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Oceanic Exchanges: Tracing Global Information Networks in Historical Newspaper Repositories

By Lucy Stagg, on 31 March 2017

We’re delighted to announce UCLDH staff Ulrich Tiedau (PI) and Melissa Terras (Co-I) have just received confirmation their Oceanic Exchanges project is one of 14 award winners in Round Four of the T-AP Digging into Data Challenge:

Each of the fourteen winning teams is composed of researchers from multiple scholarly and scientific disciplines, working collaboratively to demonstrate how cutting-edge big data techniques can be used to investigate a wide range of research questions across the humanities and social sciences. Since its inception in 2009, the Digging into Data Challenge program has helped to spark exciting new research avenues for the humanities and social sciences utilizing computational techniques.

The Oceanic Exchanges project will look at patterns and connections in information flow in newspapers during the 19th century.

Digital Publishing workshop at the Shanghai Institute of Design

By Simon Mahony, on 24 January 2017

I was back in Shanghai again at the close of 2016 to follow up my earlier guest lecture at the Shanghai Institute of Design with a week long workshop. They have a Master’s level programme on Digital Publishing in the Department of Digital Publishing and Exhibition Design but with little Faculty expertise on the web or Internet. After discussion with the Institute’s President and the Programme Convenor we decided on the title, ‘Getting over the Great Wall’, where I would cover the history and development of the Internet, cultural influences on design, publishing online, accessibility and usability design, and information design (it is the Institute of Design). This would be finished off with student presentations of their projects: to design a digital product (for the web or mobile device) that in some way brought together aspects of cultural difference. The cultural differences could be within China itself as none of the students had traveled outside China. The first task was to ban Flash and Dreamweaver and explain why this was the case!

This workshop, of course, also afforded the opportunity to showcase UCL.

Introducing UCL at the start of the workshop

Introducing UCL at the start of the workshop with greetings on the chalk board.

Interestingly, I’m the only one not wearing a coat here and that only happened on the first day. Not only is there no internet connection or wifi in the teaching rooms (something we take for granted) but there is no heating either – only fans (look carefully at the photos below) to keep cool in the summer; apparently south of the Yellow River building regulations permit buildings with no heating.

Students in the teaching room

Students in the teaching room – note the coats, hats and scarves.

A workstation and projector is set up in each room but my outstanding TA had to improvise as the remote control was missing (sounds familiar!). Much of my teaching material had been kindly translated by current UCLDH students but I still needed an interpreter/translator. Everything was presented in English and Chinese as they are all learning English too.

Analogue remote control in the hands of my TA

Analogue remote control in the hands of my outstanding TA & translator (Qiongpei Kong – UCL IoA alumna)

They felt sorry for me when the temperature dropped further and moved my class to the executive lecture room which has heating. The heater, however, only pointed at the lecture station and it was not possible to move it to warm the students who still needed their coats and scarves. Interestingly, no one sat in the front row (clearly a Chinese tradition too).

The executive lecture room

The executive lecture room – with heating but only for the lecturer.

As well as lectures, we had a series of group tutorials where we discussed the student projects while wearing many layers of clothing. As a Design Institute, they have very talented artists among the students. The images shown here were ideas for new style masks for the Peking Opera to encourage a younger audience. Interesting and considering how central it is to Chinese culture, only two projects featured food; others were concerned with opera, architecture, local dialects and one with traditional Chinese designs being used on sneakers.

Student tutorials

Student tutorials – here featuring a new design for Opera masks.

On the final day of the workshop, the students presented their work. Without exception, it was all visually stunning (it is the foremost Institute of Design with high academic standards) and very impressive as they only had a short time to decide on and design their projects. Overall, what they managed with only a couple of days for preparation was really outstanding.

Giving feedback at the presentations

Giving feedback at the presentations

By the end of the week, the students were relaxed and comfortable, no longer shy. Those that spoke some English took pride in talking to me and forgave my extremely limited Mandarin.

I wrapped things up with a roundup and general remarks on their work as well as some thoughts on the value of education, cultural exchange and what we can learn from each other.

Wrapping up the presentations

Wrapping up the presentations with my translator close at hand.


We had to schedule another half-hour at the end of the workshop for the mandatory photo session which starts with several group ones and finishes with individual and group ‘selfies’! These get shared across the Chinese social media platforms, particularly WeChat which is ubiquitous there.

Group photo

Group photo as the finale of the workshop

I need to add a few words about what I gained from this experience. Once again I enjoyed the warmth and hospitality of the Institute and particularly of the President, Professor Wu, who had invited me and who insisted on cooking (superbly and with great pride) almost every evening of my stay. But it goes further, I needed to research the history and legislation of the Internet in China, how it operates under the government’s control, legislation about Copyright and Intellectual Property and how these fit it in with the wider world. This was all new to me and will be fed into my own teaching about cultural and global differences. Above all, I learned more from the students about their culture, about their hopes and aspirations, about our similarities as well as our differences. The students were attentive and enthusiastic and I very much look forward to future visits.

A visit to the China Academy of Art, Shanghai Institute of Design

By Simon Mahony, on 21 April 2016

As part of my recent visit to Shanghai, I was honoured to be the guest of the President of the China Academy of Art, Shanghai Institute of Design. The China Academy of Art (CAA) is the premier Art Academy in China and the Shanghai campus is the foremost Design Institute. Aparently the CAA is also the first art university and first graduate school in China.

Shanghai Institute of Design, China Academy of Art

Shanghai Institute of Design, China Academy of Art

During my stay I met with academics, discussed cultural differences in teaching and learning, assisted in an English language teaching session and met students showcasing their impressive work on UI design and App design in the Department of Digital Publishing and Exhibition Design.

Students at the Institute of Design

Students at the Institute of Design

I was also able to highlight some UCLDH research and students’ work in my guest lecture: ‘Designing a Digital Publishing Product’.

Guest lecture at the Institute of Design

Guest lecture at the Institute of Design

What was most impressive was the lecture poster; I was expecting A4 but, after all, this is indeed China’s premier design institute. The image was a quick draw caricture of me and the President by one of his students.

Poster: Shanghai Institute of Design

Poster: Shanghai Institute of Design

The Shanghai Zhangjiang Campus is a small one and the main parts of the university are situated at two locations in nearby Hangzhou, both with very distinctive and award winning architecture. The original campus at Nanshan overlooks the famous West Lake and the Xiangshan Central Campus (the largest site) on the outskirts of Hangzhou has become a tourist attraction in its own right and features the Crafts (Folk Art) Museum (which was unfortunately closed on the day I visited but that provides a good excuse for a follow up visit and next time to stay on that campus).

China Academy of Art, Hangzou

China Academy of Art, Hangzou


Stephen Robertson Prize Dissertation 2014/2015 – Congratulations to Rachel Yales!

By Melissa M Terras, on 9 January 2016

We’re delighted that the best dissertation from our MA/MSc in Digital Humanities in currently sponsored by Microsoft, in honour of the work of Stephen Robertson. The student prize for the best dissertation in our 2014/2015 cohort has recently been given to Rachel Yales, for her groundbreaking work “Hoisting Anchor: Exploring the Interaction Between Time, Place, Space, and Text in Early Modern American Travel Narratives Using Digital Methodologies.” Her dissertation examines the origins of both the criticism and praise for the adoption of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in the humanities and social sciences, examining the process by which GIS based Digital Humanities projects have been developed and produced with a proof of concept study. Using Richard Hakluyt’s late 16th Century text “Principal Voyages of the English Nation”, Yales looks at how GIS approaches are especially conducive to the analysis of the travel narrative genre and the creation of imagined knowledge spaces in early modern England and the Americas. Yales is currently working up her dissertation for consideration for journal publication.

We’re also pleased that the first recipient of the Stephen Robertson prize from our 2013/14 cohort, Jin Gao, has recently returned to UCL to undertake a PhD with us, carrying forward her Master’s dissertation work on citation analysis (which has been accepted for journal publication). This student prize allows us to showcase the best of our student work, whilst also celebrating the achievements of our students: well done Jin and Rachel!

Moving Forward Digital Art History – Report from a UCLDH Workshop

By Melissa M Terras, on 8 October 2015


People in UCL Art Museum

A day of lively discussion topped off with a visit to UCL Art Museum, so see some of UCL’s own art treasures.

In June 2015, UCLDH hosted an invitation only workshop titled “Moving Forward Digital Art History” at University College London. The aim of the workshop was to explore “digital art history” – a phrase that has become a shorthand reference to the potentially transformative effect that digital technologies hold for the discipline of art history. The latest tools and techniques allow researchers to handle large volumes of digitized images and texts, trace patterns and connections formerly hidden from view, recover the past in virtual environments, and bring the complex intricacies of works of art to light as never before, to name just a few opportunities. We aimed to discuss how art historians acquire the knowledge to explore these new possibilities, explore the state of digital art history in the UK, and identify potential professional development opportunities and strategies, such as summer institutes, to help the field move forward. We’ve had permission to summarise the findings and discussions of the workshop here, to share with the wider community.

The workshop was hosted by Melissa Terras (UCLDH) with assistance from Anne Helmreich (formerly of the Getty Foundation) and had attendees from the The National Gallery; CHArt (Computer and the History of Art), Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London; Courtauld Institute of Art, London; History of Art Department, University of Oxford; Slade School of Fine Art, UCL; Slade Archive Project, UCL; Department of History of Art, University of Cambridge; UCL Art Museum; The Tate; Department of History of Art, UCL; Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art; Oxford University Museums and Collections; UCL Department of Information Studies; and the Bodleian Library. This interesting mix of practicing art historians from different institutional contexts, those working with art collections, and those using digital methods in humanistic study, made for a lively debate.

The meeting first discussed the state of digital art history in these institutions – and what it meant to be using digital methods in this space, in those institutional contexts – covering a range of useful and related initiatives, such as the Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School; the London Charter for the Computer-based Visualisation of Cultural Heritage; the CHArt, Computers and the History of Art (est. 1985) conferences; the Paul Mellon Centre’s new online journal, British Art Studies, which will appear this autumn; the Slade Center for Electronic Media in Fine Art; research projects at the National Gallery which investigate digital documentation and data such as the Mellon-funded Raphael research project and IPERION CH, a large EU networking and joint research project that includes developing digital documentation and data; the National Gallery’s contribution to the Getty’s Provenance Index, British Sales, a major online database; developing a new project to make the archives and inventories of major country houses publicly accessible online; the 3D digital reconstruction of the Florentine church of Santa Chiara; and work by various institutions in the development of apps and online systems. The group also discussed persuasive projects that could help articulate the value of digital art history, such as the Cranach Digital Archive, Bosch Research and Conservation project, and Picturing the Netherlandish Canon (with the observation that while this project may seem out of date by today’s standards it was transformative for the scholars involved). Various project themes emerged, including the uniting of disparate collections and archives and facilitation of contributions to these resources; new forms of publishing; and the opening up of collections to make them available for new pathways of investigation and other forms of digital scholarly inquiry.

Is there an interest and appetite for Digital Art History?

The discussions articulated that scholars have a general interest in learning more about how digital resources and tools could advance their research, but don’t want it to come at the cost of displacing art history’s core concern with the original art object or supporting research resources such as paper archives. Art historians clearly see the benefit of using digital technologies to access collections and resource, and there is a sense of urgency regarding the younger generation who may be more prepared to use digital tools than senior colleagues who are not sufficiently trained to frame a useful/significant project.

What potential challenges or barriers are there for d\Digital Art History?

Various challenges were identified and discussed (summarized here briefly – the challenges are legion!) Image copyright issues create limitations on what scholars might be able to do with images in the online environment. Art historians may not know which tools already exist, such as III-F, and how they might use them. There was discussion on the role of computer scientists in joint projects: are art historians prepared to undertake such collaborative work and could this type of collaborative work support art historical research questions? There is a difficulty in finding art historians qualified to teach digital art history or review digital publications/projects; digital projects can be overlooked in state of the field reviews/reviews of earlier scholarship or standard bibliographies. The term digital may be off-putting to some listeners, and it might be preferable to refer to digital art history as “art history now,” or an integrated art history that brings together research inquiry with building digital resources and online publishing. There may be a perception and anxiety that the digital surrogate will replace the interest in the original object at the heart of art history. Concerns exist that resources will be diverted from supporting outstanding work related to existing research repositories, such as paper archives, that are not yet catalogued. The technological needs for digital projects may exceed what academic university departments can provide. The learning curve for mastering new technologies/systems/approaches may be perceived as too steep, particularly if outcomes are not assured. Art historians may not be able to conceive of research questions well suited to available data, and have difficulty in framing questions appropriate for that data. Because art historians don’t know where to start, don’t know what questions to ask, don’t know how to articulate their digital needs, they may not be taking advantage of already existing training opportunities and resources. Digital specialists tend to be grant-supported and migrate from project to project so that teams must be re-assembled and knowledge leaves institutions. Digital projects tend to be one-offs and not designed to be built upon; they also tend to be more expensive and harder to accomplish than “traditional” projects.

How can we move the use of digital methods in Art History forward?

Various potential solutions were mooted in a brain-storming session (it is acknowledged that some are simpler to provide than others!):

  • The community should address the increasing need for open access resource outlets, support current online publications (e.g. British Art Studies, Tate Papers, Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide) while also considering whether new homes for digital scholarship are needed;
  • To encourage more kinds of digital publications that go beyond print, it would be useful to have a sort of toolbox for art historians to demonstrate what is possible;
  • The stimulation and validation of digital scholarship can be accomplished by encouraging reviews of digital projects in the scholarly literature;
  • Digital Humanists should work collaboratively (museums and universities) with professional art history organizations;
  • If postdoctoral fellowships could be created in this area, they could be tied to digital projects such as online publications, creation of new digital resources/repositories, exhibitions;
  • Greater visibility could be brought to the work of scholars who have undertaken digital projects since they are typically powerful advocates for the transformative possibility of the digital and can also demonstrate how digital scholarship can be deeply motivated by the original object;
  • Identify “flag-bearers” willing to promote these approaches within Art History;
  • Undergraduate teaching is needed, whether a dedicated course or a module within a course, that could help students build digital literacy and incorporate these skills into art historical research inquiry;
  • Encourage leaders of digital projects to include fulsome accessible documentation to let others understand/learn how a project was developed and implemented;
  • Encourage digital resources, such as online image collections, to become more open; that is, to allow users broad search pathways so that they can find new patterns in the data or obtain large amounts of data. In short, recognize that content management systems and licensing can influence what researchers can find and use;
  • Support tools such as III-F that allow researchers to bring together images from different repositories and facilitate side by side comparison;
  • DH centers could function as brokers between computer scientists and art historians to foster the cross-pollination of ideas; could also help art historians frame new research questions using already digitized resources; bring in the resources of technologists and designers that can impact the long-term success of a project; and bring together art historians and technologists;
  • A survey of the field could identify which digital projects art historians are using, building upon, what do people like about these projects, why are they continuing to use them.
  • It is necessary, at all stages, to get academic leadership from within Art History, and Art Historical collections, involved and on board, to help establish digital methods as a bona fide approach in Art History.


This was a stimulating discussion, and as you can see we covered a lot of ground that day – although there is a lot ahead of us to be done! There is huge potential in opening up digital methods within the Art Historical context, and we hope (now we have been well met) to continue the discussion and to work together to tackle provision in this area. The day finished up with a visit to the recently refurbished UCL Art Museum – which brought us back to the things that matter most of all in our discussions on using digital methods in art history, the collections, the objects, the artists, and the art.

We’d like to thank UCL Art Museum for having us! Final thanks go to Anne Helmreich from the Getty Foundation who gave permission for her notes to be edited up and shared, and who helped shape the day, and thanks are also due to the workshop attendees for joining in such a helpful debate.

Tutorial: How to Access UCL’s Virtual Private Network Using Linux

By Rudolf Ammann, on 18 September 2015


Tux, interpreted by the author, ca. 2002

Some of this university’s computational infrastructure is tucked away behind a VPN login: If you’re trying to reach it from the outside, you need to establish a Virtual Private Network connection to get through. This may be more onerous for users of a Linux operating system than it is for those who rely on Microsoft or Apple products, especially since UCL insists that VPN connections may only be established using one particular VPN client, Cisco’s AnyConnect. This client has its problems, but it also comes with a superior FOSS alternative: OpenConnect.

I will discuss the use of the two clients in turn.


UCL’s How to set up a VPN connection for Linux tutorial offers instructions on how to install the AnyConnect client. The tutorial does not mention that AnyConnect will fail to work when it is run with restricted privileges. Neither does it mention that AnyConnect, when it attempts to establish a VPN connection while running with restricted privileges, is likely to hang indefinitely, consuming all available CPU, flooding all available RAM, and eventually bringing the system to its knees — unless the runaway process is killed in good time.

To work as advertised, AnyConnect needs to run as root or under sudo. So, once the application is installed, open a terminal and launch it by issuing the following command:

$ sudo /opt/cisco/anyconnect/bin/vpnui

Once you’ve entered your sudo password, this command should pop up a dialog with a single ‘Connect to:’ field. Type ‘vpn.ucl.ac.uk’ into this field, but be prepared to deal with further complications, as you may need to lift a block and ignore a warning before AnyConnect will establish a connection with UCL’s VPN.

UCL’s VPN uses what seems like a legitimate SSL certificate issued by Terena:

$ openssl s_client -connect vpn.ucl.ac.uk:443 |& sed -n '/^issuer=/s/.*CN=//p'

AnyConnect may not recognise this certificate and respond with an error message that reads: ‘Untrusted VPN Server Blocked!’ To work past this barrier, hit the ‘Change Setting…’ button, which will take you to AnyConnect’s Preferences dialog. In that dialog, untick the ‘Block connections to untrusted servers’ option and hit the ‘Close’ button.

Close and restart the application, then type ‘vpn.ucl.ac.uk’ into the ‘Connect to’ field and hit the ‘Connect’ button. This will trigger a warning: ‘Security Warning: Untrusted VPN Server Certificate!’ Ignore this warning and hit the ‘Connect Anyway’ button!

The next dialog will have RemoteAccess pre-entered into the ‘Group’ field. Supply your Username and Password, hit the ‘Connect’ button, and you’re in!

In theory, it should be possible either to export the Terena certificate as a .pem file from the Firefox Certificate Manager or to download it from Terena’s repository and copy it to /opt/.cisco/certificates/ca/, the directory in which AnyConnect stores its certificates. This should cause the software to recognise the certificate and to stop returning error messages. I have not been able to make this work, however, and not for lack of trying.


The command-line utility OpenConnect offers an alternative to the above procedure.

You will need to install both OpenConnect and cURL. Binaries of both should be available for your distro of choice via the usual package management.

OpenConnect will need to invoke a shell script that is known as a ‘CSD-wrapper‘, which uses cURL to handle the transfer of data with URL syntax.

Copy the following script (which is adapted from here) into a plain text file, save the file as csd-wrapper.sh, and render it executable:

#set -x


# delete the csdXXXXXX temp files so they don't start piling up
rm -f $1

exec curl \
--globoff \
--insecure \
--user-agent "AnyConnect Linux" \
--header "X-Transcend-Version: 1" \
--header "X-Aggregate-Auth: 1" \
--header "X-AnyConnect-Identifier-Platform: linux" \
--header "X-AnyConnect-Identifier-PlatformVersion: $platform_version" \
--header "X-AnyConnect-Identifier-DeviceType: $device_type" \
--header "X-AnyConnect-Identifier-Device-UniqueID: $uniqueid" \
--cookie "sdesktop=$CSD_TOKEN" \
--data-ascii @- "https://$CSD_HOSTNAME/+CSCOE+/sdesktop/scan.xml" <<END

Then issue the following command to establish the VPN connection:

$ sudo openconnect vpn.ucl.ac.uk --csd-wrapper /path/to/csd-wrapper.sh

The network should now prompt you for your username and password. Supply those, and you’re in!

Of course, you might object that running OpenConnect under sudo is less than desirable from a security perspective, and you’d be entirely right about that. There’s a workaround available.


Thanks to Emma Cardinal-Richards at UCL’s Information Services Division and to security analyst Dr Name Withheld from W., both of whom provided valuable assistance towards solving this issue!

Dr Rudolf Ammann is the UCLDH Designer at Large and a research associate at the UCL Department of Information Studies. He runs the Arkstack consultancy.

UCLDH academic promotions

By Sarah Davenport, on 10 July 2015

We’re very pleased to announce that many of our UCLDH team members have been successful in the 2014-15 round of academic promotions!

– Tim Weyrich, Deputy Director of UCLDH, has been promoted to Professor of Visual Computing

– Julianne Nyhan, Oliver Duke Williams and Antonis Bikakis have all been promoted to Senior Lecturer

Many congratulations to all, very well deserved. All positions are effective as of 1st October 2015


How well do Google image results represent reality?

By Oliver W Duke-Williams, on 23 June 2015

Much has been written about Sir Tim Hunt’s remarks at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul earlier this month. The debate has developed in a number of directions, including a discussion about the gender representation in images returned by Google’s image search, with a specific example being made of the male-dominated results when using the search term ‘professor’. Writing in The Guardian, Dame Athene Donald observed:

If you think that doesn’t matter, imagine you are a 12-year-old girl trying to get a sense of what the adult professional world is like. If the only images that appear against the search term of “professor” are either elderly white males or cartoons of men in white coats with sticking-up hair, as a girl you are hardly likely to think it is the sort of career aspiration you should be considering.

The representation of ‘professor’ is of course problematic in a number of ways: as well as being shown as male, professors are also shown as sterotypically balding and bespectacled. Similarly stereotype-driven images are de rigeur in children’s literature, as documented by Professor Melissa Terras. A natural response to this observation is to wonder what the gender representation of other jobs looks like through the prism of Google Images. Are they similarly one-sided? For example, although the Women’s World Cup is under way at the time of writing, searching for ‘footballer’ returns an entirely male set of results. As with the case for professors, this would not encourage a girl to think that football is a sport for all.


Digital Classicist seminar: dissertation special

By Simon Mahony, on 23 June 2015

Digital Classicist seminar logoDigital Classicist London & Institute of Classical Studies Seminar 2015

Friday June 26th at 16:30, in Room G31, Foster Court, Malet Place, WC1E 6BT

The seminar this week features Digital Humanities / Digital Classics MA and MSc students from both UCL and KCL giving short presentations on their dissertation research. Two are on the MA/MSc DH programme and one on MSc IS.

Note the different location as this week’s seminar is in room G31 at Foster Court.

As always this will be followed by wine and refreshments and all are welcome.

Emma King (KCL): ‘Strand Lane Baths 1776-1778: 3D modelling historic spaces’

Lauren Knight (KCL): ‘The City of London as a Museum’

Ioanna Kyvernitou (UCL): ‘Reconstructing a historical knowledge representation of “Women” on the Semantic Web’

Argula Rublack (KCL): ‘Digitally interlinking manuscripts of the twelfth-century Arabic-Latin translation movement’

Katherine Steiner (UCL): ‘Digital methods in classical research: an EpiDoc case study’

Lucia Vannini (UCL): ‘Virtual reunification of papyrus fragments’

Abstracts are available on the programme page.

The full 2015 programme is available on the Digital Classicist London seminar page.

Seminar: Digital comparison of 19th century plaster casts and original classical sculptures.

By Simon Mahony, on 17 June 2015

Digital Classicist seminar logoDigital Classicist London & Institute of Classical Studies Seminar 2015

Friday June 19th at 16:30 in room G21A, Senate House, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU

Emma Payne (UCL Institute of Archaeology)
‘Digital comparison of 19th century plaster casts and original classical sculptures.’

The seminar will be streamed live to our YouTube Channel

Historical casts of classical sculptures can now function as important archaeological records, sometimes containing archaeological information now lost from originals. However, it was not unknown for 19th century plaster craftsmen to doctor their moulds, such that when cast, a damaged sculpture would appear more complete. To determine the type and usefulness of information present in casts, 3D scanning has been conducted at the British Museum and Acropolis Museum of casts and their corresponding originals, of sections of the Parthenon sculptures. The resulting 3D images are now being produced and digitally compared to facilitate interpretation of these objects and their significances.

As always the seminar will be followed by discussion over wine and refrshments.


The full abstract is available on the programme page.

The full 2015 programme is available on the Digital Classicist London seminar page.