British Library competition recognises Birkbeck team for new online research tool

A team of Birkbeck researchers recently received the runner-up prize at the 2017 British Library Labs Competition, for a research tool they created for digital humanities.

Birkbeck’s Professor Mark Levene, Dr Dell Zhang, and Dr Martyn Harris have been awarded the runner-up prize at the 2017 British Library Labs Competition for a research tool they created for historical texts.

 The team from Birkbeck’s Department of Computer Science and Information Systems entered the competition with their research on Search and Mining Tools for Linguistic Analysis (SAMTLA). The annual competition looks at transformative project ideas, which use the British Library’s digital collections and data in original and exciting ways.

Dr Harris said: “SAMTLA is a research environment for digital humanities, which we created in response to a lack of tools for in-depth research of historic texts. In comparison to the most popular general-purpose web search engines like Google and Bing, SAMTLA is a language independent framework that features approximate word and phrase search.”

SAMTLA includes text mining tools that help researchers to discover historic documents through keyword and phrase search; mass browsing that leverages document metadata and named entity data to generate a directory; and a recommendation system for related queries and documents, based on the composition of the language, or those that are popular or of interest to the research community.

At the awards ceremony, the British Library lauded the researchers for their innovative design: “We have awarded the team the runner-up prize in this year’s competition due to the language independent nature of SAMTLA and its potential to open up archives to the public.”

The SAMTLA research team is composed of computer scientists, historians, and linguists who have collaborated to provide a universal platform for mining and analysing text that has been inaccessible to date.

Having successfully developed search, browsing, and text mining tools over a number of historic collections, including the Aramaic Magic Bowls from Late Antiquity (Southampton University), the British Library Financial Times Historic Archive, and the Wellcome Trust UK Medical Heritage Archive, they will continue the work through the development of labelling and analysis tools for archival material and social science data.

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