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Riding the Mail Rail 2018

SimonMahony1 November 2018

One of the nice things about having working partnerships with other institutions is that you get invited to their events. When the invitation is from the Postal Museum for a Mail Rail event you get to explore their underground museum, enjoy their hospitality but even more importantly, you get to ride on the underground Mail Train (now converted to take passengers rather than mail sacks).

Mail Rail at the Postal Museum

Mail Rail at the Postal Museum

These are the tunnels under London where the mail from the Mount Pleasant sorting office (in the background of the image) that was destined for London would be sorted and distributed by a network of underground tunnels.

Mail Rail sorting office

Mail Rail sorting office

With a colleague from UCLDH, we met with their CEO and researchers, enjoyed their hospitality, discussed possible collaborations while eagerly awaiting our turn on the train.

Travelling Post Office

Travelling Post Office

The network was, of course, built to carry mail sacks and so the carriages are necessarily small to fit in the narrow tunnels, so this no place for the claustrophobic.

Mail Rail mini-train

Mail Rail mini-train

We have had students at the Postal Museum for several years now and riding the mail train has always been identified in their reports and one of the highlights. And all just a short walk from UCL.

Shanghai Library Forum (SILF 2018)

SimonMahony1 November 2018

I was very pleased to be invited back to the Shanghai Library and this time to speak in the Digital Humanities strand of the 9th Shanghai International Library Forum (SILF 2018). The municipal library of Shanghai is the second largest public/research library in China (after the National Library in Beijing) and also houses the Shanghai Institute of Scientific and Technical Information.

Shanghai Library

Shanghai Library

The building is certainly impressive and a fitting venue for an extremely wide-ranging conference. I felt privileged to be included among the VIP foreign speakers.

9th Shanghai International Library Forum (SILF 2018)

9th Shanghai International Library Forum (SILF 2018)

The theme for the conference was ‘Library for All: Towards a Smarter and Inclusive Society’ with eight sub-themes including ‘smart age and smart libraries’, ‘the transformation and innovation of libraries in the age of the “internet+”‘, ‘design ideas in libraries’ and more. My session, ‘digital humanities and library services’ allowed me to talk about and highlight some of the important initiatives taking place in the West: Open Access, Open Publishing and Open Science.

 

Simon presenting at SILF 2018

Simon presenting at SILF 2018

And that context gave a welcome opportunity to once again showcase UCL Press with its strong stand on open and the recent celebration of 1 million downloads.

UCL Press 1 Million downloads

UCL Press 1 Million downloads

It was particularly pleasing to be able to be joined at the conference by two DIS students: Yamin Fu, who gave an excellent paper, taken from her PhD research, titled ‘Cognitive mapping in exploring library user experiences’, and a completing MSc Information Studies student, Yifan Wang. My thanks to them both for the photos of me above and for making sure that I didn’t get lost (too often).

As always, the hospitality was exemplary with a VIP welcome dinner plus a conference banquet featuring the many multi-talented library professionals demonstrating skills ranging from calligraphy, a traditional tea ceremony, modern and traditional dancing (not all at the same time).  The conference was rounded off with a visit to the original Shanghai Library in Yangpu, which has recently been opened to the public after considerable restoration. Do take a look at the images on the website link.

Simon with friends from SHL and PKU at Yangpu Library

Simon with friends from SHL and PKU at the Yangpu Library

The Digital Humanities research team at the Shanghai Library are involved in an impressive array of research projects with much of their output and many data sets freely and openly available.  They produced a document flyer for the conference: From Digital Library to Digital Humanities – The Practice of Shanghai Library and I include images of that here.

From Digital Library to Digital Humanities - The Practice of Shanghai Library

From Digital Library to Digital Humanities – The Practice of Shanghai Library (cover)

From Digital Library to Digital Humanities - The Practice of Shanghai Library (inside)

From Digital Library to Digital Humanities – The Practice of Shanghai Library (inside)

PKU Digital Humanities Forum 2018

SimonMahony28 July 2018

When we think about Digital Humanities from our base here at UCL, it is all too easy to think about the anglophone world and the predominance of Western Europe and North America, and particularly the UK, USA and Canada. So, it was good to see this year’s ADHO conference being held in Mexico City at UNAM (DH2018) as a move to a more global digital humanities. With its theme, “PUENTES/BRIDGES”, it was also pleasing to see to that the organisers had taken a multi-lingual approach with proposals, presentations and conference material in languages other than just English. This was the first ADHO conference in Latin America and the global south.

I was very pleased to be able to visit UNAM,  Isabel Galina Russell and the National Library last year and so I was not too disappointed in not being able to attend DH2018 – although I did miss networking and catching up with many DH friends and colleagues. Instead, two weeks earlier, I took the opportunity to move beyond the anglophone world myself and presented a paper at the main DH event in China, held for the third time at UCL’s strategic partner Peking University (PKU).

The official Forum audience photo

The official Forum audience photo

The 3rd Peking University Digital Humanities Forum had the theme: ‘Incubation and Application: How Digital Humanities Projects Cater to Academic Needs’. I had the full experience of what it must be like to attend an English speaking conference if you do not speak the language – everything was in Chinese with no translations. I was the only ‘foreigner’ (non-Chinese) at the Forum which also had several speakers from Taiwan and Chinese scholars based in the USA.

Although mine was the only non-Mandarin presentation, there were a surprising number of familiar words in many of the others (metadata, big data, linked data and several others, again pointing to the dominance of the English language in our field). My presentation was in collaboration with my Chinese PhD student, Jin Gao (who could not attend as she was presenting her work at DH2018), and benefited from her translations to enable bilingual (English and Mandarin) slides to aid the audience.

On the podium at the PKU DH Forum 2018

On the podium at the PKU DH Forum 2018

I was not alone and so all was well; there were many friends there and hosts from my earlier networking visits to Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and Nanjing – I was not short of company. In addition, the day before the Forum I had been invited to give a presentation to the DH group at Renmin (The People’s) University in the School of Information Resource Management, following their visit to UCL DIS last year.

Renmin University, School of Information Resource Management

The delegates from Renmin very kindly picked me up from my hotel and dropped me back after dinner – always worrying that this ‘foreigner’ might get lost. I explained that I was a seasoned traveler (and sailor) so there was no problem, except perhaps crossing the road! Renmin is not far from PKU and I had strategically picked a hotel midway on the road that linked the two. PKU is a large and sprawling campus and so I was very grateful for being so well looked after. For anyone wondering about visiting China, their hospitality is exceptional and they are very welcoming to foreign visitors.

There was, in addition, a DIS student from the Information Science programme at the Forum and a PhD candidate from King’s Department of Digital Humanities who between them, together with their phone camera translations of the slides, updated me with what was being said.

The visit to PKU was rounded off with a talk in the PKU Faculty of Social Sciences.

The prize winning poster from my talk

The prize winning poster from my talk at Renmin – now on my office wall

 

Speaking and being interrogated at Renmin

Speaking and being interrogated at Renmin

And, of course and as always, the Beijing visit was completed with a dinner in the warm company of former students.

Revival of Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage

SimonMahony9 July 2018

I was very pleased to be able to accept an invitation to speak at the 2018 World Historical & Cultural Cities Expo in Nanjing in May. The organisers (Traditionow – Xihan Action) have a strategic partnership with UNESCO to protect the World historical & cultural cities and their cultural heritage. Xian Action is an NGO working on the protection and promotion of intangible heritage, especially handcraft technique, knowledge and recreation.

2018 World Historical & Cultural Cities Expo

2018 World Historical & Cultural Cities Expo

There is a danger that in an industrialised and fast developing society that traditional crafts and skills will be lost. This two-day event, Forum of Dynamic Inheritance of Intangible Cultural Heritage, had presentations from academics, craft practitioners and entrepreneurs, all interested in cultural heritage and its preservation. I was able to draw on UCLDIS colleagues’ oral history research, emphasising the importance of talking to craft practitioners to protect the skill’s memory; I used the traditional craft of paper-cutting as a case study and specifically the unusual ‘black paper cutting’ from the Nangou Village where the older inhabitants live in caves decorated with their work.

Black paper cutting at Nangou Village

Black paper cutting at Nangou Village. Image copyright Kong Qiongpei (China Academy of Art) and used here with permission.

As part of the event, there was a really inspiring exhibition of traditional craft work, which also included modern interpretations of traditional design work.

Traditionow

Traditionow

This trip allowed another opportunity to enjoy the hospitality of Nanjing University and the Digital Humanities research group there. This included a guest lecture to staff and students in the Faculty of Arts and Cultural studies as well as meetings in their Institute of Advanced Studies of Social Science and Humanities to discuss possible future collaborations and further visits.

Poster for Nanjing University guest lecture

Poster for Nanjing University guest lecture

UCLDH Susan Hockey Lecture 2018

Lucy JStagg22 June 2018

Recently we had the pleasure of meeting Professor Carlo Meghini, who came to UCL on 30th May to give the fourth Susan Hockey Lecture in Digital Humanities.

The aim of this annual public lecture series is to celebrate and promote work in Digital Humanities: the application of computational techniques within the arts, humanities, culture and heritage.  Prof Meghini spoke on ‘What can be said, can be said clearly? The role of ontologies in the Digital Humanities’.

The lecture was well attended, with over 100 people registered, and attendees had plenty to discuss afterwards over a glass of wine.

The lecture was filmed and is now available to view on the UCLDH website.

Event poster (detail)

Event poster (detail)

Digital Humanities in Wuhan, Shanghai and Nanjing

SimonMahony8 May 2018

Within the UK academic calendar, it is probably the Easter break that affords the longest uninterrupted time for travel and this year I took the opportunity to complete my series of talks and research meetings enabled by the UCL Global Engagement fund.

Wuhan University

Wuhan University: School of Information Management

This began with a visit to the University of Wuhan (WHU) which is home to the first DH Centre established in China (2011). Professor Wang at the Department of Publishing Science hosted me for the visit which included a tour of the university and a guest lecture to staff, students and Faculty (details and poster at this link) followed by a lecture for their sophomore Publishing Science students on Designing for Online Publishing.

Wuhan University guest lecture

Wuhan University guest lecture

WHU has a huge sprawling campus adjacent to the East Lake which is built on and around a hill with a castle, which was the old library and is now the student union and student accommodation – lucky students, at the top.

Wuhan University Castle

Wuhan University Castle

Stopping off at Shanghai enabled me to visit friends and deliver two guest lectures at the China Academy of Art, Shanghai Institute of Design. I enjoyed their usual open hospitality and met with visiting professors and students from HFBK Hamburg who were setting up an exhibition of their work on design.

Design exhibition at CAA, SID

Design exhibition at CAA, SID

This trip also allowed me to accept an invitation, received at my January visit, from the Digital Humanities team at the Shanghai Library to deliver a guest lecture on UCLDH and our research here at UCL as part of their research seminar series.

Shanghai Library guest lecture

Shanghai Library guest lecture

The final stop on this tour was at the University of Nanjing (NJU) to give a guest lecture to faculty and graduate students. This was followed by discussions about teaching and research at their newly established (2017) DH Centre, which is located in their History Department with close links to NJU Computer Science. The visit was rounded off with an introduction to the dedicated DH GIS lab there and a demonstration of their keynote GIS (such as Six Dynasty Archeology) and 3D projects.

Nanjing University Library

Nanjing University Library

The support, gratefully received from UCL’s Global Engagement scheme, financed the flights which enabled these meetings, discussions and lectures to take place (as well as my earlier visit and workshop in January). The trip facilitated new connections and possibilities in the areas of teaching and research between UCLDH and DH Centres in China. In addition to this, the funding has enabled me to employ a current UCL DIS research student, as part of the UCL Connected Curriculum initiative, to translate and adapt the teaching materials used for the lectures and workshops; these will be released as bilingual (English and Chinese) OERs on the new UCL Open Educational Repository later this summer.

Digital Classicist, London Summer seminar series 2018 programme

SimonMahony4 May 2018

The Digital Classicist London 2018 seminar programme is now confirmed and published online. The seminar series this year addresses the tension between standardisation and customisation in digital and other innovative and collaborative classics research. The topic encompasses all areas of classics, including ancient history, archaeology and reception (including cultures beyond the Mediterranean). Seminars will be pitched at a level suitable for postgraduate students or interested colleagues in Archaeology, Classics, Digital Humanities and related fields.

Institute of Classical Studies

Fridays at 16:30 in room 234*, Senate House south block, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
(*except June 1 & 15, room G21A)

ALL WELCOME

Seminars will be screencast on the Digital Classicist London YouTube channel, for the benefit of those who are not able to make it in person.

Discuss the seminars on Twitter at #DigiClass.

Jun 1 Zena Kamash (Royal Holloway) Embracing customization in post-conflict reconstruction (abstract) (G21A)
Jun 8 Thibault Clérice (Sorbonne) et al. CapiTainS: challenges for the generalization and adoption of open source software (abstract)
*Jun 15 Rune Rattenborg (Durham) Further and Further Into the Woods: Lessons from the Crossroads of Cuneiform Studies, Landscape Archaeology, and Spatial Humanities Research (abstract) (G21A)
Jun 22 Joanna Ashe, Gabriel Bodard, Simona Stoyanova (ICS) Annotating the Wood Notebooks workshop (abstract)
Jun 29 Monica Berti, Franziska Naether (Leipzig) & Eleni Bozia (Florida) The Digital Rosetta Stone Project (abstract)
Jul 6 Emma Bridges (ICS) and Claire Millington (KCL) The Women in Classics Wikipedia Group (abstract)
Jul 13 Elizabeth Lewis (UCL), Katherine Shields (UCL) et al. Presentation and discussion of Sunoikisis Digital Classics student projects
Jul 20 Anshuman Pandey (Michigan) Tensions of Standardization and Variation in the Encoding of Ancient Scripts in Unicode (abstract)
Jul 27 Patrick J. Burns (NYU) Backoff Lemmatization for Ancient Greek with the Classical Language Toolkit (abstract)

‘Politeness at Work in the Clinton Email Corpus’, article published in Corpus Pragmatics

Lucy JStagg30 April 2018

Congratulations to UCLDH team member Dr Rachele De Felice who has had an article published in the journal Corpus Pragmatics, regarding her recent research with the Clinton Email Corpus.

The article’s full title is ‘Politeness at Work in the Clinton Email Corpus: A First Look at the Effects of Status and Gender’ and the abstract reads as follows:

This article introduces the Clinton Email Corpus, comprising 33,000 recently released email messages sent to and from Hillary Clinton during her tenure as United States Secretary of State, and presents the results of a first investigation into the effect of status and gender on politeness-related linguistic choices within the corpus, based on a sample of 500 emails. We describe the composition of the corpus and mention the technical challenges inherent in its creation, and then present the 500-email subset, in which all messages are categorized according to sender and recipient gender, position in the workplace hierarchy, and personal closeness to Clinton. The analysis looks at the most frequent bigrams in each of these subsets as a starting point for the identification of linguistic differences. We find that the main differences relate to the content and function of the messages rather than their
tone. Individuals lower in the hierarchy but not in Clinton’s inner circle are more often engaged in practical tasks, while members of the inner circle primarily discuss issues and use email to arrange in-person conversations. Clinton herself is generally found to engage neither in extensive politeness nor in overt displays of power. These findings present further evidence of how corpus linguistics can be used to advance our understanding of workplace pragmatics.

You can download and read the full article on Springer

Will Big Data kill the Census? Financial Times, 11 April 2018

Lucy JStagg16 April 2018

Dr Oliver Duke-Williams (UCLDH team member, and Senior Lecturer in Digital Information Studies in the Department of Information Studies at UCL) has been giving his thoughts on proposed changes to how the Census is collected and the impacts of this on the resulting dataset. His comments were published in a Financial Times article entitled ‘Will Big Data kill the Census?’, published on 11 April 2018:

Oliver Duke-Williams, senior lecturer in digital information studies at UCL, who works on Census data, is concerned in particular about the longitudinal study, which has followed 1 per cent of the UK population in each Census since 1971. “The strength of it is that every 10 years you can add more data to it, so it’s a very rich dataset. If we switched to an administrative data methodology, you would not have that continuity anymore.”

Read the full Financial Times article

Multimodal imaging of papyrus article in Heritage Science journal

Lucy JStagg23 March 2018

The team behind the UCLDH Research Project Deep Imaging Egyptian Mummy Cases is pleased to have an article published in the Springer Heritage Science Journal 2018 6:7.

The article is ‘An assessment of multimodal imaging of subsurface text in mummy cartonnage using surrogate papyrus phantoms’ and the abstract reads as follows:

Ancient Egyptian mummies were often covered with an outer casing, panels and masks made from cartonnage: a lightweight material made from linen, plaster, and recycled papyrus held together with adhesive. Egyptologists, papyrologists, and historians aim to recover and read extant text on the papyrus contained within cartonnage layers, but some methods, such as dissolving mummy casings, are destructive. The use of an advanced range of different imaging modalities was investigated to test the feasibility of non-destructive approaches applied to multi-layered papyrus found in ancient Egyptian mummy cartonnage. Eight different techniques were compared by imaging four synthetic phantoms designed to provide robust, well-understood, yet relevant sample standards using modern papyrus and replica inks. The techniques include optical (multispectral imaging with reflection and transillumination, and optical coherence tomography), X-ray (X-ray fluorescence imaging, X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, X-ray micro computed tomography and phase contrast X-ray) and terahertz-based approaches. Optical imaging techniques were able to detect inks on all four phantoms, but were unable to significantly penetrate papyrus. X-ray-based techniques were sensitive to iron-based inks with excellent penetration but were not able to detect carbon-based inks. However, using terahertz imaging, it was possible to detect carbon-based inks with good penetration but with less sensitivity to iron-based inks. The phantoms allowed reliable and repeatable tests to be made at multiple sites on three continents. The tests demonstrated that each imaging modality needs to be optimised for this particular application: it is, in general, not sufficient to repurpose an existing device without modification. Furthermore, it is likely that no single imaging technique will to be able to robustly detect and enable the reading of text within ancient Egyptian mummy cartonnage. However, by carefully selecting, optimising and combining techniques, text contained within these fragile and rare artefacts may eventually be open to non-destructive imaging, identification, and interpretation.

You can download and read the full article on Springer Open.