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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 few 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.

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

Will Big Data kill the Census? Financial Times, 11 April 2018

Lucy Stagg16 April 2018

Dr Oliver Duke-Williams (UCLDH team member, and Senior Lecturer in Digital Information Studies in the Department of Information Studies at UCL) has been giving his thoughts on proposed changes to how the Census is collected and the impacts of this on the resulting dataset. His comments were published in a Financial Times article entitled ‘Will Big Data kill the Census?’, published on 11 April 2018:

Oliver Duke-Williams, senior lecturer in digital information studies at UCL, who works on Census data, is concerned in particular about the longitudinal study, which has followed 1 per cent of the UK population in each Census since 1971. “The strength of it is that every 10 years you can add more data to it, so it’s a very rich dataset. If we switched to an administrative data methodology, you would not have that continuity anymore.”

Read the full Financial Times article

Changes to UCLDH Management Team

Lucy Stagg5 February 2018

Now that our esteemed former Director, Prof. Melissa Terras has taken up her new post at The University of Edinburgh, we have needed to make changes to the UCLDH Management Team.

We are very pleased to say that the post of Director has been filled by Simon Mahony who has been part of the UCLDH team since 2010 and was co-organiser of our memorable launch event. As well as serving on the Management Team and UCLDH Steering Committee from the beginning, Simon has been our Associate Director for Teaching and Director of our MA/MSc Programme since its inception in 2011.

Simon Mahony, UCLDH Director

Simon Mahony, UCLDH Director

We are also pleased to welcome new members to our Management Team with Julianne Nyhan, now Director of the Master’s programme, as Associate Director for Teaching and Learning. In addition, and in keeping with our cross-faculty mission, we are also joined by Steven Gray as our Associate Director from the Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (UCL-CASA). All these details are on the UCLDH People page along with our wider UCLDH Team, Honorary Members, Industry Advisory Panel, and Affiliates. Melissa Terras will remain an Honorary Professor at UCLDH.

UCL Advanced Imaging Consultants (UCLAiC) undertake imaging projects on a range of heritage materials

tcrnkep12 January 2018

Chiddingstone Castle ancient Egyptian coffin lid, probably 25th Dynasty.

Chiddingstone Castle ancient Egyptian coffin lid, probably 25th Dynasty.

It’s been about a year and a half since UCLDH announced the establishment of UCL Advanced Imaging Consultants (UCLAiC, with a core team of Melissa Terras, Adam Gibson and myself) and began offering Reflectance Transformation Imaging and Spectral Imaging services from the UCL Multi-Modal Digitisation Suite research facility based in central London. We have since been undertaking imaging projects on a range of fascinating heritage materials. From Roman lead tablets and Egyptian mummy portraits to Persian and Mediaeval manuscripts and modern works of art, the advanced techniques we use are helping to reveal hidden writing, underdrawings and other marks that are difficult to see with the naked eye.

As we wrap up work from 2017, we are pleased to report on one of the highlights from the past years’ projects, namely multispectral imaging on a 2500-year old Egyptian coffin lid held in the collections of Chiddingstone Castle in Kent, England.

This wooden lid, shaped to represent the human form, is covered with a thin layer of yellow gesso and the head and chest are embellished with red, blue and yellow paint. A column of hieroglyphic text runs down the centre of the lid, from the brightly coloured broad collar down to the feet. Intended to ensure the sustenance of the deceased in the afterlife, this offering formula is formed of hieroglyphic signs painted in black outline with a blue-green infill. The glyphs on the foot area, however, have become very faded and damaged over time yet this is the very location where the name of the owner of the coffin would have been written.

Lower part of the coffin lid showing preserved hieroglyphic text and largely ‘invisible’ name on foot panel.

Lower part of the coffin lid showing preserved hieroglyphic text and largely ‘invisible’ name on foot panel.

Keen to learn if the name could be recovered, Chiddingstone Castle commissioned me to conduct multispectral imaging on the damaged foot area. Our multispectral system (supplied by R. B. Toth Associates), uses a medium-format, 60-megapixel PhaseOne IQ260 Achromatic camera to take a series of high-quality digital images. Illumination is provided by low heat, narrowband light emitting diodes (LED) at 12 different wavelengths from ultraviolet to near infrared, with the application of a 6-position motorised filter wheel (developed and integrated by Dr Bill Christens-Barry of Equipoise Imaging). Together with the assistance of SEAHA PhD student, Cerys Jones, the multispectral system was transported from the UCL Multi-Modal Digitisation Suite to the Castle in order to conduct the imaging onsite.

Cerys Jones and Kathryn Piquette calibrate the UCL multispectral system.

Cerys Jones and Kathryn Piquette calibrate the UCL multispectral system.

We applied 12 different wavelengths from ultraviolet to near infrared. Initial results were achieved using infrared (IR) illumination. These wavelengths, which are longer than visible light, are absorbed by carbon-based inks/paints and thus provided increased contrast between the outlines of the hieroglyphs and the surrounding surface. Thanks to the flexibility of our MSI system and Cerys’ familiarity with the specific optical properties of the pigment Egyptian blue, we tested further combinations of wavelengths and filtering. Visible induced infrared luminescence (VIL) proved vital for visualising the faint traces of paint surviving in the interior of the hieroglyphs, and we were thrilled to successfully recover the shapes of the majority of the hieroglyphs spelling out the deceased’s name.

Cerys Jones and Kathryn Piquette examine the multispectral imaging results.

Cerys Jones and Kathryn Piquette examine the multispectral imaging results.

With this image data in hand, I was able to research the name and, with the assistance of other Egyptologists, determine that the hieroglyphs most likely spell out “Irethoreru”. This name was relatively common  among males during the 1st millennium BCE and can be translated as “The Eye of Horus is against them”. The name was presumably intended to protect its bearer against his enemies, although without specifying whether these enemies were material or otherworldly. UCLAiC are pleased to have contributed to the re-discovery of the name of this ancient Egyptian who lived over 2000 years ago. This exciting work also recently appeared as part of a BBC report on UCL’s research on non-destructive technical imaging for recovering ancient hidden writing (see also: UCL News) and is also reported on the SEAHA blog.

Detail of foot panel under visible light (left), infrared (IR) illumination (middle) and visible induced infrared luminescence (VIL, right).

Detail of foot panel under visible light (left), infrared (IR) illumination (middle) and visible induced infrared luminescence (VIL, right).

While the mystery of the name has been solved, there is yet much to learn about the Chiddingstone Castle coffin lid. It was acquired by Denys Eyre Bower in the mid-20th century but unfortunately its original provenance is not known. The lid is probably part of an outer coffin that held an inner coffin which, in turn, held Irethoreru’s mummified body. One wonders whether elements of his burial equipment made their way into other UK/European museums and collections. Indeed, many Egyptian artefacts from the Third Intermediate Period and beyond (c.1000–c.300 BCE) bear the name “Irethoreru” (which may also be rendered as “Iret-hor-irou”, “Iret-horru”, “Iret-[en]-Hor-eru” or “Iretenhoreru”). Further detailed research, advanced imaging and materials analysis will be necessary to discover whether any of these funerary objects relate to Chiddingstone Castle’s Irethoreru. If you think you might have further information that could help Chiddingstone Castle learn more about their coffin lid please contact: curator@chiddingstonecastle.org.uk.

For further information about the imaging services and training courses offered by UCLDH Advanced Imaging Consultants, please visit the page or contact advancedimaging@ucl.ac.uk!

Finnish Visitation, 4 October 2017

Lucy Stagg30 October 2017

UCLDH Academy of Finland Banner

UCLDH Academy of Finland Banner

On 4th October 2017 UCLDH were delighted to meet with over 15 delegates from the Academy of Finland’s DIGIHUM programme, with the aim of sharing the latest British and Finnish research in digital humanities, and strengthening collaborations between the two. DIGIHUM is a multidisciplinary four-year programme, described on their website as:

designed to address novel methods and techniques in which digital technology and state-of-the-art computational science methods are used for collecting, managing and analysing data in humanities and social sciences research as well as for modelling humanities and social science phenomena.

UCLDH presented on three projects:

DIGIHUM delegates gave presentations on the following projects:

Various shared areas of investigation came out of the meeting, including manuscript studies, text and analysis tools, big data and high performance computing, OCR challenges and the social aspects of digital humanities.

Prof. Tim Weyrich, UCLDH Deputy Director, speaking to the DIGIHUM delegates.

Prof. Tim Weyrich, UCLDH Deputy Director, speaking to the DIGIHUM delegates.

Prof. Melissa Terras leaves UCL

Lucy Stagg11 September 2017

Our wonderful Director, Prof. Melissa Terras, is leaving UCL in October 2017 to take up a new position as Chair of Digital Cultural Heritage at the new Edinburgh Futures InstituteUniversity of Edinburgh.

melissa

Professor Melissa Terras

Melissa joined UCL in 2003; she was Deputy Director at UCLDH’s founding in 2010, and has been Director since May 2013. In that time UCLDH has become one of the most visible and leading centres in its field in the UK, according to the Times Higher and the National Library of France. [1] [2]

In her time at UCLDH she’s been part of many projects (including QRatorTranscribe BenthamThe Great Parchment Book and Textal), served as General Editor for Digital Humanities Quarterly, published a ton of stuff and served as Secretary for the European Association for Digital Humanities until 2013. She gave her inaugural lecture, ‘A Decade in Digital Humanities’ in May 2014.

Her passion for research, towards the work that we do in the department, and in academia overall, is contagious. If I were to sum Melissa up in four words, it would be something like this: Profound. Dedicated. Empowering. Dynamic. I couldn’t have asked for a better supervisor.” Kinda Dahlan, PhD. student

For me, Mel is the embodiment of Digital Humanities: a vibrant mix of creativity and technical expertise. It has been hugely refreshing to have a strong, loud and proud female academic role model.  UCLDH, and UCL, will not be the same without her.” Dr Claire Bailey-Ross, former supervisee

Melissa’s deep understanding of Digital Humanities, being a pioneer of this field herself, and her invaluable insight greatly benefitted, not only my PhD. studies, but also myself as an academic and a professional” Foteini Valeonti, Founder of USEUM and supervisee

Anyone who knows Melissa and would like to attend her leaving event on 10th October please email lucy.stagg@ucl.ac.uk and we will send the details on to you.

[1] “leading departments at University College London” (Times Higher Education: 2015)
[2] “Les plus visibles appartiennent au monde anglo-saxon : à Londres avec UCL” (Bulletin des Bibliotheques de France: 2012)