By Lucy Stagg, on 25 September 2020
UCLDH welcomes Dr Julianne Nyhan as new Director, and asks her a few questions about herself and her hopes and aims for the Centre.
Congratulations on your appointment! Please tell us about yourself?
I joined UCL 10 years ago, having previously worked as a Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin in Digital Humanities, in Universität Trier, Germany; before that I worked in the European Science Foundation, Strasbourg, France, where I moved after completing my PhD in University College Cork, Ireland. My PhD is in history and digital humanities and focused on the application of XML to the historical lexicography of Old, Middle and early-Modern Irish.
I am fascinated by everything to do with Digital Humanities, the History of Computing and Digital Cultural Heritage. In recent years, much of my research has focused on the history of Digital Humanities, and the social, cultural, intellectual and technical processes that have shaped the field that is at the forefront of conceptualising and analysing Humanities sources as data. I’m especially interested in how oral history can allow us to uncover previously overlooked contributions to the history of Digital Humanities. The book I’ve recently completed will be published by Routledge in 2021 and it looks at the devalued, feminized labour that was contributed to the Index Thomisticus project, a seminal project in the history of Digital Humanities and Humanities Computing. The book investigates how gender, and its collocations with technology, and the analogue labour history of concordance making in the humanities, were implicated, in ways that have previously been overlooked, in the hierarchies of labour and esteem that have shaped knowledge production in the field now known as Digital Humanities.
What is the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, and why did you wish to become its Director?
Founded in 2010, UCLDH is an incubator that supports and facilitates wide-ranging technological engagement across the Arts, Humanities and Cultural Heritage. As a few trans-faculty research centre it reports both to the Humanities and Computer Science. UCLDH is also a vibrant showcase for the wealth of research activities that are undertaken in the field of Digital Humanities. Our recent collaborations include UCLDH’s Leverhulme-funded collaboration with the British Museum ‘Enlightenment Architectures: Sir Hans Sloane’s catalogue of his collections’; the transnational, multipartner Digging into Data challenge Oceanic Exchanges: Tracing Global Information Networks in Historical Newspaper Repositories, 1840-1914 and our contributions to the National Endowment for the Humanities-funded ‘Reconstructing the first Humanities Computing Centre’, which has created in an immersive “walkthrough“, 3D model of the first Humanities Computing Centre built in the Unity Game Engine, produced by Steve Jones, Howard Kaplan, Spenser Mason, and others at University of South Florida’s Advanced Visualization Center. In pursuing our activities, UCLDH brings together a vibrant network of people who teach and research in a wide range of disciplines. UCLDH is also proud to cultivate close working relationships across the university and beyond, with international institutions, culture and heritage sectors and industry partners. For all these reasons, the prospect of becoming UCLDH’s Director was an enticing one.
What are your specific priorities as Director?
My priorities are for UCLDH to be a place to critically and creatively explore what Digital Humanities was, is and can become.
We will continue to engage in cutting-edge research on the application of computing technologies to the Humanities and Cultural Heritage. We will also expand this frame of reference, by exploring how UCLDH can act as a conduit for connecting Digital Humanities expertise with emerging, data-intensive fields like Data Science, whose work raises fundamental epistemological, hermeneutic and ethical questions that require the input of the Humanities. Questions raised by the work of fields like Data Science include, for example, how can we develop digital algorithms that acknowledge the subjectivities of data collection? How can we develop digital algorithms that do not replicate existing mechanisms of exclusion or create new forms of bias? Recently, we collaborated with a number of colleagues on a report that speaks to this, led by the Turing Institute: The challenges and prospects of the intersection of humanities and data science: A white paper from The Alan Turing Institute. Not so long ago, we also organized a successful Symposium on Data Science and Digital Cultural Heritage. We hope to continue to develop our expertise in this area.
We will also foreground questions of inclusion, diversity, the politics of knowledge production and critique the systems of power that shape the digital tools and collections that the digital humanities make and uses. At the moment, some of the most important and exciting ongoing work in the Digital Humanities is exploring these issues, in specializations like Feminist Digital Humanities; Postcolonial Digital Humanities; Black Digital Humanities and Global Digital Humanities. We hope to foreground and contribute to this crucial work through our Centre and its activities. For example, our new lecturer, Dr Adam Crymble, has been working with a number of partners in Latin America to build cross-cultural understanding of how digital humanities needs differ around the world and what the implications of that are for the promise of digital technology in the Global South. That research is already showing the importance of both the technical and the humanities side of the equation, to come up with relevant human solutions to technological problems.
Also, given my particular area of research expertise, I also hope to build a wider network of international collaborators interested in interdisciplinary approaches to the history of the (digital) humanities, oral history and digital history more widely. We have started planning a research symposium that will further this; we would welcome hearing from potential collaborators working in any of these areas
Becoming the Director of UCLDH will no doubt make your next few months tremendously exciting – and busy! How do you relax when you’re not working?
I spend as much time as I possibly can out on the Atlantic in my kayak. I usually go back home to Ireland in August to go kayaking, and spend most of the year looking forward to this time. I’ve recently taken up running to improve my fitness for some of the more ambitious sea kayaking adventures I’m planning for next year. The only thing I enjoy more than kayaking is spending time with my children, partner, family and friends.
By Simon Mahony, on 29 May 2020
We are delighted to announce that Dr Adam Crymble will be joining us in July 2020. Adam will be the new Lecturer in Digital Humanities, and part of our programme team, here in the Department of Information Studies.
Adam has a background as a digital historian and digital humanist and will make a great addition to our team.
Welcome to UCL, to DIS, and to UCLDH.
By Julianne Nyhan, on 6 March 2020
UCLDH deputy director Julianne Nyhan and UCLDH team member Tessa Hauswedell organised a workshop on the 26th/27th June 2019 on the topic of Data Science and Digital Cultural Heritage with generous funding from the UCL Grand Challenges Dynamics of Globalisation Initiative, the Centre for Critical Heritage Studies (CCHS) and UCLDH. The workshop was entitled: “Data Science and Digital Cultural Heritage Workshop: facilitating new connections between the disciplines and professions that can transform the Global Data Context”. It sought to facilitate new connections between academic disciplines and professions in order to develop a critical dialogue about the social and political implications of using the massive digital cultural heritage datasets that we increasingly rely on.
Nanna Bonde Thylstrup from the Copenhagen Business School opened the workshop with her public keynote address, entitled “Feminist Digital Humanities and the Infrapolitics of Mass Digitization”. Dr Thylstrup discussed how digital infrastructures are not neutral, inanimate objects in themselves: rather they operate as sites of power, privilege, and erasure but potentially also of contestation and critical intervention.
The ensuing workshop assembled a group of curators, archivists, information professionals from the public and private sector, together with humanities and computer science researchers, to push forward the state of the art of ‘critical data science’ in a way that foregrounds questions of culture, power and knowledge. It also sought to lay the foundations for an ongoing dialogue about this across the respective disciplines and professions. In the first of three panels, the workshop discussed recent or ongoing projects which are working with digital cultural heritage datasets such as the Scottish National Heritage Partnership, Living with Machines and the Ancient Identities project, to establish how they approach issues of bias and prejudice in the datasets they are working with and how they actively seek to mitigate these biases.
The second panel was dedicated to the question of data science and cultural heritage training: to what extent do critical perspectives feature in training and which skillsets does the next generation of archivists, humanists and curators and information professionals need to have in order to build, curate and maintain the future datasets? How do archivists and digital content providers need to rethink their archival practices in the digital age and what kind of formal training should be available to humanities researchers who want to work with big data repositories?
The final panel addressed the most pressing challenges in the field of data science and cultural heritage and debated what type of research development is needed in the medium to long term. Panellists addressed the lack of critical perspectives in developing fields such as AI, the lack of control over data and the lack of an ethical framework of how we store and keep data as persistent and ongoing challenges. Moreover, the privileging of infrastructure innovation and disruption creates a field in which questions of infrastructure maintenance, which are absolutely essential to the accessibility and retrievability of data, remains undervalued. The constant threat of technological obsolescence, therefore, will continue to create problems, which the field of critical data science is only slowly beginning to grapple with.
This workshop has aimed to mark the beginning of a multidisciplinary and trans-professional dialogue on the future of data science and digital cultural heritage. The aim was to identify the unique expertise that each profession can bring to the building of a ‘critical data science’ and UCLDH will continue to contribute to the development of this field through its research activities and future networking events.
Further to this, both Julianne Nyhan and Andreas Vlachidis, among other UCLDH colleagues, participate in the Turing Institute’s Humanities and Data Science group. Nyhan and Vlachidis and are contributing to a multi-autored report on the future of the Humanities and Data Science that will be out soon. An update about this will follow in due course.
By Lucy Stagg, on 6 March 2020
4 May 2020, UCL Institute for Advanced Studies.
Proposals due: March 27th 2020
Humanists are increasingly looking to open, digital methods as an integral part of their scholarship’s dissemination and engagement. Rooted in digital humanities, open source software, the OA movement, new media, book history, and many other areas, open digital scholarship is celebrated for its potential to strengthen academic and academic-aligned collaboration among many communities, both within and beyond those that are a part of the conventional university system and traditional publication methods. As Martin Paul Eve writes: “Indeed, if [humanities] disciplines are historically situated within the tradition of liberal humanism, in which the humanities help to create an informed and critical populace, then should not the amplification of scholarship go beyond those circles? Could such a broader base […] help to cement the public reputation of the academic humanities?” (Open Access and the Humanities ). Kathleen Fitzpatrick echoes: “If we hope to engage the public with our work, we need to ensure that it is open in the broadest possible sense” (Generous Thinking ). These sentiments are given life via practices such as crowdsourcing, which, as Mia Ridge notes, act “as a form of engagement with the collections and research of memory institutions” and “[benefit] both audiences and institutions” (Crowdsourcing Our Cultural Heritage ).
Open Digital Scholarship in the Humanities draws together those who are involved in the creation, dissemination, management, and archiving of open digital scholarship. We are pleased to announce that Martin Paul Eve (Birkbeck College, University of London) and Mia Ridge (British Library) are featured speakers for the event, and that Claire Warwick (Durham University) will act as respondent. This action-oriented event is geared toward leaders and learners from all fields and arenas, including academic and non-academic researchers, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, librarians and archivists, publishers, members of scholarly and professional associations and consortia, open source practitioners and developers, industry liaisons, community groups, and other stakeholders.
We invite proposals for short presentations, talks, and relevant project demonstrations to the end of raising awareness, provoking conversation, and mobilising collaboration in and around open digital scholarship. Proposals should contain a title, an abstract (of approximately 250 words, plus list of works cited), and the names and affiliations, of presenters. Please send proposals on or before March 27th 2020 via http://bit.ly/OpenHUMS
Broader areas to consider may include the following: How can open digital scholarship in the humanities be transformative and world-leading? Should it be? Building out from this question, specific areas of focus for Open Digital Scholarship in the Humanities include community building, collaboration, and mobilization, as well as shared initiatives, activities, and partnership in regard to digital scholarly production, social knowledge creation, (open) access, and knowledge dissemination. This event asks,“What are the best examples of current open digital scholarship projects and practices in the United Kingdom, and beyond? How do we connect with various publics over open, digital scholarship? How do we build productive feedback loops?” There will be a thematic emphasis on modes and methods, including in academic publ ishing practices, infrastructure, and research data management. Moreover, we encourage discussion on how open digital scholarship differs field-to-field and across community and geographic boundaries, as well as how it can be leveraged internationally and where the stumbling blocks are for doing so.
Open Digital Scholarship in the Humanities is supported by Loughborough University and the Leverhulme Trust, the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, the University of London School of Advanced Study, and the Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE) Partnership. This gathering is related to previous partnered events with the INKE Partnership in Canada and the Canadian-Australian Partnership for Open Scholarship (CAPOS) in Australia. Open Digital Scholarship in the Humanities is organized by Ray Siemens (University of Victoria), Alyssa Arbuckle (University of Victoria), Lise Jaillant (Loughborough University), Simon Mahony (University College London), and Jane Winters (School of Advanced Study).
Please consider joining us in London for what is sure to be a dynamic discussion!
By Lucy Stagg, on 14 February 2020
The Renaissance Society of America’s Digital Innovation Award recognises excellence in digital projects that support the study of the Renaissance. This year the award is split between The Archaeology of Reading in Early Modern Europe (AOR) and A Digital Anthology of Early Modern English Drama (EMED).
The Centre for Editing Lives and Letters, in partnership with the Johns Hopkins University’s Sheridan Libraries and the Princeton University Library, were awarded a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to implement The Archaeology of Reading in Early Modern Europe.
The Archaeology of Reading in Early Modern Europe (AOR) uses digital technologies to enable the systematic exploration of the historical reading practices of Renaissance scholars nearly 450 years ago. This is possible through AOR’s corpus of thirty-six fully digitized and searchable versions of early printed books filled with tens of thousands of handwritten notes, left by two of the most dedicated readers of the early modern period: John Dee and Gabriel Harvey.
Congratulations to the whole project team for this well-earned award!
By Julianne Nyhan, on 7 February 2020
Beals, M. H. and Emily Bell, with contributions by Ryan Cordell, Paul Fyfe, Isabel Galina Russell, Tessa Hauswedell, Clemens Neudecker, Julianne Nyhan, Mila Oiva, Sebastian Padó, Miriam Peña Pimentel, Lara Rose, Hannu Salmi, Melissa Terras, and Lorella Viola. The Atlas of Digitised Newspapers and Metadata: Reports from Oceanic Exchanges. Loughborough: 2020. DOI: 10.6084/m9.figshare.11560059
The Oceanic Exchanges team has just published a substantial open access resource that will advance the state of the art of the cross-collection text analysis of selected North-Atlantic and Anglophone-Pacific retrodigitised nineteenth-century newspapers. We also hope that the approach set out in the report will be taken up by other researchers who wish to engage in foundational research on approaches to cross-collection computational analysis. As the project notes:
the rise of digitisation promises great opportunities for those who wish to engage with newspaper archives, but as with all historical archives, digital collections require researchers to be mindful of their shape, provenance and structure before any conclusion can be drawn. It is the responsibility of both digitiser and researcher to understand both the map and the terrain (see here).
The numerous newspaper digitisation projects that have been undertaken in recent years have resulted in the remediation of many millions of pages of nineteenth-century newspapers. Yet, those researchers who wish to pursue questions about global history, for example, have often found it difficult to carry out data-driven research across those digitised collections. As our report discusses, there are many reasons for this, including how digitisation projects are often undertaken in national settings but newspapers often participate in global conversations; standards that can overarch and integrate numerous, disparate digital newspaper collections have not been implemented; the shape and scope of digitised newspaper collections is informed by a multiplicity of situated contexts which can be difficult for those who are external to digitisation projects to establish; also, though digital newspapers are often encoded in line with METS/ALTO, for example, notable variations exist in how those metadata specifications are applied to digital newspaper collections exist.
To respond to this, and to further research that takes place across digital newspaper collections, this 200 page report brings together qualitative data, metadata and paradata about selected digitised newspaper databases. It provides crucial historical and contextual information about the circumstances under which those collections came into being. It provides a textual ontology that describes the relationships between the informational units of which the respective databases are comprised, between the data and metadata of the different collections and on the interrelationships between analogue newspapers and their retrodigitised representations. Also included are maps which support the visual inspection and comparison of data across disparate newspaper collections alone with JSON or xpath paths to the data.
This report has come about in the context of the Oceanic Exchanges (2017-19) project (of which UCLDHers Julianne Nyhan was UK PI and Tessa Hauswedell was UCL Research Associate). The project was funded through the Transatlantic Partnership for Social Sciences and Humanities 2016 Digging into Data Challenge, and brought together leading efforts in computational periodicals research from six countries—Finland, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States—to examine patterns of information flow across national and linguistic boundaries.
The project is also immensely grateful to the many groups and organisations involved in the digitisation of historical newspapers who agreed to be interviewed and consulted during the process of researching the report. You can find the report, metadata maps and other resources here: https://www.digitisednewspapers.net/
By Simon Mahony, on 4 January 2020
Being in Guangdong it was an opportunity to escape from the cold of London to the warm sunshine and visit a part of China that is new to me, other than for a very brief visit to Shenzhen. The event, Digital Humanities Research and Teaching in the Information Discipline, brought together scholars and practitioners from across China as well as South Korea to enjoy rich discussion, exchange of ideas, conversation and the generous hospitality of this institution, which is also, like DIS, an iSchool. My talk was on pushing the boundaries of digital humanities research beyond the traditional limits of textual scholarship.
It was also the occasion of the inauguration of their new and very impressive VR + Culture Lab with demonstrations for the guests.
A visit to Guangzhou would not be complete without a trip to the top of the Canton Tower (604 meters high and know by the locals as ‘Slim Waist’ because of its shape) and a ride in the Bubble Tram.
The close proximity also allowed a visit to the Beijing Normal Zhuhai campus to hold a series of meetings there to discuss their plans for a Digital Publishing and Digital Humanities Centre. Digital Humanities is thriving in this leading region of economic growth, the Greater Bay Area of Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao.
As always, the hospitality at both universities was great and if you get the opportunity to visit, (subject to other commitments) always say yes.
By Simon Mahony, on 24 November 2019
In November, I was back at the University of Wuhan as an invited guest speaker for the 6th International Conference on Publishing Industry and Publishing Education in the Digital Age (spot me in the group photo). I was presenting in the strand for Open Access Publishing which gave me the opportunity to speak to Open Publishing and the Open Science Agenda, showcasing the EU Digital Agenda, UCL Press and particularly the new UCL Megajournal. ORCID is an important part of the latter initiative to allow disambiguation and ensure correct attribution; this is starting to see some uptake in China although still limited. One of the other presenters particularly focused on the specific need for ORCID to identify individual Chinese scholars who may share very similar, if not identical names.
The University of Wuhan is generally acknowledged as being the most beautiful campus in China. It is a tourist attraction in the Summer with its extensive displays of blossoms. Autumn is another good time to visit with the changing colours of the leaves on the trees. The campus is on a sprawling hill, full of a wide variety of trees (each part of the campus is named after the trees there) and with a castle (now library and accommodation) at the very top.
By Julianne Nyhan, on 22 November 2019
Julianne Nyhan, UCLDH Deputy-Director, and colleagues in the Leverhulme-funded ‘Enlightenment Architectures: Sir Hans Sloane’s catalogues of his collections’ (2016–19), recently published a substantial open access article in the Open Library of Humanities.
This article presents a significant aspect of the work of the ‘Enlightenment Architectures’ project, a collaboration between the British Museum and University College London including contributions from the British Library and the Natural History Museum. The project investigates Sir Hans Sloane’s (1660-1753) original handwritten catalogues of his collections in order to understand their highly complex information architecture and intellectual legacies. To do so, the project has employed computational analysis to examine how Sloane’s catalogues are composed and the way their structure and content relate to the world from which his collections were assembled – the first substantial example of such an approach.
Digital Humanities in the Memory Institution addresses some of the challenges of seeking to integrate the methods of digital humanities with those of cataloguing, inventory, curatorial and historical studies, especially in the context of early modern documentary sources. Focusing on two case studies which exemplify the complexities of encoding Hans Sloane’s catalogues in accordance with the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), the article sheds light on both the technical and epistemological challenges of encoding early modern catalogues, while emphasising the new questions and perspectives that arise from such complications. Most strikingly, the article draws attention to the parallels between early modern and current classification systems, and the on-going dilemma of how best to use language to describe objects.
Digital Humanities in the Memory Institution has resonance for the institutions, individuals and communities alike who research, curate, archive and simply even browse digital heritage collections.
See: Digital Humanities in the Memory Institution: The Challenges of Encoding Sir Hans Sloane’s Early Modern Catalogues of His Collections. Ortolja-Baird, A., Pickering, V., Nyhan, J., Sloan, K. and Fleming, M., Open Library of Humanities, 5(1), 2019, p. 44. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/olh.409
By Simon Mahony, on 17 November 2019
Just for a change, in October I was invited to speak at an event in Paris. This was organised by the University of Wuhan (as part of their International Sino-French Week) and I’École Nationale des Chartes and hosted at I’Université Paris Diderot: 4e Session de la Semaine Académique à l’étranger de l’Université de Wuhan .
There were several events on different days and in different locations. Ours was ‘Cultural Heritage and Digital Humanities: A comparative approach through research projects’. This was a truly international event with speakers there from Wuhan University, I’École Nationale des Chartes, other Chinese and Paris institutions, the British Library and UCL. The theme allowed me to showcase some of the high-profile and innovative cultural heritage imaging conducted by UCLDH both in our digitisation suite and beyond: ‘Non-invasive and Non-destructive Computational Imaging of Cultural Heritage’.
The session was spread over two days, featuring imaging applied to bamboo slips, Dunhuang Mural Images, Watermarks in Medieval and Modern Western paper, digital recordkeeping, astronomic documents and much more. It was particularly pleasing to see the work of some of the French PhD students showcased; mapping, geolocation, cinema and historic Paris featured highly.