Is medieval distant viewing possible? Extending and enriching annotation of legacy image collections using visual analytics

Christofer Meinecke, Estelle Guèville, David Joseph Wrisley, Stefan Jänicke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Distant viewing approaches have typically used image datasets close to the contemporary image data used to train machine learning models. To work with images from other historical periods requires expert annotated data, and the quality of labels is crucial for the quality of results. Especially when working with cultural heritage collections that contain myriad uncertainties, annotating data, or re-annotating, legacy data is an arduous task. In this paper, we describe working with two pre-annotated sets of medieval manuscript images that exhibit conflicting and overlapping metadata. Since a manual reconciliation of the two legacy ontologies would be very expensive, we aim (1) to create a more uniform set of descriptive labels to serve as a "bridge"in the combined dataset, and (2) to establish a high-quality hierarchical classification that can be used as a valuable input for subsequent supervised machine learning. To achieve these goals, we developed visualization and interaction mechanisms, enabling medievalists to combine, regularize and extend the vocabulary used to describe these, and other cognate, image datasets. The visual interfaces provide experts an overview of relationships in the data going beyond the sum total of the metadata. Word and image embeddings as well as co-occurrences of labels across the datasets enable batch re-annotation of images, recommendation of label candidates, and support composing a hierarchical classification of labels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)638-656
Number of pages19
JournalDigital Scholarship in the Humanities
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2024


  • Collections as Data
  • Distant Viewing
  • Latin Bibles
  • Legacy Data
  • Medieval Manuscripts
  • Visual Analytics
  • Visual Thinking
  • Visualization in the Humanities
  • Vocabulary Interoperability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Information Systems
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Computer Science Applications


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