Meet Dr Yann Ryan, the Library’s Digital Scholarship Fellow for 2023-24.

The National Librarian’s Research Fellowship in Digital Scholarship for 2023-24

Dr Yann Ryan is a lecturer in Digital Humanities at Leiden University, Netherlands. Previous to this he was a postdoctoral researcher at Queen Mary University of London, and the University of Helsinki. His research interests span a range of digital and computational approaches to early modern communication, news, print culture, intellectual history, and the history of the book. Yann has experience with network analysis, text including large language models, and metadata. He also held a post as curator of newspaper data at the British Library, working with the library’s openly-available newspaper collections. His postdoctoral research was heavily focused on digital humanities, working with a range of sources from letter metadata to eighteenth century texts.

Project overview

Text Reuse and the Encyclopaedia Britannica

This project will use digital methods to conduct a thorough analysis of text reuse involving the Encyclopædia, enabling a broader look at its sources, impact, and its evolution from one edition to the next. It aims to initiate a new, digital textual history of the Encyclopædia, enabling its large-scale analysis, and revealing its position within the wider context of the Scottish Enlightenment and British publishing.

The computational aspect of the project will consist of four connected tasks.

1) will use computational methods to detect all the text reused by the editions of the Encyclopædia, uncovering all sources of material, whether substantial or minor, from both well-known and obscure authors.

2) will use a similar process to extract subsequent reuses of the Encyclopædia by other authors, expanding our knowledge of the publication’s impact and putting it into the context of the Scottish Enlightenment.

3) will look at text overlap within the multiple editions of the Encyclopædia, with the aim of computationally analysing the evolution of the publication itself.

4) will break the text into small segments and use deep learning methods to classify them, in order to get a picture of the changing content of the Encyclopædia over time.

The text reuse will be paired with detailed metadata available on the relevant authors, publishers, printers, and this information will be used to understand the temporal and geographic patterns of the sources of the Encyclopædia, almost certainly uncovering unknown instances of reuse from obscure and non-elite actors. The detailed genre classification at page or segment level will allow us to ‘distant read’ the Encyclopædia in detail, showing how its makeup and content changed over time, contributing to our understanding of its early history.

This work will be based on the following three data sources:

the National Library of Scotland’s Encyclopaedia Britannica dataset available on the Data Foundry,

a database of text reuse in Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO), created by the University of Helsinki Computational History Group, and

the records of the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC), used for contextual information.

The project will be paired with a series of workshops, held in Edinburgh and Glasgow, introducing the basics of data visualisation specifically using text sources.


The National Librarian’s Research Fellowship in Digital Scholarship is an annual fellowship, which started in 2020. The Library’s Data Foundry was launched in September 2019, as the Library’s data-delivery platform, and part of the Library’s new Digital Scholarship Service. The Data Foundry provides Library collections in machine-readable form: digitised collections (text and images); metadata collections; map data; and organisational data.

The Fellowship is generously supported by the National Librarian’s Innovation Fund. The Fellowship comes with an award of £7,500 which includes travel expenses.

Related links

Find out more about previous Fellowship projects:

Dr Gustavo Candela, The National Librarian’s Research Fellowship in Digital Scholarship, 2022-23

Dr Rosa Filgueira, The National Librarian’s Research Fellowship in Digital Scholarship, 2021-22

Dr Giles Bergel, The National Librarian’s Research Fellowship in Digital Scholarship, 2020-21