Digital Tools: Image Matching within Printed Materials


Book historians, bibliographers, and early modern scholars working on word and image relationships are no doubt excited by new digital tools that allow one to search and match images. The Oxford University’s JISC-funded Integrated Broadside Ballad Archives project has developed such software, and the capabilities of the resulting tool demonstrate the promise of image-matching software. (Developing the image-matching software tool represents only part of the project. As its title implies, the project’s main goal is “to integrate existing resources for the study of the English folk song and printed ballad tradition.” To that end, the project serves to supply a central resource hub for the Bodleian Libraries Ballad collections, University of California Santa Barbara’s online English Broadside Ballad Archive” (EEBA), and the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library’s Roud Broadside and Folk Tune Indexes.)

In a recent video, Oxford faculty Giles Bergel (English) Andrew Zisserman (Computer Science), and Relja Arandjelovic (Engineering Science) from the Broadside Ballad Connections offer a fascinating account and demonstration of the new image matching software and how it allows us to track images across early forms of printed literature. Not only is the software enabling and advancing existing scholarship, but, as Bergel notes near the video’s close, this software is generating new research questions such as “When do images became new images?”

This diagram offers a quick view of how this software operates and focuses on the following image:

From Image-Matching Explained

From Image-Matching Explained

One can also experience firsthand how this tool works by trying the demo.

We would be very interested in hearing about experiences using the image-matching functions of the Broadside Ballad Connections well as about other projects using image-matching software or similar tools that enable us to explore visual texts.

(Anna has plans to post on EBBA in the near future.)


9 Responses to “Digital Tools: Image Matching within Printed Materials”

  1. pozdRaf Says:

    Reblogged this on Filologia cyfrowa :: Mediewistyka 2.0.


  2. Anna Battigelli Says:

    The video and the demo are both spectacular–as is this digital tool, which is, among other great things, an excellent teaching tool.

    It offers visual demonstrations of how a woodblock was used from ballad to ballad, and even, in one case, how a hat traveled from one head to a very different head on another woodblock.

    Because it allows us to transpose one image over another toggling between both, we can see deterioration or variation in inking.

    I would like to know how to search for images more efficiently than scrolling through the thousand ballads they have posted. For example, is there a way to search for an image of a ballad peddler or a ballad hawker or singer?


  3. Brodie Waddell Says:

    Looks like a fascinating and potentially very useful tool. Beyond providing bibliographical information, it’ll be really interesting to see how the same image could be recycled and given a subtly (or radically) new meaning. It might, for instance, be useful for the sort of analysis Mark Hailwood has been doing, looking a representations of workers in ballads, etc., to see if someone designated, e.g., a well-off yeoman farmer in one ballad becomes a farm servant in another.

    c.f. Mark Hailwood, ‘Workers’ Representation, Part Three: Mining and Modernity’


  4. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thanks, Anna and Brodie, for the comments and the reference to Hailwood’s work on ballads. His project offers a rich example of how this tool could be applied to sociocultural and historical analysis.

    As for other tools using image-matching on printed items, Giles Bergel draws our attention to a project for Japanese Woodblock Print Search.


  5. Anna Battigelli Says:

    To find images of ballad hawkers, go to “Browse Index,” specify “Iconclass” as the index, and add 48CC75621 for the search term, and click “show index.”

    This calls up 18 ballads with images of hawkers, the earliest dated between 1774 and 1825.


  6. A miscellany: wandering woodcuts, Greifswald glosses, digital Defoes and Thompson tributes | the many-headed monster Says:

    […] of a specific image across the library’s whole collection of ballad sheets. Eleanor Shevlin discusses the new tool in more detail over at EMOB. In light of Mark’s posts on early modern representations of working […]


  7. Giles Bergel Says:

    Thanks, Eleanor, for your generous post on this technology and our larger ballads project, and thanks also to the commenters. In answer to Anna’s question about easier searching or browsing, we will be integrating this demo application with the metadata currently held in the main Bodleian Ballads database and exposing that in an enriched form in a new user-interface. We hope to be able to re-image more ballads to make them searchable through image-matching, but as Anna says we already have Iconclass information for all the impressions: this, too, will be made more usable, through replacing the codes with keywords.

    Let me know if you have any comments or questions.


  8. English Broadside Ballad Archive (EBBA at UCSB) | Early Modern Online Bibliography Says:

    […] is the second of a two-part series on free digital archives featuring English ballads.  It follows Eleanor’s discussion of the JISC-funded Broadside Ballad Initiative at […]


  9. Yet another DH blog » Blog Archive » Broadside Ballads Image Match Says:

    […] Eleanor Shevlin: “Digital Tools: Image Matching within Printed Materials“. Early Modern Online Bibliography, […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: