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Extending the history of digital humanities by 510 million years

By rmapapg, on 30 March 2022

UCLDH was fortunate to be awarded funds through UKRI’s Research Capital Investment Fund in 2019 in a bid led by our previous director Prof Simon Mahony. The bid funded the purchase of a Bruker Tornado M4+ x-ray fluorescence scanner. This is a unique system that uses x-rays to excite the atoms making up a substance which then emit x-rays that are characteristic of the elements making up the sample. The beam is narrow and scans across an object, allowing an image to be built up of the elemental composition. It is situated in the UCLDH Digitisation Suite, with radiation safety provided by the Department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering.

The system was delivered in February 2020. Events then conspired to delay its commissioning until Summer 2021. It is now fully functional and we are familiarising ourselves with its performance. Importantly, the system is capable of running under a vacuum which allows lighter elements to be detected than is possible with other similar systems. We are in the process of installing a helium pump which will mean we can image objects containing light elements without needing a vacuum.  This is important for many objects of relevance to DH including paper and parchment documents which can be damaged by a vacuum.

The UCL Bruker Tornado M4+ X-ray spectrometer

Figure 1: The UCL Bruker Tornado M4+ X-ray spectrometer

We were approached by colleagues at the Natural History Museum who had prepared a paper describing a new fossil that needed an image of the elemental composition, exactly what this system can provide. The fossil was of a edrioasteroid, a relative of starfish and sea urchins. With the help of Tobias Salge from the Museum, we scanned the fossil overnight. The x-ray scans supported their other analysis, which showed that its skeleton was partially mineralised and partly soft. Its ancestors had had fully mineralised skeletons which mean that this was the earliest example of an organism that had lost a previously mineralised skeleton. The x-ray fluorescence imaging was able to show that some elements (phosphorus and calcium) were enriched throughout the fossil, but others (iron, zinc and silicon) were enriched only in the hardened regions, suggesting a different elemental composition in life.

A visible fossil and the heightened levels of iron

Figure 2: Showing the visible fossil (in greyscale) and the heightened levels of iron (in red)

This was an exciting departure for a system that was purchased to support research in DH, but imaging this fossil was too good an opportunity to miss. The work has been published in the Proceedings of Royal Society B:

Zamora Samuel, Rahman Imran A., Sumrall Colin D., Gibson Adam P. and Thompson Jeffrey R. (2022) Cambrian edrioasteroid reveals new mechanism for secondary reduction of the skeleton in echinoderms Proc. R. Soc. B. 289: 20212733 http://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.2733

Digital Humanities Longview Seminar – 2022 Programme Announced

By Adam Crymble, on 9 February 2022

We are very pleased to announce the programme for the 2022 Digital Humanities Longview (virtual) seminar series, co-hosted with our friends at CESTA (Stanford, US) and the Centre for Digital Humanities (Uppsala, Sweden). In this our second year of the series, our focus is on the idea that technology is global, but where we live affects how we apply digital solutions to humanities work. We all have what Roopika Risam described as a digital humanities (DH) “accent”. This seminar series explores those accents by looking at DH research here, and there, and over there too. This is a chance to build greater global awareness and empathy about regional and local approaches to digital humanities in the twenty-first century.

It’s an opportunity for newcomers to understand how the field has developed differently around the globe, and for established practitioners to consider their work as part of a larger movement with competing influences, ambitions, and blindspots.


  • 10 March 2022 (5pm): Dr Nirmala Menon (IIT Indore), ‘Decolonizing Knowledge Infrastructures: Open Access and Multilingual Scholarly Publishing’ [Register to attend]
  • 7 April 2022 (5pm): Dr Grant Parker (Stanford), ‘Curating enslaved pasts of the Cape of Good Hope’ [Register to attend]
  • 21 April 2022 (5pm): Dr Ale Pålsson & Victor Wilson (Uppsala) ‘SWECARCOL. Swedish Caribbean Colonialism 1784–1878: Research, Challenges and Opportunities for Caribbean Digital History’ [Register to attend]
  • 5 May 2022 (5pm): Dr Roopika Risam (Salem State University), ‘To be confirmed’ [Register to attend]
  • 19 May 2022 (5pm): Professor Tim Williams (UCL), ‘Central Asia and the Role of Digital Heritage Inventories’ [Register to attend]
  • 2 June 2022 (5pm): Jessie Loyer (Mount Royal University), ‘To be confirmed’ [Register to attend]

Mapping the state of the art of Named-Entity Recognition for early modern documents. New Publication.

By Julianne Nyhan, on 2 November 2021

[posted by Julianne Nyhan on behalf of Marco Humbel]

This blog post reports on our recent paper: Humbel, M., Nyhan, J., Vlachidis, A., Sloan, K. and Ortolja-Baird, A. (2021), “Named-entity recognition for early modern textual documents: a review of capabilities and challenges with strategies for the future”, Journal of Documentation, https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-02-2021-0032

Link to full text of publisher-accepted version:  https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10127463/ (note that this is the version of the paper accepted by the publisher before final proofs and so there will be some minor differences between this and the final published version).

Summary of paper:

Named Entity Recognition (NER) is an information extraction technique for identifying, segmenting and labelling phenomena of interest like those of people, organizations and places (Piskorski and Yangarber, 2013). In the article reported on here, we synthesise current research on the application of NER to digitized documents of the early modern period. We also examine NER and authority files from a more critical perspective, and suggest directions to enrich the application of NER going forward. Our findings are based upon an extensive literature review and a case study undertaken by the Leverhulme Trust-funded ‘Enlightenment Architectures: Sir Hans Sloane’s Catalogues of his Collections (2016–2021)’. Our findings suggest that “Currently, it is not possible to benchmark the capabilities of NER as applied to documents of the early modern period”. And we “draw attention to the situated nature of authority files, and current conceptualisations of NER, leading … to the conclusion that more robust reporting and critical analysis of NER approaches and findings is required” (https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/JD-02-2021-0032/full/html). We hope our article will be useful for researchers and heritage professionals who seek to use NER on the abundance of digitised sources available for the early modern period.

Discussion of paper:

What is the state of the art of NER as applied to early modern documents? Our frank response is that we currently know only how a particular NER system performs on a specific corpus. We have surveyed 9 projects dating from 2002 to 2019 and found that a number of factors limit the possibilities for a simple comparison. Historical documents of the early modern period present a heterogeneous set of resources consisting not only of different types of material including: manuscripts, collection catalogues, encyclopaedias, or pamphlets. But also, within one corpus, or even one document, we might find various languages (e.g.: Latin, English and French), an unstandardised spelling, and errors in their transcriptions made by scribes, or through text recognition software like OCR (Optical Character Recognition). Our case-study on Sloane’s catalogues also showed extensive XML (Extensible Markup Language) annotation preceding the NER process can hamper performance, particularly when presentational and semantic tags co-occur. NER systems are thus ideally should be applied before annotating a corpus with standards like TEI (Text Encoding Initiative).

All of these factors can impact the accuracy of NER. But the generalization of NER approaches to early modern documents and the transferability of projects’ outcomes is impeded further through an under-reporting of selected approaches like the human labour required for data processing.

Different methods for measuring NER systems’ effectiveness are also used. (for an example see Goldfield, 1993). The inter-annotator agreement score of human annotators sets the benchmark of what should be expected from automated systems (Sperberg‐McQueen, 2016). Inter-annotator agreement scores of 95% and more can be reached for historical corpora (McDonough and Camp, van de, 2017; Erdmann et al., 2016). If we compare the project reports by McDonough et al., 2019 and Won et al., 2018, which are in our survey the most comparable ones, we see that NER systems reach on early modern documents in the best cases accuracies of about 70%. These results make significant human post-processing efforts inevitable, and hold back the benefits that would come with automating the repetitive parts of annotation tasks.

Human domain expertise will also be required in the future because what constitutes an entity can’t always be reduced to a binary yes/no. We discussed these challenges in regard to Sloane’s catalogues in Ortolja-Baird et al., 2019. Our survey shows also that so-called rule-based NER systems are only gradually being superseded by machine learning techniques. This is because machine-learning techniques require huge amounts of training data, which typically are not available to digital humanities projects. Yet, promising results were recently demonstrated on highly structured early modern marriage records (Toledo et al., 2019).

Rule-based NER systems are dependent on authority files and gazetteers (look-up lists for identifying entities). The prevalence of rule-based systems in our survey motivated us to map-out the landscape of authority files for scholarship on the early modern period. These resources could also form the basis for training data for future machine-learning NER techniques. The authority files we have surveyed were created by a number of different actors (heritage institutions and researchers) and are due to the lack of a central registry difficult to find. As others have argued, specialized authority files for the early modern period are rare (Nelson, 2014; McDonough et al., 2019). Authority files seem commonly to be viewed as mere tool for working with source material. But it is known that authority files are often incomplete and as McDonough et al. 2019 observed that general purpose authority files can be inaccurate and at worst insensitive to past and present local languages, reinforcing hegemonic world-views. It is thus necessary to develop critical frameworks for interrogating authority files. The creators of authority-files could support this development by providing more documentation about their compilation rationale.

What is the way forward? In order to support more robust reporting on the capabilities of NER we propose a forum where tools are evaluated according to standards formulated by the early modern research community. Possible models for the nature of such a forum could be corpora and conference series like ConLL (Conference on Computational Natural Language Learning), as they are established within the wider NER community. We also acknowledge that NER is not a neutral intervention, neither are authority-files. A digital tool criticism, as proposed by Koolen et al. (2019) could foster a more critical understanding of NER, its biases and its ethical implications.

The full article is available from the Journal of Documentation. We are grateful to the Leverhulme Trust, which provided the research project grant (rpg-2016-239) for Enlightenment Architectures. Thank you to the Centre for Critical Heritage Studies, UCL for funding part of this work.

We hope that the following list of resources is useful for any colleagues who are interested in applying NER to early modern documents. All links were last accessed on 05.07.2021.


NER tools

Name Link
CLAWS http://ucrel.lancs.ac.uk/claws/
Edinburgh Geoparser https://www.ltg.ed.ac.uk/software/geoparser/
GATE https://gate.ac.uk/
MorphAdorner http://morphadorner.northwestern.edu/morphadorner/
NER-Tagger software package https://github.com/glample/tagger
Perdido http://erig.univ-pau.fr/PERDIDO/
Polyglot https://polyglot.readthedocs.io/en/latest/
SpaCy https://spacy.io/
Stanford Named Entity Recognizer https://nlp.stanford.edu/software/CRF-NER.html
TextCat http://www.let.rug.nl/vannoord/TextCat/
USAS http://ucrel.lancs.ac.uk/usas/
VARD http://ucrel.lancs.ac.uk/vard/about/


Authority files


Name Scope Link
Alexandria Digital Library Project Gazetteer Online global place name

dictionary. Exists now only

on a development server, but

research team can be

contacted for use

Biography Portal of

the Netherlands

Prominent figures from the

Dutch History

Prominent figures from the

Dutch History

CERL Authority file for names

found in material printed

before the middle of the 19th


Compendium of office

holders and civil

servants 1428–1861

Compendium of office holders

and civil servants 1428–1861

on the present-day Dutch


Early Modern Letters


Finding aid for early modern


GeoCrossWalk UK, succeeded in Digimap https://digimap.edina.ac.uk/
GeoNames Global https://www.geonames.org/
Getty Thesaurus of

Geographic Names

Gazetteer developed by the

Getty Research Institute



GND Authority file developed by

the German National Library

Library of Congress Names Authority file developed by

the Library of Congress Names

Pleiades Ancient World https://pleiades.stoa.org/
VIAF Authority file hosted by Online Computer Library Center Inc. http://viaf.org/
World Gazetteer Global https://www.arcgis.com/home/item.html?id=346ce13fa2d4468a9049f71bcc250f37#!



Dyer-Witheford, N., Kjøsen, A. M. and Steinhoff, J. (2019). Inhuman Power: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Capitalism. London: Pluto Press.

Erdmann, A., Brown, C., Joseph, B., Janse, M., Ajaka, P., Elsner, M. and Marneffe, M.-C. de (2016). Challenges and Solutions for Latin Named Entity Recognition. Proceedings of the Workshop on Language Technology Resources and Tools for Digital Humanities (LT4DH). Osaka, Japan: The COLING 2016 Organizing Committee, pp. 85–93 https://www.aclweb.org/anthology/W16-4012 (accessed 5 July 2021).

Goldfield, J. D. (1993). An argument for single-author and similar studies using quantitative methods: Is there safety in numbers?. Computers and the Humanities, 27(5–6): 365–74 doi:10.1007/BF01829387.

Koolen, M., Gorp, J. van and Ossenbruggen, J. van (2019). Toward a model for digital tool criticism: Reflection as integrative practice. Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, 34(2): 368–85 doi:10.1093/llc/fqy048.

Marrero, M., Urbano, J., Sánchez-Cuadrado, S., Morato, J. and Gómez-Berbís, J. M. (2013). Named Entity Recognition: Fallacies, challenges and opportunities. Computer Standards & Interfaces, 35(5): 482–89 doi:10.1016/j.csi.2012.09.004.

McDonough, K. and Camp, M. van de (2017). Mapping the Encyclopédie: Working Towards an Early Modern Digital Gazetteer. Proceedings of the 1st ACM SIGSPATIAL Workshop on Geospatial Humanities  – GeoHumanities’17. Redondo Beach, CA, USA: ACM Press, pp. 16–22 doi:10.1145/3149858.3149861. http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=3149858.3149861 (accessed 24 January 2019).

McDonough, K., Moncla, L. and Camp, M. van de (2019). Named entity recognition goes to old regime France: geographic text analysis for early modern French corpora. International Journal of Geographical Information Science, 33(12): 2498–522 doi:10.1080/13658816.2019.1620235.

Nelson, B. (2014). From Index to Interoperability: The Desideratum of Authority Files in Large-Scale Digital Projects. Scholarly and Research Communication, 5(4) doi:10.22230/src.2014v5n4a192. http://src-online.ca/index.php/src/article/view/192 (accessed 21 February 2019).

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

Piotrowski, M. (2012). Natural Language Processing for Historical Texts. Morgan&Claypool. Vol. 17. (Synthesis Lectures On Human Language Technologies) http://www.morganclaypool.com/doi/abs/10.2200/S00436ED1V01Y201207HLT017 (accessed 4 June 2018).

Piskorski, J. and Yangarber, R. (2013). Information Extraction: Past, Present and Future. In Poibeau, T., Saggion, H., Piskorski, J. and Yangarber, R. (eds), Multi-Source, Multilingual Information Extraction and Summarization. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, pp. 23–49 doi:10.1007/978-3-642-28569-1_2. http://link.springer.com/10.1007/978-3-642-28569-1_2 (accessed 9 May 2019).

Ravenek, W., Heuvel, C. van den and Gerritsen, G. (2017). The ePistolarium: Origins and Techniques. In Utrecht University, NL and Odijk, J. (eds), CLARIN in the Low Countries. Ubiquity Press, pp. 317–23 doi:10.5334/bbi.26. https://www.ubiquitypress.com/site/chapters/10.5334/bbi.26/ (accessed 8 June 2018).

Smith, D. A. and Cordell, R. (2019). A Research Agenda for Historical and Multilingual Optical Character Recognition. Northeastern University https://ocr.northeastern.edu/report/ (accessed 10 March 2019).

Smithies, J., Westling, C., Sichani, A.-M., Mellen, P. and Ciula, A. (2019). Managing 100 Digital Humanities Projects: Digital Scholarship & Archiving in King’s Digital Lab. Digital Humanities Quarterly, 13(1) http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/13/1/000411/000411.html#d3876770e516 (accessed 16 February 2020).

Sperberg‐McQueen, C. M. (2016). Classification and its Structures. In Schreibman, S., Siemens, R. G. and Unsworth, J. (eds), A New Companion to Digital Humanities. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley/Blackwell, pp. 377–93.

Toledo, J. I., Carbonell, M., Fornés, A. and Lladós, J. (2019). Information extraction from historical handwritten document images with a context-aware neural model. Pattern Recognition, 86: 27–36 doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.patcog.2018.08.020.

Won, M., Murrieta-Flores, P. and Martins, B. (2018). Ensemble Named Entity Recognition (NER): Evaluating NER Tools in the Identification of Place Names in Historical Corpora. Frontiers in Digital Humanities, 5 doi:10.3389/fdigh.2018.00002. http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fdigh.2018.00002/full (accessed 14 May 2018).



Long View Seminar – Reflecting on our First Year

By Adam Crymble, on 27 July 2021

In a year dominated by a global pandemic and both remote working and teaching, we lost many of the traditional ways that we as scholars could stay connected. One of those, the traditional extra-curricular seminar series that was a coming together space for people at different stages of their career, had to go online. And that’s just where we went.

While elements of the seminar culture have not been easy to replicate online, the shift to virtual did present some opportunities, one of which was to work collaboratively across what would otherwise be prohibitively wide distances. In this case, it was a chance for the UCLDH team to work together with colleagues at Stanford’s CESTA (Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis) to co-host the Digital Humanities Long View seminar during the spring of 2021. It was a chance to share scholarly culture, to build new bridges, and to help postgraduate students get involved in networking and professional development opportunities that were increasingly difficult to arrange during a pandemic.

Logo of the Digital Humanities Longview seminar

Logo of the Digital Humanities Longview Seminar, with a world map showing the location of each of the seminar’s speakers and of the two co-host organisations (Stanford CESTA & UCLDH).


The Long View for us was about understanding that research happens in context. About asking questions of how Digital Humanities (DH) got where it is today. Our seminar series explored some of the key socio-historical, political and cultural contexts of DH research as a means of building understandings of how we all ended up here and what that means for the future of the field. It’s been an opportunity for newcomers to understand how the field has developed, and for established practitioners to consider their work as part of a larger movement with competing influences, ambitions, and blindspots.

Having finished our first programme of talks, we’re incredibly pleased with the Long View series. We were grateful to host 11 wonderful speakers from five countries and three different linguistic backgrounds. We had the support of 17 different postgraduate students and early career researchers who acted as respondents to the papers and co-hosted the proceedings. And we had tremendous and engaged audiences from around the world, reaching 650 people across the series.

Some of the talks have been video recorded and remain online on the CESTA website, and we invite you to watch them if you missed them live: https://cestastanford.github.io/schedule.html

And we’re pleased to announce that we plan to continue our collaborative seminar series next year, building upon what we’ve established with our friends at Stanford.

That means we’ll once again be on the lookout for postgraduate students who want to get involved and build both their skills and professional networks. If any UCL postgraduate students or offer holders for 2021-22 would like to represent UCLDH as a postgraduate respondent at next year’s events, please contact Dr Adam Crymble directly for an informal conversation.

Finally, a huge thanks to our speakers, convenors, colleagues, and respondents, who supported this seminar: Ian Milligan (Waterloo), Jessica Marie Johnson (Johns Hopkins), Zephyr Frank, Quinn Dombrowski, Mark Algee-Hewitt (Stanford), Riva Quiroga (Programming Historian), Scott Weingart (Notre Dame), Nickoal Eichmann-Kalwara (Colorado), Amy Earhart (Texas A&M), Valérie Schafer (Luxembourg), Jane Winters (London), Agnieszka Backman, Amanda Wilson Bergado, William Parish, Daniel Bush, Giovanna Ceserani, Laura Stokes, Anna Toledano, Victoria Rahbar, Maciej Kurzynski, Yunxin Li, Lakmali Jayasinghe, Merve Tekgurler, Mae Velloso-Lyons (CESTA); Adam Crymble, Julianne Nyhan, Lucy Stagg, Hannah Smyth, Nenna Orie Chuku, Madeline Tondi, George Cooper, Jin Gao, Malithi Alahappruna, Opher Mansour, Marco Humbel (UCL) and Urszula Pawlicka-Deger (KCL). It has been a wonderful and collegial opportunity and we valued it tremendously.


MA / MSc Digital Humanities Applications Open for 2021-22

By Adam Crymble, on 3 February 2021

Image of UCL Campus

Caption: Photograph of UCL Campus in London.

UCL’s Department of Information Studies is currently accepting applications for the 2021-22 cohort of its MA in Digital Humanities and MSc in Digital Humanities programmes. Programme lead, Dr. Julianne Nyhan writes, ‘this exciting, interdisciplinary programme offers students a unique opportunity to explore and analyse the application of digital technologies to the cultural record of humankind and, in doing so, to reflect on how technology is impacting all aspects of how we live now, and in the future.’

Both programmes are taught by a range of staff, including members of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities. Potential applicants are invited to contact the Admissions tutor with any questions. For 2021-22 applicants, this is Dr Adam Crymble (a.crymble@ucl.ac.uk).

UCLDH Lunch-hour lectures: Star Wars and Hillary Clinton

By Lucy Stagg, on 28 September 2018

UCLDH is delighted to have two team members giving UCL Lunch-Hour Lectures this term.

Team member Dr. Rachele De Felice will be discussing ‘What’s Really Going On in Hillary Clinton’s Emails?’ on 16 October 2018. Dr De Felice will explore questions of manners, who gets stuck with the boring tasks, and what kind of boss Clinton is.

Dr Oliver Duke-Williams will speak on 27th November on ‘What Can the ONS Longitudinal Study Tell Us about Time Travel and about the Force?’ Dt Duke-Williams will outline what the study is and explain how to apply to use it by drawing on two examples: the film Back To The Future; and the Star Wars films.

The UCL Lunch-Hour lectures are free and open to the public, but booking is recommended. Lectures are also live streamed. The UCL Events page explains:

Lunch Hour Lectures are an opportunity for anyone to sample the exceptional research work taking place at UCL, in bite sized chunks. Speakers are drawn from across the university, and lectures frequently showcase new research and recent academic publications.

Video abstract on imaging work within mummy cartonnage

By Lucy Stagg, on 24 August 2018

The journal Heritage Science has released a video abstract of the paper UCLDH team members co-authored on advanced imaging for investigating inscribed papyrus in mummy cartonnage.

The full original paper is also available to read online. The co-authors are all part of the Deep Imaging research project team.

Reflectance Transformation Imaging Training Courses available

By Lucy Stagg, on 6 July 2018

UCLDH are delighted to be offering three 4-day RTI training courses this summer. There are still a few spaces left on each of the dates – book now to avoid disappointment!

During the course you will cover the complete RTI digital imaging work flow, from planning to archiving and publication. You will gain practical knowledge about equipment, image capture setups, and software, using examples from different areas of cultural heritage. You will follow a step-by-step guide through processing the images and how to use different viewing modes to examine details of the image.

These courses are perfect for: museum, library, and photographic staff working in conservation and education; archaeologists, historians, and anyone working with collections; anyone interested in Reflectance Transformation Imaging technology and its practical application.

You can find dates and booking details on the UCLDH website.

Dr. Kathryn Piquette undertaking RTI

Dr. Kathryn Piquette undertaking RTI

UCLDH hosted BL Labs roadshow, April 2018

By Lucy Stagg, on 1 May 2018

UCLDH were pleased to host the British Library Labs team on 24th April for their 2018 roadshow. This is the third time UCLDH have hosted the BL Labs, and the success and popularity of the now annual event continues to grow, with over 70 people registered this year.

This year’s event included a series of presentations exploring the British Library’s digital collections, how they have been used in various subject areas such as the Humanities, Computer Science and Social Sciences and the lessons learned by working with researchers, including UCLDH team member Tessa Hauswedell who spoke about her project the “Oceanic Exchanges” Project:Tracing Global Information Networks In Historical Newspaper Repositories, 1840-1914. 

The Roadshow showcased examples of the British Library’s digital content and data, addressed some of the challenges and issues of working with it, and how interesting and exciting projects have been developed via the annual British Library Labs Competition and Awards.

There was some good discussion around potential ideas of working with the Library’s data, and the UCLDH team look forward to hopefully seeing some of these projects come to fruition over the next few years!

More DH networking in China

By Simon Mahony, on 6 February 2018

Recently, I have been very pleased to be able to accept more networking and speaking invitations from the ever-growing number of DH groups in China. In November I was an invited speaker for the DH strand at the Cross-cultural, Cross-group and Comparative Modernity Conference in Fudan University Shanghai along with delegates from many different nationalities; interestingly (and fortunately for me) all the presentations were in English.

Conference banner

Banner for the conference at Fudan University Shanghai

December took me to Shenzhen, via Hong Kong, and the University Town Library there for the International Conference on Library and Digital Humanities. They had speakers, on a range of themes, from the UK and USA as well as China, and interestingly mostly from libraries where DH centres in China and the USA are usually found; my slot was in the Higher Education and Digital Humanities strand which enabled many conversations and new connections to be made.

Shenzhen conference photo

International conference at the University Town Library, Shenzhen

One new such connection was with DH researchers at the Library of Shanghai, a public as well as an academic and research library with a strong and committed DH team. In January of this year I was greeted there with a magnificent lunch, a tour of their preservation and research labs, and introduced to their research projects involving both genealogy and the historic local built environment.

Shanghai Library

Shanghai Library

The January visit to Shanghai was enabled by funding from the UCL Global Engagement Fund that I received to support networking and research into interdisciplinary and cross-cultural education. Some of this funding was marked for the translation of teaching material for an undergraduate workshop at the China Academy of Art, Shanghai Institute of Design (that I have visited several times now) and as a follow up to the workshop I ran there in January 2017.

Workshop in Shanghai Institute of Design

Workshop in Shanghai Institute of Design

This is a design institute and the students are great at producing videos but have no background in the Internet or the web and so this workshop mostly covers the coding of webpages along with the all important usability and accessibility built into the design. I, of course, have a translator but this helps with their English language learning too.

Group photo of students at the workshop

Group photo of students at the workshop

Remember when giving talks to Chinese students, always allow extra time at the end for group photos and selfies.

UCL’s Global Engagement funding covered the flights for the Shanghai visit and money to pay a student to help with translating the teaching materials which will go into a collection to later be released under an open licence as Open Educational Resources. Accommodation and hospitality was generously provided by the host institution.