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Prof. Melissa Terras leaves UCL

Lucy JStagg11 September 2017

Our wonderful Director, Prof. Melissa Terras, is leaving UCL in October 2017 to take up a new position as Chair of Digital Cultural Heritage at the new Edinburgh Futures InstituteUniversity of Edinburgh.


Professor Melissa Terras

Melissa joined UCL in 2003; she was Deputy Director at UCLDH’s founding in 2010, and has been Director since May 2013. In that time UCLDH has become one of the most visible and leading centres in its field in the UK, according to the Times Higher and the National Library of France. [1] [2]

In her time at UCLDH she’s been part of many projects (including QRatorTranscribe BenthamThe Great Parchment Book and Textal), served as General Editor for Digital Humanities Quarterly, published a ton of stuff and served as Secretary for the European Association for Digital Humanities until 2013. She gave her inaugural lecture, ‘A Decade in Digital Humanities’ in May 2014.

Her passion for research, towards the work that we do in the department, and in academia overall, is contagious. If I were to sum Melissa up in four words, it would be something like this: Profound. Dedicated. Empowering. Dynamic. I couldn’t have asked for a better supervisor.” Kinda Dahlan, PhD. student

For me, Mel is the embodiment of Digital Humanities: a vibrant mix of creativity and technical expertise. It has been hugely refreshing to have a strong, loud and proud female academic role model.  UCLDH, and UCL, will not be the same without her.” Dr Claire Bailey-Ross, former supervisee

Melissa’s deep understanding of Digital Humanities, being a pioneer of this field herself, and her invaluable insight greatly benefitted, not only my PhD. studies, but also myself as an academic and a professional” Foteini Valeonti, Founder of USEUM and supervisee

Anyone who knows Melissa and would like to attend her leaving event on 10th October please email lucy.stagg@ucl.ac.uk and we will send the details on to you.

[1] “leading departments at University College London” (Times Higher Education: 2015)
[2] “Les plus visibles appartiennent au monde anglo-saxon : à Londres avec UCL” (Bulletin des Bibliotheques de France: 2012)

Visit to the IBM IT Heritage Museum at Hursley

SimonMahony10 July 2017

Following an invitation at our last Industry Advisory Panel meeting, some of the UCLDH Management Team had an away-day to visit the IBM IT Heritage Museum and archive at the IBM research and development centre at Hursley.

IBM Hursley

IBM Hursley

We were given an amazing tour of the IBM Museum with many working models of old equipment, lovingly restored to working order through the efforts of the volunteers.

Punch Card and Keypad

Punch Card and Keypad

Exhibits were not limited to mechanical machines but also included early networked and stand-alone PCs, and portables with many being brought back to life. Hardware, logic chips, software and the all-important, and often overlooked middleware, that are so central to all online transactions are represented there too.

Museum exhibits

Museum exhibits

There is also the archive which consists of photographs (prints and slide transparencies), software and manuals, as well as books and an assortment of ephemera. Documents of all sorts, including schematic diagrams of circuitry are there.

Hursley library archive

Hursley library archive

Anything and everything ‘badged’ as IBM has a place in the various collections, including merchandising and publicity material. An interesting exhibit was the service engineer’s workplace with tools and spare parts.

Service engineer's workspace

Service engineer’s workspace

The day was concluded with a round table discussion, bringing in other colleagues and industry partners online, looking at possible ways to collaborate and progress things to the advantage of us all.

Shanghai and Hangzhou

SimonMahony3 June 2017

I was pleased to be welcomed back to the Shanghai Institute of Design in April as a follow up to the workshop I ran their earlier this year. It was fortunate that the dates coincided with the UCL Provost’s visit to Shanghai and I was able to join a drinks reception and to meet up with many former UCL students.

Drinks reception in Shanghai

Drinks reception in Shanghai

The students at the Shanghai Institute are always welcoming and I took the opportunity to help out in a couple of their language classes.

Simon's class at Shanghai Institute of Design

Simon’s class at Shanghai Institute of Design

The President of the Shanghai Institute arranged for me to visit colleagues of his at Hangzhou Normal University and have talks about Digital Humanities in particular and UCL more generally. Hangzhou is a major Chinese city and capital of the Zhejiang Province in East China. The city hosted the 2016 G20 summit and is also famous for the West Lake and vast unspoiled park and wetlands. Hangzhou Normal is situated beyond the parkland to the West of Hangzhou in the e-commerce area dominated by Alibaba, the online retail giant.

Hangzhou Normal University

Hangzhou Normal University

My visit was to the Cultural and Creative College and coincided with the opening day of their Graduation Exhibition of students’ work.

Exhibition of Students' work

Exhibition of Students’ work

Of particular particular interest was the work of the students on the Digital Medial Programme.

Exhibition of digital media

Exhibition of digital media

What was particularly fascinating, and especially as coming from a city campus such as UCL, was our tour of the University with its expansive campus with open spaces and ornamental gardens connected by a series of stone bridges over their own river meandering around the buildings.

Hangzhou Normal Campur

Hangzhou Normal Campus

The designers had build in tranquil spaces and given much attention to detail and landscaping, making the university a place of beauty as well as learning. I’ve been invited to give a guest lecture in their Digital Publishing series and look forward to futher visits.

Digital Classsicist London 2017 seminar programme

SimonMahony23 May 2017

Digital Classicist seminar logo

The Digital Classicist London 2017 seminar programme is now confirmed. Looking at the titles and abstracts, you will see that these are all Digital Humanities topics with many from international speakers and their relevance is not limited to the study of the ancient world. The full programme with abstracts is online on the DC website and listed below. The programme poster is available for download. No registration is needed.

Digital Classicist London 2017 Institute of Classical Studies

Fridays at 16:30
Room 234*, Senate House south block, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
(*except June 16 & 23, room G34)


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.

Jun 2    Sarah Middle (Open University), ‘Linked Data and Ancient World Research: studying past projects from a user perspective’.
Jun 9    Donald Sturgeon (Harvard University), ‘Crowdsourcing a digital library of pre-modern Chinese’.
Jun 16*    Valeria Vitale et al. (Institute of Classical Studies), ‘Recogito 2: linked data without the pointy brackets’.
Jun 23*    Dimitar Iliev et al. (University of Sofia “St. Kliment Ohridski”), ‘Historical GIS of South-Eastern Europe’.
Jun 30    Lucia Vannini (Institute of Classical Studies), ‘The role of Digital Humanities in Papyrology: Practices and user needs in papyrological research’. Paula Granados García (Open University), ‘Cultural Contact in Early Roman Spain through Linked Open Data resources’.
Jul 7    Elisa Nury (King’s College London), ‘Collation Visualization: Helping Users to Explore Collated Manuscripts’.
Jul 14    Sarah Ketchley (University of Washington), ‘Re-Imagining Nineteenth Century Nile Travel and Excavation for a Digital Age: The Emma B. Andrews Diary Project’.
Jul 21    Dorothea Reule & Pietro Liuzzo (University of Hamburg), ‘Issues in the development of digital projects based on user requirements. The case of Beta maṣāḥǝft’.
Jul 28    Rada Varga (Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca), ‘Romans 1by1: Transferring information from ancient people to modern users’.

Full programme and the abstracts are online at:

Digital Classicist London seminar is organized by Gabriel Bodard, Simona Stoyanova and Valeria Vitale (ICS) and Simon Mahony and Eleanor Robson (UCL).

Visit to UNAM, Ciudad de México

SimonMahony21 May 2017

I was very pleased to be invited by the British Council to an event following on from the one I attended in Guadalajara in November 2015.This time it was to Mexico City as part of the British Council Education Dialogues series; this one day event was held at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, (UNAM ) and titled, ‘Skills for Research: identifying and developing best practice in development for doctoral students’.

Colonial art at UNAM

Colonial art at UNAM

This was also to promote the publication of the Skills For Research document put together by the British Council and Oxford Brooks University. I gave two presentations, one in each session: ‘Perspectives on doctoral student development: sharing experiences from UCL’ and ‘Research communities in the UK, best practices and challenges’.

Presenting at the British Council event

Presenting at the British Council event

This trip to Mexico City also gave a welcome opportunity to meet up with DIS alumna and honorary lecturer Isabel Galina Russell for a tour of UNAM and the National Library where she works as a researcher.

The National Library of Mexico

The National Library of Mexico

Mexican hospitality is always warm and generous and my visit was finished off with a trip around Mexico City and its famous monuments and Castle. As UNAM will be hosting the Digital Humanities Conference DH2018, El Colegio de México and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in alliance with the Red de Humanidades Digitales (RedHD), my orientation is now done.


Oceanic Exchanges: Tracing Global Information Networks in Historical Newspaper Repositories

Lucy JStagg31 March 2017

We’re delighted to announce UCLDH staff Ulrich Tiedau (PI) and Melissa Terras (Co-I) have just received confirmation their Oceanic Exchanges project is one of 14 award winners in Round Four of the T-AP Digging into Data Challenge:

Each of the fourteen winning teams is composed of researchers from multiple scholarly and scientific disciplines, working collaboratively to demonstrate how cutting-edge big data techniques can be used to investigate a wide range of research questions across the humanities and social sciences. Since its inception in 2009, the Digging into Data Challenge program has helped to spark exciting new research avenues for the humanities and social sciences utilizing computational techniques.

The Oceanic Exchanges project will look at patterns and connections in information flow in newspapers during the 19th century.

Digital Publishing workshop at the Shanghai Institute of Design

SimonMahony24 January 2017

I was back in Shanghai again at the close of 2016 to follow up my earlier guest lecture at the Shanghai Institute of Design with a week long workshop. They have a Master’s level programme on Digital Publishing in the Department of Digital Publishing and Exhibition Design but with little Faculty expertise on the web or Internet. After discussion with the Institute’s President and the Programme Convenor we decided on the title, ‘Getting over the Great Wall’, where I would cover the history and development of the Internet, cultural influences on design, publishing online, accessibility and usability design, and information design (it is the Institute of Design). This would be finished off with student presentations of their projects: to design a digital product (for the web or mobile device) that in some way brought together aspects of cultural difference. The cultural differences could be within China itself as none of the students had traveled outside China. The first task was to ban Flash and Dreamweaver and explain why this was the case!

This workshop, of course, also afforded the opportunity to showcase UCL.

Introducing UCL at the start of the workshop

Introducing UCL at the start of the workshop with greetings on the chalk board.

Interestingly, I’m the only one not wearing a coat here and that only happened on the first day. Not only is there no internet connection or wifi in the teaching rooms (something we take for granted) but there is no heating either – only fans (look carefully at the photos below) to keep cool in the summer; apparently south of the Yellow River building regulations permit buildings with no heating.

Students in the teaching room

Students in the teaching room – note the coats, hats and scarves.

A workstation and projector is set up in each room but my outstanding TA had to improvise as the remote control was missing (sounds familiar!). Much of my teaching material had been kindly translated by current UCLDH students but I still needed an interpreter/translator. Everything was presented in English and Chinese as they are all learning English too.

Analogue remote control in the hands of my TA

Analogue remote control in the hands of my outstanding TA & translator (Qiongpei Kong – UCL IoA alumna)

They felt sorry for me when the temperature dropped further and moved my class to the executive lecture room which has heating. The heater, however, only pointed at the lecture station and it was not possible to move it to warm the students who still needed their coats and scarves. Interestingly, no one sat in the front row (clearly a Chinese tradition too).

The executive lecture room

The executive lecture room – with heating but only for the lecturer.

As well as lectures, we had a series of group tutorials where we discussed the student projects while wearing many layers of clothing. As a Design Institute, they have very talented artists among the students. The images shown here were ideas for new style masks for the Peking Opera to encourage a younger audience. Interesting and considering how central it is to Chinese culture, only two projects featured food; others were concerned with opera, architecture, local dialects and one with traditional Chinese designs being used on sneakers.

Student tutorials

Student tutorials – here featuring a new design for Opera masks.

On the final day of the workshop, the students presented their work. Without exception, it was all visually stunning (it is the foremost Institute of Design with high academic standards) and very impressive as they only had a short time to decide on and design their projects. Overall, what they managed with only a couple of days for preparation was really outstanding.

Giving feedback at the presentations

Giving feedback at the presentations

By the end of the week, the students were relaxed and comfortable, no longer shy. Those that spoke some English took pride in talking to me and forgave my extremely limited Mandarin.

I wrapped things up with a roundup and general remarks on their work as well as some thoughts on the value of education, cultural exchange and what we can learn from each other.

Wrapping up the presentations

Wrapping up the presentations with my translator close at hand.


We had to schedule another half-hour at the end of the workshop for the mandatory photo session which starts with several group ones and finishes with individual and group ‘selfies’! These get shared across the Chinese social media platforms, particularly WeChat which is ubiquitous there.

Group photo

Group photo as the finale of the workshop

I need to add a few words about what I gained from this experience. Once again I enjoyed the warmth and hospitality of the Institute and particularly of the President, Professor Wu, who had invited me and who insisted on cooking (superbly and with great pride) almost every evening of my stay. But it goes further, I needed to research the history and legislation of the Internet in China, how it operates under the government’s control, legislation about Copyright and Intellectual Property and how these fit it in with the wider world. This was all new to me and will be fed into my own teaching about cultural and global differences. Above all, I learned more from the students about their culture, about their hopes and aspirations, about our similarities as well as our differences. The students were attentive and enthusiastic and I very much look forward to future visits.

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

SimonMahony21 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


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

Melissa MTerras9 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!

Moving Forward Digital Art History – Report from a UCLDH Workshop

Melissa MTerras8 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.