New Digital Tools at the William Blake Archive

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. William Shaw

    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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n this talk, I plan to discuss and demonstrate my recent
work at the William Blake Archive—namely, my
development of a virtual lightbox application. I will discuss
this work in the context of our editorial rationale,
software roadmap (including our user interface redesign,
currently scheduled for completion in early 2009), and
our past approaches to digital tool development.
The user interface of the Blake Archive currently relies
on Java-based tools developed at the Institute for Advanced
Technology in the Humanities (IATH), University
of Virginia, in the mid-1990s. These applets, ImageSizer
and Inote, allow users to view some of Blake’s
work at true size and to read the Archive editors’ image
descriptions. They have proven useful and durable, but
we have long sought to incorporate their functionality
into a more powerful tool: a virtual lightbox application
that provides users with image manipulation capabilities,
features for object annotation, and the ability to collect
and compare Blake’s work across genres, media, and
time periods.
As technical editor of the Blake Archive, I have spent
the past several months developing this software, and the
Archive has successfully deployed it on our testing site.
My poster will discuss the ways in which this software
greatly expands the functionality of the Blake Archive
in particular, and, in general, the ways in which it can
be adapted to any digital project concerned with imaging
in various contexts, with a special emphasis on arthistorical
and manuscript studies.
In terms of the Blake Archive, The primary goal of the
lightbox is to give serious Blake scholars an indispensible
tool for comparative analysis. By allowing users
to collect different plates from different copies of an illuminated
book (for example) and view them all at true
size, the lightbox provides a fundamental tool of arthistorical
analysis that has hitherto been absent from the
Blake Archive (as well as from similar projects, such as
the Rossetti Archive). In addition, its annotation features
allow users to explore image descriptions and editorial
commentary; they also enable users to search currently
loaded images by keyword, motif, or other markup characteristics. Furthermore, its backward-compatibility with SGML
Inote annotations permits a smooth transition between
previous annotation/description schemes and the new,
XML-enabled Lightbox environment.
In more general terms, I will discuss the architecture of
the Blake Archive lightbox, emphasizing its open-source
(MIT/X11) licensing and simple API. Its design, which
is intended to be both straightforward and flexible, allows
it to be incorporated into any web-based digital
project with ease. Its simple, XML-based image annotation
format is adaptable to a wide range of image markup
needs. Finally, its installation procedure—which relies
on simple JavaScript functions—will ensure that it is
easy to integrate into other projects.
In addition to discussing the features and development
of the lightbox, I will explain how it fits into the editorial
rationale of the Blake Archive. As editors Morris Eaves,
Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi have pointed out,
the priority that we grant to the media, methods, and
histories of artistic production has dictated a feature of
the Archive that influences virtually every aspect of it.
It is utterly fundamental: we emphasize the physical object—the
plate, page, or canvas—over the logical textual
unit—the poem or other work abstracted from its physical
medium. This emphasis coincides with our archival
as well as with our editorial objectives. (Eaves, Essick,
and Viscomi, “Principles”).
This art-historical emphasis on the physical object, rather
than exclusively on the literary text, is continued in
the lightbox. It not only allows users to focus on the
physical objects themselves, rather than editorial apparatus,
but also complements both our editorial principles
of diplomatic transcription and our archival principles of
size fidelity and comparative analysis.
In conclusion, I plan to discuss my development of the
lightbox application; to explain how the application fits
into both the Blake Archive site redesign and, in theory,
answers the needs of other projects; and to argue that, as
a tool, it is both an important part of our user experience
and a manifestation of the editorial principles that have
guided the entire history of the William Blake Archive.
Works Cited
Eaves, Morris, Robert Essick, and Joseph Viscomi.
“Editorial Principles: Methodology and Standards in the
Blake Archive.” The William Blake Archive. April 15,
2005 <
-----. “Technical Summary of the William Blake Archive.”
The William Blake Archive. 16 June 2008 <http://

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2009

Hosted at University of Maryland, College Park

College Park, Maryland, United States

June 20, 2009 - June 25, 2009

176 works by 303 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (4)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None