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Wade, M., Han, M., Stäcker, T. (2016). A Model for International Cooperation: Emblematica Online and Linked Data in Research and Pedagogy. In Digital Humanities 2016: Conference Abstracts. Jagiellonian University & Pedagogical University, Kraków, pp. 98-104.
"A Model for International Cooperation: Emblematica Online and Linked Data in Research and Pedagogy"

"A Model for International Cooperation: Emblematica Online and Linked Data in Research and Pedagogy"

1. “Pedagogy and Emblematica Online: Humanities Students in DH Projects”

Mara R. Wade

University of Illinois

1.1. Why DH a Pedagogy?

As Burdick, Drucker, Lunenfeld, Posner, and Schnapp state: “A new kind of digital humanist is emerging who combines in-depth training in a single humanistic subfield with a mix of skills drawn from design, computer science, media work, curatorial training, and library science” (Burdick et al, 166). Researchers with Emblematica Online took this challenge seriously, and determined ways to incorporate student researchers into our federally funded project as a means of investing in our shared DH future. Tier-one research institutions present particularly rich opportunities to advance the rapidly changing field of undergraduate research. Faculty members in the humanities at these universities have excellent opportunities to advance undergraduate research, and strong obligations do so. With graduate students, we can scaffold our mentoring to offer creative and productive experiences for DH pedagogy across all areas of the academic landscape. DH pedagogy involves experiential learning within a framework that emphasizes peer learning as well as more formal modes of instruction. Because DH pedagogy involves learning by doing, it emphasizes approaches in university teaching including both a vertical to a horizontal pedagogy.

1.2. “The Emblem Scholars”

This paper presents the research initiative with bachelor students at the University of Illinois, analyzes their research results, outlines the challenges, and makes suggestions for future efforts in DH pedagogy. “Digital Humanities: Emblematica Online” was a course for undergraduate researchers with no experience whatsoever in DH. Our goal was the long-term intellectual development of students with respect to the disciplines, concepts, workflows, and methodologies. This project also incorporated international research exchange and modeled experiential learning beyond the narrow confines of an undergraduate major.

The undergraduate research opportunity was a hybrid course, introducing students to early modern books and book history directly in the rich collections of the University Library, to literary criticism of texts and images with a tight focus on the European emblem, and to digital humanities concepts such as consistent vocabularies, multilingual thesaurus, best practices and standards for transcriptions of texts, and the importance of linked open data and semantic web technologies. The class integrated “a holistic learning by project approach” (Rehbein and Fritze).

The “Emblem Scholars” with six undergraduates was launched in spring semester 2013. The project PI organized the course as “Digital Humanities: Emblematica Online” and met twice per week. Project researchers introduced the virtual collection Emblematica Online and the workings of the Portal; they developed spreadsheets for motto transcriptions and the “stitching” program to collocate individual emblems with their metadata and create a URI from a handle server. The PI, together with a senior project consultant and a graduate assistant, directed these students. Students were also paired with faculty mentors from early modern studies who checked the students’ transcriptions of emblem mottos from various early modern versions of European vernacular languages and Latin. These mentors also met with them once or twice during the semester about their research papers. The Emblem Scholars transcribed emblem mottos, associated this data with the emblems within their books, and wrote scholarly papers. Together they also presented two posters at the Undergraduate Research Symposium 2013 (see ill. 1). This pedagogy was largely student driven, and three students continued their research with Emblematica Online for several additional semesters. The continuing students created the website Emblem Scholars: Emblematica Online as an extension of their course work (see ill 2)

1.3. Student Outcomes and Next Steps

The student research associated with Emblematica Online is vital to training the next generation of DH scholars and users. All three continuing undergraduate students now plan graduate study in the humanities with DH integrated into their studies. Their research for Emblematica Online positions them ideally as users, and perhaps even creators, of future digital resources. There are further multipliers for positive outcomes. One student presented new aspects of her research at the Undergraduate Research Symposium 2014, while the two others studied abroad, in Ireland and France, respectively. During her semester abroad, the one student volunteered in the library, digitizing a photo album. She considers her research as an Emblem Scholar key to her acceptance to the highly competitive 2014 Andrew W. Mellon Summer Academy and Undergraduate Curatorial Fellowship Program at the Art Institute Chicago. One has an internship at a museum in the Chicago area, another has entered Library School.

1.4. Challenges in Undergraduate Research

The first semester was time intensive to bring the students up to speed in all areas: DH, early modern literature and culture, working with rare books, and training in accurate transcription of foreign languages. (The six students came from Spanish, Communications, Mathematics, Psychology, English, and Art History.) Taking ownership of their work, responsibility for accuracy in all workflows, and dependability in meeting deadlines were habits they quickly developed. These students were smart and eager to work; they developed the necessary skills rapidly. We received a competitively awarded start-up fund of $1,500 for a new initiative in undergraduate research. That contributed to the purchase of materials (a book, a large-capacity flash drive, some computer hardware) and to printing posters. All teaching was done as an overload to the normal courses assignments. Regularizing funding and integrating the teaching of such courses into the normal operations of an academic department are clear desiderata. Owing to generous consortium and renewed SLCL funding, the three students will participate in a DFG funded event at the Newberry Library, Chicago, “Emblematica Online Workshop: Link Open Data – Developing an Ontology for Annotating Emblems.”

1.5. DH and Critical Digital Pedagogy

We posit that investment in undergraduate (bachelor) education is well worth the time and resources spent. The “Emblem Scholars” participated in aggregated, distributed, collaborative, and open learning techniques (Gold, 2012a) within the framework of a federally funded project, Emblematica Online, that offers an ideal test bed for new knowledge, best practices, and emerging standards for all researchers involved in the project. Significantly, it has introduced students at all level of study in the humanities and library science to humanistic digital research. The researchers at Emblematica Online invested in their long-term trajectory of scholarly and intellectual development. We also developed a kind of “critical digital pedagogy” that educates for the long run through intensive mentoring and experiential learning. As Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Strommel define it: “Critical Pedagogy is an approach to teaching and learning predicated on fostering agency and empowering learners... .” The experience of Emblematica Online suggests that DH pedagogy is praxis-oriented teaching that positions students to learn experientially in a hybrid setting. While the usual project “tasks” are certainly part of the experience, the focus is on the development of a theoretical and conceptual understanding of the intersection of traditional and digital humanities. By situating learning directly in the research experience, students acquired a broad range of skills and concepts that exceeds a narrow academic focus. These students see DH as an integral part of the way we do humanities (McCarty, 24). Emblematica Online is a scholar driven project, and this synergy is reflected in the pedagogical outcomes.

In her blog post, “Commit to DH people, not DH Projects,” Miriam Posner, University of California, Los Angeles, makes the case for investing in the human resources clustered around projects, such as Emblematica Online. Posner raises the questions: “What if you saw that training period as an investment in healthy, long-lasting relationships? What if we saw digital humanities as a long-term investment in scholarly growth, not a short-term investment in projects?” The student researchers with Emblematica Online learned a range of critical thinking, technical, intellectual, and administrative skills that are the most transferrable and will serve them well in the future. They are well prepared to be DH citizens.

Illustration 1: Undergraduate Researchers Presenting at the University of Illinois 2013
Illustration 1: Undergraduate Researchers Presenting at the University of Illinois 2013
Illustration 2: Undergraduate Researchers’ Website
Illustration 2: Undergraduate Researchers’ Website

2. Transforming SPINE metadata to Linked Open Data

Myung-Ja K. Han

Timothy W. Cole

Maria Janina Sarol

Patricia Lampron

University of Illinois

2.1. Background

Emblem books flourished in Europe as a popular literary genre from 1531, the publication date of the first emblem book, through the mid-18th century. The form of the emblem book is compound, integrating text and graphics, and highly contextual, often influenced by cotemporaneous events. Remaining copies of printed emblem books are widely dispersed in libraries across Europe and North America today. To facilitate access and better support Emblem Studies, a large segment of the corpus has now been digitized and made discoverable through the Emblematica Online Portal (http://emblematica.library.illinois.edu/). Because the individual emblems within emblem books are themselves of scholarly interest, emblem books pose interesting descriptive challenges for libraries. A domain-specific, XML-based metadata schema was developed and implemented to address these challenges and support a measure of interoperability within the Emblem Studies community (http://diglib.hab.de/rules/schema/emblem/emblem-1-2.xsd). However, emblems are of interest to scholars in additional disciplines, e.g., art historians, historians of Renaissance and Baroque cultures, comparative literary scholars, etc. To maximize utility it is crucial to integrate digitized emblem resources with other kinds of resources used by scholars in multiple domains. As a step towards this vision, this presentation will report on work done to transform our emblem-specific XML metadata into Linked Open Data in order to support broader discovery and access and to better integrate digitized emblem resources with other resources on the Web.

2.2. The SPINE Metadata Schema and Discovery Services

Discovery and browse services provided through the Emblematica Online Portal are possible because of the emblem-specific SPINE metadata schema. The genesis of the SPINE schema was an international workshop on the digitization of emblems held in 2001 at the Centre for Emblem Studies at the University of Glasgow. The participants in the workshop, drawn from widely dispersed institutions, recognized the need for a shared metadata vocabulary to support interoperability across emblem collections. The classes and properties of the SPINE schema were subsequently documented by Stephen Rawles of the University of Glasgow (2004). Thomas Stäcker at the Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel implemented the schema proposed by Rawles in XML. To express most book-level properties, Stäcker integrated the Metadata Object Description Schema (MODS) into SPINE. He supplemented MODS classes and properties with emblem-level descriptive classes and properties and added a few additional book-level properties to record the provenance of digitized emblem volumes, i.e., to link digitized items back to the print item from which they are derived. SPINE is now available as an XML based metadata schema, currently in version 1.2 (Stäcker, 2012).

As implemented in the Emblematica Online Portal, the SPINE metadata schema, designed for describing emblem books, the emblems contained in those books, and copy-specific information about the book, allows digital humanities scholars access to digitized emblem resources at any of three different levels granularity, an entire emblem book, an individual emblem, and an individual pictura, while providing detailed descriptive information at each level (Cole et al. 2012). Iconclass, a multilingual, extensible classification system for visual cultural content containing more than 28,000 hierarchically ordered descriptors, has been used extensively by scholars and curators to describe emblem picturae. Most recently, the team has exploited Iconclass.org linked open data services ("Iconclass as Linked Data" 2015) to facilitate emblem discovery. By using the available Iconclass Web services, the Emblematica Online Portal can now support multilingual search and browsing services for Iconclass headings as well as browsing broader and narrower Iconclass headings, demonstrating the benefits of being a linked open data consumer (Cole et al. 2013).

2.3. Exposing SPINE Metadata to the Web

As a next step, the Emblematica Online project team has been exploring ways to become a linked open data producer by publishing SPINE metadata as linked open data. To accomplish this, the Emblematica Online project team takes a rather unique approach. Instead of creating a new ontology for the SPINE metadata schema, the project team is focusing on discovery and visibility of digitized emblem resources on the web, in other words, using linked data as a vehicle that brings the emblem resource information contained in the SPINE metadata to the web. To make SPINE metadata more web friendly, i.e., indexed and searchable by web search engines including Google, and compliant with current linked open data work being conducted across cultural heritage institutions, the Emblematica Online project team has developed a workflow that transforms SPINE metadata to Resource Description Framework in Attributes (RDFa) based web pages for the presentation of both emblem books and emblems. As an extension to HTML5, RDFa allows web search engines to generate better search results through the attributes embedded in the web pages, ultimately improving the visibility of these resources on the web. The RDFa attributes are being populated relying on schema.org semantics, since these semantics are recognized and used by major web search engines as a de facto linked data markup standard, whenever schema.org semantic meanings aligned well with the SPINE metadata elements. When there are no corresponding semantics in schema.org, or it is necessary to keep the semantic meanings of the SPINE schema, schema.org extensions (2015) are employed to represent emblem specific information, such as Pictura, Iconclass, subscriptio, motiv, emblemParts, and so on. The figure below shows how the SPINE XML description of an emblem pictura that includes an Iconclass descriptor (figure 1-a) can be transformed to RDFa with semantics from schema.org (figure 1-b).


Figure 1-a: < pictura> element in a SPINE XML metadata that can include one or more iconclass descriptors.

Pictura Image

inscets: grass-hopper (+ animals eating and drinking)


Figure 1-b: The same element transformed to RDFa using schema.org semantics and schema.org extension with Emblem specific types (classes) like emb:Pictura as well as mini-skos.

2.4. Conclusion

Early experimentations with linked data undertaken by the Emblematica Online Portal have allowed emblem scholars to access related resources available in the Virtual Printroom (Virtuelle Kupferstichkabinett, VKK), jointly managed by the Herzog August Bibliothek and the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum in Germany, and Festkultur Online, developed and maintained at the Herzog August Bibliothek, since all three sites use Iconclass as a descriptive vocabulary for their resources. Additionally, exposing SPINE metadata in RDFa based HTML pages would expand relationships between information resources in SPINE and other contextual information available on the web that is represented with the same schema.org semantics, such as information about the author or historical or cultural events related to emblem books and emblems, ultimately enabling emblem scholars to access additional information in conjunction with emblem resources available at the Emblematica Online Portal. This presentation will discuss why Emblematica Online experimented with linked open data, describe details of the workflow, challenges, and lessons learned from this SPINE to linked open data transformation work, and enumerate future plans for using additional linked open data sources to improve user experiences.

3. Linked Open Data for Emblem Research

Dr. Thomas Stäcker

Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel


This paper presents a project carried out in close collaboration with the current research of Emblematica Online, University of Illinois (Prof. Mara Wade, PI). It aims to strengthen international co-operation in the field of emblem studies, to jointly develop and apply technical models, and to make use of synergies to establish transnational digital collections and data pools that can be freely used by the international emblem community. The new project at the Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel, proposes to develop and integrate concepts and models that can be applied to and employed by other areas within the burgeoning field of Digital Humanities. It is divided into four distinct but interconnected areas of activity. First, the data in the collection itself will be enlarged; secondly, emblem books will be transcribed and made available as full text; thirdly, and that is the most innovative part of the project, data and metadata will be modeled and designed in such a way that they can be used in the semantic web; and finally, interfaces and web services will be enhanced or established to facilitate the harvesting and retrieval of emblem data.

A central feature of this project is the development of an ontology that allow scholars to analyze emblems by offering a vocabulary that is apt to ascertain identities, resemblances, or significant differences of emblems digitized at various places on the web. Supported by suitable tools scholars will ideally be able to encode in RDF (see example, Ill. 1) that there is an identity with respect to meaning by relating a helmet with bees to a camel walking through the eye of a needle (both of them allude to the topic peace, see Ill. 2), or they will be able to assemble identical emblems from various books or will characterize instances where the same motto is used for various picturae. The project draws on a comprehensive corpus of emblems that were digitized in several larger projects within the last decade. It is meant to move a step forward in that it no longer intends to make source material merely available, but attempts to offer means and methods for practical research by applying semantic web techniques and standards such as the Open Annotation Collaboration and Iconclass’ RDF representation.

# resemblance that cannot be further determined

emblem:resemblance rdf:type skos:Concept;

skos:prefLabel “Ähnlichkeit oder Gleichheit”@de;

skos:prefLabel “resemblance”@en;

skos:definition „Nicht weiter bestimmte Ähnlich- oder Gleichkeit“@de.

#subordinated concepts of similarity and resemblance

emblem:sameness rdf:type skos:Concept;

skos:prefLabel “Gleichheit”@de;

skos:prefLabel “sameness”@en;

skos:narrower emblem:resemblance.

emblem:similarity rdf:type skos:Concept;

skos:prefLabel “Ähnlichkeit”@de;

skos:prefLabel “similarity”@en;

skos:narrower emblem:resemblance.

#causality in a most general sense, e.g. also „exemplar for“, „cause for “ etc.

emblem:causality rdf:type skos:Concept;

skos:prefLabel “Verursachung”@de;

skos:prefLabel “causality”@en.

#contiguity, e.g. emblems in a one book, emblems occuring in the same period of time etc.

emblem:contiguity rdf:type skos:Concept;

skos:prefLabel “Räumliche oder zeitliche Nähe”@de;

skos:prefLabel “contiguity” @en


Ill. 1



URI-Emblem-2 http://www.emblems.arts.gla.ac.uk/french/emblem.php?id=FALa045.


3.1. External links

  • Arkyves: http://arkyves.org/
  • Emblematica Online: http://emblematica.library.illinois.edu/
  • Emblem Scholars: http://emblematicaonlineuiuc.wordpress.com/
  • Festkultur Online: http://www.hab.de/en/home/research/projects/festkultur-online.html
  • Hybrid Pedagogy: http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/journal/critical-digital-pedagogy-definition/
  • Mellon Summer Academy, Art Institute Chicago


  • Mini-skos proposal for schema.org:


  • Open Annotation Collaboration: http://www.openannotation.org/
  • Posner, Miriam, Blog: http://miriamposner.com/blog/commit-to-dh-people-not-dh-projects/#more1687
  • RDFa: https://rdfa.info/
  • Schama.org: http://schema.org/
  • School for Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics, University of Illinois: http://www.slcl.illinois.edu/
  • Virtual Printroom (Virtuelle Kupferstichkabinett, VKK): http://www.virtuelles-kupferstichkabinett.de/

  1. Alexander, Bryan and Rebecca Frost Davis. (2012). Should Liberal Arts Campuses Do Digital Humanities? Process and Products in the Small College World, Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew Gold. Minnesota: U Minnesota Press, pp. 368-389.
  2. Burdick, Anne, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Posner, and Jeffrey Schnapp. (2012) Digital Humanities. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  3. Cole, Timothy W. and Myung-Ja Han. (2011). The Open Annotation Collaboration Phase I: Towards a Shared, Interoperable Data Model for Scholarly Annotation, Journal of the Chicago Colloquium on Digital Humanities and Computer Science, 1. 3.
  4. Cole, Timothy W. and Myung-Ja Han. (2012). Developing Digital Library Services to Support Emblem Studies, Emblematica. A Journal for Emblem Studies, 19, pp. 65-94.
  5. Cole, Timothy W., Myung-Ja Han, Mara Wade, and Thomas Staecker. (2013). “Linked Open Data & the OpenEmblem Portal.” Digital Humanities 2013. Available at http://dh2013.unl.edu/abstracts/ab-359.html.
  6. Cole, Timothy W., Myung-Ja Han, Jordan Vannoy. (2012). "Descriptive Metadata, Iconclass, and Digitized Emblem Literature." Proceedings of the 12th Annual Joint Conference on Digital Libraries. New York: Association for Computing Machinery. pp.111-120.
  7. “Extension Mechanism.” 2015. Acceded on October 30 2015. Available at https://schema.org/docs/extension.html.
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  13. Rawles, Stephen. 2004. “A SPINE of Information Headings for Emblem-Related Electronic Resources.” In Digital Collections and the Management of Knowledge: Renaissance Emblem Literature as a Case Study for the Digitization of Rare Texts and Images, edited by Mara Wade, 19-28. Salzburg: DigiCULT.
  14. Rehbein, Malte and Christiane Fritze/ (2012). Hands-On Teaching Digital Humanities, Digital Humanities Pedagogy: Practices, Principles and Politics, ed. Brett D. Hirsch. Openbook, pp. 47-78.
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  16. Stäcker, Thomas. 2012. “Practical Issues of the Wolfenbüttel Emblem Schema.” In Emblem Digitization: Conducting Digital Research with Renaissance Texts and Images, edited by Mara R. Wade. Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 20. Accessed 27 May 2015, http://purl.oclc.org/emls/si-20/WADE_Staecker_EMLS_Schema.htm>
  17. Thaller, Manfred, ed. (2012). Controversies Around the Digital Humanities, Historical Social Research, 37.2