Thursday 7 March 2013

AHRC Research Networking Project: ‘Digitising experiences of migration: the development of interconnected letter collections’

One of the projects I have been advising is beginning to come together nicely.

One part, an Arts & Humanities Research Council funded network, is now in place.

Below is a helpful outline by Emma Moreton, University of Coventry - this is taken from the Correspondence Corpora blog...


digitising experiences of migration

An AHRC Research Networking Project: ‘Digitising experiences of migration: the development of interconnected letter collections’

Emigrant letters are expressive and indicative of correspondents’ identities, values, preoccupations and beliefs; they are a powerful source of information and understanding about migration issues, provide a colourful picture of domestic life from an emigrant perspective, and shed light on processes of language change and variation.

The sourcing and archiving of emigrant letter collections are growing, providing a rich resource for teaching and learning which transcends disciplinary and methodological boundaries. Letter collections are of great interest to academics, schools, community groups and private individuals who are interested in researching the lives and experiences of letter writers.

The Problem
Although many emigrant letter collections have now been digitised, not all are properly archived; some are reduplicated and others are in danger of being lost. The documentation and preservation of such letters is, therefore, a particularly pressing need. Additionally, emigrant correspondence projects have almost always evolved independently of one another, and although project teams have been successful in tackling important research questions relating to social history and immigration studies they have rarely joined forces, or engaged with stakeholder groups from other disciplines. Furthermore, relatively few projects have moved beyond the digitisation stage to exploit text content and enhance usability and searchability through the use of corpus techniques and tools. Different letter collections cannot easily interconnect if they are simply digitised without annotation and markup, and some search pathways through the material will remain unavailable if software tools are not employed to process this encoding.

The Solution and Approach
The aim of our research network is to bring together various stakeholder groups working with emigrant letter collections to discuss issues and challenges surrounding digitisation, build capacity relating to correspondence annotation and the use of corpus tools, and initiate the process of interconnecting resources to encourage cross-disciplinary research. Central to this is the development of a system of correspondence annotation and markup to represent the linguistic, structural, discoursal, contextual and physical properties of the letters, thus offering different layers of meaning and ‘ways in’ to the texts. This allows for more sophisticated searches, and also the presentation of outputs through meaningful visualisations.

The Benefits
Our aim is to improve interconnectivity between existing digital collections of migrant correspondence and develop a blueprint for greater connectivity across a wider range of digitalised correspondence archives. Through the exploration of new ways of organising, interpreting and using various information, it seeks to improve access to digital resources for use by academics, the general public, and a broad range of cultural and creative industries. A key output of our work will be a much-needed set of best practice guidelines for the digitisation and annotation of correspondence collections.

The first network meeting will take place in Utrecht in May 2013.
The main objective of this workshop will be to understand and map out the linguistic, structural, discoursal, contextual and physical properties of the letters that each stakeholder group is working with, identifying where there is overlap and/or scope for cross-disciplinary research, and any issues surrounding privacy and property rights. In this workshop we anticipate exploring at least some of the following questions:
1) What do different researchers use correspondence collections for?
2) What features of the letters do researchers consider to be important and what common language can be used to express these concepts?
3) What possible barriers are there to increased interconnectivity between correspondence collections and increased collaboration across disciplines, and how might they be overcome?

More details to follow…
For more information please contact Emma Moreton:

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