Sarah FitzGerald

Sarah FitzGerald

Sarah FitzGerald is a linguistics PhD researcher at the University of Sussex investigating the origins and development of Cameroon Pidgin English. As a PhD research placement student in the British Library’s Digital Scholarship Team, Sarah used data from the Endangered Archives Programme to create data visualisations.

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Data visualisation tools allowed me to present a new perspective on the EAP projects in Africa

During my three month PhD research placement at the British Library I analysed data from the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP). The placement came about because the EAP team wanted to visualise the data on their African projects from the 13 years the programme has been running. The EAP fund projects to conserve and digitise endangered archives all over the world. The African focus was partially to keep the scope of the project reasonable for a three month project, and partially because the EAP team were interested to find out about coverage gaps they may have in Africa and what might cause them.

The EAP system has evolved over time so my first job was collating and cleaning the data. I was then able to explore the types of data visualisation tools available. In addition to Excel, I used visualisation software available online including Google Fusion Tables for mapping, Gephi for network visualisations, and Tableau Public, which can generate maps, graphs, and charts. I also conducted analysis of feedback sent to unsuccessful applicants, allowing me to pinpoint issues that regularly lead to projects being rejected. In all of this I was guided and supported by two great supervisors, Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, digital curator for Asian and African Collections, and Jody Butterworth, curator of the EAP.

Photo from a Cameroonian photographic archive (EAP054)
Photo from a Cameroonian photographic archive (EAP054)

My placement was not directly related to my PhD but I gained a lot from my time at the BL. During my placement I wrote three posts for the digital scholarship blog, created many visualisations for the EAP team, and wrote reports to aid future, comparable analysis of other EAP data. I gained technical skills, learning to use visualisation tools which I hope to apply to my own data; got to meet and discuss my work with many experts working at the Library; and discovered the wealth of materials available for research through the EAP. They have funded the preservation and digitisation of a diverse range of archives including rock inscriptions, music, and personal diaries, much of which is available via their website. It is fascinating to think of what we may learn from these resources in the future.

Key points

  • The Endangered Archives Programme has created an important digital resource for scholars, providing access to a wide variety of rare and endangered materials from all over the world.
  • Visualisation techniques can complement other research techniques and make data accessible to a much wider audience.
  • Undertaking a placement on a subject that is not directly related to their PhD topic can be a valuable way for students to expand their skills and knowledge base. 


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