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Enabling access to illustrations

The Database of Mid-Victorian Illustration (DMVI; www.dmvi.org.uk) has brought a collection of mid-Victorian wood-engraved illustrations into public view through the creation of a highly accessible database, which features a collection of 868 illustrations from circa 1862. These illustrations have been made available for multiple uses by the development of a tagging system that has allowed them to be more easily searched and has, in turn, led to a new understanding of Victorian culture.

The Return of the Runaway. Credit: DMVI

The database was created by a group of investigators based at Cardiff University (Principal Investigator Professor Julia Thomas, Co-Investigators Professor David Skilton, Dr Anthony Mandal and Professor Omer Rana). Its aim was to make illustrations available for multiple uses by developing new ways of tagging and codifying images to increase search results and thus ensuring their visibility and accessibility for both academic and non-academic users alike.

Two AHRC awards have provided the research, enhancement and development of the project, which exceeded original plans to select and digitise 500 illustrations by expanding to its current capacity of over 850 illustrations. Each picture is described and marked up in a way that is understandable to a range of user types, with the tagging organised to be intuitive to multiple users, without losing access to the rich layers of more hidden detail unique to this resource. That is, DMVI enables the user to search across period, geography, settings, people, activities, objects, themes and, of course, by literary work, author and artist.

The Illustrator Quentin Blake commented that ‘The printed pages of the 19th century are full of remarkable images, if we can find them. This project puts a million of them within reach. Amazing!’

DMVI has recorded a high volume of usage since its inception with over 80,000 visits and over 100,000 searches in 2015 alone and has provided images for a number of different uses, being hailed as “a brilliant resource for Victorian studies”. The database itself is free to use, providing access to downloadable, low resolution images. High resolution reproductions can also be acquired and have been used by a number of major publishers, as well as by television, production companies, graphic designers, and heritage organisations.

The team have continued to make more visual material from the period accessible, drawing on the work of DMVI on a much larger and broader scale and have recently launched the searchable online AHRC-funded Illustration Archive in partnership with the British Library, which includes a million illustrations (illustrationarchive.cardiff.ac.uk). This is, at present, the largest illustrations archive in the world.

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