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New report on ‘Sustaining Digital Humanities in the UK’

Lucy Stagg9 October 2020

This report, published by the Software Sustainability Institute (SSI), lists a set of recommendations for SSI to further its activity in and engagement with the Digital Humanities community in the UK.

SSI’s aim is to develop better research software, at a time where digital methods and infrastructure are becoming increasingly important within the arts and humanities research landscape.

The report was led by Giles Bergel and Pip Willcox, with contributions from a number of other academics including our new Director, Julianne Nyhan.

The full report is freely available to read and download: Sustaining the Digital Humanities in the UK.

Welcome Adam Crymble

Simon Mahony29 May 2020

We are delighted to announce that Dr Adam Crymble will be joining us in July 2020. Adam will be the new Lecturer in Digital Humanities, and part of our programme team, here in the Department of Information Studies.

Dr Adam Crymble

Dr Adam Crymble

Adam has a background as a digital historian and digital humanist and will make a great addition to our team.

Welcome to UCL, to DIS, and to UCLDH.

Report on Symposium on Data Science and Digital Cultural Heritage

Julianne Nyhan6 March 2020

UCLDH deputy director Julianne Nyhan and UCLDH team member Tessa Hauswedell organised a workshop on the 26th/27th June 2019 on the topic of Data Science and Digital Cultural Heritage with generous funding from the UCL Grand Challenges Dynamics of Globalisation Initiative, the Centre for Critical Heritage Studies (CCHS) and UCLDH.  The workshop was entitled: “Data Science and Digital Cultural Heritage Workshop:  facilitating new connections between the disciplines and professions that can transform the Global Data Context”. It sought to facilitate new connections between academic disciplines and professions in order to develop a critical dialogue about the social and political implications of using the massive digital cultural heritage datasets that we increasingly rely on.

Nanna Bonde Thylstrup from the Copenhagen Business School opened the workshop with her public keynote address, entitled “Feminist Digital Humanities and the Infrapolitics of Mass Digitization”. Dr Thylstrup discussed how digital infrastructures are not neutral, inanimate objects in themselves: rather they operate as sites of power, privilege, and erasure but potentially also of contestation and critical intervention.

Dr Nanna Bonde Thylstrup is pictured delivering her lecture

Dr Nanna Bonde Thylstrup, author of The Politics of Mass Digitization (MIT 2019) delivers her keynote lecture.

The ensuing workshop assembled a group of curators, archivists, information professionals from the public and private sector, together with humanities and computer science researchers, to push forward the state of the art of ‘critical data science’ in a way that foregrounds questions of culture, power and knowledge. It also sought to lay the foundations for an ongoing dialogue about this across the respective disciplines and professions.  In the first of three panels, the workshop discussed recent or ongoing projects which are working with digital cultural heritage datasets such as the Scottish National Heritage Partnership, Living with Machines  and the Ancient Identities project, to establish how they approach issues of bias and prejudice in the datasets they are working with and how they actively seek to mitigate these biases.

The second panel was dedicated to the question of data science and cultural heritage training: to what extent do critical perspectives feature in training and which skillsets does the next generation of archivists, humanists and curators and information professionals need to have in order to build, curate and maintain the future datasets?   How do archivists and digital content providers need to rethink their archival practices in the digital age and what kind of formal training should be available to humanities researchers who want to work with big data repositories?

Dr Eirini Goudarouli, Head of Digital Research Programmes, The National Archives, delivers her intervention.

The final panel addressed the most pressing challenges in the field of data science and cultural heritage and debated what type of research development is needed in the medium to long term. Panellists addressed the lack of critical perspectives in developing fields such as AI, the lack of control over data and the lack of an ethical framework of how we store and keep data as persistent and ongoing challenges. Moreover, the privileging of infrastructure innovation and disruption creates a field in which questions of infrastructure maintenance, which are absolutely essential to the accessibility and retrievability of data, remains undervalued. The constant threat of technological obsolescence, therefore, will continue to create problems, which the field of critical data science is only slowly beginning to grapple with.

This workshop has aimed to mark the beginning of a multidisciplinary and trans-professional dialogue on the future of data science and digital cultural heritage. The aim was to identify the unique expertise that each profession can bring to the building of a ‘critical data science’ and UCLDH will continue to contribute to the development of this field through its research activities and future networking events.

Further to this, both Julianne Nyhan and Andreas Vlachidis, among other UCLDH colleagues, participate in the Turing Institute’s Humanities and Data Science group. Nyhan and Vlachidis and are contributing to a multi-autored report on the future of the Humanities and Data Science that will be out soon. An update about this will follow in due course.

Logo Institute of Archaeology; Institute of Advanced StudiesLogo UCL Grand Challenges


CFP: Open Digital Scholarship in the Humanities #OpenHUMS

Lucy Stagg6 March 2020

4 May 2020, UCL Institute for Advanced Studies.

Proposals due: March 27th 2020

Humanists are increasingly looking to open, digital methods as an integral part of their scholarship’s dissemination and engagement. Rooted in digital humanities, open source software, the OA movement, new media, book history, and many other areas, open digital scholarship is celebrated for its potential to strengthen academic and academic-aligned collaboration among many communities, both within and beyond those that are a part of the conventional university system and traditional publication methods. As Martin Paul Eve writes: “Indeed, if [humanities] disciplines are historically situated within the tradition of liberal humanism, in which the humanities help to create an informed and critical populace, then should not the amplification of scholarship go beyond those circles? Could such a broader base […] help to cement the public reputation of the academic humanities?” (Open Access and the Humanities [2014]). Kathleen Fitzpatrick echoes: “If we hope to engage the public with our work, we need to ensure that it is open in the broadest possible sense” (Generous Thinking [2019]). These sentiments are given life via practices such as crowdsourcing, which, as Mia Ridge notes, act “as a form of engagement with the collections and research of memory institutions” and “[benefit]  both audiences and institutions” (Crowdsourcing Our Cultural Heritage [2014]).

Open Digital Scholarship in the Humanities draws together those who are involved in the creation, dissemination, management, and archiving of open digital scholarship. We are pleased to announce that Martin Paul Eve (Birkbeck College, University of London) and Mia Ridge (British Library) are featured speakers for the event, and that Claire Warwick (Durham University) will act as respondent. This action-oriented event is geared toward leaders and learners from all fields and arenas, including academic and non-academic researchers, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, librarians and archivists, publishers, members of scholarly and professional associations and consortia, open source practitioners and developers, industry liaisons, community groups, and other stakeholders.

We invite proposals for short presentations, talks, and relevant project demonstrations to the end of raising awareness, provoking conversation, and mobilising collaboration in and around open digital scholarship. Proposals should contain a title, an abstract (of approximately 250 words, plus list of works cited), and the names and affiliations, of presenters. Please send proposals on or before March 27th 2020 via http://bit.ly/OpenHUMS

Broader areas to consider may include the following: How can open digital scholarship in the humanities be transformative and world-leading? Should it be? Building out from this question, specific areas of focus for Open Digital Scholarship in the Humanities include community building, collaboration, and mobilization, as well as shared initiatives, activities, and partnership in regard to digital scholarly production, social knowledge creation, (open) access, and knowledge dissemination. This event asks,“What are the best examples of current open digital scholarship projects and practices in the United Kingdom, and beyond? How do we connect with various publics over open, digital scholarship? How do we build productive feedback loops?” There will be a thematic emphasis on modes and methods, including in academic publ ishing practices, infrastructure, and research data management. Moreover, we encourage discussion on how open digital scholarship differs field-to-field and across community and geographic boundaries, as well as how it can be leveraged internationally and where the stumbling blocks are for doing so.

Open Digital Scholarship in the Humanities is supported by Loughborough University and the Leverhulme Trust, the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, the University of London School of Advanced Study, and the Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE) Partnership. This gathering is related to previous partnered events with the INKE Partnership in Canada and the Canadian-Australian Partnership for Open Scholarship (CAPOS) in Australia. Open Digital Scholarship in the Humanities is organized by Ray Siemens (University of Victoria), Alyssa Arbuckle (University of Victoria), Lise Jaillant (Loughborough University), Simon Mahony (University College London), and Jane Winters (School of Advanced Study).

Please consider joining us in London for what is sure to be a dynamic discussion!

The Atlas of Digitised Newspapers and Metadata: Reports from Oceanic Exchanges.

Julianne Nyhan7 February 2020

Beals, M. H. and Emily Bell, with contributions by Ryan Cordell, Paul Fyfe, Isabel Galina Russell, Tessa Hauswedell, Clemens Neudecker, Julianne Nyhan, Mila Oiva, Sebastian Padó, Miriam Peña Pimentel, Lara Rose, Hannu Salmi, Melissa Terras, and Lorella Viola. The Atlas of Digitised Newspapers and Metadata: Reports from Oceanic Exchanges. Loughborough: 2020. DOI: 10.6084/m9.figshare.11560059

The Oceanic Exchanges team has just published a substantial open access resource that will advance the state of the art of the cross-collection text analysis of selected North-Atlantic and Anglophone-Pacific retrodigitised nineteenth-century newspapers. We also hope that the approach set out in the report will be taken up by other researchers who wish to engage in foundational research on approaches to cross-collection computational analysis. As the project notes:

the rise of digitisation promises great opportunities for those who wish to engage with newspaper archives, but as with all historical archives, digital collections require researchers to be mindful of their shape, provenance and structure before any conclusion can be drawn. It is the responsibility of both digitiser and researcher to understand both the map and the terrain (see here).

The numerous newspaper digitisation projects that have been undertaken in recent years have resulted in the remediation of many millions of pages of nineteenth-century newspapers. Yet, those researchers who wish to pursue questions about global history, for example, have often found it difficult to carry out data-driven research across those digitised collections. As our report discusses, there are many reasons for this, including how digitisation projects are often undertaken in national settings but newspapers often participate in global conversations;  standards that can overarch and integrate numerous, disparate digital newspaper collections have not been implemented; the shape and scope of digitised newspaper collections is informed by a multiplicity of situated contexts which can be difficult for those who are external to digitisation projects to establish; also, though digital newspapers are often encoded in line with METS/ALTO, for example, notable variations exist in how those metadata specifications are applied to digital newspaper collections exist.

To respond to this, and to further research that takes place across digital newspaper collections, this 200 page report brings together qualitative data, metadata and paradata about selected digitised newspaper databases. It provides crucial historical and contextual information about the circumstances under which those collections came into being. It provides a textual ontology that describes the relationships between the informational units of which the respective databases are comprised, between the data and metadata of the different collections and on the interrelationships between analogue newspapers and their retrodigitised representations. Also included are maps which support the visual inspection and comparison of data across disparate newspaper collections alone with JSON or xpath paths to the data.

This report has come about in the context of the Oceanic Exchanges (2017-19) project  (of which UCLDHers Julianne Nyhan was UK PI and Tessa Hauswedell was UCL Research Associate). The project was funded through the Transatlantic Partnership for Social Sciences and Humanities 2016 Digging into Data Challenge, and brought together leading efforts in computational periodicals research from six countries—Finland, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States—to examine patterns of information flow across national and linguistic boundaries.

The project is also immensely grateful to the many groups and organisations involved in the digitisation of historical newspapers who agreed to be interviewed and consulted during the process of researching the report. You can find the report, metadata maps and other resources here: https://www.digitisednewspapers.net/



New open access publication

Julianne Nyhan22 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

Julianne Nyhan8 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

Simon Mahony24 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

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).

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

Oliver W Duke-Williams5 July 2019