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Last modified: Thursday, October 15, 2009

One image, too much information: TILE grant will bring documents, knowledge together

Collaboration involves researchers from Ireland, Maryland

Oct. 15, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- For John Walsh, an assistant professor in Indiana University's School of Library and Information Science, a picture will soon tell so much more than a thousand words.

John Walsh

IU School of Library and Information Science assistant professor John Walsh will collaborate with researchers from the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities and the Digital Humanities Observatory in Belfast, Ireland, through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Backed by $400,000 just awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Walsh will collaborate with peers from the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) and the Digital Humanities Observatory (DHO) in Belfast, Ireland, to develop a new technical infrastructure designed for unleashing all of the knowledge connected to any one image or document, from a historic manuscript or painting to an image in a children's book or a graphic novel.

"We're all working together to develop an advanced suite of tools for linking texts and images, and developing image-based digital humanities resources," said Walsh, who is also director of SLIS's Digital Library Specializations program. "Despite the proliferation of image-based editions and archives, the linking of images and textual information remains a slow and frustrating process for editors and curators."

Imagine viewing online a detailed portion of one of Michelangelo's frescoes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling and then being able to obtain every possible piece of linked information about any image in the fresco: the story behind an angel, the meaning of a scroll or a chalice, the provenance of related art, a list of researchers currently studying some aspect of the work.

Walsh and principal co-investigators Doug Reside of MITH and Dot Porter of DHO believe the opportunity to employ digital environments and tools to support all types of materials -- ancient or modern, handwritten or printed, illustrated or photographed -- could facilitate transformational developments in how we view text.

They've dubbed the project Text-Image Linking Environment (TILE), and over the next two years they will develop a new Web-based image markup tool that will, among other things, allow symbols, shapes and labels to be displayed as overlays on a base image -- like a detail of a Sistine Chapel fresco -- that then provide links to extensive annotations stored in a searchable database. The team sees TILE as the next generation of technical infrastructure supporting image-based editions and electronic archives within the humanities.

"Digital environments and tools offer possibilities for new representations of texts, new readings, and new strategies and habits of reading as documents evolve from more or less static and fixed texts to fluid and malleable data," Walsh said. "We want to develop a new Web-based, modular, collaborative image markup tool for both manual and semi-automated linking between encoded text and images of text, along with image annotation."

Walsh, a 2008 faculty fellow of the IU Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities, is also editor of The Swinburne Project (see, a digital collection devoted to the life and work of Victorian poet Algernon Charles Swinburne that will also serve as a platform for TILE into the electronic publishing of humanities data and the application of technologies to the discovery and analysis of literary texts. Both The Swinburne Project and another of Walsh's research projects, The Chymistry of Isaac Newton (see, will serve as test beds for TILE, as will additional projects at the University of Oregon and Harvard's Center for Hellenic Studies.

"TILE will provide scholars from a diversity of disciplines with tools for the digital examination and analysis of documents, particularly visually and graphically rich documents such as illuminated manuscripts, art books, illustrated children's books, comics and graphic novels, maps," Walsh said.

Walsh joined the faculty of IU's School of Library and Information Science in 2006 and that same year he received funding from IU's internal grants program New Frontiers in Arts & Humanities. He serves on the executive committee of the Association for Computers and the Humanities (see and as an editor on the peer-reviewed online journal Digital Humanities Quarterly.

To speak with Walsh, please contact Steve Chaplin, University Communications, at 812-856-1896 or