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Digital Humanities China, Spring networking

SimonMahony21 May 2019

The long Easter break once again enabled the opportunity for travel, supported by the UCL Global Engagement fund, to build on and extend our UCLDH China networks. Flying to Shanghai always means a visit to CAA, Shanghai Institute of Design and to see what is new there.

China Academy of Art, Shanghai Institute of Design

China Academy of Art, Shanghai Institute of Design

My first major speaking event was at the University of Wuhan, missing the flower festival but also the crowds, to deliver talks to undergraduate and postgraduate students at their Digital Humanities centre (the first in mainland China), based in their School of Information Management, a member of the iSchools Consortium. The topics requested were combining research and teaching in our Connected Curriculum and cultural influences on digital design.

Connecting the Curriculum

Connecting the Curriculum lecture at Wuhan

Traveling back to Shanghai enabled a visit to the outstanding DH research team at the Shanghai Library, which is both a public and research library. They are part of the Institute of Scientific & Technical Information of Shanghai and so combine the functions and expertise of the library, special collections, and research institute. They have a broad range of research interests and are always open to new possibilities and opportunities to hear about our UCLDH research projects.

Shanghai Library

Shanghai Library

Networking is about building on established relationships, but it is also about making new ones. One such new contact at this trip was made when I was invited to visit and speak at the University of Zhejiang, Hangzhou (which happens to be in my favourite Chinese city). They have a small but active DH group based in the School of Humanities and are attempting to develop a DH pathway for doctoral students. I was given a tour of their special collections, introduced to examples of Chinese book binding, and their tranquil rooftop Research Centre for Buddhist and Daoist Culture. As this was my first visit, I gave an overview of DH research and teaching and how that fits into a wider and more global context.

Simon delivering a lecture

DH research and teaching lecture at Zhejiang University

Being at Hangzhou, I took the opportunity for a short train journey (not so short in UK terms but certainly quick on the high-speed rail) and a first visit to the University of Nottingham Ningbo China. We have had many students from UNNC on the MA/MSc DH programme; the meeting and lecture was arranged up by an alumna returning there after graduation to work at her UG and hometown institution. The campus is relatively small, very compact and very green with buildings mirroring their UK namesake. A research paper delivered this time on all things open: Open Access, Open Publishing, and Open Data. In our area of interest, they have a well-resourced and equipped Technology Centre with a Mixed Reality (Visualisation and AI) Lab with impressive tech projects in development.

 

Nottingham Ningbo campus

Nottingham Ningbo campus

Final stop for this trip was the University of Nanjing to take part in their seminar ‘Rethinking Digital Humanities Through Comparative Insights’, with a range of speakers from several institutions in China, the USA and me from the UK.

Nanjing University Poster

Nanjing University Poster

Networking, building connections and creating partnerships are important aspects of our work. Digital Humanities is a fast-growing and vibrant field in mainland China and I am very pleased to have been supported by the UCL Global Engagement fund which has allowed me to build up these networks. Chinese institutions are always very welcoming, great hosts and often have funds to support visitors. What is difficult for them is paying money outside the country for things like air flights. The GEO funding I have received has covered my air fare but also importantly has allowed me to employ Chinese graduate students to add translations to my presentation slides (you can see examples above) and lecture materials to develop some of them into bilingual teaching materials that are released as Open Educational Resources (OERs) on the new UCL OER Repository that supports agendas such as the Connected Curriculum and Open Science.

I have more trips coming up over the Summer months and look forward to further developing these networks.

Digitising monument records and archaeological archives – the Central Asian Archaeological Landscapes (CAAL) project

Lucy JStagg29 April 2019

UCLDH members Tim Williams and Gai Jorayev were among staff from the Institute of Archaeology who have received a £2.89m grant from Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin – for the Central Asian Archaeological Landscapes (CAAL) project.

This involves working with partners across the region – the Republic of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Republic of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Republic of Uzbekistan, and the People’s Republic of China (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) – to digitise monument records and archaeological archives, to create an online digital inventory, adopting the open-source ARCHES inventory package developed by the Getty Conservation Institute and the World Monuments Fund.

This will be enhanced by new research using a combination of high resolution photographic and satellite imagery, along with ‘on the ground’ field visits, in order to discover new sites, improve documentation, promote awareness and scholarship, and facilitate policy-making to better enable site and landscape preservation. See https://www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/research/CAAL/for more details.

Recent publications on imaging techniques from UCLDH team member Dr Kathryn Piquette

Lucy JStagg4 February 2019

UCLDH team member Dr Kathryn Piquette has had several works published recently, including:

Dr. Kathryn Piquette undertaking Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI)

Dr. Kathryn Piquette undertaking Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI)

CAFA EAST: Education, Art, Science and Technology

SimonMahony8 December 2018

I was reminded recently of my Classics background and about the link between art and technology, how new technological advances would push forward the development of, particularly, the plastic arts. The same is true now and I was delighted to be invited to speak at CAFA, the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, at their International Conference on Education, Art, Science and Technology.

CAFA EAST: Education, Art, Science and Technology

CAFA EAST: Education, Art, Science and Technology

My keynote talk, ‘Digital Humanities teaching and Research at UCL: connecting the curriculum’, was part of their Global Landscape session and followed by a panel on engaging pedagogy with art-based research. This was their 2nd EAST Season with a long-term objective to create a global alliance of art and technology institutions, research and education centres to spread and exchange ideas. The conference brought together practitioners and researchers, technologists and educators, design and gallery professionals. Live translation made the talks accessible to all.

On the stage at CAFA

On the stage at CAFA

CAFA is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary.

CAFA: 100 years

CAFA: 100 years

I was also asked to run a workshop to introduce an understanding of some aspect of digital humanities. I chose, what is to my mind, one of our distinguishing features and that is our cross-disciplinary nature and the importance of collaborative working. My aim was to introduce the concept of collaborative writing with a practical to develop skills needed for multi-authored documents.

Collaborative writing workshop

Collaborative writing workshop

So, a talk on the importance of group work followed by a writing-sprint; in small groups they were tasked to write a short piece with a choice of either a short story or something about their experience of the conference. All the groups chose the short story option and managed an impressive output which they presented, as groups, after 90 minutes. The participants had wide ranging backgrounds and were almost all staff and professionals. The stories revolved around a fascination with AI, robotics and gender, fantasy and dreams. Google docs (which I would normally use) is, of course blocked in China and they introduced me to their equivalent: Shimo. I learn new things and make new contacts at every trip.

Museum Hackathon: digging into museum data sets.

SimonMahony1 December 2018

UCLDH hosted its second hackathon focusing this time on visualising museum data sets. This was organised in partnership with the Media Centre and the Chair of Didactics of Computer Sciences of the TU Dresden. See also their news post.

Introduction at the Museums Hackathon

Introduction at the Museums Hackathon

The attendance was disappointing low – we must have clashed with other events – but with great expert technical support from Owain Kenway (RITS) and Uli Tiedau (SELCS).

Experts supporting the hackathon participants

Experts supporting the hackathon participants

The prize-winning participants, students from the Digital Humanities programme and from TU Dresden, produced a really interesting collaborative project: UrbanHitory3D combining AR with historical images of Dresden.

Hackathon prize winners

Hackathon prize winners

Many thanks to all those who helped to organise the event and to support the students with their project development. Thanks also to Dresden 2025 for their generous sponsoring of the prize being awarded in the photo.

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)