READ revolutionizes access to handwritten documents

From the Middle Ages to today, from old Greek to modern English, from running text to tables or forms


READ's mission is to revolutionize access to archival documents with the support of cutting-edge technology such as Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) and Keyword Spotting (KWS).

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READ addresses archives and libraries, humanities scholars, family historians, volunteers - and computer scientists

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Research in READ comprises exciting fields such as Artificial Intelligence, Pattern Recognition, Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing.

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READ technology is available via the service platform Transkribus. Upload documents, train a Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) model, process text and follow the progress of the project.

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Recent Posts

+ Opening up our Digital Toolbox – conference at Linnean Society in London

We can now say that the READ project has trended on Twitter!  On 10 October 2016, there was much interest in our ‘Digital Toolbox’ conference, which took place at the Linnean Society in London.

The ‘What should be in your Digital Toolbox?’ conference was organised by the Linnean Society (part of the READ MOU network) and the Bentham Project at University College London (one of the READ partners).

The event was designed to showcase the latest digital research in the fields of humanities and natural sciences.  There were presentations from some of the READ partners and we also heard from other researchers around the UK, who discussed the opportunities and challenges of working with digital tools.

The conference was held at the Linnean Society, which is the oldest surviving natural history society in the world.  It was founded in 1788 by the botanist James Edward Smith and is named after the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus.  The Society has held a collection of Linnaeus’ writings since 1829.  Charles Darwin was a fellow of the Society and actually gave his first public lecture on his theory of evolution to a Linnean Society meeting in 1858.  What an impressive place to open up our Digital Toolbox!

Networking in the Linnean Society Library [Image by Louise Seaward]

Networking in the Linnean Society Library [Image by Louise Seaward]

We were lucky enough to hear a keynote lecture from Professor Melissa Terras (UCL Centre for Digital Humanities) on the Transcribe Bentham crowdsourcing initiative.  Professor Terras described how the phenomenal efforts of volunteer transcribers are contributing to the scholarly edition of the Collected Works of the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham.  She also looked to the future, explaining that volunteer submissions are now being used as training data for Handwritten Text Recognition engines!  For the rest of the morning, we heard from two more of the READ partners. Dr Roger Labahn (University of Rostock) and Dr Günter Mühlberger (University of Innsbruck and coordinator of the READ project) explained the theory and practice of using Transkribus to conduct searches of handwritten historical documents.

The afternoon was dedicated to the latest digital projects in the humanities and natural sciences.  We heard about techniques of text mining, digitisation, optical character recognition, metadata organisation and crowdsourcing. Videos of the presentations will be available soon but in the meantime, you can consult the full conference programme to find out more.

Getting ready for the next presentations in the Linnean Society Meeting Room [Image by Louise Seaward]

Getting ready for the next presentations in the Linnean Society Meeting Room [Image by Louise Seaward]

Over 70 people attended the event, from archivists, curators and librarians, to researchers, project managers and computer experts.  Our attendees helped to get the conference hashtag ‘#digtoolbox‘  trending on Twitter for the London area and lots of connections were made, both in person and online.  The READ project is committed to open access research and open source tools – so we will continue sharing the contents of our Digital Toolbox!

+ Historic transcription meets digitisation – Transkribus workshop in Jena

On 27 September 2016, the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität (FSU) Jena hosted a workshop on ‘Automatic Text and Structure Recognition as Elementary Technologies for Digital Humanities’. 32 attendees from FSU, as well as nearby archives and libraries followed the invitation from Andreas Christoph and Barbara Aehnlich and met for an intense day in Jena, Germany – filled with plenary lectures and a hands-on Transkribus workshop.

Old meets new - picturesque scene set for the Transkribus day in Jena (Image by Eva Lang)

Old meets new – picturesque scene set for the Transkribus day in Jena (Image by Eva Lang)

The program included talks by Eva Lang (Passau Diocesan Archives) on ‘From church registry books to data bases – Digitization Strategies in libraries and archives’, Günter Mühlberger  (University of Innsbruck and READ project coordinator) on ‘Transkribus. A virtual research platform for automatic text recognition in printed and hand-written documents’, Florian Kleber (Computer Vision Lab, Vienna University of Technology) on ‘No text and hand-writing recognition without layout analysis’ and Raphael Unterweger (Innsbruck University Innovations) on ‘Structured data and document recognition with Rule-Appler and Structify’.

After a short lunch break, the group reconvened for a hands-on workshop, where Günter Mühlberger, assisted by Eva Lang, demonstrated the state-of-the-art of the Transkribus software, now also featuring a table editor and a user-friendly tagging system. After the long day, the participants were enabled to upload their own documents, transcribe their first test project and get a better understanding of the technologies behind hand-written text recognition.

Günter Mühlberger demonstrates the power of Transkribus (Image by Eva Lang)

Günter Mühlberger demonstrates the power of Transkribus (Image by Eva Lang)