Digital Emblematics - Enabling Humanities Research of a Popular Early Modern Genre

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Mara R. Wade

    Society for Emblem Studies, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  2. 2. Thomas Stäcker

    Herzog August Bibliothek (Library)

  3. 3. Regine Stein

    Bildarchiv Foto Marburg

  4. 4. Hans Brandhorst


  5. 5. David Graham

    Concordia University / Université Concordia

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Digital Emblematics – Enabling Humanities Research of a Popular Early Modern Genre
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Wade, Mara R., Society for Emblem Studies/University of Illinois, USA,
Stäcker, Thomas, Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel, Germany,
Stein, Regine, Bildarchiv Foto Marburg, Germany,
Brandhorst, Hans, arkyves, The Netherlands,
Graham, David, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada,
Emblematica Online offers a rewarding site for exploration of the seismic shifts in digital humanities from 1.0 to 2.0,1 while providing perspectives on how Emblems 3.0 can also contribute to Digital Humanities 3.0. Emblem studies are large enough to offer a significant corpus for study, yet small enough to present a finite overview. As a historical field of endeavor – emblems are a Renaissance text-image genre that informed all aspects of early modern literary and material culture – it offers a unique perspective on key questions of digital humanities at 2.0.

The international scholars who cooperate as the OpenEmblem research group have created a vibrant model for humanistic collaborative research, culminating in the international project ‘Emblematica Online,’2 including the OpenEmblem portal for emblem studies.3 The digital emblem projects at Glasgow,4 Utrecht,5 Urbana (Illinois),6 Wolfenbüttel,7 Munich,8 La Coruña (Spain),9 and elsewhere serve the needs of an international community of scholars. The long-term success of working with a consortium has ensured that their research is not preserved in a digital silo, but accessible to a greater range of future projects.

Emblematica Online and its OpenEmblem Portal allows for new levels of research surpassing that which was previously available in emblem scholarship:

Quantity – access to more than 700 fully digitized rare works
Quantity – access to more than 70,000 individual emblems
Quality – extremely rich metadata for approximately 15,000 emblems
federated searching across multiple projects at geographically widespread locations at the book level
federated searching across multiple projects at geographically widespread locations at the level of the individual emblem
emblem motto database
Iconclass notations with associated hierarchies
Iconclass notation with multilingual thesaurus
An emblem exchange format, or emblem schema, taking advantage of namespaces such as TEI and SKOS
High quality digitization suitable for rigorous scholarly research needs
Multiple access routes to the book and to the emblem
Sustainable links at the sub-object level
Multiple levels of granularity
Worldwide unique emblem identifiers at emblem level
Linking book identifiers and emblem identifiers
a prototype emblem registry providing persistent identifiers by means of a handle service
The OpenEmblem portal has moved from generic digitization to customized, sophisticated digitization of a complex Renaissance genre consistent with high scholarly demands. The design and scope of Emblems 2.0 makes these Renaissance resources more interesting to a wide range of scholars who study the Renaissance from diverse and divergent perspectives.

While the current researchers for Emblematica Online have gained experience in creating standard formats for automated metadata exchange,10 digital philology,11 and portal creation,12 through the use of authorities and controlled vocabularies of their metadata, they have indicated relationships among resources, making this work extensible in the future. The Iconclass notations and labels reflect a hierarchy, while the OpenEmblem Portal simultaneously anchors the very rich metadata to the original repositories. We can search at different levels of granularity across integrated corpora and visualize and present whole and part relationships in a meaningful way.

The panelists, all of whom have committed to the DH 2012 conference in Hamburg, will present the following aspects of humanities based research in the digital medium:

Mara R. Wade traces the culmination of the research through Emblems 2.0 and introduces as its key feature unique emblem identifiers. In addition to helping us present the whole-part relationship, the unique identifier reflects the forward vision of the emblem community to anticipate a time when researchers can include annotation functions such as ‘identical with’ or ‘similar to’ in textual and pictorial research. It creates an authoritative basis for expanding the portal for book emblems to the material culture of early modern Europe, enabling the future study of art forms where emblems feature prominently. The unique identifier is a significant scholarly step in emblem scholarship and shows how community driven research serves larger scholarly communities as well.

Thomas Stäcker demonstrates how the project sets digital emblematics to work, focusing on practical issues of sharing, and the distribution and mining of emblem metadata and data. Future digital emblem research, in particular, and digital humanities, in general, must achieve more integrated systems grouping resources together, making them available through uniformly designed graphical interfaces and allowing searches on standardized fields and vocabulary. Emblematica Online established a common format for indexing digital emblem material. Staecker emphasizes 1) the development of a particular XML-schema with a separate emblem namespace based on standards such as TEI, METS MODS, and SKOS; 2) how data originating from different international projects are shared and distributed, e.g. via OAI; and 3) how emblems and theirs parts may be reliably identified and quoted by persistent identifier by means of a central handle service at the University of Illinois.

Two papers focus on image indexing and its broad potential for the digital humanities.

Regine Stein demonstrates how the issuing of a unique identifier at the level of the individual emblem opens emblem studies up for cross-domain research and discusses the Linked Data approach. She argues that the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model (ISO 21127, CIDOC-CRM) provides the ‘semantic glue’ necessary to mediate between different sources of cultural heritage information and thus provides the mechanism to open emblem metadata to cross-domain research from both the text and the image research communities, including material culture, such as prints, paintings, illuminated manuscripts, and even architectural ornament. Based on the emblem schema, it is worth exploring a Linked Data implementation using the CIDOC-CRM. Because we aim also for maximum compliance to widely used authorities and controlled vocabularies such as Iconclass, Emblematica Online can offer a best practice case in terms of linking different sources instead of building data silos.

Hans Brandhorst presents the advantages of Iconclass as a shared vocabulary tool demonstrating that it has a vital role to play in making visual information accessible and retrievable. ‘Meaning’ is not an intrinsic quality of a picture, and cannot be detected with image recognition techniques (alone). Non-trivial subject retrieval of visual sources is impossible without rich textual metadata. A classification as a tool for the production of metadata can only survive in the distributed environment of the internet if it functions as a flexible, central webservice, and if the user community itself can correct, edit and expand the vocabulary. He discusses Iconclass 1) as a data production tool; 2) a shared vocabulary tool, open to community editing; 3) as an information retrieval tool; and 4) as Linked Open Data in SKOS/RDF and JSON representations. He ends with a discussion of arkyves as a mixed business model to sustain Iconclass development.

David Graham outlines Emblems 3.0. It can be argued that our earliest efforts were primarily aimed at gaining individual access to digital data that minimally replicates the books comprising our corpus, and in particular at creating ways to digitize, store, and display visual content. The second phase was about making collaborative access possible by ensuring interoperability and independence from particular vendors and platforms. It now seems clear that the third phase will have as its primary focus the goal 1) of massively, pervasively, and permanently interconnecting huge amounts of textual and visual data and metadata in multiple forms, contexts, and purposes, 2) of integrating materials from a wide diversity of sources, and 3) of enabling collaboration and interaction – both among scholars and between the scholarly and lay communities – on an unprecedented scale.

In the spirit of the emblem itself with its visual and textual components, Emblem 3.0 will be interactive and collaborative; it will extend to emblems in material culture. Emblem 3.0 will open up heretofore unanticipated qualitative research questions based on well curated and designed quantitative digital resources.

1.The Digital Humanities Manifesto (2009) maintains ‘Digital Humanities is not a unified field but an array of convergent practices that explore a universe in which: a) print is no longer the exclusive or the normative medium in which knowledge is produced and/or disseminated; instead, print finds itself absorbed into new, multimedia configurations; and b) digital tools, techniques, and media have altered the production and dissemination of knowledge in the arts, human and social sciences.’

2.This is a bilaterally funded initiative of the University of Illinois and the Herzog August Bibliothek (HAB), Wolfenbüttel.









11.See the link to the Spanish project (fn 9) for the link to DEBOW, ‘Digitized Emblem Books on the Web,’ a regularly updated list of digital emblem books.

12.The Portal will be launched in April 2012. Presently book level data can be searched here:

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2012
"Digital Diversity: Cultures, languages and methods"

Hosted at Universität Hamburg (University of Hamburg)

Hamburg, Germany

July 16, 2012 - July 22, 2012

196 works by 477 authors indexed

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (7)

Organizers: ADHO

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