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New UCLDH Director and Deputy Director appointed

Lucy Stagg3 December 2021

At the end of this year Prof Julianne Nyhan will be stepping down as UCLDH Director to focus on her new AHRC-funded project, The Sloane Lab: Looking back to build future shared collections. Our Deputy Director, Prof Tim Weyrich also stepped down earlier this year as he became Professor of Digital Reality at Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU).

We are very pleased to announce that from January 2021 our new Director will be Steven Gray, Associate Professor at the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA). Steve has been an Associate Director at UCLDH since 2018 and he has over 10 years of professional software development under his belt. In recent years he has specialised on building mobile applications (mainly iOS) and systems that open up the world of data visualisation, mining and analysis to the masses.

We are also delighted to introduce our new Deputy Director, Dr Adam Crymble. Adam is a Lecturer in Digital Humanities in the Department of Information Studies. Adam is a scholar of migration, community, and diversity. He also researches digital humanities and the ways technology changes scholarly practice, and is an editor of the Programming Historian.

We’re excited to see how our new leadership develops and regenerates the centre and the interdisciplinary research we foster and support.

Sloane Lab project features in Financial Times article

Lucy Stagg22 November 2021

The Sloane Lab: Looking back to build future shared collections is one of 5 AHRC-funded research projects to connect the UK’s cultural artefacts and historical archives in new and transformative ways.

The project features in an article, ‘Search for a digital national collection‘, published in the Financial Times today, 22nd November 2021. Professor Julianne Nyhan, UCLDH Director and PI on the Sloane Lab project is quoted:

“It’s hard to predict exactly what the outcomes will look like. It’s exciting and experimental.” Her vision is “to support people to search the Sloane collection in the way that they want to search it”, rather than through the eyes of curators.

Read the full article at https://www.ft.com/content/1282bb6e-bbde-4449-8efc-42b43335f8f1

UCLDH to participate in £14.5m Towards a National Collection

Lucy Stagg21 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.”

How open is OpenGLAM?

Lucy Stagg4 November 2020

An article co-authored by UKRI AHRC Innovation Fellow Dr. Foteini Valeonti and published on the Journal of Documentation (How open is OpenGLAM? Identifying barriers to commercial and non-commercial reuse of digitised art images) explores OpenGLAM from the perspective of the end-users.

With OpenGLAM and the broader open license movement gaining momentum in the cultural heritage sector, this paper examines OpenGLAM from the perspective of end users, identifying barriers for commercial and non-commercial reuse of openly licensed art images.

Through a series of case studies that import open images to the platform USEUM.org, the article reveals that end users have to overcome a series of barriers to find, obtain and reuse open images. The three main barriers relate to image quality, image tracking and the difficulty of distinguishing open images from those that are bound by copyright.

With academic literature so far focusing on examining the risks and benefits of participation from an institutional perspective, this article is one of the first attempts to shed a light on OpenGLAM from the end users’ standpoint.

You can read the article in full on ResearchGate: (PDF) How open is OpenGLAM? Identifying barriers to commercial and non-commercial reuse of digitised art images

Follow Dr. Foteini Valeonti at: @nosuic

Interview with new UCLDH Director Dr Julianne Nyhan

Lucy Stagg25 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 am Associate Professor of Digital Information Studies in the Department of Information Studies, where I am also the Programme Director of our highly successful MA/MSc in Digital Humanities.

photo of Dr Julianne Nyhan

Dr Julianne Nyhan

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 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.

Centre for Editing Lives and Letters wins RSA’s Digital Innovation Award

Lucy Stagg14 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 early modern bookwheel, from Le diverse et artificiose machine del capitano Agostino Ramelli (1588)

The early modern bookwheel, from Le diverse et artificiose machine del capitano Agostino Ramelli (1588)

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!

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

Lucy Stagg9 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.

International Archives Week in Beijing

Simon Mahony24 July 2019

A planned June networking visit to Beijing, supported by the UCL Global Engagement fund, coincided with International Archives Week 2019. I was the guest of the Beijing Municipal Archives at the opening ceremony of their impressive new building and also invited to give a keynote address, the first in their new Beijing Archives Hall, on the first day of their celebrations. If you visit, it has a roof garden.

Talk at Beijing Municipal Archives

Talk at Beijing Municipal Archives

My introduction to the Beijing Archives was through my contacts at Renmin University (RUC) where I was scheduled to visit and give a talk to students and staff.

The School of Information Resource Management at RUC look after visitors very well and take care of all the arrangements. My original connection was because they are a member of the iSchools Organisation as is my home department at UCL, the Department of Information Studies.

Poster for talk at Renmin University

Poster for talk at Renmin University

Students from that School were volunteers at the Archives event and supporting an exhibition on Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Peking University (PKU), UCL’s strategic partner, hold an annual Digital Humanities Forum. This year, due to budgetary constraints, it had to be scaled down to the Peking University Digital Humanities Mini Forum but was still an impressive event with international as well as local speakers.

Official group photo for PKU DH Mini Forum

Official group photo for PKU DH Mini Forum

A visit to PKU always means catching up with friends there and relationships that have been built up through networking enabled by the UCL Global Engagement fund; this type of funding is so important for developing these networks and particularly in our area as Digital Humanities is such a dynamic and fast growing field in China. As well as people, it is also the places that are important. I’m a native Londoner, this is my tenth year at UCL, and I have great affection for the Gower Street campus, but we have nothing to compare with the lake and pagoda at PKU, which is a tourist attraction in its own right.

Lake and Pagoda at PKU campus

Lake and Pagoda at PKU campus

One of the great advantages of these networking trips is that it allows you to meet new people and make new connections. One of these at this trip was the Beijing Institute of Technology where I was introduced to their archives and collections – a connection that I hope I can build on.

Beijing Institute of Technology sign and logo

Beijing Institute of Technology sign and logo

I found their logo particularly interesting with its iconography clearly meaningful through both Eastern and Western eyes. This prompted an in depth discussion about semiotics, cultural similarities and differences with the Dean of their School.

As always, the visit was rounded off with dinner with former students (and one current one too).

Melissa Terras Launches Two Open Access Books on Academia in Children’s Literature

Rudolf Ammann26 October 2018

Melissa Terras

Earlier this week: Melissa Terras presents her work at the Cambridge University Press Bookshop in Cambridge. (Photo credit: Anne Welsh)

UCLDH’s co-founder and former director Melissa Terras launched two open-access books of hers during this year’s Open Access Week: Picture-Book Professors: Academia and Children’s Literature from Cambridge University Press and The Professor in Children’s Literature: An Anthology from Fincham Press.

In the research presented, Melissa studies the representation of academics in juvenile literature from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. She lays out her findings in an academic monograph [free PDF] and supplements this work with an anthology of selected out-of-copyright works [free PDF].

Melissa’s research has been covered by Times Higher Education [subscription required] and The Guardian.

In a post today Melissa notes on open access book publishing in the humanities:

We are at a juncture where the sands are shifting: the major funders and government bodies are moving towards requirements for open access monographs. We don’t have a choice; we have to embrace these requirements, but there is a lot of work yet to be done about who will pay the costs for production. I believe that most universities could afford to absorb the costs of open access monograph production, much in the same way that they pay for lab costs or scientific equipment: it should be viewed as a centrally borne cost necessary for creating and sharing academic knowledge. It shouldn’t happen that individuals are asked to pay these costs themselves, as that is untenable. I can see people are concerned about how their personal costs will be met — and it is up to universities and presses to grapple with this. The danger is the open access premium: that only those who can afford to publish in open access will reap the benefits of having their work made accessible to a wide audience, and we have to keep our eyes open to that, as the academy needs diverse voices (as Picture-Book Professors and The Professor in Children’s Literature say!)

‘Politeness at Work in the Clinton Email Corpus’, article published in Corpus Pragmatics

Lucy Stagg30 April 2018

Congratulations to UCLDH team member Dr Rachele De Felice who has had an article published in the journal Corpus Pragmatics, regarding her recent research with the Clinton Email Corpus.

The article’s full title is ‘Politeness at Work in the Clinton Email Corpus: A First Look at the Effects of Status and Gender’ and the abstract reads as follows:

This article introduces the Clinton Email Corpus, comprising 33,000 recently released email messages sent to and from Hillary Clinton during her tenure as United States Secretary of State, and presents the results of a first investigation into the effect of status and gender on politeness-related linguistic choices within the corpus, based on a sample of 500 emails. We describe the composition of the corpus and mention the technical challenges inherent in its creation, and then present the 500-email subset, in which all messages are categorized according to sender and recipient gender, position in the workplace hierarchy, and personal closeness to Clinton. The analysis looks at the most frequent bigrams in each of these subsets as a starting point for the identification of linguistic differences. We find that the main differences relate to the content and function of the messages rather than their
tone. Individuals lower in the hierarchy but not in Clinton’s inner circle are more often engaged in practical tasks, while members of the inner circle primarily discuss issues and use email to arrange in-person conversations. Clinton herself is generally found to engage neither in extensive politeness nor in overt displays of power. These findings present further evidence of how corpus linguistics can be used to advance our understanding of workplace pragmatics.

You can download and read the full article on Springer