Ligatus news

New AHRC-funded PhD studentship on uncertainty

TECHNE AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award

TECHNE AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award - Announcement

Ligatus, University of the Arts London and The National Archives
Invitation for PhD applications

Project Title: Observing uncertainty: ambiguity in conservation documentation and its implications for the care of collections

Location: London

Funding for: Home and International Fee Status (International applicants will be asked to pay the balance between the home fee award and the international fee charged by their home institution)

Funding amount: Tuition fees and annual maintenance equivalent to £17285.00

Duration: 3 years full-time/6 years part time

Requirements: Undergraduate and postgraduate qualification in conservation or conservation science or information science, skills in computing, condition surveys, book and paper conservation or equivalent experience.

Programme start: October 2021

Application deadline: 9am 22nd of February 2021

Interviews: week beginning the 8th of March 2021

TECHNE submission: 19th of March 2021

The University of the Arts London (UAL) and The National Archives are pleased to offer an AHRC TECHNE Collaborative Doctorate Award (CDA) which aims to explore uncertainty in conservation documentation records and how it affects decision-making in collection care. We invite applications from those with an interest in the archives and cultural heritage sector who would like to undertake PhD study. This project will examine how documented uncertainty can be understood, and propose methods of processing historical documentation records containing uncertainty indicators. This will be primarily based on the conservation documentation records of The National Archives. As this is a collaborative award, the successful candidate will be expected to spend time at both the University of the Arts London and The National Archives.

Ligatus has been leading research in conservation documentation since 2003 building on the success of projects such as the condition survey of the manuscripts and printed books of the Library of the St. Catherine Monastery in Sinai, Egypt, the Language of Bindings thesaurus, the digitisation and survey of the archive of the artist John Latham and more recently the Linked Conservation Data project. UAL has a leading and coordinating role in collaborative work by a large community of experts in the fields of bookbinding history, conservation documentation, information and computer science. UAL’s research is assessed as being 83% World Leading and International in the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF 2014) for Art & Design, History, Practice, Theory; is ranked a top 5 research university in its broader peer group in the UK and first in the Power ranking for Art and Design: History, Practice and Theory category.

The National Archives is the official archive and publisher for the UK Government, and for England and Wales; its mission is to collect and preserve the record of Government, to use expertise and knowledge to connect people with history through our collections (spanning 1000 years and both physical and digital formats), and to lead, partner and support archives at home and worldwide. Alongside underpinning research for millions of people through access to our records, as an Independent Research Organisation, TNA has a strong commitment to innovative and sector-leading research in the understanding of physical and digital archival collections and practice. The Collection Care Department (CCD) is a hub for student training and continuing professional development, and an incubator for challenge-led research, where conservators and heritage scientists work collectively to co-create projects and address topics relevant to book, paper, photograph, and textile conservation. The teams are involved in developing innovative research and evidence-based policy on the preservation, conservation, access, and documentation of iconic items as well as large scale archival collections and their related datasets.

It is important to us that our organisation is more diverse, so we encourage applications from people of all backgrounds and identities. We’re especially keen to hear from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic candidates who are currently under-represented.

UAL diversity policy:

TNA diversity policy:

Please note that interviews will be held online via Microsoft Teams.

Further details and Application:

For questions please contact Dr Athanasios Velios:

TECHNE AHRC Collaborative Doctorate Award - briefing

Ligatus, University of the Arts London and The National Archives

The University of the Arts London (UAL) and The National Archives (TNA) have established a formal partnership since 2018. The partnership focuses on the mutual interest of the two institutions in conservation documentation and the epistemology of conservation. It was formalised through the activities of the AHRC Linked Conservation Data project. The two institutions also have long-standing relationships as staff members of TNA have been trained in Camberwell College of Arts (one of the constituent colleges of UAL) and have also been teaching in the same college.

Project Title:

Observing uncertainty: ambiguity in conservation documentation and its implications for the care of collections

The Studentship Vision

Documentation carried out during conservation research, condition assessment, treatment and analysis forms a critical record of collection items in memory organisations. This includes records of observations made either through naked eye or with analytical equipment. Conservators and curators decide on the care of heritage collections based on these observations; however, in many cases these observations are not clear. When the properties of an object are not apparent to the naked eye or measurable through analyses (e.g. the internal structure of a book), conservators use reason and previous knowledge to deduct understandings of objects. This semi-empirical evidence is also recorded. The level of uncertainty introduced by such observations is often denoted with qualification statements (e.g. “possibly”) and the frequent “?” in records. With the increasing drive to make conservation documentation records digital, searchable, and networked, knowledge management and reasoning systems based on ontological models (e.g. CIDOC-CRM) are being explored; however, uncertainty in documentation presents a yet-unaddressed challenge for these models. Datasets containing inconsistent, informal and unrecognised uncertainty indicators cannot be summarised or computed by current documentation tools. Consequently, these records are either excluded from computation or they require human interpretation. This project will examine how documented uncertainty can be understood, and propose methods of processing historical documentation records containing uncertainty indicators. This project will explore these ideas by:

  • Identifying types of uncertainty by examining existing TNA conservation records
  • Reviewing existing ways of recording uncertainty and proposing new ones
  • Mapping reasoning processes based on uncertainty records
  • Articulating through knowledge management tools the potentially new knowledge that uncertainty records can provide
  • Applying these to case studies from the TNA Collection Care Department (CCD)

Questions to Consider in Your Applications

  • What is the nature of uncertainty in observations records?
  • How does uncertainty impact a) our understanding of objects and b) decision making in conservation and collection management with particular emphasis on TNA’s Collection Care Department (CCD)

Proposed Supervisors

  • Dr Athanasios Velios, Reader in Documentation, Ligatus, UAL
  • Sonja Schwoll, Head of Conservation Treatment and Development, The National Archives

Qualifications, skills and experience required:

Undergraduate and postgraduate qualification in conservation or conservation science or information science with skills in computing, condition surveys, book and paper conservation or equivalent experience.


Home and International Fee Status (International applicants will be asked to pay the balance between the home fee award and the international fee charged)

Application Process

Applicants for this TECHNE CDA studentship should first read the project description and expected qualifications and experience in this document. In selecting applicants, the panel will be looking for proposals that directly address the themes and questions outlined.

All applications for this TECHNE CDA award must be received by UAL no later than 9am on 22 February 2021.

Applications should include the below:

Applicants should follow the Guidance on How to Write a Research Proposal available in that page and link their proposal to the themes and concerns outlined in this document.

  • CV to be uploaded to the online application system
  • Statement of up to one side of A4 demonstrating what they will bring to the project, how it fits with their previous experience and interests and how they will shape it, to be uploaded to the online application system.

UAL and TNA have received preliminary approval for this studentship but this will be confirmed following the recruitment of a student. The application is done in 2-stages:

Stage 1

Applications will be selected for interview considered by a panel convened at UAL and the selected applicant will be offered a place at UAL. Interviews to be held on the week beginning the 8th of March.
The offer will include full supervision, mentoring and support from both UAL and TNA for the duration of studies.

Stage 2

The selected application will be submitted to the TECHNE Selection Panel where it will be considered for TECHNE funding. The criteria for selection at this stage are in line with the standard TECHNE selection processes.
Please see: for more information. The deadline for this application is the 19th of March.


  1. The AHRC funded studentship covers Home fees and a maintenance of £17,285 (2020/21 rate) for each academic year.
  2. Full Time and Part Time (50% FTE and above) applications will be considered

Application Timeline:

Applications Open: 5th of January 2021

Application Deadline: 9am 22nd of February 2021

Interviews: week beginning 8th of March 2021

Submission to TECHNE: 19th of March 2021

Successful Applicant Confirmed: April / May 2021

Student Enrols with UAL: Monday 27th of September 2021

LCD website live

Over the past few weeks Kristen and I have been busy progressing with a number of tasks for the project. Kristen is preparing an update for the consortium. One of these tasks is setting up the project website. It is no secret that I am a big fan of Drupal. The Ligatus website has been running Drupal since (if I remember correctly) version 5. It has been setup as a multi-site running on the same code base. Each of the major Ligatus projects is hosted as a sub-site so for LCD I asked our brilliant web services team (Phil Haines, Gerry Hickman and Myles King) to create a new sub-site and related database accessible here:

The theme used is Skeleton which is relatively simple and attractive but features a number of different regions and also some useful classes from creating button-like links and borders, like:

<div class="button small right"><a class="button green" href="">Programme</a></div>

At some point I would prefer to reduce the text in the front page and increase the font size. This would require a sub-theme, so it might take a bit more time.


One problem I had with the website is locating nice icons to illustrate the different workshops. I searched online, as one does, for nice royalty-free icons but I soon realised that I was spending too much time on the task. So I decided to have a go on my own. I hope that having spent all my career based in fine art and design institutions, I have acquired some sense of taste even inadvertently.

Linked Conservation Data logo

As Kristen and I have been looking into sending the announcement for the project out, some colleagues have asked for visual material to accompany the text. This is a bit difficult given that the project has hardly started and that the consortium will not physically meet until June. So we opted for a project logo.

With limited experience in design and even more limited time we decided on a simple logo which will give the right message for the purposes of the announcement. The two components are:

  • The RDF icon: this page explains that the RDF icon is deprecated in favour of the Semantic Web cube but for many the three connected spheres still signify Linked Data.
  • A photograph of heavily corroded metal which I pick up from over here

I created a couple of masks on GIMP and then overlaid the corrosion photo on the RDF logo but keeping the shiny areas on top. I then used GIMP's Spherize filter to give a bit of volume on the flat image and that created the logo you see on the project page.

We are trying to get MA students from Camberwell College involved so that we get a nicer logo at some point during the project so expect updates soon.

Artivity introduction video online


Last year, with the help of Gareth Johnson and David Cross we prepared a short video showcasing Artivity and explaining its use in under a minute. The video features artwork by Gino Ballantyne. We are publishing this video today to kick start another round of work on Artivity to collect some more data and test the installation process and data exporting capabilities.

The video also features on the front page of the website.

Basic guide for database design

I have recently worked on a one-year pilot for Linked Data at the University of Oxford. During this pilot I kept coming up to database design decisions which made publishing Linked Data difficult. This page includes some points to consider when designing your database:

Basic guide for database design

To assist work for Linked Data, when designing a database, please observe the following:

Summarise data

Do not use a different file for each record. It is easier to process data automatically if the records are all in the same table. If you want to present or print the data on a per-record basis, then consider a template to "read" records from the table and produce nice-looking pages. To build Linked Data the summarised table is by far more useful.

Avoid free-text

Instead of:

Manuscript with shelfmark MS-Iliad carrying text by Homer.

It should be:

Field Data
shelfmark MS-Iliad
author Homer

Why? It is difficult for software to process free text, remove the syntax and identify the entities we are talking about (i.e. MS-Iliad and Homer). It is much easier to identify these if there is no syntax.

Keep information separate

Avoid bundling together different entities. For example instead of a record being:

height: 20, width: 10, thickness: 5

It should be:

Dimension Value
height 20
width 10
thickness 5

Why? In Linked Data, each entity needs to stand on its own. Splitting a bundled field programmatically is difficult as often there are no consistent formulas that fields are bundled up.

Do not merge cells or use line breaks

When using spreadsheets to produce records do not use the merge cells function.

Instead of:

Value Unit
Height 20 cm
Width 10 cm
Thickness Max thickness 8 cm
Min thickness 5 cm

It should be:

Dimension Value Unit
height 20 cm
width 10 cm
min thickness 5 cm
max thickness 8 cm

Similarly do not use linefeeds within cells to indicate multiple records. Use instead a delimeter like | which is much easier to process.

Why? It is much easier to "read" the data if it is all in a canonical table on a row-by-row basis. Merged cells and linefeeds break that canonical structure or confuse the rows.

Use identifiers

Give identifiers to entities contributing to a record. For example, instead of:

Shelfmark Author
MS-Iliad Homer

It should be:

Manuscript ID Shelfmark Author ID Author
1234 MS-Iliad 5678 Homer

Why? Not having an identifier means that the included entity (e.g. Homer) is "hidden" in text and cannot be matched to other occurences across the database. Some institutions choose to produce UUIDs as identifiers for each entity.
Note that if there are multiple authors either a new table would be neccessary or multiple rows of MS-Iliad would be required, each with a different author. This indicates the requirement for a so-called one-to-many relationship across entities which is difficult to replicate on a single spreadsheet.

Use external authorities

Allow space for external identifiers of entities. Instead of:

Author ID Author name
5678 Homer

It should be:

Author ID Author name External Authority External ID
5678 Homer VIAF 224924963
5678 Homer WikiData Q6691

Why? Linked data depend on establishing links with other datasets. This process is known as reconciliation or disambiguation. For example 5678 "Homer" is the same person as the one described in VIAF: It is useful for a database to be able to store external identifiers for entities (even external labels) to enable this linking. There are many authority files and thesauri which publish identifiers for their records. Make sure that when you are building your records you can capture these.

Reference images

Do not insert image files in your records. Only add the location as a reference to where the image can be seen. Preferably this should be a URL but in theory local paths are equally useful.

The Clarkson Slide Archive crowdfunding appeal

We are happy to announce that our crowdfunding appeal had raised over £11,000. The money will be used to employ a project assistant in Oxford next year to continue the work on the Clarkson Slide Archive Project. we would like to thank all of our donors for their extraordinary generosity and let you know that any further donations will always be welcomed!

Please watch this space for more updates.

Early sixteenth-century binding

This is the early sixteenth-century binding from the flooded stacks of the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence that fired Chris Clarkson’s interest in the laced-case limp parchment binding as a conservation structure. The thickness of the goatskin parchment cover, the lacing of all the slips along both joints and a substantial sewing structure on double alum-tawed sewing supports with structural endbands created a structure that survived not only more than four centuries of use but also saturation with water followed by drying.

Nicholas Pickwoad

The Clarkson Slide Archive fundraising

15th-century German binding

Slide 1654

A group of three 15th-century German bindings, each with a full limp cover of parchment used as a pierced support with a fore-edge envelope flap with cord and decorated metal button fastenings. Each has on the spine an external (secondary) pierced support, one of tanned skin and one of either alum-tawed skin or thick parchment with a combination of longstitch and chain stitch sewing, and one with tanned skin with chainstitch sewing only. The tanned skin external supports are decorated with blind tooling and piercing (with a coloured sheet material, probably parchment, under).

Nicholas Pickwoad


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