Reading 35,000 Books: The UCD Contagion Project and the British Library Dig...

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The British Library

The Foyle Suite, Centre for Conservation

96 Euston Road


United Kingdom

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Workshop and Roundtable

How do you set about finding specific references and thematic associations in the massive digital resource represented by the British Library Digital Corpus?

The Contagion, Biopolitics and Cultural Memory project at UCD Dublin set out to illuminate culturally and historically specific understandings of disease that appear in the fiction in the corpus.

In order to do so, the project team extracted 35,000 unique volumes in English and built a searchable interface of 12.3 million individual pages of text, which can be filtered and sorted using the corpus metadata (author, title, etc). The interface has incorporated the 2 top levels of the Alston Index, the topical index used by the British Library from 1823 to 1985, so for the first time it is possible to identify and extract fiction, drama, history, topography, etc., from the corpus.

The Contagion project team is currently using information retrieval and word embeddings as well as close reading to identify and track key trends pertaining to illness and contagion in the corpus, and interpreting these findings with particular reference to current and historical debates surrounding biopolitics, medical culture and migration.

This workshop will present the project’s work to date, but also include discussion by scholars of nineteenth century literature and the British Library Labs of the future development and use of the new searchable interface, including exporting topical sub-corpora for further research.

The event is supported by the Irish Research Council.


10:00 - 10:15 COFFEE AND REGISTRATION in the Foyle Suite, Centre for Conservation, The British Library


10:15 - 10:30 Welcome and Introduction
Mahendra Mahey, Manager of BL Labs, The British Library

10:30 - 12:30 Working with the British Library Digital Corpus: Data, Interface and Thematics’
Derek Greene and Gerardine Meaney of University College Dublin.

12:30 - 13:25 LUNCH
Please return to the room by 13:25

Chaired and introduced by Gerardine Meaney, University College Dublin

13:30 - 15:30 Roundtable: ‘What else is in there? Future uses of the corpus for research and teaching’
Nicholas Daly, Margaret Kelleher and Tina O’Toole

15:30 - 15:45 COFFEE

Chaired and introduced by Margaret Kelleher, University College Dublin

15:45 - 16:30 Future Directions

16:30 - 17.30 Networking Reception

Speaker Biographies

Nicholas Daly
Nicholas Daly is Chair of Modern English and American Literature at UCD. His primary research interests are in nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction and drama, though he has also written about early cinema and visual culture, and has a strong interest in popular literature and culture. He is on the advisory boards of the Journal of Victorian Culture, Novel, and the Irish University Review. His most recent book, The Demographic Imagination and the Nineteenth-Century City, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2015. His current project examines the representation of imaginary European territories. In 2019 the monograph version, Ruritania: A Cultural History will appear from Oxford University Press, and Oxford World's Classics will publish his edition of Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda.

Derek Greene
Dr. Derek Greene is Assistant Professor at the School of Computer Science, University College Dublin, and a Funded Investigator at the SFI Insight Centre for Data Analytics. He has over 14 years’ experience in the field of machine learning, with a PhD in Computer Science from Trinity College Dublin, and over 50 research papers presented at international conferences and published in journals. His current research includes work on applying methods from text mining and network analysis in the areas of digital humanities and political science.

Margaret Kelleher
Margaret Kelleher is Professor and Chair of Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama at University College Dublin. Her books include The Feminization of Famine (published by Duke UP and Cork UP, 1997), The Cambridge History of Irish Literature (2006), co-edited with Philip O'Leary, and Ireland and Quebec: Interdisciplinary Essays on History, Culture and Society (Four Courts Press, 2016), co-edited with Michael Kenneally. Her monograph entitled The Maamtrasna Murders: Language, Life and Death in Nineteenth-Century Ireland was published by UCD Press in 2018. She was guest editor, with Nicholas Wolf, of Éire-Ireland's special issue on "Ireland and the Contemporary" (Spring/Summer 2017). Professor Kelleher has developed a number of digital humanities projects, including the Electronic Version of the Loeber Guide to Irish Fiction ( and the Digital Platform for Contemporary Irish Writing ( She is Chair of the Board of the Irish Film Institute (since 2014) and UCD academic lead on the Museum of Irish Literature (MoLI), a collaboration between UCD and the National Library of Ireland to open a new literary museum at Newman House in early 2019. From 2009 to 2016 she was Chairperson of the International Association for the Study of Irish Literatures. She has been visiting scholar at University of São Paulo, Boston College, Peking University, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Concordia University Montreal, St John's College, Cambridge and University of Virginia.

Gerardine Meaney
Gerardine Meaney is Professor of Cultural Theory in the School of English, Drama and Film at University College Dublin. Her current research interests are in gender, ethnic and national identities in literature and culture and the application of new digital methodologies to humanities research. Her current research projects include an exploration of Victorian anxieties around public health and migration in the British Library’s Nineteenth Century Corpus and a Decade of Centenaries project presenting the diaries of novelist and revolutionary, Rosamond Jacob, in blog form. She is the author of Gender, Ireland and Cultural Change (Routledge, 2010); Nora, Ireland into Film Series (Cork University Press); (Un)like Subjects: Women, Theory, Fiction (Routledge, 1993; reissued Routledge Library Editions, 2012) and numerous articles and book chapters on gender and culture, from Joyce to The Wire. She co-authored Reading the Irish Woman: Cultural Encounter and Exchange, 1714-1960, with Bernadette Whelan and Mary O'Dowd (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013). She was one of the major co-editors of the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing: Women's Writing and Traditions, volumes 4 and 5 (Cork: Cork University Press, 2002). Digital projects include a centenary multimedia exploration of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, an iPad app of James Joyce's short story 'The Dead' and the 17 research demonstrator projects of the Irish Virtual Research Library and Archive. She was Chairperson of the Irish Humanities Alliance (2016-17) and Vice-Chair (2015-16). She was also previously Director of the UCD Humanities Institute, Vice-Principal for Research and Innovation in the College of Arts and Celtic Studies and Directors of the Centres for the Study of Gender, Culture and Identities and Film Studies at UCD.

Tina O’Toole
Dr Tina O’Toole is a literary scholar with research expertise in Irish writing (primarily in late nineteenth- and twentieth-century culture), the history of sexualities, and migrant and transnational literatures. In 2016, she was overall winner of the University of Limerick Excellence in Teaching Award. Her books include The Irish New Woman (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013); Women Writing War: Ireland 1880-1922 (UCD Press, 2016; co-edited with Gillian McIntosh & Muireann O’Cinnéide); and Irish Literature: Feminist Perspectives (Carysfort Press, 2008; co-edited with Patricia Coughlan). She has also edited journal issues, including a special issue of Éire-Ireland: Journal of Irish Studies (2012; co-edited with Piaras Mac Éinrí) on “New Approaches to Irish Migration”. Current research projects extend her interest in fin de siècle culture, in Irish literary migrancies, and in the representation of sexualities in twentieth-century Irish culture. Dr O’Toole worked as Principal Project Researcher on the Women in Irish Society Project at University College Cork (funded under PRTLI 1; see from 1999-2002. This archival research led to the publication of The Dictionary of Munster Women Writers (2005; ed. O’Toole), and a study of the second-wave Irish Women’s Movement, Documenting Irish Feminisms (2005; co-authored with Linda Connolly). During the same period, she held a Women’s Studies Fellowship at the University of Ottawa in 2001; an IRCHSS Post-Doctoral fellowship at UCC in 2002; and an Irish Studies Fellowship at Queen’s University Belfast in 2003.

Mahendra Mahey
Mahendra Mahey is the manager of British Library Labs (BL Labs), an Andrew W. Mellon foundation and British Library funded initiative supporting and inspiring the use of the its data in innovative ways. BL Labs encourages and helps scholars, artists, entrepreneurs, educators and innovators to work with the BL’s digital collections through competitions, awards and other engagement activities. Mahendra is working on developing an international support network with colleagues to bring national, state, university and public libraries together that either had, are planning and already have digital experimental ‘Library Labs’ to share expertise, knowledge and experience in order to build better ‘Library Labs’ for their organisations and users.

He has a strong background of working with digital technology as a manager, educator, adviser and community builder in Further and Higher Education for researchers, educators, librarians and businesses both in the UK and internationally.

He worked for 8 years at the University of Bath on a number of collaborative projects within UKOLN (a former centre of expertise for information management) including; the pioneering Jisc-funded UK academic software Developer Community Supporting Innovation (DevCSI) network initiative built from the innovative and very well received annual ‘Developer Happiness’ events he helped organise (similar to; CERIFy, implementing a European data model for managing research information; the Digital Repositories Research Team (RRT) which supported projects around digital repositories for scholarly outputs such as academic papers, data, educational materials, multimedia and incubating new research and finally incubating new research around the analysis of digital repository use cases, scenarios and workflows, creating a toolkit to develop new Dublin Core metadata application profiles and digital repository ecologies.

Mahendra was an e-resources and technology adviser for over 4 years building supportive communities for teachers, librarians and managers working in Further and Higher Education colleges through the Jisc Regional Support Centres (in England at the University of Wolverhampton and Scotland at Edinburgh Telford College now). Edinburgh College

Finally, he has over 10 years experience in Further/Higher education in the UK and Poland, working as a lecturer and manager in Psychology (specialising in Child Development), Computing, Multimedia, and English for Speakers of Other Languages, developing open flexible learning materials in print and online and managing flexible learning centres.

He tweets at @BL_Labs and @mahendra_mahey

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The Foyle Suite, Centre for Conservation

96 Euston Road


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