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UCLDH to participate in £14.5m Towards a National Collection

By Lucy Stagg, on 21 September 2021

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has awarded £14.5m to 5 research projects to connect the UK’s cultural artefacts and historical archives in new and transformative ways. The announcement today of the five major projects forming the largest investment of Towards a National Collection, a five-year research programme, reveals the first insights into how thousands of disparate collections could be explored by public audiences and academic researchers in the future. UCLDH is delighted to participate with The Sloane Lab: Looking back to build future shared collections (Principal Investigator: UCLDH Director, Professor Julianne Nyhan, UCL and TU Darmstadt). Project partners and collaborators include: British Museum, Natural History Museum, British Library, Historic Environment Scotland, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, National Museums of Scotland, Community Archives and Heritage Group, Down County Museum, National Galleries of Scotland, Oxford University Herbaria, Collecting the West project funded by the Australian Research Council & metaphacts. The participatory methodology that the underpins the project will additionally allow ongoing research with a wide range of expert and interested communities over the coming years.

Case containing beetles from the Joseph Dandridge and Petiver collections

Collection of beetles, Case containing beetles from the Joseph Dandridge and Petiver collections. Some have Hans Sloane’s catalogue numbers. C0165553 ©The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

Focusing on the vast collections of Sir Hans Sloane in public institutions, this project will work with expert and interested communities including museum audiences to link the present with the past to allow the links between Sloane’s collections and catalogues to be re-established across the Natural History Museum, the British Library, and the British Museum (plus others that have relevant material). The main outcome of the project will be a freely available, online digital lab – the Sloane lab – that will offer researchers, curators and the public new opportunities to search, explore, and engage critically with key questions about our digital cultural heritage.

The project’s central questions include: How can we make specialist users and members of the public more aware of the contested nature of museum collections? What is the role of digital tools in facilitating discussions on imperialism, colonialism, slavery, loss and destruction, that have shaped the national collection? And who gets to contribute to, and shape, research on how memory institutions can reach across their institutional boundaries, subject-specialties and even countries so as to better support their audiences, visitors and users? Community Fellows will enhance the research, which will later form part of a traveling exhibition.

Project PI, Professor Julianne Nyhan, says of the project:

This exciting new project will devise automated and augmented means of mending the broken links between the past and present of the UK’s founding collection in the catalogues of the British Museum, Natural History Museum and the British Library. I am especially excited about the participatory design of the project, and the research with diverse publics that this funding will support. Our aim is to intertwine technological and participatory research, community consultation and public engagement, to embed diverse community views into the design, execution and validation of the Sloane Lab, and indeed, the future of the national collection.

Image by Colin McDowall, courtesy of Towards a National Collection

Image by Colin McDowall, courtesy of Towards a National Collection

The Towards a National Collection investigation is the largest of its kind to be undertaken to date, anywhere in the world. It involves 15 universities and 63 heritage collections and institutions of different scales, with more than 120 individual researchers and collaborators.

Professor Christopher Smith, Executive Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council said:

“This moment marks the start of the most ambitious phase of research and development we have ever undertaken as a country in the space where culture and heritage meet AI technology. Towards a National Collection is leading us to a long-term vision of a new national research infrastructure that will be of benefit to collections, researchers and audiences right across the UK.”

Dr Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum said:

“This unprecedented investment of funding by the AHRC into these five projects will allow us to explore what the digital future for our organisations can and should be. A future where anyone can search across collections cared for in different parts of the UK, to pursue their passion for knowledge and understanding, discover their own pasts and answer their own questions. Towards a National Collection will strengthen Britain’s international leadership in this area. Each project in their own rightly deserves to be celebrated and I cannot wait to see what happens when we bring all this talent and dedication together to build the new future for our shared national collection.”

Rebecca Bailey, Programme Director, Towards a National Collection

“Today, for the first time, we can reveal the direction of travel for one of the UK’s most collaborative research programmes. Collectively, we aim to dissolve the disciplinary silos that exist in universities and public collections. Our driving mission is to open up global access to the UK’s world class collections. By harnessing emerging technologies to the creative interdisciplinary talents of our research teams, eventually everyone will have the ability to access an outstanding trove of stories, imagery and research linking together the limitless ideas and avenues in our national collections. From community archives to overlooked artists; from botanical specimens to the ship-wrecked Mary Rose.”

Long View Seminar – Reflecting on our First Year

By uczcrym, on 27 July 2021

In a year dominated by a global pandemic and both remote working and teaching, we lost many of the traditional ways that we as scholars could stay connected. One of those, the traditional extra-curricular seminar series that was a coming together space for people at different stages of their career, had to go online. And that’s just where we went.

While elements of the seminar culture have not been easy to replicate online, the shift to virtual did present some opportunities, one of which was to work collaboratively across what would otherwise be prohibitively wide distances. In this case, it was a chance for the UCLDH team to work together with colleagues at Stanford’s CESTA (Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis) to co-host the Digital Humanities Long View seminar during the spring of 2021. It was a chance to share scholarly culture, to build new bridges, and to help postgraduate students get involved in networking and professional development opportunities that were increasingly difficult to arrange during a pandemic.

Logo of the Digital Humanities Longview seminar

Logo of the Digital Humanities Longview Seminar, with a world map showing the location of each of the seminar’s speakers and of the two co-host organisations (Stanford CESTA & UCLDH).


The Long View for us was about understanding that research happens in context. About asking questions of how Digital Humanities (DH) got where it is today. Our seminar series explored some of the key socio-historical, political and cultural contexts of DH research as a means of building understandings of how we all ended up here and what that means for the future of the field. It’s been an opportunity for newcomers to understand how the field has developed, and for established practitioners to consider their work as part of a larger movement with competing influences, ambitions, and blindspots.

Having finished our first programme of talks, we’re incredibly pleased with the Long View series. We were grateful to host 11 wonderful speakers from five countries and three different linguistic backgrounds. We had the support of 17 different postgraduate students and early career researchers who acted as respondents to the papers and co-hosted the proceedings. And we had tremendous and engaged audiences from around the world, reaching 650 people across the series.

Some of the talks have been video recorded and remain online on the CESTA website, and we invite you to watch them if you missed them live: https://cestastanford.github.io/schedule.html

And we’re pleased to announce that we plan to continue our collaborative seminar series next year, building upon what we’ve established with our friends at Stanford.

That means we’ll once again be on the lookout for postgraduate students who want to get involved and build both their skills and professional networks. If any UCL postgraduate students or offer holders for 2021-22 would like to represent UCLDH as a postgraduate respondent at next year’s events, please contact Dr Adam Crymble directly for an informal conversation.

Finally, a huge thanks to our speakers, convenors, colleagues, and respondents, who supported this seminar: Ian Milligan (Waterloo), Jessica Marie Johnson (Johns Hopkins), Zephyr Frank, Quinn Dombrowski, Mark Algee-Hewitt (Stanford), Riva Quiroga (Programming Historian), Scott Weingart (Notre Dame), Nickoal Eichmann-Kalwara (Colorado), Amy Earhart (Texas A&M), Valérie Schafer (Luxembourg), Jane Winters (London), Agnieszka Backman, Amanda Wilson Bergado, William Parish, Daniel Bush, Giovanna Ceserani, Laura Stokes, Anna Toledano, Victoria Rahbar, Maciej Kurzynski, Yunxin Li, Lakmali Jayasinghe, Merve Tekgurler, Mae Velloso-Lyons (CESTA); Adam Crymble, Julianne Nyhan, Lucy Stagg, Hannah Smyth, Nenna Orie Chuku, Madeline Tondi, George Cooper, Jin Gao, Malithi Alahappruna, Opher Mansour, Marco Humbel (UCL) and Urszula Pawlicka-Deger (KCL). It has been a wonderful and collegial opportunity and we valued it tremendously.


UCLDH research activity June 2021

By Lucy Stagg, on 30 June 2021

The UCLDH team have been busy as ever, despite continuing COVID-19 restrictions. Here’s just a few examples of recent activity:

Adam Crymble has published a monograph, Technology & the Historian: Transformations in the Digital Age (University of Illinois press, 2021) and a co-authored piece with Maria José Afanador-Llach (‘The Globally Unequal Promise of Digital Tools for History: UK and Colombia Case Study’ in Adele Nye (ed.) Teaching History for the Contemporary World (Springer, 2021), 85-98.).

Oliver Duke-Williams has been doing a lot of engagement work around the 2021 Census, including a radio interview with talkRadio. Read his co-authored blog on the The ebb and flow of UK census data

Julianne Nyhan has had various publications including  Named-entity recognition for early modern textual documents: a review of capabilities and challenges with strategies for the future. (Journal of Documentation, 2021. Co-authored with Marco Humbel, Andreas Vlachidis, Kim Sloan and Alexandra Ortolja-Baird)

Patrick White  has been co-leading a workshop series called Working With Code in collaboration with Research IT services, for Slade students making work in different coding environments such as Godot (game engine), Arduino (micro-controllers), Sonic Pi (live music production based on Ruby), and P5 (JavaScript version of Processing environment).

Tim Williams has been working on the Central Asian Archaeological Landscapes project. Their geospatial database, managed in QGIS, currently comprises 52,408 sites. Of these, 17,123 were known sites, gathered through the digitisation of archival material by our partners in Central Asia, while 35,285 have been digitised from a range of satellite imagery. They are exploring approaches to automatic change detection and Google Earth algorithms for automatic site detection. They are also using historic imagery (CORONA, Google Earth, etc.), DEMs, and scanned and geo-rectified Soviet maps, to create historical map layers, to examine landscape change, destruction, damage and potential threats to archaeological heritage. There is currently over 8TB of clean archival data on UCL Research Data storage, comprising 137,173 files scanned in 6,749 folders. Each folder is a document (notebook, passport folder, envelope with films, etc). This data is linked with the public facing Arches platform and UCL Open Data Repository. As a test, they have very recently placed 6 sets of geospatial data on UCL Research Data Repository (17.45GB) and those have already been viewed 2,540 times, with 1,973 items downloaded. From the repository there are also links to other digital material – for example 3D models on Sketchfab.

Blowing the doors off debt: mapping global interactions of a community project

By Oliver W Duke-Williams, on 27 May 2021

The film Bank Job by Daniel Edelstyn and Hilary Powell is an exploration of the world of credit and of capital creation, and the buying and selling of debt. The film follows a community project in which artists Edelstyn and Powell create their own currency, set up as a bank, and sell bank notes in order to fund the purchase at discount of over a million pounds of debt. The culmination of the film is the cancellation of that debt, both financially (the debt written off) and symbolically, in an exploding van.

Shell of a van after a controlled explosion; pieces of paper marked 'debt' are scattered around

The exploded shell of a van, with £1M of symbolic debt

Whilst conceived and implemented at a community level in the London Borough of Waltham Forest, it was an undertaking which attracted international interest. The currency created by Powell as hand-printed notes and bonds were bought by a diverse group of people, both individuals and institutions including the V&A Museum, and it was a pleasure to work with the film makers to explore some of the extent of this interest.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘Technology & the Historian: Transformations of the Digital Age’ Workshop & Book Launch

By uczcrym, on 23 April 2021

Lessons from history, options for today.

Thursday 29 April 2021 – 12pm-1pm (Zoom)

Register for free.

Join Dr. Adam Crymble for a free Programming Historian Teaching Workshop to celebrate the launch of his new book, Technology & the Historian: Transformations of the Digital Age, the first comprehensive history of historical studies in the digital age.

Collectively, we’ve been teaching digital history for decades. But not as consistently as you might imagine. This workshop and book launch, aimed at practicing and future teachers of history at university level, showcases the shifting approaches to digital history pedagogy in the past thirty years.

Building on that knowledge, and drawing on the tutorials of Programming Historian, as well as Crymble’s ten years on the project, he offers practical classroom-ready solutions that bring together history and technology for students today.

Upgrade how you teach historiography for the twenty-first century, by learning what came before and what can come next.

All attendees eligible for 30% discount on the book.

Register for free: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/teach-digital-history-well-tickets-141954926005?keep_tld=1

logo of Programming Historian

Logo of University of Illinois Press

Opening the ‘black box’ of digital cultural heritage processes: feminist digital humanities and critical heritage studies

By Lucy Stagg, on 22 February 2021

Published on behalf of Hannah Smyth. This post introduces a book chapter co-authored by myself, Julianne Nyhan, and Andrew Flinn. It was published as part of the Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in Digital Humanities in August 2020 and edited by Kristen Schuster and Stuart Dunn (Kings College London). This edited volume seeks to address collaboration and inter-/intra-disciplinarity in DH through different perspectives on method (Dunn and Schuster, 2020). Our contribution – ‘Opening the “black box” of digital cultural heritage processes: feminist digital humanities and critical heritage studies’ – is placed within the theme: remediation and transmission. We the authors are members of the international research consortium ‘Critical Heritage and the Future of Europe’ (CHEurope) and its sub-group on Digital Heritage. It is in this context that each of our perspectives and research interests came together in the chapter.

The aim of the review chapter is to highlight the resonances between Feminist Digital Humanities and Critical Heritage Studies (CHS), and to trouble the ways in which ‘method’ is instrumentalised in transformative research agendas. A clear relationship exists between digital humanities and digital cultural heritage more broadly, perhaps the most facile and wide-ranging of examples being the digitisation of heritage texts and materials. Despite this affinity, our approach also stemmed from the observation that there has been comparatively little recognition of (digital) heritage as a socially constructed phenomenon – the raison d’être of CHS – within DH (Lutz, 2017).

Intersectional feminist DH is, however, at the frontier of a flourishing critique of techno-social inequities, exemplified by recent publications such as Bodies of Information (Losh and Wernimont 2018), Algorithms of Oppression (Noble, 2018) and Data Feminism (D’Ignazio and Klein 2019). We therefore sought in this chapter to bridge these two scholarly movements that are challenging the oppressive subjectivities and epistemologies of their respective fields – predominantly white, masculine, heteronormative, Eurocentric – and their far-reaching implications.

Firstly, we introduce the state of cultural critique in the field of DH since the turn of the century that foregrounds gender (as well as race, class and sexuality) as a mode of analysis. This covers, inter alia: feminist technology studies; algorithmic, digital resource, and interface critique; digital archives; computational analysis techniques; the gender politics of certain kinds of ‘expertise’ in DH; and representation in the field.

Next we turn to ‘gender and heritage’, a perspective with a long and dispersed history at the margins (Reading, 2015;Wilson, 2018) and which is now carving out its own place in the rights-based, dissonant, and transformative worldview that is the purview of CHS. If CHS calls into question the heritage that ‘privileges old, grand, prestigious, expert approved sites, buildings and artefacts that sustain Western narratives of nation, class and science’(ACHS, 2012) feminist CHS further shatters the notion that heritage is somehow un-gendered and without consequence for how we perceive ourselves and others in the world.

Digitality has heralded novel questions, and less novel continuities, in the heritage field and which are all too familiar to the feminist DH scholars whose work underpins this chapter. Feminist DH and gender CHS share a concern with the false and learned assumptions about objectivity and neutrality, and the way that power and social roles are performed, valued and devalued through technology and heritage. We therefore thirdly suggest digital heritage as a critical bridging point between these areas of shared concern.

Lastly, and underpinning our contribution to this volume on methods is a provocation to reflect upon research approaches and methods themselves whose normative ontologies may (re)produce dynamics of power, inequity, and othering. Many taken-for-granted methodologies have their origins in, for example, colonial attitudes and practices. Digital tools and approaches (indeed professional paradigms) are more often extractive or, by their codifying nature, limit ‘authorised’ types of knowledge and interpretation. Might we reconfigure such methods for transformative ends or seek alternatives?

The final space of this chapter is given to a reflection on oral history (at its core in the feminist and social justice tradition) as an example of method that traverses both feminist DH and CHS and with which, we suggest, it is conceptually allied. Previous oral history work carried out by Julianne and Andrew has uncovered hidden and gendered histories of the digital humanities itself, and the feminised labour behind the pioneering work of Fr. Robert Busa’s Index Thomisticus (Nyhan and Flinn, 2016; Nyhan, Forthcoming). Looking to the future, digital oral history presents us with many possibilities (and challenges) as yet unrealised to bring computational methods of analysis and a feminist DH lens to bear upon the spoken record of the past.

The chapter is freely available to download as a pdf from the UCLDH website


D’Ignazio, Catherine, and Lauren Klein. Data Feminism. MIT Press, 2019.

Grahn, Wera, and Ross J Wilson, eds. Gender and Heritage: Performance, Place and Politics. London and New York: Routledge, 2018.

‘2012 Manifesto.’ Association of Critical Heritage Studies. Accessed August 1, 2018. http://www.criticalheritagestudies.org/history/.

Losh, Elizabeth, and Jaqueline Wernimont, eds. Bodies of Information: Intersectional Feminism and Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018.

Lutz, S. ‘{D1G1TAL HER1TAGE}. From cultural to digital heritage,’ Hamburger Journal für Kulturanthropologie, 2018 (7) 3–23.

Noble, Safiya Umoja. Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. New York: New York University Press, 2018.

Nyhan, Julianne and Andrew Flinn. Computation and the Humanities: Towards an Oral History of Digital Humanities. Springer Series on Cultural Computing. Springer International Publishing, 2016.

Nyhan, Julianne. Forthcoming. Hidden and Devalued Labour in the Digital Humanities: On the           Index Thomisticus Project 1954-67. Routledge.

Reading, Anna. ‘Making Feminist Heritage Work: Gender and Heritage.’ In Handbook of Contemporary Heritage Research, edited by Emma Waterton and Steve Watson, 397–413. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Smyth, Hannah, Julianne Nyhan, and Andrew Flinn. ‘Opening the “black box” of digital cultural heritage processes: feminist digital humanities and critical heritage studies.’ In Routledge International Handbook of Research Methods in Digital Humanities, edited by. Kristen Schuster and Stuart Dunn, 295–308. Routledge, 2020.

MA / MSc Digital Humanities Applications Open for 2021-22

By uczcrym, on 3 February 2021

Image of UCL Campus

Caption: Photograph of UCL Campus in London.

UCL’s Department of Information Studies is currently accepting applications for the 2021-22 cohort of its MA in Digital Humanities and MSc in Digital Humanities programmes. Programme lead, Dr. Julianne Nyhan writes, ‘this exciting, interdisciplinary programme offers students a unique opportunity to explore and analyse the application of digital technologies to the cultural record of humankind and, in doing so, to reflect on how technology is impacting all aspects of how we live now, and in the future.’

Both programmes are taught by a range of staff, including members of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities. Potential applicants are invited to contact the Admissions tutor with any questions. For 2021-22 applicants, this is Dr Adam Crymble (a.crymble@ucl.ac.uk).

Stock Illustrations, Free to Reuse

By Rudolf Ammann, on 2 February 2021

Composition with glitch capture, mojibake and moresque eements

Composition with glitch capture, mojibake and moresque pattern elements

In spring last year the UCLDH co-founder Melissa Terras invited me to join her and Gavin Inglis on an unusual project. For whatever comedy might be had from the undertaking, the project  trained artificial neural networks on several years’ worth of historical Edinburgh Fringe festival programmes to generate new virtual show listings. My brief at first consisted in developing the brand identity and building the website, but, having familiarised myself with the project, I suggested that the purely textual show listings should also be accompanied by illustrations, which I’d be happy to create and supply. The suggestion was accepted. So, at the start of the Festival in August, the project went live under the name ImprovBot.ai, and it kept churning out a dozen illustrated AI-generated show listings a day for three weeks on end.

The images are now available for creative re-use as non-restrictively licenced stock illustrations. Here’s some very brief discussion and a few pointers to the various ways of getting hold of the images.

Producing digital illustrations by the hundreds requires a certain serial approach to their manufacturing, so it helps to have archives on hand that can be drawn on for visual elements to tweak and recombine. I have documented the main elements in the ImprovBot.ai series elsewhere. In this post, let me just highlight some of the threads that tie this illustration series to previous work I’ve done for Melissa and UCLDH.

As a designer and a visual artist I have been collaborating with Melissa for more than a decade. Prior to ImprovBot.ai (see Melissa’s account of her recent adventures in AI, incidentally), we’ve worked together on a variety of projects, including her book The Professor in Children’s Literature, which I typeset and whose book cover I designed. This cover, along with a few other references to other prior art that I’ve manage to sneak in, is among the elements I’ve used repeatedly as part of the series’ ‘extras‘:

Book cover remix: Professor Branestawm and Lehrer Lämpel

Book cover remix: Professor Branestawm and Lehrer Lämpel (drawings by W. Heath Robinson and Wilhelm Busch, respectively)

The extras, as their name suggests, are perhaps not very central to the ImprovBot.ai series. By contrast, glitch captures are a frequently used element. Typically consisting of arbitrarily coloured  pixel strings, they appear in many image compositions in the series. The pixels are sampled from image files and screen renderings that have gone haywire for some reason, provoked or unprovoked. They are drawn from the same stock of materials I’ve previously used around UCLDH to complement and expand upon the Centre’s pixel-looking logo. Here’s a plain example of  the barely processed source material:

Glitch capture, enlarged from a screenshot taken of a real-life rendering issue provoked by low random-access memory (RAM)

Glitch capture, enlarged from a screenshot taken of an unintended rendering issue provoked by low random-access memory (RAM)

Some of the illustrations are more complex in their make-up, featuring other elements thrown into the mix, such as moresque patterns and mojibake:

Composition with glitch captures

A more complex composition with several elements conjoined


The whole set of Improvbot.ai illustrations is available for reuse and can be picked up individually from the project website and the Twitter feed. The images , briefly reviewed by category on a separate page, can also be browsed by these categories. The categories most suitable for re-use are probably these:

Moresque | Capture | Dataviz | Base64 | Network | Hardmod | Mojibake | Noise | Extras

Also available, but perhaps less suitable for reuse might be these categories:

Identity: ImprovBot | Identity: Improverts | The Bot, incl. Multiples Edinburgh and Multiples Shakespeare |

A zip archive of the full illustration set is available for downloading from Zenodo.org, and a subset of individual illustrations is distributed via Pixabay.com.

Licensing and Reuse

The illustrations are distributed under the CC-BY-NC licence, the image set on Pixabay under even less restrictive terms.

Some of the images might be suitable for book cover art, a blog post illustration, or they might inspire you to simply play with them and produce a few remixes of your own. We’re looking forward to seeing them show up in unexpected places!

Semantic Web for Cultural Heritage special issue now published

By Lucy Stagg, on 1 February 2021

UCLDH member, Antonis Bikakis, has co-edited (along with four other colleagues from France, Italy and Finland) the Semantic Web for Cultural Heritage special issue, which is now published and freely available to read in Semantic Web- Interoperability, Usability, Applicability, volume 12(2), 2021.

The papers cover a wide spectrum of modelled topics related to language, reading and writing, narratives, historical events and cultural artefacts, while describing reusable methodologies and tools for cultural data management.



Grab a discount on ‘One Origin of Digital Humanities’

By Lucy Stagg, on 22 January 2021

Following a highly successful book launch on 20th January, we are pleased to be able to offer everyone a 20% discount off the book, One Origin of Digital Humanities: Fr Roberto Busa S.J. in His Own Words, edited by Julianne Nyhan and Marco Passarotti ( Springer 2020).

Roberto Busa S.J. is often described as one of the founders of the field now known as Digital Humanities, but many of his writings are difficult to access. One Origin of Digital Humanities: Fr Roberto Busa S.J. in His Own Words draws on extensive archival research to select and contextualise previously out of print or inaccessible writings of Busa, translated into English for the first time.

Use the following token on Springer.com for 20% off: Aqgemj8rWgBNJNm / Valid Jan 20, 2021 – Feb 17, 2021

20% discount flyer 'One origin of DH'

20% discount flyer ‘One origin of DH’