The National Library of Wales’s digital collections have grown significantly in recent years and users have become familiar with searching and browsing our online catalogue and digital resources such as the recently revamped Welsh Newspapers Online website. But soon there will be another way to access our collections …
NLW Data is a new initiative from NLW Research that will offer a new way of accessing some of our collections. NLW Data will focus on providing direct programmatic access to the various types of data held by the National Library of Wales. As a result users will be able to download datasets. This makes it possible for users to use their own software tools or to query datasets programmatically (for example as Linked Open Data or via APIs).
The first dataset released in this way is the result of transcription work by the NLW Volunteer Programme that enabled certain portions of the Aberystwyth Shipping Records Archive to be made available as Excel Spreadsheets.
NLW volunteers transcribing the 19th century shipping registers
What can you do next?
To find out about more about this specific collection, see this blog post.
To see an example of one of the crew lists click here.
The Annual Conference of the Art Libraries Society of the UK & Ireland gives the opportunity for art librarians to share experiences, new technology and research. The conference has been held in Wales once before – its first conference in 1972 was held at Aberystwyth. Cardiff Metropolitan University was the host this year and attracted speakers and delegates from a wide range of libraries, galleries, museums and universities.
Keynote speaker, Linda Tomos of MALD told the group of librarians specializing in art resources from across the UK, Ireland and beyond about a range of projects and initiatives in museums, libraries and archives across Wales, including Kids in Museums – Taking Over Day, and two projects based the National Library, Cynefin and the popular People’s Collection. Later on the first day, Amanda-Jane Doran provided an analysis of First World War newspaper adverts. Jo Elsworth from the Bristol Theatre Archive discussed the use of gaming technologies in exhibitions and displays. Sally Williams and Louise Rytter showed how the National Art Library has supported the blockbuster Alexander McQueen exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Richard Morris closed the talks by describing how Cardiff School of Art & Design undertook the huge task of relocating from Howard Gardens, their home for 150 years, to a new building in Llandaff.
My talk gave an overview of the art collections of the National Library. It was quite a challenge – the library has over 50,000 works of art in all kinds of media in its collection – so a lot to fit in to a 30 minute talk! The Library collects Welsh landscapes, works by Welsh artists and portraits of Welsh people. One of the ‘stars’ of the collection is Richard Wilson, best known as the ‘father of British landscape painting.’ A lesser known fact is that Wilson was also an occasional librarian – as one of the founders of the Royal Academy, he was appointed its librarian in 1776.
Even though he is most known for his landscapes, the Library has several portraits by Wilson, including one of his cousin, Catherine Jones of Colomendy. Wilson is best known for his large landscape works, but this small, early work shows his skill in portraiture. The work has an element of pathos – in his later years, Wilson’s reputation declined and he suffered ill health. During this period, Catherine cared for the artist when he was dependent on the charity of family. Although not as famous as his landscape works, the portrait helps build a full picture of the artist’s life.
The National Library of Wales has just opened a new exhibition celebrating the life and work of one of the great documentary photographers of recent times, Philip Jones Griffiths. He became renowned for his incisive and conscience-driven photographs and for using his camera to champion the underdog. In a tribute to Griffiths soon after his death, journalist John Pilger said:
“I never met a foreigner who cared as wisely for the Vietnamese, or about ordinary people everywhere under the heel of great power, as Philip Jones Griffiths. He was the greatest photographer and one of the finest journalists of my lifetime, and a humanitarian to match…. His photographs of ordinary people, from his beloved Wales to Vietnam and the shadows of Cambodia, make you realise who the true heroes are. He was one of them.”
A Welsh Focus on War and Peace, a joint exhibition between the National Library of Wales and the Philip Jones Griffiths Foundation, opens on June 27th. For the first time many of his cameras, documents, personal papers and artefacts will be on display alongside his photographs.
The exhibition runs until December 12th 2015.
14.10.2015 Gallery Talk
Join the curator, William Troughton, as he guides you through this fascinating photographic exhibition. Free admission by ticket.
07.11.2015 Lens 2015: Philip Jones Griffiths
An essential photography festival that no-one with an interest in photography should miss, which will focus this year on Philip Jones Griffiths and his work.
Click here for a full list of current exhibitions.
Micrographiawas written by Robert Hooke and published by the Royal Society in 1665, and was a best-seller of the period in Britain. This exhibition will show the significance of the book 350 years after it’s publication. Other items from the Library’s collections will also be used to demonstrate some of the main themes of the book.
Robert Hooke (1635-1703) was one of the leading figures of the scientific revolution at the end of the 17th century, and along with other scientists such as Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton, he was one of the founders of the Royal Society. The society pioneered two revolutionary concepts:
The development of the early scientific method: one which depends on experimentation and observation to collect evidence, instead of the subjective instincts of the early Greeks.
The Popularisation of science, by publishing books in English (instead of Latin), aimed at a lay audience. The public understanding of science remains a subject of importance.
A compound microscope
Hooke worked in the Royal Society as Head of Experiments and his scientific interests were wide. Perhaps one of his most well-known contribution to science was the law of elasticity, known as Hooke’s Law, which states that the extension of a spring (or wire) caused by an applied force is proportional to the force. But he made several other influential and pioneering contributions. For example, he used the compound microscope in his experiments to show detailed drawings of creatures and plants. Micrographia contains many of his observations drawn on impressive copper-plated illustrations, for example, the flea, which opens to four times the size of a page of the book. Another famous image is his study of cork under a microscope. Through this, he was the first, though without realising it initially, to discover the structure of plants cells.
The pictures of fossils under a microscope persuaded Hooke that fossils originate, not from stones, but from creatures that lived many centuries before. This was a novel theory, proposed at a time when it was not realised that the Earth was as old as it is and that different creatures lived on it at different periods. This is another example of Hooke’s far-sighted vision and ideas.
The moon, planets and stars in Micrographia
Despite the fact that the book is better known for its descriptions using the microscope, Micrographia also describes distant planets and discusses the theory of light waves.
In the exhibition there will be items by a number of other scientists, including Welshmen such as Edward Lhuyd, Thomas Pennant, Robert Recorde, William Jones and Lewis Morris. Also works by scientists of international renown such as Euclid, Descartes, Galileo, Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle will be included. A microscope and telescope from the period of Robert Hooke will be on display with the intention of giving a visual experience of the kinds of instruments that were used by Hooke and Newton when they made their discoveries.
Additionally, a programme of lectures has been organised to coincide with the exhibition. The details are shown below:
8 July : Dr Gareth Griffith (Aberystwyth University) : Robert Hooke and Micrographia (Welsh with translation).
2 September : Dr. Paul Evans : Thomas Pennant: the leading British zoologist after Ray and before Darwin (English).
Historical newspapers; column after column of minute and unimposing text interspersed with what, presumably, were meant to be images. Until recent times searching old news for something specific was like searching for a proverbial needle in a hay stack. In Wales that all changed in 2013 when the National Library of Wales launched a beta version of its free Welsh Newspapers Online website. Using the latest technology the text of hundreds of newspaper titles were thrust into the digital sphere. Long forgotten tit-bits and obituaries, headlines and controversies were made fully searchable, unlocking a vast vault of knowledge.
Now the National Library has replaced the beta version with a slick new interface with plenty of new features and an additional 400,000 pages, bringing the total to over 1 million. To test the power of this immense archive I performed a simple search for one of my Victorian ancestors. The little I knew about him came from my Grandmother who recalls childhood stories of her great grandfather, the son of an Irish immigrant, a watchman on Barry Docks who whistled whilst he worked, and a man she claimed hung himself on the back of his bedroom door, because he thought God had forgotten him. What could all this technology tell me about dear old Tom Foley?
The new interface for the Welsh Newspapers website
I searched for ‘Thomas Foley’ and limited my search to Glamorgan papers and found myself with hundreds of possible hits. Some were not relevant but I had definitely found my Great Great Great Grandfather. Working through the results chronologically the earliest record I found was 1890. He was a rigger living in Penarth, and a member of the Cardiff Riggers and Boatman Union. In a letter to the Western Mail he bemoaned that a recent meeting was ‘more like a bedlam than a meeting of sane men’
But quarrelsome men were soon the least of Foley’s problems. On April 3rd 1891 the Barry Dock news reported a ‘Serious accident to a rigger at Barry Dock’. Some months later Foley gave his own account of the accident;
‘On the day after Good Friday I was working on the SS. Emilie in Barry Dock, when I accidentally fell from a ventilator backwards down the empty bunker hatch, from the top to the bottom…When I recovered consciousness I found myself on the deck with a number of men around me’
A panoramic view of Barry Docks 1901. NLW tir03330
Foley had survived his fall but would never work as a rigger again. He was taken at once to Cardiff infirmary where he was diagnosed with a fractured hip. Then, he complains;
‘I lay there for a fortnight without any further examination, or even a lotion or liniment, or anything whatever to alleviate my pain, although I was complaining daily’.
The poor man was then discharged and lay bed-bound for several months with one of his legs ‘two inches longer than the other’. Thankfully for us, his affliction gave him even more time to write, as his letters to the Barry Dock News come thick and fast. Following the horrors he faced at the Cardiff Infirmary he began to campaign for a local hospital to serve the busy and dangerous docks.
He wrote to thank the manager of the SS. Emile who presented him with £25 to start him in some kind of business. But instead he found work as a Watchman, just like my Grandmother recalled. I figure he spent the money on books, as he soon begins quoting Greek history and Shakespeare in his prolific contributions to the local press. He even donated antique books to Barry Library – all diligently reported in the local papers. In December 1891 he even composed a poem following news that a collection had been raised to support the widows of two friends lost at sea.
A poem written by Thomas Foley in 1891.
In 1895 a report on the ‘Grand Eisteddfod at Barry’ describes the occasion that Foley won a ‘special prize’ in the short hand competition, having taught himself just two months earlier. ‘Mr Foley was enthusiastically greeted as he ascended the platform….and the president remarked that Mr Foley had….emulated some of the most famous scholars of Greece and Rome (Cheers)’. He certainly possessed the Greeks passion for politics. Following his attendance of a political debate Foley lambasted the politicians in a lively open letter. ‘If I am to judge from the observations of the three speakers the conservatives are a most contemptible class, and the liberal unionists is the lowest animal in the scale of creation’ He goes on, in as plain a tongue as you could imagine, to describe the Tories as ‘a very naughty lot of people’.
My search revealed so much material that I could probably write a small book about the trials and tribulations of Mr Foley, and it pains me to omit so much, but every story must have its ending. Everything points to a passionate and driven man. I see him, through my rose tinted specs, as a working class hero, a self-educated immigrant breaking down long established social barriers. So would such a man have taken his own life? Did he really hang from his bedroom door?
In fact, he did not, but the truth is sadly very near to the mark. On Boxing Day 1910, reports the Barry Dock News, Foley hanged himself from his bedpost with a handkerchief. But that is not all. His son, my Great Great Grandfather found his body, and fearing the shame a suicide would bring on the family, cut him down and, with his friend, put him to bed and suggested his father’s ‘weak heart’ was to blame for his demise. The very words spoken in the inquest are recorded in the paper, and the Coroner warned the son that his ‘foolish behavior’ could well see him stand trial for murder. Thankfully though he was eventually cleared and went on to become the Dock Master for Great Western Railways at Barry Docks – another story for another day.
I recon there must be tens if not hundreds of thousands of stories waiting to be discovered amongst metadata and algorithms of one of Wales’ richest and most diverse digital archives. Search for your story today at Newspapers.library.wales
Wikipedian in Residence, National Library of Wales
The new Welsh Newspapers Online website has recently been unveiled, but what has changed? Here are 6 things that have been added to the new website:
1. More pages
The new website contains 400,000 additional pages of digitised newspapers, some in new titles and others added to titles that were already on the website. If you would like to know which titles and content are new to the website, go to the project’s About page.
2. A design that responds to your device
The website now adapts to the size of the screen that you’re using. This will improve the experience of using the resource on a tablet or mobile phone.
3. Browse images
It is now possible for you to browse images in the newspapers based on five sub-categories: cartoons, graphs, illustrations, maps and photographs. It’s a great way of discovering content that is visually striking, and we expect this to be a very popular feature on the new website.
4. Advanced search
The advanced search allows you to set paramaters on your search from the outset, and enables ‘boolean’ searching. For more information on undertaking a boolean search, go to the new website’s Help page.
5. Cite on Wikipedia
Now you can link articles in the newspapers to one of the most popular websites in the world by using the ‘Cite on Wikiedia’ button which features under each article title to the right of the page viewer. This will give you a code which can then be inserted into a Wikipedia page to cite the article as a source.
6. Separating content according to language (Welsh/English)
It is now possible to restrict searches based on language for the first time, which will facilitate the use of the resource for users who cannot read Welsh. Please note that this distinction has been based on the language of the publication’s title rather than at article level, and Welsh language content may therefore slip through the filter when limiting the search only to English publications.
We will continue to look at ways of improving Welsh Newspapers Online resource and would welcome your comments and suggestions. Please let us know what you think about the site using the ‘Contact Us‘ link located on the bottom of every page.
It is now nearly ten years since photographer Philip Jones Griffiths first visited the National Library of Wales. His visit was, in part at least, connected with a desire to find a home in Wales for his archive as sadly he had already been diagnosed with cancer. The following year he returned here and gave a scintillating and inspiring lecture at the annual LENS Festival of Documentary Photography. He passed away two years later aged 72.
Following on from the desire that his archive be housed in Wales after his death, the first shipment arrived from his flat in New York in 2011. In all the archive consisted of over 250 boxes of material – photographs, negatives, slides, books, cameras, slides, newspaper cuttings, lenses, slides, magazines contact sheets and even more slides – all hastily packed by a removals company. Crossing the Atlantic in a shipping container had done nothing to restore order to the boxes.
Nia Dafydd and Mari Elin Jones discuss the contents of one of the display cases in ‘A Welsh Focus on War and Peace’ that runs from 27 June to 12 December 2015
Unpacking 250 boxes, attending to conservation needs of the material types, sorting and interpretation has been a long process. The culmination of this will be the opening of a major exhibition, Philip Jones Griffiths: A Welsh Focus on War and Peace, on 27 June organised jointly with the Philip Jones Griffiths Foundation for the Study of War. The exhibition includes far more than photographs. On display are artefacts from five decades of travel as well as notebooks, cameras, photographic equipment and personal items. There is an opportunity to see a slide show of photos from his best-known work Vietnam Inc. – a powerful diatribe against the ravages of war on ordinary people. For those wanting to know more about his photographs there is an audio-visual display giving short critiques of some of his best known photos from Vietnam and a recreation of part of his New York flat. His other publications – Dark Odyssey, Agent Orange and Viêt Nam at Peace are also showcased.
The anthem was found in the back of a pamphlet dated 1875
This year marks 150 years since the first Welsh settlers embarked for Patagonia in South America in search of a better life. To celebrate the founding of Y Wladfa the National Library of Wales has curated an exhibition entitled “Gwladfa” (Colony) which features archives, manuscripts, photographs and artworks from the Library’s collections. The exhibition also features a Welsh Bible that was carried to Patagonia aboard the Mimosa in 1865. As The Wikipedian in Residence at The National Library I have been planning Edit-a-thon event to improve Wikipedia content relating to the Welsh colony and also, in association with People’s Collection Wales, to invite the public to share old documents and photos relating to Y Wladfa.
As I sorted through the research material I had gathered ready for the event I came across an old pamphlet entitled “Adroddiad y Parch. D. S. Davies am Sefyllfa y Wladfa Gymreig” (A report by the Rev. D.S. Davies on the situation in the Welsh Colony) in which the author reports on the state of agriculture, the wild life, animals, religion, and all aspects of life in the Colony. Dated 1875 the pamphlet is clearly a piece of clever propaganda aimed at encouraging others to emigrate. At the very end of the report, under the title “Gwlad Newydd y Cymry” is a song, attributed to one Lewis Evans, a poet, harpist, and one of the first Welsh settlers to immigrate to Patagonia. I recognised the song at once as a reworked version of Evan James’ popular “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau”. This Patagonian version begins “Y Mae Patagonia yn anwyl i mi” and ends “O! bydded I’r Wladfa barhau” The piece describes the beauty of the river Camwy and the great white mountains of the Andes.
The piece is very much presented in the report as a song for a new Welsh nation – a kind of “National” anthem. And this is 1875, 30 years before the original composition was first sung before an international football or rugby match. By 1875 “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” was popular at eisteddfodau and other social events, but this find suggests that, for some, it was already very much a considered a “national” anthem. So far we have found no other reference to the Patagonian anthem in other sources and it seems that it has been largely lost to history for nearly 150 years, until its recent rediscovery. The patriotic piece evidently never caught on in Patagonia, where the Welsh community today sings “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau”.
This discovery gives us a fascinating insight into the lives of those pioneering early settlers. The song portrays a people celebrating the foundation of a truly Welsh Nation, free from the historic oppression of their tradition, language and culture.
A book written by one of King Arthur’s greatest champions is to be re-published over 400 years after it made its first appearance.
Sir John Prise of Brecon’s Historiae Britannicae Defensio (‘A Defence of the British History’) was first published, in Latin, in 1573. It was a stalwart defence of the validity of a traditional Welsh origin myth, as established by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the twelfth century, which traced Welsh history back to Brutus of Troy in the eleventh century B.C.
In 1534, an Italian humanist named Polydore Vergil published Anglica Historia (‘The History of England’), in which he attempted, quite successfully, to debunk the Welsh myth, and dared to raise doubts as to belief in the historical existence of traditional heroes, including King Arthur. Sir John Prise, a Welsh lawyer and administrator who had worked for Thomas Cromwell and King Henry VIII in the suppression of monastic houses, and who was himself an erudite scholar, rose to the challenge of defending his native traditions, and did so in a forensic-like manner.
Prise began writing his Defensio in the 1540s, basing many of his arguments on the Welsh manuscripts which he had seen, or were in his possession. These included the thirteenth-century Black Book of Carmarthen – containing some of the earliest references to Arthur and Merlin – which is now at the National Library of Wales. He argued that, whilst not all legends surrounding Arthur and Brutus could be believed, the Italian humanist and others were at a distinct disadvantage in not being able to access Welsh historical sources. For Prise, these proved that Arthur had, in fact, lived.
Sir John Prise died in 1555, without publishing his work, but entrusted the manuscript to his son Richard (who was named after Cromwell’s nephew). It was he who published the Defensio in 1573, and the appearance of the book ignited a new interest in Welsh history, based upon the greater study of source materials. Successive generations of Welsh scholars – among them Charles Edwards, Robert Vaughan and Theophilus Evans – were inspired by their respect for the myth created by Geoffrey of Monmouth.
Now, over 400 years later, and coinciding with an exhibition and season on Sir John Prise and his work at the National Library of Wales, the Historiae Britannicae Defensio is to be published again, this time with an accompanying English translation. One of Wales’s greatest contemporary scholars, Professor Ceri Davies, Emeritus Professor of Classics at Swansea University, has not only edited and translated the entire work, but has also added an extensive introduction and notes setting the Defensio in its context.
The work of 390 pages will be launched, following a lecture by Professor Davies, at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth on Saturday, 20 June.
A week later, on 27 June, the exhibition Publisher and Plunderer? Sir John Prise and the earliest Welsh books, will come to an end.
On the 10th of June 323 BC Alexander the Great lay on his deathbed aged 32 and his vast empire soon fell into turmoil. His legacy is far reaching, but perhaps one of his greatest achievements was the foundation of Alexandria in Egypt.
The Greek, or Hellenistic, culture he seeded there and throughout his realm lead to the creation of the Royal Library of Alexandria. The Library boasted reading rooms, lecture halls, acquisitions and cataloguing departments and was part of a wider ‘Musaeum of Alexandria’.
Over two thousand years ago the Alexandrians paved the way for the modern National Library. Fire famously robbed the ancient world of many of its literary treasures when the great library burned.
Two years ago the National Library of Wales was itself ablaze, very nearly leading to a very Welsh ‘Greek Tragedy’. To celebrate the life of Alexander, the National Library has released digital images of thirty one 15th century decorated illuminations from ‘The Battles of Alexander the Great’.
These images from one of our most treasured illuminated manuscripts have been released into the public domain via Wikimedia Commons where they can be freely accessed, downloaded and used in Wikipedia articles.
A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.
Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.