Metadata and the fun of image cataloging

Before images can be put into the Tufts Digital Library they must be described. Without a title, a date, and lots of other metadata, images would not be usable or retrievable. There are at least 14,000 images in the TDL. Each of them has been described by someone like me who has the assigned task of image cataloging. This could sound like a great way to spend your work day or like some exotic form of torture depending on your disposition. I would not be very well suited to my job if I did not fit into the former category. Other than the joys inherent in assigning metadata (which are many, I assure you), image cataloging is fun because you get to see a lot of cool pictures. Which brings me to the real point of this post.

While cataloging images for Robert Wilkinson's Londina illustrata (c. 1825) I started noticing amusing details in the large engravings in this book of "graphic and historic memorials." For example, this engraving of St. Peter on Cornhill seems plain enough.


Until you take a closer look at the gravediggers in the church yard. If they are in fact digging a grave, why are there two skulls? If they are graverobbers, should they really be doing that while a woman and child walk by?


Or how about this image of the London Street Dockhead.

On closer examination I am worried about the people who are hanging out at the docks. I'll say no more.