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Illustration played an important role in Victorian literature; pictures frequently accompanied poems, short stories and novels, as well as magazines and newspapers. Often modern publishing fails to include the original pictures and so illustration is rarely accorded the critical or scholarly attention it merits. The Database of Mid-Victorian Wood-Engraved Illustration (DMVI) aims to adjust this perspective and help to develop an understanding of Victorian culture through illustrations.
The DMVI brings together for the first time almost 900 illustrations from a variety of literary works and publications, illustrations that it would otherwise be impossible to see side by side. It contains records and images drawn from a variety of literary genres, gathered together from the census year of 1862 (occasionally absorbing the imprint years 1861 and 1863). The database can be queried by a basic keyword search or an advanced search or browsed by iconography. It allows users to view bibliographical and iconographical details as well as providing high-quality images available for viewing in a gallery style.
Strengths and weaknesses
The DMVI could only represent a fraction of the range of images that appeared in books and periodicals in the period. In order to provide a cross section of illustrations from different literary texts and by a range of artists and engravers, and to give a sense of the richness of the material and the place of illustration in Victorian visual culture, the project focused on a single year. 1862 was chosen because it saw the emergence and growth of major illustrated periodicals.
The dual method of describing the illustrations allows for new and sophisticated ways of searching the digital archive, enabling the user to identify connections and differences between images by searching across multiple fields, including the name of the artist, the engraver, the title of the work, and the content of the pictures. One of the most challenging aspects of the project has been the development of a system for describing the iconographic features of the illustrations that is flexible and robust enough to open up the database to users from different backgrounds and with different research interests.
The illustrations were selected from works in libraries and specialist collections. The selected images were digitised, largely by the team, and treated to remove any anomalous features. The application of a tool called Zoomify to the digital images makes it possible for the user to magnify features of the illustrations and emphasises the skill of the wood engraver. The bibliographical and iconographical data were entered into a Microsoft Access database.
About the project
This was a three-year project, based in Cardiff University’s Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The project director was Dr Julia Thomas, the project advisers were Professor David Skilton and Professor Paul Goldman, the research associate was Dr Tim Killick and the database developer was Dr Anthony Mandal.