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Transcribe Bentham makes the New York Times

SarahDavenport27 December 2010

UCLDH’s very own Transcribe Bentham project gets written up in the New York Times:

Starting this fall, the editors have leveraged, if not the wisdom of the crowd, then at least its fingers, inviting anyone — yes, that means you — to help transcribe some of the 40,000 unpublished manuscripts from University College’s collection that have been scanned and put online. In the roughly four months since this Wikipedia-style experiment began, 350 registered users have produced 435 transcripts.

These transcripts, which are reviewed and corrected by editors, will eventually be used for printed editions of the collected works of Bentham, whose preserved corpse, clothed and seated, has greeted visitors to the college since 1850.

Other initiatives have recruited volunteers online, but the Bentham Project is one of the first to try crowd-sourced transcription and to open up a traditionally rarefied scholarly endeavor to the general public, generating both excitement and questions.

Read the full article.

Claire Warwick on "culturomics"

17 December 2010

Claire Warwick gets quoted in The Guardian on a new project in which Harvard University and Google open millions of digitised books to quantitative analysis:

Claire Warwick, director of the Centre for Digital Humanities at University College London, said that humanities researchers had been using the word-frequency techniques being described by Michel and Aiden for several decades. But the sheer size of their dataset marked it out from the usual tools. “What’s different is that this allows people to not just look at several hundred thousand words or several million words but several million books. So the overview is much bigger. That may bring out some hitherto unexpected ideas.”

The database of 500bn words is thousands of times bigger than any existing research tool, with a sequence of letters that is 1,000 times longer than the human genome. The vast majority, around 72%, is in English with small amounts in French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Russian, and Hebrew.

“In science, huge datasets which people have used super-computing on have led to some fascinating new discoveries that otherwise wouldn’t be possible,” said Warwick. “Whether that’s going to be the same in the arts and humanities, I don’t know yet.”

The scanned books can now be mined for cultural trends with very little effort using Google’s Ngram Viewer:

“One of the ways to use this is to suggest ideas,” said Warwick. “You can look at something like this and say, how fascinating that a certain term seems to occur so commonly and I wonder why that should be.”

On 17 March, Claire will deliver a public Lunch Hour Lecture at UCL on Twitter and Digital Identity.

HASTAC Scholars Program

Claire SRoss18 August 2010

This post is co-written by Ernesto Priego and Claire Ross.  It is a collective write up on becoming HASTAC Scholars.

HASTAC stands for Humanites, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory. It is a network of individuals and institutions inspired by the possibilities that new technologies offer us for shaping how we learn, teach, communicate, create, and organize our local and global communities.

HASTAC believe that digital spaces provide huge opportunities for informal and formal learning and for collaborative, networked research that extends across traditional disciplines, across the boundaries of academia and community; across the two disciplines of humanities and technology.  It is one of the most exciting online academic projects out there that we know of.

Therefore we are profoundly honoured to have been nominated and selected for the HASTAC Scholars Program. We will be two of more than 145 scholars from around the world who will share their adventures in digital academia through blog posts, tweets and other online resources. We can’t wait to be part of a really vibrant and more importantly digital academic community; it is a fantastic opportunity and a privilege to be part of it.

In the traditional concept of the lone scholar working away in the ivory tower, the idea of communication and sharing ideas has little hold.  Academic research can often seem and in fact be solipsistic. Often the thoroughness required for postgraduate study hyper-specialises subjects and therefore leaves scholars with little time to actually communicate to others what they are doing.   There is also the concept of academic reputation to take into consideration. Interesting questions have been raised about the nature of scholarly activity, authority and academic reputation in the digital age.  Does partaking in blogging damage your academic career, it may enhance your visibility as an academic but it is often not supported by the institution.  It is time to query the factors that have traditionally lead to recognition and promotion in academia and whether or not these are changing in an increasingly socially networked world.

The web is of course changing this traditionalised view of an isolated academic dramatically, and even in an age in which “peer review” and “publish or perish” remain the terms to know, academic culture in the humanities is being quickly transformed. Teachers, researchers, librarians, academic administrators, university students and all possible combinations and variations thereof are now continually sharing publicly what they do and when, where and how they do it.

So everyone else is doing it, but we believe scholars are also using Internet Technologies in a different way. Web 2.0 tools offer unique opportunities for research, teaching and communicating findings to the academic community and the public at large. Scholarly work has now more channels of expression than ever before, and the speed at which this is happening is often daunting. Suddenly the private becomes public and what used to be our time of leisure is now also being examined and affecting our public and private lives. The age of the Internet is indeed an era of intermediacy and blur. Academic culture is being transformed to a more open, inclusive and accessible environment, where sharing and dialogue are commonplace.  Right now Digital Humanities is a very exciting place to be.

But the blurring of boundaries is a cause for great anxiety for some; a reason for excitement for others. There are no easy answers about the implications of the web for humanities research. Thorough, innovative, critical research remains to be done. While some may find collective and public models of online collaboration intimidating and threatening, we believe that doing the walk is essential to doing the talk: the interrogation of scholarly paradigms established on a pre-Internet era can only be carried out through a critical engagement with the tools we are increasingly dependant on to work.

For people studying how Internet technology affects the way we do and think about things (and who study the Internet as a way or ways of thinking too), contributing to the social construction of knowledge inside and outside the brick-and-mortar classroom and library is not just a demand of the times, it is a natural, essential part of our research.  HASTAC knows this well and is indeed, conceptually and pragmatically, an ongoing exercise in 21st century scholarship.

Wikipedia article on UCLDH

5 August 2010

Hot off the press: Wikipedia has an article on UCLDH now, which we hope to bulk up over time.

While starting the article, we also introduced the new Digital Humanities Centers category, a short but hopefully growing directory of DH Centres represented on Wikipedia. If your institution isn’t listed, add it!

On Harvey Pekar (1939-2010)

SarahDavenport16 July 2010

Cover of Best of American Splendor, by Harvey PekarHarvey Pekar, an American writer of nonfiction comics, died on Monday July 12, 2010, aged 70. Pekar achieved fame with his American Splendor comics series, which he started in 1975.

In spite of his faith in the collaborative storytelling power of comic books, Pekar was not afraid of trying out other channels of expression, including television, the opera and the web. He remained critical of American corporate culture until the end.

Here, I offer an appraisal of Pekar’s work at Nieman Storyboard, a Project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

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