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UCL Centre for Digital Humanities



Archive for 2010

Transcribe Bentham makes the New York Times

SarahDavenport27 December 2010

UCLDH’s very own Transcribe Bentham project gets written up in the New York Times:

Starting this fall, the editors have leveraged, if not the wisdom of the crowd, then at least its fingers, inviting anyone — yes, that means you — to help transcribe some of the 40,000 unpublished manuscripts from University College’s collection that have been scanned and put online. In the roughly four months since this Wikipedia-style experiment began, 350 registered users have produced 435 transcripts.

These transcripts, which are reviewed and corrected by editors, will eventually be used for printed editions of the collected works of Bentham, whose preserved corpse, clothed and seated, has greeted visitors to the college since 1850.

Other initiatives have recruited volunteers online, but the Bentham Project is one of the first to try crowd-sourced transcription and to open up a traditionally rarefied scholarly endeavor to the general public, generating both excitement and questions.

Read the full article.

Claire Warwick on "culturomics"

RudolfAmmann17 December 2010

Claire Warwick gets quoted in The Guardian on a new project in which Harvard University and Google open millions of digitised books to quantitative analysis:

Claire Warwick, director of the Centre for Digital Humanities at University College London, said that humanities researchers had been using the word-frequency techniques being described by Michel and Aiden for several decades. But the sheer size of their dataset marked it out from the usual tools. “What’s different is that this allows people to not just look at several hundred thousand words or several million words but several million books. So the overview is much bigger. That may bring out some hitherto unexpected ideas.”

The database of 500bn words is thousands of times bigger than any existing research tool, with a sequence of letters that is 1,000 times longer than the human genome. The vast majority, around 72%, is in English with small amounts in French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Russian, and Hebrew.

“In science, huge datasets which people have used super-computing on have led to some fascinating new discoveries that otherwise wouldn’t be possible,” said Warwick. “Whether that’s going to be the same in the arts and humanities, I don’t know yet.”

The scanned books can now be mined for cultural trends with very little effort using Google’s Ngram Viewer:

“One of the ways to use this is to suggest ideas,” said Warwick. “You can look at something like this and say, how fascinating that a certain term seems to occur so commonly and I wonder why that should be.”

On 17 March, Claire will deliver a public Lunch Hour Lecture at UCL on Twitter and Digital Identity.

QRator Project

Claire SRoss16 December 2010

UCLDH has a new project, small, but hopefully perfectly formed.

We are working with UCL Museums and Collections and CASA on a project Called QRator.

With the help of UCL’s Public Engagement Unit Innovation Seed funding the QRator project is exploring how handheld mobile devices, QR codes and interactive digital labels can create new models for public engagement, personal meaning making and the construction of narrative opportunities inside museum spaces. The project aims to engage members of the public within the Grant Museum by allowing them to become the ‘Curators’.

The project aims to work with UCL museums to become a true forum for academic-public debate, using low cost, readily available technology, enabling the public to collaborate and discuss museum concepts and object interpretation with museum curators, academic researchers and each other.

The Grant Museum has some really brilliant specimens, a playful attitude and a refreshing outlook for pushing the boundaries of how museums should/could behave. The team behind CASA’s wicked Tales of Things project are providing the technical knowhow and the development and UCLDH is undertaking the user evaluation.

You can find out a bit more about the QRator project at the UCL Public Engagement site

CELM: Summary and reflections on London seminar #3

Claire L HWarwick6 December 2010

Despite the snow we had a remarkably good turnout for the third London Seminar in Digital Text and Scholarship, which proved thoroughly enjoyable. Thank you to everyone who got there! However, some of our usual attendees couldn’t make it but were sufficiently intrigued, when following the tweets, to want to find out more about what was said. As a result, Henry Woudhuysen has kindly agreed to produce a summary of his talk, including some thoughts on how CELM might develop in future. This may not be as good as being there, but I hope it’s the next best thing:

In 1966, Peter Beal, a graduate of the University of Leeds, started work on the Index of English Literary Manuscripts, 1450-1700 (IELM). The first volume of what was originally meant to be a one-year project appeared in 1980. Its two parts covered the years 1450 to 1625 and were followed, in 1987 and 1993, by a further volume in two parts taking the coverage up to 1700. For the first time, English Renaissance scholars had a full catalogue of the manuscripts – autograph and scribal – of the major authors of the period. The Index included writings in verse, prose, dramatic, and miscellaneous works, including letters, documents, books owned, presented, and annotated by the authors, and related items. In 23,000 entries, Peter Beal covered the works of 128 authors – of these two were women: his choice was determined by a decision to base the whole project (further volumes covered the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) around authors with entries in The Concise Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature (1974). Each author’s entry begins with a valuable introduction giving an overview of the surviving material.

The project initiated a series of investigations into what has come to be known as ‘scribal publication’, and this phenomenon in itself has contributed an important element to the study of the history of the book in Britain. Following the Catalogue’s publication, Peter Beal continued to collect material relating to the authors whose manuscripts he had already described, and by the early years of the new century he was ready to find a way of updating the Index. A proposal in 2004 to the Arts and Humanities Research Board (later Council) for a five-year project to create an enhanced digital version of the Index was successful, and the following year work began on The Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts, 1450-1700 (CELM). Since then, Peter Beal has continued his researches, assisted by John Lavagnino of King’s College London’s Centre for Computing in the Humanities, who has acted as the project’s technical advisor, while I have acted as its general overseer, along with a distinguished international advisory panel .

CELM will cover the work of around 200 authors (60 of them women) in some 40,000 entries. The author entries range in length from having no items (Emilia Lanier and Isabella Whitney) to having only one (Thomas Deloney and Sir Thomas Elyot), to having around 4,500 (John Donne). A conference relating to the project was held at King’s in the summer of 2009, when the database was shown to a number of scholars, and the Catalogue will be launched online as an open-access resource at a larger event in the summer of 2011.

Work on CELM began with keyboarding all the entries in IELM, turning the contents of the books into a database. In many ways, CELM is instantly recognisable as a digital version of IELM. However, whereas IELM was solely based around authors, CELM has a repository view as well as an author view – both are available in longer and shorter forms. The repository view allows the user to see what is available in some 500 locations from Aberdeen University Library to the Zentralbibliothek, Zürich, Switzerland, by way of numerous Private Owners and Untraced items. Even though the repository view only contains descriptions of items by CELM’s authors, it is a major step towards producing what is in effect a short-title catalogue of English manuscripts of the period.

Much thought has been given to the question of tagging material and to the possibilities of full-text searching. For example, it will be easy to find some specific literary genres, such as verse letters or epigrams by text searching, but other ‘hidden’ categories, such as women, scribes, compilers, owners, collectors, composers, dealers, bindings and binders will remain elusive unless tagged. The project has enormous scope for further development. It might, for example, supply links to library home pages and their catalogues and to related digital projects such as ODNB, Perdita, and the Electronic Enlightenment. Most importantly of all, there are several areas where CELM offers a valuable starting point for further research: for example, into paper and bindings, auction and booksellers’ catalogues, the history of scribal publication, literary genres, authorship, and collecting. One obvious development would be to link entries to images of the material that is being described, while in time it is hoped that full descriptions of each manuscript referred to can be created. There is scope for more work on as yet unvisited repositories, as well as for including more authors and literary types, especially anonymous works. Some thought has already been given to how to maintain the website and how to signal the addition of new material to users.

What began as a simple one-year survey of what was thought to be quite a limited field has grown, through Peter Beal’s extraordinary labours, into a vast digital project that will be essential to the work of all scholars of the period.

H.R. Woudhuysen

JOB: Research Assistant at MAA

SarahDavenport22 November 2010

The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge is looking for a Research Assistant with a salary ranging from £23,566 to £26,523 pa. Tenure ends on 31 January 2013:

The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology seeks an experienced museum professional to work on an EC project on access to digital collections.  The MAA is a contributing partner in the ECLAP project and is looking to appoint a Research Assistant to compile the MAA resources for the project, assist in the completion of deliverables relevant to the MAA role and contribute to the overall development of the project. The person appointed to this post will have a good background knowledge of digital museum collections access and outreach as well as a relevant museum qualification or corresponding experience. A degree in archaeology or related subject would be a strong advantage. Strong computer skills are essential. [World University Jobs]

There’s a detailed job description [PDF] available, and any queries can be sent to Wendy.Brown@maa.cam.ac.uk. The closing date is 15 December 2010.

English Literary Manuscripts: London Seminar #3

Claire L HWarwick17 November 2010

Professor Henry Woudhuysen, Dean of UCL Arts and Humanities and member of UCLDH executive will be giving a paper on the Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts project. This will be a strictly non-techie discussion of the project, so you don’t need to be a geek to be there. Henry will be discussing the prototype interface to the material and ways in which it might be useful for manuscript scholars and DH people, so we hope that there will be plenty of interesting discussion.

Please note change of date: this will now take place on Thursday 2 December at 5.30 in room 104 of the Institute of English Studies (Senate House) not December 9.

Remix Cinema Workshop: call for presentations & papers

SarahDavenport16 November 2010

— forwarded by Tim Davies,  Events and Administrative Officer from the Oxford Internet Institute —

The Remix Cinema workshop is organised by the Oxford Internet Institute, (University of Oxford, UK) in collaboration with UNIA Prácticas y Culturas Digitales (Universidad Internacional de Andalucía, ES), and is funded by the UK’s Art and Humanities Research Council’s (AHRC) Beyond Text programme.

Website: www.remixcinema.org

Abstracts deadline: January 7, 2011.


In August 2010, the remix movie Star Wars Uncut was the first user-generated production to win an Emmy Award. Other online platforms such as wreckamovie.com enable online communities to form for independent and open source filmmaking, harnessing distributed forms of collaborative co-creation rather than relying on traditional organisational structures. Cloud-based editing suites have begun appearing: Stroome.com was launched in April 2010 by USC Annenberg with the tag-line “mix it up. mash it out”. Digitalised photos, videos, and sound, easily accessible through popular websites, constitute a diverse online repository of content that is being used for artistic remix purposes. Recently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation won a court case giving exemptions from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) anticircumvention provisions to amateur remix video artists sharing their works on e.g. YouTube. VJ’s and live cinema artists (e.g. Dj Spooky, Eclectic Method or SOLU) have permeated multiple cultural settings, ranging from mainstream contexts of entertainment to museums and other spaces devoted to the institutionalisation of art practices.

The examples outlined are just a few fitting under the umbrella term of “Remix Cinema”, and point to ways in which networked devices and resources are facilitating new artistic audiovisual practices and cultures. The concept of ‘remix’ describes a broad set of social and cultural practices centered around the fragmentation and re-ordering of already existing and new content, whether text, sound or images. This 2-day multi-disciplinary workshop focuses on these diverse creative practices, particularly in the context of the contemporary socio-technical media environment. It brings together people interested in understanding and shaping remix cinema: doctoral students, established scholars, practicing artists, and anyone else interested in addressing themes related to questions including:

  • How is the contemporary media-scape influencing artistic audio-visual creation?
  • What can we learn from the changing practices in remix cinema?
  • How are new models of economic support (e.g. crowdfunding) changing productions of cultural objects?
  • What methodological and theoretical challenges arise in empirical studies on remix cinema, and how do we overcome these?

Call for presentations & papers

The workshop committee welcomes proposals on any social, critical, cultural, aesthetic, political, technical, economic or legal aspects of remix cinema practices, cultures and works. We particularly welcome contributions that report on empirical studies and adopt innovative methodological approaches. Each presentation should last for a maximum of 15 minutes. Participants may present finished studies or works-in-progress, as the workshop also serves as a forum for gaining valuable feedback and exchanging ideas. All proposals will be peer reviewed by at least two members of the workshop’s academic committee (Oxford Internet Institute faculty).

Presenters are invited to submit full papers which will be eligible for review and possible inclusion in a subsequent ISBN publication on remix cinema.

London Digital Humanities Group – next meeting

SarahDavenport15 November 2010

— posted on behalf of Dr Simon Dixon, Queen Mary UL —

The next meeting of the London Digital Humanities Group will take place at Dr Williams’s Library, 14 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0AR on Tuesday 7 December at 5pm.

Religious History and the Digital Humanities – Innovative Approaches

The meeting will showcase two innovative projects that are making use of digital humanities methodologies to make significant advances in the field of religious history. The speakers, all from Queen Mary, University of London, will be Caroline Bowden, Katharine Keats-Rohan, and James Kelly (Who Were the Nuns?), and Rosemary Dixon and Kyle Roberts (Dissenting Academies Libraries and their Readers, 1720-1860).

For more information contact s.dixon@qmul.ac.uk

DDH London #9

Claire SRoss4 November 2010

Due to the Jeremy Bentham pub becoming too noisy during previous meet ups, we have changed location to the Wheatsheaf and also have had to ammend the date slightly.  DDH is now on Monday 29th November.

Hopefully the Wheatdheaf will prove to be a good location for our Meet ups, lets find out on the 29th!

Topic: Second Life in Higher Education
Date: Monday, 29th November 2010
Time: 5.30pm – 7.30pm
Location: The Wheatsheaf, 25 Rathbone Place, London W1T 1JB (map)

Reading: Warburton, S. 2009. Second Life in higher education: Assessing the potential for and the barriers to deploying virtual worlds in learning and teaching

Hope to see you there!

Digital Excursion: Growing Knowledge at the British Library

Claire SRoss26 October 2010

Last night saw UCLDH’s first digital excursion of the new term.  We had an afterhours look at the “Growing Knowledge: The evolution of research” exhibition at the British Library.

The exhibition aims to demonstrate the vision for future digital research services at the British Library.  Digital research tools are changing the possibilities of research, extending the boundaries and providing new dynamic ways of interacting with information, yet this poses some challenging questions: How will increasing and complex amounts of data be managed and visualised in the future?  What does this mean for libraries– formerly the ‘gatekeepers’ of research information? Critically, are researchers taking full advantage of the technologies now available for research purposes?  These are important research questions which are the basis of our work at UCLDH.

We had a guided tour of some of the features, and then were able to play with research stations and try out innovative and cutting edge tools and technologies designed to enhance research.

Some highlights included:

  • The Sony RayModeler a 360 autostereoscopic display showing a selection of uses gesture controls, and the display is motion sensitive, so just by holding your hand near the device or by moving around the exhibit, you can control the movement of the image, spinning it left or right to get a better look.
  • A Microsoft Surface Table containing a digital version of the world’s longest painting, the 19th century Garibaldi Panorama.  4½ feet (1.4 metres) high, painted on both sides and 273 feet (83 metres) long, as you can imagine the painting poses huge challenges for viewing and research in its physical form. Using the virtual version, researchers are able to gather around the surface table, scroll the entire panorama and expand, extract and zoom in on detail.
  • The Tweet-O-Meter, designed by our colleagues over at CASA.  The Tweet-O-Meter displays real-time tweeting levels in 9 major cities of the world. It measures the amount of tweets from various locations across the world, updating them every second to give a real time view of Tweets per Minute for each location.
  • An animated video wall with interviews with leading experts in the field of digital research.

A major component of the Growing Knowledge exhibition will be evaluating the tools and services on display. Our colleague Pete, part of the Ciber Research Group, will be asking visitors to leave their feedback either at the exhibition or online to voice their views and indicate their interest in future discussions. The Library will also hold discussion groups to explore some of the issues in more depth, for example: How do physical spaces support digital research? Do any of the tools the Library is showcasing help with some of the research problems they encounter? If you would like to be involved in this let us know!