English and Scottish Literature

Palimpsest: an Edinburgh Literary Cityscape

On Thursday 6 February 2014 the Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts MP, announced funding of £4.6 million for 21 Digital Transformations in the Arts and Humanities projects as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) investment in Big Data.

The Department of English & Scottish Literature’s Professor James Loxley has been awarded one of these AHRC grants for his project Palimpsest: an Edinburgh Literary Cityscape.

The project, a collaboration between literary and informatics scholars, aims to develop an interactive, mobile friendly website, called Palimpsest, that provides access to vivid, evocative and dramatic excerpts of a wide range of geolocated Edinburgh-based literary texts either through the web or via smartphones and tablets.

The users of Palimpsest will be able to move around an online map, or even walk around the city itself, and access literary works that relate to specific places compiled within a comprehensive dataset of Edinburgh-based texts. Users will also be able to filter the excerpts according to categories such as author, genre or date.

The project began as a limited prototype in 2012 and proved to be a highly successful and innovative means of engaging people with literature. This new stage of the project will explore ways in which text mining can be developed through drawing on literary methods, skills and experience to create a more in-depth means of machine reading than is currently available with the aim of compiling a comprehensive dataset of texts from the early modern period to the twentieth century.

This grant is the fourth successful award for Professor Loxley and the University of Edinburgh since 2008. He recently led an AHRC-funded project researching the world-class collections of Shakespeare and early modern drama in Edinburgh libraries, culminating in an exhibition, 'Beyond Macbeth', held at the National Library of Scotland in 2011-12 (a collaboration with Helen Vincent of NLS).

At the announcement of the grants, Professor Andrew Prescott, the Digital Transformation theme Leadership Fellow commented; “The exciting projects announced by the Arts and Humanities Research Council illustrate how the arts and humanities can help exploit the opportunities offered by these vast data resources…By developing better tools for the visualisation and analysis of data, these projects will have significant impact beyond the arts and humanities and will assist the UK in grasping the economic and social opportunities offered by big data.”