Miniature Treasures: Digital Chapbooks at McGill

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Posted in Cultural Archives & Curation, Major Projects, Projects


RBSC-digital chapbooksAt the beginning of our interview, Sharon Rankin of McGill Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC), pulled a tiny, illustrated book from an archival envelope. This, she explained, was a chapbook; a small, cheaply printed illustrated book sold by wandering “chap-man” to the English working class of the 18th and 19th centuries. The Library’s Chapbook Digitization Project, a joint initiative between RBSC, Library Technology Services and the Interacting With Print group, will make over 900 of these chapbooks available online.

The RBSC collections contain British and American chapbooks published between 1790 and 1850. The Library team has spent the past year gathering and imaging these small books and are currently rendering the text of each book into XML using OCR technology, The texts will be encoded with TEI tags, which will allow greater flexibility for text analysis and other data driven research activities. The woodblock illustrations are also being classified as “icons”, making them fully searchable.

The project is funded by the Crabtree Foundation, and represents the first Library TEI digital humanities project. The digital images will form the first university deposit into the Hathi Trust, an international, open-access repository and will be made accessible through the Library’s project website; the TEI files will be available through eScholarship@McGill. According to Ms. Rankin, the project aims to be online this year; she hopes to be able to include analysis tools in the future, that will take advantage of the text files that will be available. More information can be found via project’s website and blog.

Digital Chapbooks

PI: Sharon Rankin
McGill Library