Sloane’s Treasures – Texts and Transcription – Breakout Group Discussions

Event Date: 16 July 2012
Eliot Room 4
British Library Conference Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB

Sloane’s Treasures – Workshop 3: Texts and Transcription

Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) was a doctor who collected curiosities with a passion. Although he always hoped society would benefit, he would be astonished at the scale of the enterprise he started…

Hans Sloane was one of the great men of early eighteenth-century London, a wealthy and popular physician to high society and royalty. But it was the natural sciences, especially botany, which fired his interest.
In his long life, he amassed one of the greatest ever private collections of plants, animals, antiquities, coins and other curios. It was to be the founding core of the British Museum and later the Natural History Museum.



Group 1

Crowdsourcing (Chair: Nora McGregor)
– What are some successful examples of crowdsourcing in large-scale scholarly projects? – bearing in mind Tim Hitchcock’s warning that the purpose of crowdsourcing should be “not to get work done for free (which seems to be the motivation for applying crowdsourcing in a lot of instances) but more as a way of helping to create communities of users”.

– How can it be made to work effectively?  What are the disadvantages?

– Is crowdsourcing a model we want to follow for Reconstructing Sloane, given its digitisation and research scope? What kinds of participants are we imagining? Could there be tiered levels of activity?

– What role could crowdsourcing play within Public Engagement?
Nora McGregor, Frances Carey, Liz Lewis, Keith Moore, Philip Schofield, Kim Sloan



Group 2 (Chair: Phil Hatfield)

Sloane’s Jamaican collection

– What is the significance of Sloane’s Jamaican collections? – both for Sloane’s own life, and for the export of knowledge, objects and taste from the West Indies to Europe?

– How can the printed and manuscript records of Sloane’s time in Jamaica be linked with the objects in the BM and NHM?

– Is it possible to tell the story of Sloane in Jamaica in a way that actually puts Jamaica at the centre, rather than simply being about ‘bringing stuff to England’?  Is this a history of one-way intellectual and material transfer from Jamaica to England, a history of two-way intellectual exchange, or a network of exchanges?

– What challenges and opportunities do Sloane’s colonial connections represent for Public Engagement? At both a child and adult level?
Phil Hatfield, Daniel Carey, Elizabeth Cooper, Joy Gregory, Carole Holden, Charlie Jarvis, Miles Ogborn, Henrietta McBurney Ryan



Group 3 (Chair: Andrew Prescott)

Data visualisation and mapping

– What opportunities do digital humanities offer for the presentation of data? – particularly the dynamic or interactive presentation of data, moving beyond the traditional confines of the ‘scholarly edition’ or linear text?  What are the technical requirements?

– What kinds of visualisation of material do we need or want for Reconstructing Sloane?  Could the data be mapped? – and would this actually tell us anything new about Sloane’s view of the world, rather than simply being a pretty toy for researchers?  Given that Sloane’s physical collections are now firmly and permanently located in London, could digital mapping provide a way to ‘decentre’ the collections and relocate them in a global context? How?

– An example from James Delbourgo: “My personal dream (why not?) would be to enter the name of a Sloane contact in a database and be directed to: the relevant letters to and from them in BL Mss, ideally available in transcription, but digitized form would do; the plants they may have collected in the Sloane herbarium in the NHM, with volume number and note on provenance and any annotation (if not a digital photo of such); any objects or images linked to them in the BM. A link where appropriate to the DNB entry would be useful, as would notice of any of their own publications; and in some cases to the archives of the Royal Society, whose online catalogue already offers good information (one might also add the Oxford Early Modern Letters online project, which has several Sloane letters already available). It would be excellent to be able to search by place name as well. These kinds of linked results would enable researchers to trace networks of people and things much more quickly than is currently the case, and really see their geographical contours, but also the convergence of material interests in given relationships, where commercial and political news, specimen and curiosity exchange, ethnographic/territorial description, medical advice, etc., are proceeding in tandem. One could then map the movement of objects in Sloane’s networks more clearly onto maps of trade, diplomacy, and other collectors’ circuits of exchange around Europe – one way to fruitfully decentre and properly contextualize.”

Andrew Prescott, Peter Barber, James Brown, Anne Goldgar, Julie Harvey, Michael Hawkins, Simon Mahony



Group 4 (Chair: Lisa Smith)

Digital humanities – cataloguing, subject indexing, transcribing, linking texts and objects

– What is lacking in the current cataloguing of the Sloane manuscripts?  What additional information would we like to have?  How has understanding of Sloane’s collections been affected by the limitations of its cataloguing?

– What would an ‘ideal’ digital edition of Sloane’s correspondence (or an ideal digital catalogue of Sloane’s printed books and manuscripts) look like?  What would it require in terms of transcription, digitisation, etc?

– How can tagging and subject-indexing be used to link texts and objects across the three Sloane institutions?

– This project will require the input of many people operating in several locations.  Can this be done through a so-called Virtual Resource Environment? Or do we want something different?

– See also the example from James Delbourgo in Group 3, above

Lisa Smith, Tim Causer, Howard Hotson, Arnold Hunt, Rob Iliffe, Dominic Oldman, Julianne Nyhan, Darryl Siebert, Stella Wisdom



Group 5 (Chair: Arthur MacGregor)

Sloane, science and medicine

– What do we know (or what don’t we know, or what would we like to find out) about Sloane as a medical man? – e.g. his use of medical textbooks and pharmacopeia, the experience of his patients, his involvement with professional bodies like the Royal College of Physicians?  What are the research priorities here?

– How did Sloane apply his natural history collections (including the living plants in the Chelsea Physic Garden as well as the specimens in the Sloane herbarium) to the study of medicine?

– How can we bring out the ‘collections within collections’, e.g. the archives and medical case notes of other physicians that Sloane acquired for his library?

– What challenges and opportunities do Sloane’s scientific and medical connections represent for Public Engagement?
Arthur MacGregor, Peter Collins, Sarah Longair, Antonia Moon, Felicity Roberts, Simon Schaffer



Group 6 (Chair: Giles Mandelbrote)

Sloane’s acquisition methods and sale catalogues

– What do we already know about Sloane’s acquisition methods? What can we reasonably expect a large digitisation and research project to find out?

– What are the significance of the sale catalogues? How could they be used to trace Sloane material, either to connect objects within the collection or to trace objects that have left the collection? What can they tell us about Sloane’s patterns of collecting, such as who were his brokers, or about the provenance of specific objects?

– How can this information be recorded and made available? Can we make a timeline of Sloane’s acquisitions in books and manuscripts and map it to his intellectual output and editing?

– What IT architecture would you need to achieve all this?

Giles Mandelbrote, Giulia Bartrum, Marjorie Caygill, John Goldfinch, Julian Harrison, Richard Sharpe, Matthew Symonds, Frances Wood



Group 7 (Alison Walker)

Sloane’s printed books

– What work still needs to be done on the online catalogue of Sloane’s printed books?  How can the evidence of Sloane’s own catalogues (including the books that no longer survive or haven’t been located) be integrated with the cataloguing of the physical books themselves?

– What could this data be used for?  What can it tell us about Sloane’s patterns of acquisition and his organisation of his library? – or even about the international book trade in eighteenth-century Europe?  Could it lead the way to a ‘total’ catalogue of Sloane’s collections in which, say, books about coins were linked to Sloane’s own coin collection, or books about botany with Sloane’s own botanical specimens?  What sort of cataloguing would be required to make this possible?

– Can we make a timeline of Sloane’s acquisitions in books and manuscripts and map it to his intellectual output and editing?

– How do we take tackle the extensive marginalia and annotations within Sloane’s books (and manuscripts)? What information has the marginalia yielded or could it yield? Do you think Sloane saw a different between manuscript materials and printed materials?

Alison Walker, Adrian Edwards, Elisabeth Fairman, Martha Fleming, Felicity Henderson, Brent Nelson


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