Data Week at Wellcome Collection

November 2016

I recently took part in Data Week: an intensive R&D week with groups of developers and historians exploring and experimenting with interesting ways of using Wellcome's digitised historical collections.

Photo credit: Wellcome Collection

My group was working on Chemist and Druggist, a pharmacy trade magazine first published in 1859; there are around 6,500 issues, some 500,000 pages.

I was working with Briony Hudson (pharmaceutical historian), David McCormick (Wellcome developer) and Alex Green (Wellcome Library). The other Data Week projects are written about here.

We wanted to unlock the highly visual adverts in Chemist and Druggist, and decided to focus on adverts for asthma treatments over time.

Chemist and Druggist inhaler adverts

Although there were technical challenges searching across all issues, we were able to isolate magazine pages featuring the word 'inhaler'. I displayed these results as a timeline with image thumbnails arranged by year/issue date.

Chemist and Druggist visualisation 'inhaler'

Chemist and Druggist visualisation 'inhaler', detail

You can overview the results, or zoom in to inspect the page thumbnails.

Patterns are visible, such as: adverts in runs of 6; seasonal advertising campaigns; the 1880s shift from monthly to weekly publication; the later shift from adverts to editorial; and even changing paper tone over time

1890s

1940s

1990s

Results from the same issue/date, however, are stacked on top of each other and not visible in this arrangement. David created a timeline that shows, through density of semi-transparent coloured dots, the frequency of results occurring in each issue of the journal. This timeline also overlays some of the other terms we searched for, such as the Potter's brand and only pages with illustrations.

Chemist and Druggist visualisation, credit David McCormick

We also visited the Internet Archive's scanning centre at Wellcome. It's easy to forget these digital collections exist because people are scanning in the physical copies page by page!

Book scanning at the Internet Archive

Data Week was a great experience - and it was particularly interesting to be building interfaces for historical data alongside historians. Thank you Wellcome for an enjoyable and inspiring week.

Photo credit: Wellcome Collection