How did machines change accidents in Victorian Britain?

Written by Mia RidgeDecember 12, 2022Comments: 0

We’re excited to announce our latest crowdsourcing task for online volunteers. Get up close and personal with history as it happened!

Our team of historians, data scientists and library specialists are studying ‘the language of accidents’ in British newspapers. How were accidents involving machinery described in newspapers at the time? And did that language change if the newspaper had a ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ slant? Were local accidents reported differently? Did it matter whether an accident occurred in a mine, a home or in one the factories so emblematic of 19th century industrialisation?

We’ve done lots of work behind the scenes to update the workflows that you see on the Zooniverse site or app, and the selection processes that find articles on the backend. We’re planning a chapter on ‘the language of accidents’ for the Living with Machines project book, and developing new code and computational methods to examine the data from the new and refreshed tasks you’ll see on Zooniverse.

The Zooniverse interface for the ‘how did machines change accidents’ task. This is a good example of a task that needs a human, rather than an AI, reader, to confirm that the article is about a specific accident involving machinery. In the article shown, an accident was intensified by machinery after an engineer fell amongst it.

We have a ‘family’ of tasks this time. First, articles are checked to see whether they do indeed discuss an accident involving machinery. Articles that pass that process then go into three ‘detail’ tasks, that ask about the age and gender of those affected, the type of site where the accident happened (from mills to homes to factories and more), and the geographical location.

Try ‘how did machines change accidents?’ now!

The backend workflow showing how images are classified and dynamically moved into different folders (subject sets). ‘Detail’ tasks are applied to items classified as both just one article in the image, and that article being about an accident involving machinery.

We began with articles from the Warrington Examiner and the Glasgow Chronicle, but our volunteers got through them and we ran out on Thursday night! Luckily we had more ready to go, and the Forest of Dean Examiner is live on the platform now.

You can find out more about the next papers we’re working with, or share your ideas or questions on our Zooniverse forum thread. Or just give it a go and see how easy it is to help researchers: try ‘how did machines change accidents?’ now!

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