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New open access publication

JulianneNyhan22 November 2019

MS 3972C vol. VI, f.7. British Library (Public domain in most countries except the UK). An annotated extract from Sloane’s catalogue of printed material showing composite parts of individual catalogue entries. For readability we have dropped the enlightenment namespace prefix.

MS 3972C vol. VI, f.7. British Library (Public domain in most countries except the UK). An annotated extract from Sloane’s catalogue of printed material showing composite parts of individual catalogue entries. For readability we have dropped the enlightenment architectures namespace prefix.

Julianne Nyhan, UCLDH Deputy-Director, and colleagues in the Leverhulme-funded ‘Enlightenment Architectures: Sir Hans Sloane’s catalogues of his collections’ (2016–19), recently published a substantial open access article in the Open Library of Humanities.

This article presents a significant aspect of the work of the ‘Enlightenment Architectures’ project, a collaboration between the British Museum and University College London including contributions from the British Library and the Natural History Museum. The project investigates Sir Hans Sloane’s (1660-1753) original handwritten catalogues of his collections in order to understand their highly complex information architecture and intellectual legacies. To do so, the project has employed computational analysis to examine how Sloane’s catalogues are composed and the way their structure and content relate to the world from which his collections were assembled – the first substantial example of such an approach.

Digital Humanities in the Memory Institution addresses some of the challenges of seeking to integrate the methods of digital humanities with those of cataloguing, inventory, curatorial and historical studies, especially in the context of early modern documentary sources. Focusing on two case studies which exemplify the complexities of encoding Hans Sloane’s catalogues in accordance with the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), the article sheds light on both the technical and epistemological challenges of encoding early modern catalogues, while emphasising the new questions and perspectives that arise from such complications. Most strikingly, the article draws attention to the parallels between early modern and current classification systems, and the on-going dilemma of how best to use language to describe objects.

Digital Humanities in the Memory Institution has resonance for the institutions, individuals and communities alike who research, curate, archive and simply even browse digital heritage collections.

See: Digital Humanities in the Memory Institution: The Challenges of Encoding Sir Hans Sloane’s Early Modern Catalogues of His Collections. Ortolja-Baird, A., Pickering, V., Nyhan, J., Sloan, K. and Fleming, M., Open Library of Humanities, 5(1), 2019, p. 44. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/olh.409


Computation and the Humanities download highs

JulianneNyhan8 November 2019

UCLDH Deputy Director Julianne Nyhan and Andrew Flinn’s open access book Computation and the Humanities: towards an oral history of Digital Humanities has been achieving high download rates.

As of November 2019, Computation and the Humanities has been downloaded some 116,205 times and counting! According to the most up-to-date information from the book’s publisher, Springer, the book was in the top 25% most downloaded of their texts of 2018. Also, its download rates were almost triple the discipline download average rates for 2018. It looks like the book is becoming a vital reference for scholars of cultural and computing history, digital humanities and cultural heritage alike. It also features in a number of university syllabi (Open Syllabus).

Computation and the Humanities: Towards an Oral History of Digital Humanities presents the first rigorous oral history account of the history and development of digital humanities. No longer a fledgling discipline, recently a marked interest in the historiography of digital humanities can be noticed. More nuanced understandings of the history of its intellectual agenda, influences, the development of its methods over the past 70 years and its place within the humanities more generally, are starting to emerge. Nyhan and Flinn’s book is an important contribution to this scholarship.

Computation and the Humanities features a series of fourteen oral history interviews that Nyhan conducted with sixteen well- and also lesser-know pioneers of the Digital Humanities. Those interviewed include Susan Hockey, John Burrows and Michael Sperberg-McQueen, whose memories are “essential to charting the often disputed and disputatious histories of the establishment of new disciplines” (Computation and the Humanities, 22). In the oral history interviews included in this book, and the four more analytical chapters that are also included in it, Nyhan and Flinn insightfully unpick the complex foundations, motivations and intellectual roots of Digital Humanities.

This book is open access under a CC BY-NC 2.5 license. Please grab yourself a copy of it if you have not done so already!

Do also note that the interviews included in Computation and the Humanities can be read alongside a further selection of open access oral history interviews that were published in Digital Humanities Quarterly in 2012

Cover image of Nyhan and Flinn's Computation and the Humanities

Cover image of Nyhan and Flinn’s Computation and the Humanities

DH2019 China style

SimonMahony24 July 2019

The annual international ADHO Digital Humanities conference 2019 was held in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The week before that I had the very great pleasure to be an invited guest at the 2019 International Symposium on Digital Humanities and Cultural Heritage (DH2019) at Dunhuang, China. This was held at the Dunhuang Mogao Caves, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site and home of the Dunhuang Research Institute.

With no direct flights to Dunhuang, I took the opportunity to stop over at Shanghai on the way there and the way back. I would not pass up the opportunity to visit the Shanghai Library and other friends there.

Shanghai Library and Technical Institute

Shanghai Library and Technical Institute

One of these was from the contacts made at a trip to Nanjing earlier this year. When there, I met researchers from the DH group at the Shanghai University and was invited to give a talk there next time I visited Shanghai. This is a good example of how networking supported by UCL Global Engagement creates new partnerships and opens up possibilities for cooperation and collaboration; relationships that can be fostered and built upon.

Poster Shanghai University

Poster Shanghai University

I was very pleased to be given a guided tour of the campus and their new library building, which reminded me a little of moves here UCL where there is much emphasis on creating space for the students.

Shanghai University Campus

Shanghai University Campus

Once at Dunhuang, but before the conference itself, I participated in a two-day workshop on various aspects of Digital Humanities teaching, learning and research.

Me and the poster for the workshop

Me and the poster for the workshop

Interestingly, their concept of a ‘workshop’ was considerably different to ours (good job that I checked first) as there was no expectation that I should set tasks for the participants but rather just to give an extended talk followed by Q&A and discussion. My slides have translations, with thanks to Yaming (Cindy) Fu and also to UCL Global Engagement for supporting this.

Pre-conference workshop

Pre-conference workshop

The main event followed after we were given a VIP tour of the caves; the Mogao Caves (says UNESCO) have the largest and riches collection of Buddhist art in the world. Photography is not permitted inside the caves but for really amazing images see the Digital Dunhuang website.


Official conference group photo

Official conference group photo

This was an international event with several speakers from the USA; one from UNESCO another from the British Library, as well as myself, to make up the non-Chinese speakers. It brought many Chinese Digital Humanities researchers and practitioners together at the same event; indeed, almost all the groups that I have been networking with as well as many ones that were new to me. This was a great pleasure for me as I usually have to travel extensively to see so many Chinese friends.

There is a full write up and description from one of the international organisers and Centre for Digital Humanities at the University of Wuhan.

While we were there heavy rain in the mountains triggered floods in the river Daquan which washed out the bridge in the only road to and from the cave complex. Rather than causing us alarm, and despite the apologies of our host, we were treated to an exhilarating 4×4 ride over the mountain and across the desert to the city of Dunhuang and safety.  A memorable trip indeed.

Washed out bridge on the Dunhuang road

Washed out bridge on the Dunhuang road

Returning to Shanghai gave the opportunity to consolidate a new connection made at the conference with the Director and researchers at the Shanghai Museum – one of my favourite museums (it only holds and displays artifacts from China) that I have visited many times but this time accessing via the guest entrance and avoiding the long queues.

Shanghai Museum

Shanghai Museum

As well as making new connections that I shall revisit at future occasions, catching up with former students and Shanghai friends, this truly was a memorable and unforgettable experience – the trip of a lifetime. If you ever get the opportunity to go, make sure you do! Mentioning UCL and UCLDH may get you the VIP treatment.

International Archives Week in Beijing

SimonMahony24 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).

Google image results and gender: fair play or own goal?

Oliver WDuke-Williams5 July 2019


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.

Corpus analysis reveals ‘Routine politeness in American and British English requests’

Lucy JStagg23 April 2019

UCLDH team member, Dr. Rachele De Felice, has had an article published in the Journal of Politeness Research.

Co-authored with M. Lynne Murphy, the article is entitled Routine politeness in American and British English requests: use and non-use of please (Journal of Politeness Research 15(1), 77-100). The article extract explains further:

This paper looks at the use and non-use of please in American and British English requests. The analysis is based on request data from two comparable workplace email corpora, which have been pragmatically annotated to enable retrieval of all request speech acts regardless of formulation. 675 requests are extracted from each of the two corpora; the behaviour of please is analyzed with regard to factors such as imposition level, sentence mood, and modal verb type.

Rachele’s research is in the field of corpus pragmatics. It focuses on speech act annotation and the creation of pragmatic profiles of Business English by applying corpus analysis and natural language processing (NLP) techniques to large collections of real-world data.

Reflections on ‘Big Data in Archaeology’

Lucy JStagg15 April 2019

UCLDH team member Andreas Vlachidis gave a talk at the Big Data in Archaeology: Practicalities and Possibilities conference (27-28th March 2019), organised by the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge.

Andreas’ talk was entitled “Reflections on excavating archaeological grey literature: and on the challenges in information extraction”

The conference website explains the aim of the conference:

This conference will bring together leaders in the fields of archaeological data science to critically evaluate the concepts and methods associated with “big data” and data-intensive research approaches. The goal of this conference is to provide a forum for discussion about the growing complexity of archaeological data as well as to provide participants with the scaffolding to explore their own application of data science methods.

For more see https://erikgjesfjeld.wixsite.com/big-data-archaeology

Ethics and Digital History IHR presentation

Lucy JStagg26 February 2019

UCLDH deputy director Julianne Nyhan gave a presentation at the Institute of Historical Research Digital History Seminar on Ethics and Digital History.

Dr Nyhan drew on her oral history research to reflect on the ethical aspects of using oral history methodologies to research the ‘hidden’ histories of Digital Humanities. Among other questions she asked: who ‘owns’ oral history interviews and transcripts? What are the implications of being an ‘insider’ of the (academic) community one is seeking to research? What about the ethical issues that can occur ‘downstream’ of oral history research, for example, the use of contingent labour to provide research assistance and interview transcription?

Also on the panel were: Sharon Webb (University of Sussex); Kelly Foster (public historian); Kathryn Eccles (Oxford Internet Institute)

You can watch a recording of the panel on Youtube