Edge Hill University’s Bob Nicholson has won a competition organised by the British Library Labs with a brief to bring their collections to life using digital technology.

Bob’s winning entry, the ‘Victorian Meme Machine’ [VMM] will create an extensive database of Victorian jokes that will be available for use by other scholars. It will analyse jokes and semi-automatically pair them with an appropriate image (or series of images) drawn from the British Library’s digital collections and other participating archives. Users will be able to re-generate the pairings until they discover a good match (or a humorously bizarre one) – at this point, the new ‘meme’ will be saved to a public gallery and distributed via social media. The project will monitor which memes go viral and fine-tune the VMM in response to popular tastes.

Along with a second winner, Bob will work with the library for the next 5-6 months to develop his idea. The work will be showcased at the British Library Conference Centre on Monday November 3rd 2014, whereupon a first prize of £3,000 and second prize of £1,000 will be awarded.

Bob Nicholson is lecturer in history specialising in nineteenth-century Britain and America, with a particular focus on journalism, popular culture, jokes, and transatlantic relations. Bob has been exploring representations of the United States, and the circulation of its popular culture in Victorian newspapers and periodicals. He is a keen exponent of the Digital Humanities. He has written for The Guardian, had his research covered by The Times, and was shortlisted by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in their first search for New Generation Thinkers (2011).

Bob Nicholson

Bob Nicholson

Bob Nicholson said: “I do a lot of research into Victorian Popular Culture and people nowadays tend to assume that the Victorians didn’t ‘do’ humour. Actually, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve trawled through British Library archives and lots of the jokes I’ve found are very funny. While the great works of art and literature from the period have been preserved and celebrated by successive generations, Victorian jokes seem to have become lost and forgotten. The Victorian Meme Machine aims to bring them back to life.”