Victorian Meme Machine

This blog post was written during a presentation at the British Library Labs Symposium in November 2014. It is likely full of errors and omissions having been written real-time

Bob Nicholson from Edge Hill.

Victorian’s not associated with humour – “We are not amused”. But jokes were everywhere in Victorian culture – perhaps forgotten or downplayed – you can quote from the great Victorian literature, but what is your favourite Victorian joke?

Jokes reveal lost of things – slang etc. Were an area of existing research for Bob.

Initial Idea:
* Find way of extracting jokes from newspapers
* Start marking up jokes with metadata/semantic tagging
* Try to find suitable image from the BLs image collection
* Overlay text on a suitable image to push out to social media

* Where to look?
* Books – e.g. “Book of Humour, Wit and Wisdom” – a joke book. Manually extracted these
* Newspapers – many had weekly joke columns – e.g. 20 jokes per week over many years – thousands of jokes
* Existing markup breaks newspapers down to columns
* But difficult to get access to the source data in appropriate format
* Have manually downloaded and extracted for now
* OCR/Transcription
* Poor OCR not good enough for re-publishing the jokes
* Need to use manual transcription
* Using Omeka to provide transcription platform (using ‘Scripto’)
* Quicker to type up text than markup broken OCR
* Simple xml markup j = joke, t = title, a= attribution
* Want to go further – mark up names, dialogue
* Publishing Jokes
* Original idea of putting speech bubbles on pictures extremely challenging
* Instead putting jokes next to image of person – as if they are telling the joke
* Looking for images that can be used in this way
* Would also like to find images that would work for dialogue style jokes
* Ideally would like to be able to use images which somehow add to the narrative of the joke

What Next?

Coming soon “The Mechanical Comedian” – will tweet a joke each day

Eventually will publish database of jokes at

Will start inviting users to re-interpret jokes – trying to make terrible jokes funny again

All tools used in the project have been free and open source. Allows you to get started cheaply.
* Seek external funding & new partnerships
* Expand and automate joke extraction
* Implement a new transcription platform
* Develop an accessible online database of jokes

Big picture

Repurposing – difficult to use the digitised versions of newspapers
Remixing – bringing together disparate elements
Gamification – new ways of engaging people with the material
Labs – has allowed Bob to bring an idea and to start experimenting

To follow

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