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UCL Centre for Digital Humanities



New Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) training course

By Lucy J Stagg, on 29 November 2016

We are rolling out our new Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) training course!

Courses will take place at UCL in our Multi-Modal Digital Imaging Suite. Each course, led by Dr. Kathryn Piquette, includes a combination of lectures, demonstration, and practical hands-on sessions:

  • Learn how to apply highlight Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI)
  • Gain experience in applying RTI to portable objects and larger fixed surfaces of various material types
  • Become proficient in capture, processing and manipulation of RTI datasets for diverse applications
  • Gain familiarity with related computational photography and processing techniques for augmenting and re-using RTI data
  • Apply what you learn in small teams of 2-3 people for hands-on work

There is more information available, including pricing and how to register.

UCLDH Advanced Imaging Consultants

By Melissa M Terras, on 21 July 2016

UCL Centre for Digital Humanities are pleased to announce that we now have capacity to offer Reflectance Transformation Imaging and Spectral Imaging services from our Multi-Modal Digitisation Suite research facility based in central London.

Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), also known as Polynomial Texture Mapping (PTM), is a high-resolution, non-invasive and non-destructive imaging technique for documenting fine surface details. Unlike conventional photographs, images created using the RTI capture method can be virtually relit. The direction of the light source can be moved around in real time to give 3D appearance to surface shapes for systematic inspection of fine surface details.

Spectral Imaging is a high-resolution, non-invasive and non-destructive form of computational photography that can disclose features of the object that are invisible to the naked eye in natural light, and can enhance faded writings, reveal palimpsest and under-drawings, as well as aiding in pigments, binders and other materials identification. Spectral imaging helps clarify and support research, scholarly and other goals. The UCL state-of-the-technology spectral imaging system can be applied to documents and manuscripts, polychrome artworks, and a range of archaeological and heritage objects.

The kinds of material we can handle and are suitable for specialist imaging include:
• Documents, manuscripts, maps
• Artworks and other painted objects
• Coins, medals, jewellery
• Other objects bearing fine details such as seals and impressed sealings, cuneiform tablets, as well as inscriptions, carvings, bas-reliefs
• Forensic evidence or any object/surface requiring detailed examination.

For further information, please see our UCLDH Advanced Imaging Consultants page or contact advancedimaging@ucl.ac.uk.

Digital Classicist London seminar series

By Simon Mahony, on 17 May 2016


The Digital Classicist London seminar series

Institute of Classical Studies

Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Fridays at 16:30 in room 234


  • Jun 3: Gregory Crane (Leipzig & Tufts), ‘Philological Education and Citizenship in the 21st Century’
  • Jun 10: Matteo Romanello (Lausanne & DAI), ‘Of People, Places and References: Extracting information from Classics publications’
  • Jun 17: Eleanor Robson (University College London), ‘From the ground to the cloud: digital edition of freshly excavated cuneiform tablets on Oracc’
  • Jun 24: Stuart Dunn (King’s College London), ‘Reading text with GIS: Different digital lenses for Ancient World Geography’
  • Jul 1: Valeria Vitale (King’s College London), ‘The use and abuse of 3D visualisation in the study of the Ancient World’
  • Jul 8: Chiara Palladino (Leipzig & Bari), ‘Annotating geospatial patterns in ancient texts: problems and strategies’
  • Jul 15: Daniel Pett (British Museum) & George Oates (Museum in a Box), ‘3D in Museums, Museums in 3D’
  • Jul 22: Stelios Chronopoulos (Freiburg), ‘New Life into Old Courses? Using Digital Tools in Reading and Prose Composition Classes’
  • Jul 29: Silke Vanbeselaere (KU Leuven), ‘Exploring ancient sources with data visualisation’

Each seminar will offer an overview of the subject suitable for postgraduate students or interested colleagues in Archaeology, Classics, Digital Humanities and related fields, along with suggested reading, practical exercise and discussion topics. No advance preparation is required, but you will get the most out of these seminars if you check out the short bibliographies suggested on the programme website.


A visit to the China Academy of Art, Shanghai Institute of Design

By Simon Mahony, on 21 April 2016

As part of my recent visit to Shanghai, I was honoured to be the guest of the President of the China Academy of Art, Shanghai Institute of Design. The China Academy of Art (CAA) is the premier Art Academy in China and the Shanghai campus is the foremost Design Institute. Aparently the CAA is also the first art university and first graduate school in China.

Shanghai Institute of Design, China Academy of Art

Shanghai Institute of Design, China Academy of Art

During my stay I met with academics, discussed cultural differences in teaching and learning, assisted in an English language teaching session and met students showcasing their impressive work on UI design and App design in the Department of Digital Publishing and Exhibition Design.

Students at the Institute of Design

Students at the Institute of Design

I was also able to highlight some UCLDH research and students’ work in my guest lecture: ‘Designing a Digital Publishing Product’.

Guest lecture at the Institute of Design

Guest lecture at the Institute of Design

What was most impressive was the lecture poster; I was expecting A4 but, after all, this is indeed China’s premier design institute. The image was a quick draw caricture of me and the President by one of his students.

Poster: Shanghai Institute of Design

Poster: Shanghai Institute of Design

The Shanghai Zhangjiang Campus is a small one and the main parts of the university are situated at two locations in nearby Hangzhou, both with very distinctive and award winning architecture. The original campus at Nanshan overlooks the famous West Lake and the Xiangshan Central Campus (the largest site) on the outskirts of Hangzhou has become a tourist attraction in its own right and features the Crafts (Folk Art) Museum (which was unfortunately closed on the day I visited but that provides a good excuse for a follow up visit and next time to stay on that campus).

China Academy of Art, Hangzou

China Academy of Art, Hangzou


Technology meets Scholarship

By Chris J Dillon, on 28 January 2016

Hessian State Archives, Marburg

Hessian State Archives, Marburg

Between 19-21 January I attended Technology meets Scholarship, or how Handwritten Text Recognition will Revolutionize Access to Archival Collections in Marburg, Germany.

During the first day of the conference, the outside temperature was -10. It was, however, a really warm group of people.

Some of the sessions I found most interesting were on the Stasi archives. There were brief sessions in English, but fortunately my listening skills were just up to understanding the longer sessions in German. They were measuring Stasi files in units of the Berlin Television Tower, e.g., they had 3 television towers of documents on …

Recordings of most sessions will be available online: http://coop-project.eu/event/first-international-coop-convention/?instance_id=3167

I was surprised to find people who knew Bernhard Eversberg, the developer of the “allegro” database, who retired recently. The software was used in the UK from 1995 until recently for importing Chinese and Japanese catalogues and adding local holdings. Some of the software has been made open source: www.allegro-c.de/allegro-2016.pdf (German)

Stephen Robertson Prize Dissertation 2014/2015 – Congratulations to Rachel Yales!

By Melissa M Terras, on 9 January 2016

We’re delighted that the best dissertation from our MA/MSc in Digital Humanities in currently sponsored by Microsoft, in honour of the work of Stephen Robertson. The student prize for the best dissertation in our 2014/2015 cohort has recently been given to Rachel Yales, for her groundbreaking work “Hoisting Anchor: Exploring the Interaction Between Time, Place, Space, and Text in Early Modern American Travel Narratives Using Digital Methodologies.” Her dissertation examines the origins of both the criticism and praise for the adoption of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in the humanities and social sciences, examining the process by which GIS based Digital Humanities projects have been developed and produced with a proof of concept study. Using Richard Hakluyt’s late 16th Century text “Principal Voyages of the English Nation”, Yales looks at how GIS approaches are especially conducive to the analysis of the travel narrative genre and the creation of imagined knowledge spaces in early modern England and the Americas. Yales is currently working up her dissertation for consideration for journal publication.

We’re also pleased that the first recipient of the Stephen Robertson prize from our 2013/14 cohort, Jin Gao, has recently returned to UCL to undertake a PhD with us, carrying forward her Master’s dissertation work on citation analysis (which has been accepted for journal publication). This student prize allows us to showcase the best of our student work, whilst also celebrating the achievements of our students: well done Jin and Rachel!

2015 International Graduate Scholarship Fair, Beijing

By Simon Mahony, on 7 January 2016

2015 International Graduate Scholarship Fair

2015 International Graduate Scholarship Fair

In October I was delighted to represent UCL at the 2015 International Graduate Scholarship Fair, organised by the China Scholarship Council, in Beijing. This is a major recruitment event where most major academic institutions worldwide have a presence. It is attended each year by a member of the UCL International Office and often accompanied by an academic representative. The Graduate Fair starts in Beijing and moved (this year) to Wuhan, Nanjing and Shanghai; I only attended the Fair in Beijing which is the largest but a colleague from UCL International Office, Hannah Legg, travelled to them all.

The Beijing event started with a planning meeting (which I didn’t have to attend luckily as I had only just arrived because of flight delays) followed by an evening networking session with speeches from the organisers (bravely delivered in English) and refreshments in the Chinese style (masses of wonderful food accompanied by small glasses of wine). The Fair itself, at the University of Science and Technology, ran from 09:00 until 17:00 (with short breaks for coffee and lunch) with a continuous line of perspective students at both desks for the whole day. I spoke to some interesting potential applicants and kept their details but mostly we both had very similar questions about the entry requirements for graduate study (Masters and PhD) at UCL and how to impress the admissions tutors. We were ably assisted by our enthusiastic local student, Ada, who has excellent English and hopes to join us at UCL in a couple of years.

UCL: London's Global University

UCL: London’s Global University

UCL staff and student helper at the Graduate Fair

UCL staff and helper at the Graduate Fair


After attending this event last year, I took some time out to be a tourist and benefited greatly from the hospitality of many former students, arranging dinners and taking me round the sites. I discovered how much they regretted not being able to come back to UCL for graduations. So this year, and at the suggestion of Chenxi Wang (ECP 2013), who became the local organiser, we took our own graduation to Beijing. Chenxi organised a venue (she works at MS Beijing), catering, decorations, photographer and invitations; I simply turned up and brought the appropriate robes hired from the UCL suppliers. This turned out to be a really amazing event and truly the highlight of my year. After a short talk from me, each alumni put on the robes in turn, posed with me for photos with a dummy scroll as I pinned a Bentham badge on them; they each followed this with some words about their experiences at UCL (mostly in Chinese but with smiles on their faces so I’m guessing it was something nice). We had photos outside as it was one of the two blue sky days Beijing enjoyed this year (if you’ve ever been there, you’ll know what I mean) followed by professional style graduation photos. This really was a memorable day and one that I certainly will treasure.

DIS alumni and family members at our Beijing graduation

DIS alumni and family members at our Beijing graduation

As well as promotional material, Chenxi put together a short video mashing up some stock UCL video clips and new material to feature most of the attendees (it’s on YouKu as YouTube is blocked in China so please excuse the adverts). Just to note that a few more alumni came along a little later and two more the following day as despite being a Sunday afternoon they could not get the time off work (no EU employment law although I’m pleased to say that they are all in full-time employment).

Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL)

By Simon Mahony, on 1 January 2016

Banner for the International Book Fair (FIL) Guadalajara

International Book Fair (FIL) Guadalajara banner

2015 was the year of Mexico in the UK and the UK in Mexico. As part of this the British Council organised a series of events including several at the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL) (26/11/2015 – 09/12/2015) which is the largest literary festival and most important publishing gathering in Latin America. I was invited to take part in the Academic Programme and speak at the XIX International Meeting of Educational Research organised by the Department of Educational Studies of the University of Guadalajara. I was introduced to warm Mexican hospitality and well looked after by the representatives of the British Council and also by the convenor of the Academic Programme and Head of the Department of Educational Studies, Dr. Antonio Ponce Rojo who runs a Master’s programme there.

British Council poster

British Council poster: Museums without walls

My planned talk, ‘Reflections on knowledge production within the framework of UK academic institutions’, was part of the panel ‘The Challenges of Knowledge Production in Modern Societies’ and I volunteered for a second on the following day to fill in for another speaker from the UK who had been unable to attend through illness and hastily put together ‘Digital Humanities Pedagogy: digital culture and education’ for the panel on technology in education. The second session also saw the launch of a British Council bilingual publication ‘Education Systems in Mexico and UK’ and I was very pleased to meet and to get signed copies from the two authors Lena Milosevic (British Council) and Sonia Reynaga Obregon (Universidad de Guadalajara). There will be a publication forthcoming with the talks presented at the various panels in the Academic Programme.

Among the publications I was highlighting, it was after all a book fair, was the new publication by DIS colleagues Rebecca Lyons and Samantha Rayner, ‘The Academic Book of the Future’, which featured as the finale of my first talk on knowledge production. This allowed some product placement (see photo) and for me to offer the two copies generously donated by the editors to the University library (thus ensuring them an international and trans-continental ‘impact factor’) along with some other volumes also generously donated by Ashgate publishers.

Academic panel at FIL

Academic panel at FIL (note the books on display)

The FIL itself was definitely impressive and certainly lived up to its reputation as the biggest book fair in the world after the one held at Frankfurt: so many books and so many publishers.


BASE KX Excursion …and a thought about Digital Humanities

By Nicole Ingra, on 19 November 2015


Last night, there was an excursion to the BASE King’s Cross, which is a brand new innovation hub (a.k.a. a place) for people with bright ideas to come and work. There is a similar venue in Shoreditch, called IDEALondon.  From what I understood, they are part of UCL Advances, which is the entrepreneurial arm of UCL, supporting students successfully launch their business. They offer funding, free training and some interesting events – check them out!



BASE King’s Cross communal area.   Photo: Sarah Davenport


We also heard some interesting people talking about their business…

Playbrush is a device that you can attach to any toothbrush and it will turn your brushing routine into a fun game, where you help a tooth fairy defeat some horrible bacteria. It’s to be used by children, but yeah, some grown people might enjoy it too (no self-pointing fingers). The device is a bit pricey, but because it’s detachable and reusable, you’ll only need one per household. In case you’re interested in buying, you can use the code base15, which will give you 15% discount until the end of November. The iOS version of the game launches next week and the Android version two weeks after, and they are shipping for Christmas.

Next, there was Interesting Content.  With clients like Disney, Tesco and 7thingsmedia, they are a digital video production agency, admittedly telling stories informed by data (our BFF in DH), creating online content.  They are located at BASE King’s Cross and are also hiring! Although I don’t remember the mention of an email address, there is a contact form in the website.

Before these two guys, there was a girl who spoke about how pitching her business idea to UCL Advances was the best decision she’s took. Maybe she said it was the best experience she’s had. Either way, she said it was really good, and spoke highly favourably about it. Like most of us, UCLDH students, she has a humanities background, but that didn’t stop her from pitching her tech business idea – and it should not stop anyone. If you are a UCL student and have an idea that you think it’s brilliant, get in touch with them. They might be able to advise you and point you into the right direction. You might even get some funding!


One extra thought!

I noticed that even though the speakers were into humanities and worked with digital, they had no clue what Digital Humanities is. Well, I guess most of us don’t really know, but we should at least aim to make it more fashionable (like using italics). We have a mixture of undergrad (and cultural) backgrounds and different academic and professional aims – and that’s a huge advantage! We know different things, look at problems from different points of views and will have different solutions. That probably means we will have different definitions of what DH is because DH will be applied differently by each one of us. But there’s one common thread, somewhere, beyond JavaScript and XML.

I’d love to know your thoughts about this, so if you’d like to get together to talk about this over a coffee, get in touch!

Moving Forward Digital Art History – Report from a UCLDH Workshop

By Melissa M Terras, on 8 October 2015


People in UCL Art Museum

A day of lively discussion topped off with a visit to UCL Art Museum, so see some of UCL’s own art treasures.

In June 2015, UCLDH hosted an invitation only workshop titled “Moving Forward Digital Art History” at University College London. The aim of the workshop was to explore “digital art history” – a phrase that has become a shorthand reference to the potentially transformative effect that digital technologies hold for the discipline of art history. The latest tools and techniques allow researchers to handle large volumes of digitized images and texts, trace patterns and connections formerly hidden from view, recover the past in virtual environments, and bring the complex intricacies of works of art to light as never before, to name just a few opportunities. We aimed to discuss how art historians acquire the knowledge to explore these new possibilities, explore the state of digital art history in the UK, and identify potential professional development opportunities and strategies, such as summer institutes, to help the field move forward. We’ve had permission to summarise the findings and discussions of the workshop here, to share with the wider community.

The workshop was hosted by Melissa Terras (UCLDH) with assistance from Anne Helmreich (formerly of the Getty Foundation) and had attendees from the The National Gallery; CHArt (Computer and the History of Art), Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London; Courtauld Institute of Art, London; History of Art Department, University of Oxford; Slade School of Fine Art, UCL; Slade Archive Project, UCL; Department of History of Art, University of Cambridge; UCL Art Museum; The Tate; Department of History of Art, UCL; Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art; Oxford University Museums and Collections; UCL Department of Information Studies; and the Bodleian Library. This interesting mix of practicing art historians from different institutional contexts, those working with art collections, and those using digital methods in humanistic study, made for a lively debate.

The meeting first discussed the state of digital art history in these institutions – and what it meant to be using digital methods in this space, in those institutional contexts – covering a range of useful and related initiatives, such as the Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School; the London Charter for the Computer-based Visualisation of Cultural Heritage; the CHArt, Computers and the History of Art (est. 1985) conferences; the Paul Mellon Centre’s new online journal, British Art Studies, which will appear this autumn; the Slade Center for Electronic Media in Fine Art; research projects at the National Gallery which investigate digital documentation and data such as the Mellon-funded Raphael research project and IPERION CH, a large EU networking and joint research project that includes developing digital documentation and data; the National Gallery’s contribution to the Getty’s Provenance Index, British Sales, a major online database; developing a new project to make the archives and inventories of major country houses publicly accessible online; the 3D digital reconstruction of the Florentine church of Santa Chiara; and work by various institutions in the development of apps and online systems. The group also discussed persuasive projects that could help articulate the value of digital art history, such as the Cranach Digital Archive, Bosch Research and Conservation project, and Picturing the Netherlandish Canon (with the observation that while this project may seem out of date by today’s standards it was transformative for the scholars involved). Various project themes emerged, including the uniting of disparate collections and archives and facilitation of contributions to these resources; new forms of publishing; and the opening up of collections to make them available for new pathways of investigation and other forms of digital scholarly inquiry.

Is there an interest and appetite for Digital Art History?

The discussions articulated that scholars have a general interest in learning more about how digital resources and tools could advance their research, but don’t want it to come at the cost of displacing art history’s core concern with the original art object or supporting research resources such as paper archives. Art historians clearly see the benefit of using digital technologies to access collections and resource, and there is a sense of urgency regarding the younger generation who may be more prepared to use digital tools than senior colleagues who are not sufficiently trained to frame a useful/significant project.

What potential challenges or barriers are there for d\Digital Art History?

Various challenges were identified and discussed (summarized here briefly – the challenges are legion!) Image copyright issues create limitations on what scholars might be able to do with images in the online environment. Art historians may not know which tools already exist, such as III-F, and how they might use them. There was discussion on the role of computer scientists in joint projects: are art historians prepared to undertake such collaborative work and could this type of collaborative work support art historical research questions? There is a difficulty in finding art historians qualified to teach digital art history or review digital publications/projects; digital projects can be overlooked in state of the field reviews/reviews of earlier scholarship or standard bibliographies. The term digital may be off-putting to some listeners, and it might be preferable to refer to digital art history as “art history now,” or an integrated art history that brings together research inquiry with building digital resources and online publishing. There may be a perception and anxiety that the digital surrogate will replace the interest in the original object at the heart of art history. Concerns exist that resources will be diverted from supporting outstanding work related to existing research repositories, such as paper archives, that are not yet catalogued. The technological needs for digital projects may exceed what academic university departments can provide. The learning curve for mastering new technologies/systems/approaches may be perceived as too steep, particularly if outcomes are not assured. Art historians may not be able to conceive of research questions well suited to available data, and have difficulty in framing questions appropriate for that data. Because art historians don’t know where to start, don’t know what questions to ask, don’t know how to articulate their digital needs, they may not be taking advantage of already existing training opportunities and resources. Digital specialists tend to be grant-supported and migrate from project to project so that teams must be re-assembled and knowledge leaves institutions. Digital projects tend to be one-offs and not designed to be built upon; they also tend to be more expensive and harder to accomplish than “traditional” projects.

How can we move the use of digital methods in Art History forward?

Various potential solutions were mooted in a brain-storming session (it is acknowledged that some are simpler to provide than others!):

  • The community should address the increasing need for open access resource outlets, support current online publications (e.g. British Art Studies, Tate Papers, Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide) while also considering whether new homes for digital scholarship are needed;
  • To encourage more kinds of digital publications that go beyond print, it would be useful to have a sort of toolbox for art historians to demonstrate what is possible;
  • The stimulation and validation of digital scholarship can be accomplished by encouraging reviews of digital projects in the scholarly literature;
  • Digital Humanists should work collaboratively (museums and universities) with professional art history organizations;
  • If postdoctoral fellowships could be created in this area, they could be tied to digital projects such as online publications, creation of new digital resources/repositories, exhibitions;
  • Greater visibility could be brought to the work of scholars who have undertaken digital projects since they are typically powerful advocates for the transformative possibility of the digital and can also demonstrate how digital scholarship can be deeply motivated by the original object;
  • Identify “flag-bearers” willing to promote these approaches within Art History;
  • Undergraduate teaching is needed, whether a dedicated course or a module within a course, that could help students build digital literacy and incorporate these skills into art historical research inquiry;
  • Encourage leaders of digital projects to include fulsome accessible documentation to let others understand/learn how a project was developed and implemented;
  • Encourage digital resources, such as online image collections, to become more open; that is, to allow users broad search pathways so that they can find new patterns in the data or obtain large amounts of data. In short, recognize that content management systems and licensing can influence what researchers can find and use;
  • Support tools such as III-F that allow researchers to bring together images from different repositories and facilitate side by side comparison;
  • DH centers could function as brokers between computer scientists and art historians to foster the cross-pollination of ideas; could also help art historians frame new research questions using already digitized resources; bring in the resources of technologists and designers that can impact the long-term success of a project; and bring together art historians and technologists;
  • A survey of the field could identify which digital projects art historians are using, building upon, what do people like about these projects, why are they continuing to use them.
  • It is necessary, at all stages, to get academic leadership from within Art History, and Art Historical collections, involved and on board, to help establish digital methods as a bona fide approach in Art History.


This was a stimulating discussion, and as you can see we covered a lot of ground that day – although there is a lot ahead of us to be done! There is huge potential in opening up digital methods within the Art Historical context, and we hope (now we have been well met) to continue the discussion and to work together to tackle provision in this area. The day finished up with a visit to the recently refurbished UCL Art Museum – which brought us back to the things that matter most of all in our discussions on using digital methods in art history, the collections, the objects, the artists, and the art.

We’d like to thank UCL Art Museum for having us! Final thanks go to Anne Helmreich from the Getty Foundation who gave permission for her notes to be edited up and shared, and who helped shape the day, and thanks are also due to the workshop attendees for joining in such a helpful debate.