The Migrant Letter Digitised: Visualising Metadata

Niall O’Leary, Emma Moreton

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Within the digital humanities, social network analysis – using digital technologies to examine the relationship between people, places and things – has explored a wide range of digital communication formats, from emails to tweets. This has been made possible because of the large amount of online digital data and has spawned many new techniques specifically aimed at analysing very large datasets, often termed Big Data. The quantity of data resulting from digital communication is enormous, and therefore a tempting source of raw material. However, there is also a long tradition of non-digital communication, letter-writing, which shares many of the formal characteristics of digital formats and also constitutes a huge body of data.
This essay builds on workshop discussions that took place as part of an AHRC funded research networking project. The project, Digitising experiences of migration: the development of interconnected letters collections (DEM), started in April 2013 and finished in July 2014. Through a series of workshops, the project brought together scholars from different disciplines currently working with migrant letters as a primary data source, to explore the digital potential of these perhaps iconic documents. The workshops looked at how letters are being used across the disciplines, identifying similarities and differences in transcription, digitisation and annotation practices. The aims were to examine issues and challenges surrounding digitisation, build capacity relating to correspondence mark-up, and initiate the process of interconnecting resources to encourage cross-disciplinary research. Subsequent to the DEM project, TEI templates were developed for capturing information within and about migrant correspondence, and visualisation tools were trialled with metadata from a sample of letter collections. Additionally, as a demonstration of how the project’s outputs could be repurposed and expanded, the correspondence metadata that was collected for DEM was added to a more general correspondence project, Visual Correspondence. This article reports on some of this subsequent work. It will discuss some of the challenges and opportunities of interconnecting correspondence collections and how visualisation tools may be used to explore the metadata of letters. While many of the lessons learnt apply to correspondence in general, the emphasis is on the migrant letter.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Cultural Analytics
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2017


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