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Sino-French Forum, Cultural Heritage and Digital Humanities

SimonMahony17 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 .

I’École Nationale des Chartes

I’École Nationale des Chartes

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’.

Conference group photo

Mandatory conference group photo

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.

Greeted by the Dean of School of Information Management, Wuhan University

Greeted by the Dean of the School of Information Management, Wuhan University

Alumna Visiting UCLDH Under Erasmus+

SimonMahony21 September 2019

It was my great pleasure to welcome Vera Motyckova, a student from my very first class here (2010), back to UCL under the Erasmus+ scheme. We had extensive discussions about Digital Humanities teaching and research as well as course administration and other academic activities within the area of Digital Humanities. Working on H2020 herself, she was very interested to meet with DH colleagues also working on H2020. Vera was also keen to see the changes since she was here last and we visited our Digitisation Suite, the new Student Centre and other rebuilt parts of the College. It was also a good opportunity for Vera to resurrect her UCL email account and search out assignments and feedback.

Vera with Simon 2019

Vera with Simon 2019

Vera at Graduation 2011

Vera at Graduation 2011

It was great to be back at UCL DIS almost a decade later after I graduated and got my MA in Electronic Communication and Publishing in 2010. After leaving UCL I went to work for the BBC to commission online educational content. I returned back to the Czech Republic in 2016 and have now had the opportunity to visit UCL from the Department of Information Technologies at the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague (CULS) through the Erasmus+ Staff Mobility programme. The visit was very useful and productive, we shared best practice and explored opportunities for further collaboration, and I am very much looking forward to this cooperation. I would like to thank Simon for organising an excellent programme for me at UCL and for all his help during my stay.

Vera Motyckova

Book publishing and the Beijing Book Fair

SimonMahony11 September 2019

Another trip to Beijing and another experience. This time the invitation was from Beijing Normal University (BNU) to be guest speak at their international academic symposium: “The Belt and Road” Academic Publishing symposium: Bridging East and West. This was organised jointly by the School of Journalism and Communication of BNU and the Oxford International Centre for Publishing at Oxford Brooks University.

Beijing Normal University

Beijing Normal University

One thing that I found particularly interesting was from the Chinese scholars and their emphasis on the importance of the study of Chinese ‘classics’ and particularly of old rare manuscripts (a view that I share when it comes to our own culture). This was in the context of the origins of the print industry with firstly the invention of Publishing Material ‘paper’ followed by Publishing Technology ‘printing’ and, of course, its export to the rest of the world pushing forward the ‘world civilisation’ through what they termed as the ‘Chinese Book Road’ as part of the wider ‘Belt and Road’ strategy.

School of Journalism and Communication of BNU

The School of Journalism and Communication of BNU

There were other talks about the state and future of international cooperation in academic publishing. The symposium acknowledged the language barrier in academic publishing and the symposium was also the launch event of two edited volumes of academic publishing articles translated from English to Chinese – they sit in my office alongside many other publications that I, for want of language skills, am not able to read.

My talk featured UCL Press and the Open Agenda covering, albeit briefly, Access, Publishing, Education and Data.

Simon's talk at Beijing Normal University

Simon’s talk at Beijing Normal University Publishing Symposium

As always, I was very well looked after by my hosts with an extremely able student on the Master’s Publishing programme at BNU, making sure that I did not get lost. I was unfortunately not able to stay to attend the Beijing Book Fair which followed due to work commitments, but I did manage to round off the trip with a visit to the really excellent and highly recommended, China Printing Museum.

The Printing Museum, Beijing

The China Printing Museum, Beijing

Facilitating digital art for UCL Raw Materials: Plastics, using 3D modelling and photogrammetry

Lucy JStagg9 September 2019

UCLDH Deputy Director, Prof Tim Weyrich, has been providing technological support to facilitate an artist residency programme, part of the UCL Raw Materials: Plastics Knowledge Exchange project led by PI Katherine Curran, funded through UCL Innovation & Enterprise. The project is a collaboration with Bow Arts Trust in east London, the Institute of Making, the Slade School of Fine Art and the UCL Department of Art History.

The artist in residence, Frances Scott, uses digital and analogue film processes to create her artworks. This summer, her work has been part of an exhibition at Bow Arts and an extensive programme of community projects in East London around Raw Materials: Plastics.

Furthermore, Frances’ film PHX [X is for Xylonite] has been selected to be screened at the 57th New York Film Festival on 6th October 2019.

Frances Scott explores the history and usage of plastic in this imaginative essay film. Using three-dimensional animations, distorted vocal recordings, and the words of Roland Barthes, she connects the founding of the first plastics factory in 1866 and the development of cellulose nitrate, a key element in the creation of film stock.

The film includes animated 3D models of objects from UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage’s Historic Plastic Reference Collection, made using photogrammetry and laser scanning techniques, and hand-processed 16mm film footage of data collected from ISH laboratory equipment.

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.