About Nicola Osborne

I am Digital Education Manager and Service Manager at EDINA, a role I share with my colleague Lorna Campbell. I was previously Social Media Officer for EDINA working across all projects and services. I am interested in the opportunities within teaching and learning for film, video, sound and all forms of multimedia, as well as social media, crowdsourcing and related new technologies.

Official Launch of Trading Consequences!

Today we are delighted to officially announce the launch of Trading Consequences!

Over the course of the last two years the project team have been hard at work to use text mining, traditional and innovative historical research methods, and visualization techniques, to turn digitized nineteenth century papers and trading records (and their OCR’d text) into a unique database of commodities and engaging visualization and search interfaces to explore that data.

Today we launch the database, searches and visualization tools alongside the Trading Consequences White Paper, which charts our work on the project including technical approaches, some of the challenges we faced, and what and how we have achieved during the project. The White Paper also discusses, in detail, how we built the tools we are launching today and is therefore an essential point of reference for those wanting to better understand how data is presented in our interfaces, how these interfaces came to be, and how you might best use and interpret the data shared in these resources in your own historical research.

Find the Trading Consequences searches, visualizations and code via the panel on the top right hand side of the project website (outlined in orange).

Find the Trading Consequences searches, visualizations and code via the panel on the top right hand side of the project website (outlined in orange).

There are four ways to explore the Trading Consequences database:

  1. Commodity Search. This performs a search of the database table of unique commodities, for commodities beginning with the search term entered. The returned list of commodities is sorted by two criteria (1) whether the commodity is a “commodity concept” (where any one of several unique names known to be used for the same commodity returns aggregated data for that commodity); or (2) alphabetically. Read more here.
  2. Location SearchThis performs a search of the database table of unique locations, for locations beginning with the search term entered. The returned list of locations is sorted by the frequency that the search term is mentioned within the historical documents. Selecting a location displays: information about the location such as which country it is within, population etc; A map highlighting the location with a map marker; A list of historical documents and an indication of how many times the selected location is mentioned within each document. Read more here.
  3. Location Cloud Visualization. This shows the relation between a selected commodity and its related location. The visualization is based on over 170000 documents from digital historical archives (see list of archives below).The purpose of the visualization is to provide a general overview of how the importance of location mentions in relation to a particular commodity changed between 1800 and 1920. Read more here.
  4. Interlinked Visualization. This provides a general overview of how commodities were discussed between 1750 and 1950 along geographic and temporal dimensions. They provide an overview of commodity and location mentions extracted from 179000 historic documents (extracted from the digital archive listed below). Read more here.

Please do try out these tools (please note that the two visualizations will only work with newer versions of the Chrome Browserand let us know what you think – we would love to know what other information or support might be useful, what feedback you have for the project team, how you think you might be able to use these tools in your own research.

Image of the Start page of the Interlinked Visualization.

Start page of the Interlinked Visualization.

We are also very pleased to announce that we are sharing some of the code and resources behind Trading Consequences via GitHub. This includes a range of Lexical Resources that we think historians and those undertaking historical text mining in related areas, may find particularly useful: the base lexicon of commodities created by hand for this project; the Trading Consequences SKOS ontology; and an aggregated gazeteer of ports and cities with ports.

Bea Alex shares text mining progress with the team at an early Trading Consequences meeting.

Bea Alex shares text mining progress with the team at an early Trading Consequences meeting.

Acknowledgements

The Trading Consequences team would like to acknowledge and thank the project partners, funders and data providers that have made this work possible. We would particularly like to thank the Digging Into Data Challenge, and the international partners and funders of DiD, for making this fun, challenging and highly collaborative transatlantic project possible. We have hugely enjoyed working together and we have learned a great deal from the interdisciplinary and international exchanges that has been so central to to this project.

We would also like to extend our thanks to all of those who have supported the project over the last few years with help, advice, opportunities to present and share our work, publicity for events and blog posts. Most of all we would like to thank all of those members of the historical research community who generously gave their time and perspectives to our historians, to our text mining experts, and particularly to our visualization experts to help us ensure that what we have created in this project meets genuine research needs and may have application in a range of historical research contexts.

Image of the Trading Consequences Project Team at our original kick off meeting.

Image of the Trading Consequences Project Team at our original kick off meeting.

What next?
Trading Consequences does not come to an end with this launch. Now that the search and visualization tools are live – and open for anyone to use freely on the web – our historians Professor Colin Coates (York University, Canada) and Dr Jim Clifford (University of Saskatchewan) will be continuing their research. We will continue to share their findings on historical trading patterns, and environmental history, via the Trading Consequences blog.

Over the coming months we will be continuing to update our publications page with the latest research and dissemination associated with the project, and we will also be sharing additional resources associated with the project via GitHub, so please do continue to keep an eye on this website for key updates and links to resources.

We value and welcome your feedback on the visualizations, search interfaces, the database, or any other aspect of the project, website or White Paper at any point. Indeed, if you do find Trading Consequences useful in your own research we would particularly encourage you to get in touch with us (via the comments here, or via Twitter) and consider writing a guest post for the blog. We also welcome mentions of the project or website in your own publications and we are happy to help you to publicize these.

Image of Testing and feedback at CHESS'13.

Testing and feedback at CHESS’13.

Explore Trading Consequences

Guest Post on Kew Gardens’ Blog

The Trading Consequences team have created a guest post, “Bringing Kew’s Archive Alive” for Kew Gardens’ Library, Art and Archives’ blog

The post looks at how digital data produced by Kew’s Directors’ Correspondence team can be used as a source for visualising the British Empire’s 19th Century trade networks.

You can read the post in full here: http://www.kew.org/news/kew-blogs/library-art-archives/bringing-kews-archive-alive.htm

10 things we learned at the Trading Consequences project meeting…

On Thursday 17th and Friday 18th May we held a Trading Consequences project meeting in Edinburgh where the whole team finally got to meet each other after months of virtual meetings. Here are the 10 awesome things we found out…

  1. Visualisation isn’t about pretty pictures it’s about insight. Take for example the  London Underground map and a New York Subway map… you will see some seriously different stylings (you can see both in Aaron’s presentation here). The London Underground Map is all about key points on the routes, the map isn’t a literal representation of distance but a conceptual take on London’s origins as a network of villages. In New York, where residents are used to walking above ground and are particularly used to the grid system for roads the map reflects this in order to make it easier to conceptualise the combination of Subway and walking routes. And that’s the key thing… visualisations are about representing different world views, different conceptions of information, specific mental maps of the data. A good visualisation reflects a particular world view rather than trying to loyally mirror reality.
  2. Image of a banana

    Moved banana by Flickr user ungard | dave ungar

    Yes, we have no bananas! Well, actually, we might have some bananas today but in London in 1905 did you know that you were allowed to steal bananas if they were brown or blackened? There is an oral history description of being allowed to steal these bananas as they couldn’t be sold. So, can we find evidence to back this up? If we are going to then we need to leave as much information in the ontology we are building to ensure we can find and access that sort of detail. Of course we know what we want to look for here – banana-bread ready fruit is a bit of a known unknown – but what about the things we don’t know about yet? The unknown unknowns we may want to find in the future? Not being able to find something in the data we have gathered doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not there, it just means we can’t confirm that it’s there.
  3. The 19th Century take on “animal, vegetable, or mineral?” was “from the sea“, “from the farm“, or “from the forest”?  This is all about ontologies again… So what is an ontology? Well it’s a way to understand the world, a conceptual model that allows you to structure, sort, classify, connect and understand each item within its immediate and wider context. In an era of trading raw materials and early manufactured items “from the sea” made sense, “from the farm” added useful context… similarly we might be used to understanding trees by their genus but historically qualities such as whether it can be sawn or hewn were important classifications. We’ve been thinking about this since the meeting and you can read about some of the issues around ontologies on Ewan’s blog.
  4. Image of artificial eyes

    Eyes (NOT FOR SALE) by Flickr User fumikaharukaze | Fumika Harukaze

    The eyes have it… and that can be a real problem as us humans are quite a lot better built for reading visual information than machines. When we are looking at sources for Trading Consequences we are seeing digitised materials that have been scanned then OCRed (put through Optical Character Recognition). Printing presses used to be pretty quirky – the letter “a” might look squiffy in every print, or a mark might appear on every page, ink may have smudged, etc. Scanning and OCR technology might look much more high tech but they too have quirks – digital cameras and scanners get better all the time and OCR engines improve each year… that means materials we are working with that were digitised years back look noticibly different from those that have been recently scanned and OCRed. That can be pretty challenging… and then we get to the many tables of traded goods. The human may see a very attractive pattern of columns and rows but the computer just doesn’t see it that easily and we have to try to guide it to read the data in so that it makes sense to the machine, to us humans, and that it reflects what was in the original document.
  5. Image of turkey red cotton

    "Turkey red floral patterns." by the National Museum of Scotland's Feastbowl Blog (click through to read a full post on Turkey Red)

    Wild turkey and rubber demands…. Turkey Red is a type of dyed cotton – named after the place not the bird – which was exported in huge amounts, much of it from Aberdeen But Turkey Red was a complicated and expensive die to make and the process was incompatible with the new textile printing processes that were emerging. There was a shift from natural dyes to synthetic materials and demand for Turkey Red plummeted. The project team has been in discussion with Edinburgh University’s Stana Nenadic and her Colouring the Nation project, which specifically looks at the history of Turkey Red. However, this is just one great example of changes in society being echoed by the consequence of trade and we hope this project will help us explore more of these Big changes generally take place at key pivotal dates due to shifts in economic, political and environmental factors and historians will look for these peaks and sharp changes. Changes such a huge increase in demand for rubber because of the bicycle craze!
  6. Lost in translation? With academic historians, informatics researchers, visualisation experts, specialists in geospatially enabled databases and a social media specialist gathered together in one small room with a lot of coffee we knew we’d have to do a lot of talking to explain our very different positions. For a start our informatics researchers are used to beginning with a hypothesis whilst our historical researchers are much more likely to take a grounded research approach. This is a really different way to plan and conduct work and we need to understand where we’re all coming from. The tools this project creates need to enable historians in their processes and we must be careful to build something that meets specific needs and appropriate expectations. At the same time, as a project team, we also need to be working together to ensure our publications schedules make sense so we needed to spend some time getting up to speed on which conferences matter in each discipline, where we can work collaboratively on papers and publications, and what types of research outputs are most important for the project partners.
  7. Image of tape storage.

    The History of Tape Storage by Flickr user Pargon

    Storage solutions: a database is not just “a database”, just like furniture from a certain Swedish home furnishing chain you need to know the measurements, the aesthetic needs, the future extensibility before you buy. And just like a house you need the right foundations to build something stable, fit for purpose and ready to use. What questions we will be asking of our data are the essential starting point here (see also Aaron’s blog, “The question is key in Trading Consequences” ) – knowing these and some sort of suitable ontology early on helps us ensure we can design the right structure for our database.
  8. History in a changeable climate – part of the the Trading Consequences project is to consider the impact, the consequences, of historical trades. That means looking at different resources and seeing what the most likely environmental impacts of timber trade, cattle trade and so on might be. That means users may want to query our data based on those impact – looking up the kind of trades that might contribute to flooding, that may be reflected in famine, that might be affected by draught, etc. That requires a whole separate ontology for environmental impact that can somehow account for these very interconnected factors – and that is a lot harder than it looks!
  9. Image of a lab

    Harvey W. Wiley conducting experiments in his laboratory by DC Public Library Commons | DCPL Commons on Flickr Commons (click for more information)

    Shipping drugs – no, not a sinister diversification for the project but a reflection of the complexity of trading data. We can look for records of trading particular types of medicines and drugs but sometimes that’s not the right data to look at. Botanical trades also reflects the trading of drugs as some plant material was shipped for later use or processing into pharmaceuticals (for an idea of the type of plants involved take a look at the Alnwick Poison Garden). The same issue applies to leather goods for instance – you might trade the hides, specific goods like leather gloves, perhaps even the whole cow. All of those trades may reflect leather trade but understanding, combining and querying that data poses some challenges.
  10. Pithy headings! They matter! Part of our project meeting was considering how we communicate the project. As well as learning to use pithy headings, images, bullet points and other web-friendly formatting, we also found out that blog posts should usually be no more than 200-300 words. We also discussed how people access this site on other devices, particularly mobiles. Although we are working on historical data a lot of us are using smart phones and they have smaller screens and differing requirements. We agreed to apply a new mobile theme – so do try reading this blog on your phone and let us know if you like it!

We hope that gave you a flavour of our kick off meeting. It took place over two days so we’ve obviously trimmed it down a lot but if you have any questions, comments or suggestions do add it here and we’ll get back to you.

Trading Consequences at the Geospatial in the Cultural Heritage Domain Event

Earlier this month Claire Grover, one of the Trading Consequences team based at University of Edinburgh Schools of Informatics, gave a presentation on the project at the JISC GECO Geospatial in the Cultural Heritage Domain event in London.

The presentation gives a broad overview of the Trading Consequences project and the initial text mining work that is currently taking place. The slides are now up on SlideShare and the audio recording of Claire’s talk will also be available here shortly:



You can also read a liveblog of all of the talks, including Claire’s, over on the JISC GECO blog.

Welcome to the Trading Consequences Blog

On this blog we will be sharing news and updates on the Trading Consequence project, a joint project between York University in Canada, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of St Andrews.

The project is looking at the historical documentation around commodity trading in the British Empire with a particular focus on the role of Canadian natural resources in the network of community flows. You can find more about the project on the About page.