May 22, 2022

Netherlands: Brill Participates in Research Project on Making Illustrated Handwritten Archives Digitally Accessible

From Brill’s Announcement:

A consortium of computer scientists, historians of science and heritage professionals has been awarded funding by NWO for a research project on making illustrated handwritten archives digitally accessible.

The project Making Sense of Illustrated Handwritten Archives was submitted jointly by the Leiden Centre of Data Science (LCDS), Naturalis Biodiversity Center, the universities of Groningen (ALICE), Leiden (LIACS) and Twente (STePS), and publisher Brill as creative industry partner. It was awarded € 626.000 [$727,000/USD] by the NWO (the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) Creative Industry programme, matched by Brill’s € 268.000 [$304,000/USD]

Many handwritten and illustrated archives contain a wealth of information, but are largely underexplored because of their complex and difficult to decipher nature. The aim of this project is to develop a digital environment that resolves this challenge and connects heterogeneous archival content to other digital sources.

The project will be centered around one of the top collections of Naturalis Biodiversity Center: the archive and collection of the Natuurkundige Commissie, which contains a rich verbal and pictoral account of the nature, cultures and economics in the Indonesian archipelago (1820-1850).

The researchers will use an advanced system for handwriting and image recognition (Monk), complemented with contextual information on species, locations and habitats. Naturalis’ taxonomic expertise, in combination with history of science methods, will be used to refine the system further. The outcome of the project will allow Brill to offer the system as an online service for the heritage sector, as a strengthening of its digital humanities profile. This will serve both curators of illustrated handwritten archives and researchers who wish to further the understanding of these collections.

The 4-year project includes the appointment of two computer science PhD students (Leiden, Groningen), a post-doctoral researcher in the history of science (Twente) and a specialist on 19th century taxonomy and natural history (Naturalis). ‘The unique archive of the Natuurkundige Commissie serves as a perfect challenge to combine expertise from different universities and disciplines’, says Brill’s Senior Acquisitions Editor Michiel Thijssen. ‘The resulting technologies will advance the ways in which scholars can study the archived human cultural heritage.’

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.