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Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications

Alyssa Arbuckle, Alison Hedley, Shaun Macpherson, Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, Daniel Powell, Jentery Sayers, Emily Smith, Michael Stevens, Authors

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An Arial Review of London Low Life - Content


The digitized content of LLL is mesmerizing in its breadth, variety, and depth. From the street ephemera to fully digitized books to the warped maps, the team at Adam Matthew has digitized its resources with supreme care and, in the case of the maps, innovation. The maps, for example, are perhaps the most compelling resource for its intended audience. Easily accessible and interpretable (thanks to the detailed layering and warping)  they promote an immediate geographical engagement with the other materials digitized on the site. Though neither the LLL site nor its description on the Adam Matthew site offer a rationale for its digitization method or what encoding guidelines it follows, I can assume (since the project is affiliated with Indiana University and built by experts in library digitization) that it follows TEI (or perhaps an idiosyncratic, but equally rigorous system).

The digitization of the street ephemera is compelling for both its impulse at preservation and “exposing” the nuances of Victorian street culture. Mostly, the ephemera are digital facsimiles of the historical images and texts, but transcriptions, when applicable, are provided. The documents, too, are searchable by collection, type, and (interestingly) theme. The latter, distinctly useful for undergraduate research, is organized into clusters like “crime and justice,” “geography and the built environment,” “sex, prostitution and obscenity,” and “politics, scandal, and the news,” to name a few.

Similarly, LLL clusters much of its documents in themed exhibitions, a fascinating way of making its materials more accessible than a standard database list. The exhibitions range from detailing the quotidian life of certain London districts, like East and West London, to popular interests in crime and themed image galleries. I would prefer to see more of this type of presentation, building narratives of the content to help contextualize the documents for undergraduate researchers in particular.

Adam Matthew has taken great care with the interface, making much of the content easily accessible through tagging and a precise search feature. LLL follows current trends in archive design, based on usage research, limiting the navigation to as few clicks as possible. As Crone notes, though, this strategy does not always apply well to digital humanities resources, “which are meant to encourage individuals to interpret evidence they are presented with from different angles.”

The interface splits up access to the data between searching and browsing. To help students, the creators have made a “popular searches” feature that aims to direct users to the most pertinent material in the collection. Browsing, too, is made easy by the thematic organization of the documents. The issue that many of the resources flout these thematic designations, which limit the serendipity of the browsing and searching. Perhaps the LLL should expand the themes feature, or build more provisional, rapid exhibitions and contextualizing narratives.

In all, London Low Life is an inspiring project, and I hope to emulate a few of its dimensions and focuses in my own work on Dublin and Ulysses. The maps are a particularly illuminating feature, and I think where the project shines most, rendering much of its other data visually interpretable and grounds much of the ephemera in an interesting historical narrative—a compelling data visualization.

Author: Michael Stevens
Word Count: 527
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