001

The workshop was divided into two distinct parts, looking respectively toward the past and the future. The afternoon of June 21st was devoted to accounts of individual earlier projects in the area of emblem digitisation, some now complete and some still continuing. It began with a talk written by Bill Barker (Memorial University of Newfoundland) on the Memorial Alciato web site (, stressing some of the design decisions that the Alciato team had taken in order to encourage a mode a of reading that emulates as much as possible the "meditative reading" thought by the team to be characteristic of emblematic reading. Stan Beeler (University of Northern British Columbia) continued with an account of his work on the Union Catalogue of Emblem Books and on the Index Emblematicus: these early database projects, written in Clipper to run under DOS, are currently being updated to make them more web-compatible. David Graham (Memorial University of Newfoundland) then spoke about his Macintosh Emblem Project and the Glasgow University Emblem Web Site ( The former is no longer being updated because of inherent technical limitations, especially its restriction to a single platform because of software dependence; the latter, inspired by the Alciato web site, is limited in scope and ambition, in part because of the need for funding to enable scanning of additional books. Mara Wade (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) then described the work of her team, which plans to digitise the large collection of German emblem books housed at UIUC (

Following a short break, the session resumed with Antonio Bernat Vistarini (Universitat de les Illes Balears) and John Cull (Holy Cross) first demonstrating the CD-ROM that accompanies their Enciclopedia de Emblemas Españoles Ilustradaos and then discussing their most recent work, which places essentially the entire Spanish emblem corpus, including both images and keyed-in texts, in FileMaker Pro format. Hans Brandhorst and Peter van Huisstede (Royal Library, The Hague) then presented their work on the Mnemosyne project ( in which they are expanding their earlier work on Dutch printers’ devices to include a corpus of emblem books stored as SGML files and subsequently treated with XML (and xslt) to produce viewable HTML files. Dietmar Peil (Ludwig-Maxmilians-Universität München) then offered an account of the first stages of his new project to digitise German emblem books housed in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. Finally, Nuccio Ordine (Università della Calabria), representing the publisher Nino Aragno, summed up the first day’s work by synthesizing some of the problems that have plagued computerized emblem study, notably lack of funding and lack of technical support. He suggested that his experience computerizing the works of Giordano Bruno and the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes could lead to a similar project involving the Stirling Maxwell Collection of emblem books housed at Glasgow, especially if those present were willing to devote their collective energies to moving forward with a joint emblematic publication project.

Participants then adjourned to the home of Alison Adams and Stephen Rawles, where a buffet meal provided everyone with an opportunity to go over the first day’s events in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. Already, it was clear that a new consensus could be emerging around certain basic technical and procedural decisions fundamental to the success of any joint electronic publication project such as this.

Work resumed at 9:30 the next morning, with a round table session chaired by David Graham. First, however, we heard some welcoming words from Andrew Wale, Director of Library Services at Glasgow University Library, and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts: Professor John Caughie of the Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies. Both made it very clear that Glasgow University has made it a priority to welcome groups of specialist scholars to take advantage of the university’s many unparalleled resources in support of research, of which, as Andrew Wale said, the Stirling Maxwell Collection may, in terms of research potential, rightly be called the "the jewel in the crown" of Glasgow University Library. In the course of the morning, additional information carried forward from the first day was provided by Hans Brandhorst and Peter van Huisstede (in the form of a discussion of emblematic shields in Ruben’s Ship of State) and by Antonio Bernat Vistarini (who gave a brief account of the work being done by the research team led by Sagrario López Poza at the University of La Coruña).

If the first day had been essentially one of looking to the past in order to draw out lessons about best practices and the best means to avoid some pitfalls, our second day was focused very much on the future. The round-table format allowed everyone present to speak, so that the discussion was constantly renewed and stimulated by exchanges not only among the speakers, but by representatives of the "user community" of emblem scholars, graduate students and others, and by the expert contributions of David Weston, Keeper of Special Collections at GUL.

Discussion turned largely on a relatively small number of important topics, and participants quickly focused on a set of core areas: the distinction between developing a collaborative project and continuing work on individual efforts; the need to develop a core set of standards for digitising emblem books; the definition of a primary corpus of candidate titles for digitisation; the need to establish contact with persons and groups not represented at the workshop and to ensure that other scholars potentially interested could learn about the project; the need to ensure that all requirements concerning intellectual property rights are foreseen and met; and establishment of a timetable for the project. Key decisions reached in each of these areas are briefly summarized below.

Collaboration vs individual efforts

Participants quickly agreed that there was no necessary conflict in this area, and that participation in a collaborative project with the aim of producing a digitised corpus of emblem books primarily drawn from the Stirling Maxwell Collection would not mean cessation of work on other projects, regardless of what standards were adopted for the collaborative venture.


Discussion turned on a number of important subheadings, including the following:

  • Scanning: it was decided to digitise the selected books on a page-by-page basis; Glasgow University Library will decide what archival format suits it best, but the images will be published as JPEGs;
  • Text entry: it was agreed that as many full texts as possible should be published with the scanned images in order to enable full-text searching of the corpus;
  • Image description: after some discussion of the relative merits of natural-language description as compared to classification systems such as ICONCLASS, participants agreed that the strengths of the latter system are such as to make it the most desirable option; left undecided was the degree of detail that the project would aim to provide;
  • There was general agreement that discussion would have to continue on standards provisionally deemed essential (e.g. whole-page scanning, entry of inscriptions in searchable form, minimal ICONCLASS information) and those deemed desirable but perhaps not essential, or at least not essential in the case of every volume (e.g. full-text entry, standardised text, translation of all Latin texts, exhaustive ICONCLASS information);
  • While most participants agreed that the boundary between image description and image interpretation is by no means clear, there was general agreement to limit interpretation to those aspects on which consensus could be reached.

Corpus definition

  • Participants decided to focus on a core set of approximately 100 titles selected from the entire European corpus on the basis of their importance for the development of the emblem as a genre during the 16th and 17th centuries; preliminary estimates are that the corpus may require as many as 4 CD-ROMs rather than the single one originally envisaged;
  • In the event that more than one CD-ROM is published, clear criteria for dividing the selected corpus would have to be established; these could be based on order of priority (by relative importance or merit), on chronological grounds, or on linguistic/national grounds; further discussion is needed;
  • It was further decided that those present would submit to Alison Adams an initial list of recommended titles in order of relative priority, and that a general call would be issued to interested scholars to do likewise, through the media of the Newsletter and Website of the Society for Emblem Studies and that developments would be reported there and through the Centre for Emblem Studies Web Site.

Dissemination of the project’s existence:

  • It was agreed that a mailing list for information exchange would be created and its existence made known through the report disseminated in the Newsletter (NB: this has been done, and all persons interested in subscribing to the mailing list should contact David Graham, who will add their names to it);
  • It was further agreed that contacts would be established with persons and groups not present at the workshop, to ensure that they are represented in future discussions on the topics of standards and corpus definition; responsibilities for making these contacts were delegated to persons present.

Intellectual property issues

  • Glasgow University will provide the bulk of the emblem books for digitisation through scanning; there are gaps in the Stirling Maxwell collection, however, which may need to be filled through the negotiated use of volumes from other collections;
  • The use of previously keyed-in texts occasioned considerable discussion; in some cases, those present were willing and able simply to make texts available for use by the project, provided that suitable recognition and acknowledgement are given; in other cases, however, participants thought that the texts in their possession might be subject to intellectual property restrictions beyond their control; it was agreed that this matter would have to be investigated further before informed decisions could be taken about the use of any such texts;
  • ICONCLASS itself is a special case; Hans Brandhorst and Peter van Huisstede agreed to approach the Royal Academy of Sciences of the Netherlands to inquire what conditions might apply to its reuse in the context of a collaborative emblem digitisation project such as the one under discussion.

Project timetable

The following first steps were agreed:

  • David Graham agreed to prepare a summary account of the workshop for reproduction in the Society Newsletter, and to implement an electronic mailing list for information exchange;
  • It was agreed that all persons interested in participating in the definition of the corpus should submit their own personal list of proposed titles for inclusion in the corpus to Alison Adams, at their earliest convenience and in any event by September 15; such a list ought to provide the following information:
  • Author and title, and date of edition, if one edition is to be preferred; titles should be listed in order of relative priority for inclusion;
  • A brief account of work already done on titles proposed for inclusion (e.g. whether the full text or any portion of it has been keyboarded, whether ICONCLASS information or natural-language description or key words have been entered);
  • A statement about the status of the foregoing work from an intellectual property point of view, i.e. whether or not the material would or could be made available to a collaborative electronic publication project, and if so, what conditions might apply to its re-use;
  • Antonio Bernat Vistarini agreed to organize a follow-up meeting immediately after the conclusion of the conference on the Spanish emblem to be held in Palma de Mallorca from October 3-5; the meeting is provisionally scheduled for Saturday, October 6; all scholars wishing to ensure their voices are heard in preparing the collaborative project should plan to attend this meeting or submit their point of view (e.g. on corpus definition, standards and other questions of interest) to Alison Adams at the earliest possible date.

Report on Palma meeting

The meeting concluded with general expressions of thanks for the organization and the warm welcome to Alison Adams and Stephen Rawles, to David Weston and to the professional and technical staff of the Glasgow University Library.

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Last updated: 2 June 2002