Livingstone's 1871 Field Diary

A Multispectral Critical Edition

Lessons Learned and Future Projects: Challenges
The Livingstone team carried out its work despite encountering a number of significant challenges. The team mitigated some of these challenges; other challenges delayed or compromised parts of the overall production schedule, but the team still delivered the final product within the NEH and British Academy grant periods. The principal challenges related to project funding, communication, and file naming.
1. Project Funding
The NEH grant brought the project to life and enabled it to accomplish its proposed goals of spectrally imaging and processing Livingstone’s diary. The team knew this project posed risks as proposed, especially with more complex tasks that might be uncompensated. The British Academy grant helped support the imaging effort in Scotland (June-July 2010) as well as a follow up visit (October-November 2011) to promote the project, share results with stakeholders, and receive feedback on the final product. However, the team proved unsuccessful in supplementing these funds during the NEH and British Academy grant periods to support additional work required. This outcome combined with an unflagging team ethic of delivering, as one member put it, "a BMW project on VW prices," resulted in every funded project member providing significant work for the project out of scope. Unfunded team members, in turn, uniformly assisted on a pro bono basis.
Figure 1. Members of the Livingstone Project Team, National Library of Scotland, July 2010. From left: Boydston, Simpson, Metcalfe, Easton,
Harrison, Toth, Christens-Barry, and Wisnicki .
That said, everyone committed to the project or offered to contribute their time and talents – whatever the opportunity cost – foremost from a desire to support a worthwhile endeavor: the restoration of a key manuscript from a visionary explorer whose abolitionist ideals and progressive ideas on the intellectual capabilities of Africans often far surpassed those of his contemporaries. In retrospect, however, it became clear that the team should have developed the project in two, separately-funded phases, the first focusing on the creation of the data archive, the second on the critical edition of the diary. In particular, additional funding for the spectral imaging stage would have allowed for a higher level of programmatic maturity, including better attention to data organization and data copying from the moment of capture.
2. Communication
The first phase of The David Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project brought together individuals residing across the UK and U.S., working in a variety of discrete fields, and affiliated with very diverse institutions. Team members and institutional representatives rarely met in person due to funding limitations, and most involved in the project spoke very different professional languages, a point that could create miscommunication despite the best intentions of everyone involved. Coordinating project stages and activities also proved challenging, especially given the limited time project personnel could devote to the project and the additional barrier of the Atlantic Ocean.
Figure 2. A common language: Members of the Livingstone Team
celebrate the end of the spectral imaging phase, Edinburgh, July
2010. From left: Boydston, Christens-Barry, Easton, Simpson,
Toth, Metcalfe, Wisnicki, and Harrison.
Preliminary imaging in Scotland did build strong relationships among and between team members and institutional stakeholders, and, furthermore, the Livingstone team used communications technology (email, teleconferences, Skype, file-sharing sites) to maintain these relationships and to draw on expertise available through the project team. However, a number of problems encountered during the spectral imaging phase in Scotland, including a large project footprint, might have been mitigated by a more comprehensive site survey. Additionally, regularly scheduled teleconferences as well as shorter briefings focused on bridging disciplinary divides might have enhanced communication among team members during all stages of the project.
3. File Naming
Initially, the team planned to deliver the final products (the data archive and the critical edition of the diary) to coincide with the 140th anniversary of the Nyangwe Massacre on 15 July 2011. However, a series of production delays associated with new image processing and data management challenges prevented the team from working to schedule. Processing carbon inks on paper with different spectral responses required additional experimentation and development of refined techniques from those used previously on palimpsests. Data management challenges all led back to the complexity built into the spectral image file naming scheme devised by the team (see Data Management). Fortunately, the 140th anniversary of the Livingstone-Stanley meeting offered a viable alternative publication date – first, because the anniversary also fell within the NEH and British Academy grant periods, and, second, because the 1871 Field Diary leads up to that meeting and even contains evidence that may help scholars determine the date of the meeting. That said, the team could have avoided these delays. The need to have simple spectral image file names represents one of the major lessons learned of the project.
Future Projects
The David Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project has laid the groundwork for a number of future collaborative projects:
  • The project established solid working relationships among the scholarly and scientific team members, and between the team and institutional representatives from the David Livingstone Centre and the National Library of Scotland. These relationships represent the basis for future projects on Livingstone, especially as both institutions boast major holdings related to the explorer.
  • The team has already collected the raw spectral data needed to support projects on Livingstone’s 1870 Field Diary (a.k.a. the Bambarre Field Diary) and select letters from the 1871 as well as Sir John Franklin’s 1821 Field Diary (see Imaging in Scotland).
  • Finally, Harrison has created an innovative outreach program for British schoolchildren based on the project to be piloted in collaboration with the David Livingstone Centre.
Figures 3, 4. Sir John Franklin's 1821 Field Diary, NLS MS. 42237,
sample folio: color (top) and processed PCA (below) versions.
These initiatives – which offer a number of possibilities for the team to continue its transatlantic, scholarly-scientific-institutional collaborations – help to realize one of the overarching objectives of the team’s original NEH grant, the "Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant" (emphasis added).
Image Credits