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Notes from aaDH Digital Humanities Australasia Conference 2018

aaDH Conference 2018: Making Connections

Australasia Association for Digital Humanities (aaDH) Biennial Conference
September 25-27, 2018
University of South Australia (Adelaide, Australia)

The theme of this biennial aaDH conference was “Making Connections”, and this was effectively woven through many of the presentations (and not in a way that was overly corny). Compared to the last conference, I noticed the theme of a need to upskill students (both for changing workforce needs and research needs) kept popping up, so it appears this is still a concern that is not being adequately addressed. There was also more discussion of mobile apps and issues of ethics. The conference got off to a great start with beaded name badges that help provide revenue to women who have been trafficked, and everyone was talking about it and wondering why every conference doesn’t go down this track. Overall, I found the presentations interesting and informative and felt inspired to continue along the DH track. What follows are some of my notes on ideas and resources and avenues for further exploration. The hashtag for the conference was #DHA2018, but some of the frequent Twitter posters were at an archives conference so the feed was not as active this time around.

Day 1 — September 25, 2018

Dennis Del Favero – AI and Advanced Creativity: An Emerging Horizon

Favero said Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (which he hoped everyone had seen) has shaped how we see AI and its relationship with humans. He provided several examples to illustrate his points about the intersection of AI and creativity. Discussing Flora Petrinsularis, he said the database is the new medium, defining a database as data structured in a way that can be retrieved, and the machine enables the human to organize and interpret the data. With T. Visionarium, it has a database of films and you can select say, Sandra Bullock playing different roles simultaneously (it can show around 200 films at a time) or choose a color like orange to see orange scenes, and these will be displayed in the room. With mARChive, the idea of co-agency allows for machine autonomy rather than just reflecting human desires. The Scenario example featured a creepy baby assembled by users with headsets and black [later said to be dark gray] AI figures trying to stop them. With Nebula, you make dots into a sphere and topography of worlds. With iBauprobe, you can design sets with the help of 3D model and AI, looking at things such as configuration of angles, line of sight, etc. Lighting is one of most difficult things to calculate; AI can show what it will look like with different lighting combinations.Theatre Model

He noted that Manuel DeLanda was writing back in 1919 that even rocks and mountains that we see as stable are actually changing and breaking down, just at a slower rate than biomass.

In the Q&A, he said that we need to become coders ourselves; maybe the primary or complementary literacy is coding; need to democratize it. He said half of his PhDs now are coders even though working in art/humanities areas. There was a question about stark race differences in white and black figures, and he said they’re actually shades of gray but yes, this is a problem. He said his interest in AI is its experimental use in art and how that can be translated to other areas. It shouldn’t be a castle for elite (like Mark Zuckerberg) but available to everyone, but we need computational literacy to enable this.

Panel: New Directions in DH Infrastructure: Adventures in Collaboration and Scale

DH Panel

Del Favero
Favero discussed how STEM have traditionally used numbers in understanding data and things; we could bring our skills in visualizing and imagery to their disciplines (ex. In one project the Arts perspective was able to see climate patterns that the numbers didn’t reveal; now an Arts perspective is part of project.) PhDs traditionally work alone/not in teams but this is not viable going forward; need innovative culture where people work together in teams. The one-dimensional primary and secondary education doesn’t have computational literacy. One can be seduced by lure of STEMification (even in STEAM – Arts often evaporates in this equation).

Hamish Maxwell-Stewart
Maxwell-Steward said we need a way of seeing datasets and databases as journal articles/publications and allowing people to access them and see who was involved. Gene sequencing is easy; the cultural context, etc. is more complicated and that’s where Humanities comes in. He would like to be teaching digital and visualization skills to history students in the very near future. He offered an example of how a well-liked presentation recently was, somewhat surprisingly, by an undergraduate math student who was given a bunch of data.

Tully Barnett
Barnett discussed how we need to understand digitization as a cultural practice not just a technical thing, and we need to talk more about labor behind digitization projects. Infrastructure in humanities is people-focused. Longitudinal value has to be recognized (value goes beyond funding cycles). She mentioned the Algorithms of Oppression book and how infrastructure catalyzes, according to scholar Deb Verhoven.

Bill Pascoe
Pascoe also mentioned Verhoven’s work. He suggested smaller grants and much more rapid funding cycle (big, year-long ones are too slow for IT and mean only small groups of people get to do DH projects). The current situation can be self-defeating and miserly where people don’t share, and it needs to change.

Rachel Hendery
Hendery said that what makes people angry in seeing government funding going to things is seeing new buildings and yet no investment in people (staff, casual, etc.). She mainly needs basic infrastructure like a computer and library. She suggested we first think about community we want to build, not the tools or system (sometimes those turn out to be white elephants anyway). We need to make ‘3rd space’ workers more visible (ex: big grants that public complain about that seem excessive, but actually going to a postdoc, PhD scholarship, etc., and we need to make that job creation more visible).

Katherine Bode
Bode suggested that perhaps universities aren’t doing as good a job as GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) at communicating with the public via digital technology and infrastructure. She said we need to put money into open access publishing; let’s not look to publishing companies to solve our problems. We also need more skill sharing and data sharing.

It was discussed that we think we know how to tell stories, but actually we could get better at showing impact. Someone asked is there a tension between coding and how it chunks and categorizes information and the humanities? The panel responded that no one should be doing coding if they don’t critically reflect. We need to be infiltrating STEM and showing STEM students how to critically reflect. It is hard to critique as an outsider. Also, we need to remember that all languages are coding too. We can think about how do we share coding and bring our understanding to STEM. Think of collaboration as something to do at the beginning, rather than the end. Someone said it was great to see the theme of inextricability of infrastructure and people, but historically DH is male and white; how do we ensure greater diversity and inclusion? It was discussed that one thing we need to do is to recognize all involved with DH projects; not just puffed-up DH researchers but also women of color (for example in Google Books digitization).

Session on Making, Learning, Exploring

Simon Musgrave – DH and Disciplinary Frontiers
Musgrave discussed how when applying computational methods to literary texts, we can ask whether semantic/conceptual patterns in the texts support traditional close reading. He said not all of his DH work is interdisciplinary, but that doesn’t mean it’s not DH. Research is driven by creative tension that comes from unambiguity of the digital with inherent ambiguity of humanities, and he clarified this as meaning that once data becomes digitized and structured, there are limitations on it so in general it allows for much less ambiguity than humanities content broadly. He said he could write sole-authored papers, but he doesn’t like to anymore. He acknowledged that we’re often not doing/dealing with research questions that computer scientists find interesting; this raises the question: should we try to change that or just get technical people who code? Another question to think about is when are we ‘bilinguals’?

Jeanne-Marie Viljoen – Mediating between the physical and the digital with a location-based mobile learning game
Multi-modality affordances
Viljoen said she is always looking for ways to engage students with digital media. The class she was discussing was called English for Academic Use in Australia and designed for multilingual students, new arrivals in Adelaide. Many come from tech-savvy backgrounds in Asia but are used to more passive pedagogy styles and are more likely to drop out because of problems socializing. Her mobile learning game introduces students to local culture and history, including things like street art and statues. It aims to merge the digital and natural world into a virtual experience. It uses digital design and evocation of hearing, touch, taste, smell, and feelings though the visual. For example: “run your hands along smooth bronze possum”. She tried to rely on sound and touch rather than the English language. It was built in Mobile Learning Academy.

Benjamin Matthews – Teaching DH for Creative Industries: Immersion and Making  
Matthews thinks Creative Industries students will benefit from DH literacies. He discussed a 1st year core subject called “What is Creativity” and gave the example of asking students what will Newcastle be like in 2049? This encourages them to use history to inform their vision of the future. He worked to give them ‘skin in the game’ by making them have an exhibit at the end, and this seemed to work to motivate them.

Maya Dodd – Collaboration in the DH Classroom
DH-India Dodd gave the background context of her university first, saying that India was moving from a British model to a more liberal education model so students were not locked into a major, and this is a good opportunity for DH. She said her work on digitizing copies of an official report that was being suppressed showed her the power in these kinds of projects (see and

She said usually research is done at higher levels (i.e., postgrads or faculty), but the faculty are having undergrads do research because there is such a need, and it can create timely projects. She discussed some examples of interesting student projects, such as an Omeka project on student protests, slam poetry as a vehicle for student voices, and children’s literature from India. She used documentation on assessing DH projects from others; like with Arts projects, it’s incremental (looking at factors like rigor).Children's Literature in India


Kunjika Pathak and Anjali Chandawarkar – The Garba Archives
Pathak, who is one of Dodd’s undergraduate students, discussed her joint project on the community art form of garba (  She and Chandawarkar translated songs and created an audio file for an archive. They discovered limitations with doing the project, which included issues with living cultures such as caste, gender, etc. She said she saw it as a way of connecting with her cultural heritage, especially since she knows she is immersed in Western pop culture a lot of the time. She also realized how little digital documentation there is for these kinds of things in India. As a side note, she said most of her English class is women and there are some really tech-savvy women, and they were able to assist others who were not as capable.Garba Archives

Birds of a Feather Session: Teaching DH

Simon Musgrave explained how a DH course at Monash University worked and some of the learnings from running it. They decided that all assessed work had to be done on a WordPress account, and they assumed nothing (for knowledge on the part of students). Students had to buy their own domain, but this was cheaper than buying a textbook. One issue was that some were getting spam because their details were on WHOIS (they had to use the non-free version of WordPress because they needed plugins), and this shows how little awareness students can have of these kinds of website issues. Instructors tried to run ‘place’ through all content, and this theme is easier with digital technology. They also asked students to draw maps to document campus without tech (unplugged pedagogy). Rather than using Moodle, then, they used an outside domain of their own:

Tips from the session included using Bigg’s SOLO taxonomy instead of Bloom’s, which is a bit dated, looking at how to get students to justify their use of methods rather than just cherry-picking info, and potentially setting students up with a dataset which has things they can stumble across (design, etc.). We worked on designing learning outcomes in groups for a sample DH day workshop, which was a valuable exercise.

Day 2 — September 27, 2018

Day 2 kicked off with a session where the continually evolving area of data visualization was explored in some interesting ways.

Session on Data Analysis and Visualization

Vejune Zemaityte in “Data-driven Cinema Studies” discussed her work with Deb Verhoven on the big data in film available from, where they are analyzing the distribution of 3,000 films across 40 countries. Monika Bednarek in “Discourse of Diabetes in Australian News Media: A Corpus Approach” provided three paper copy handouts [this is so rare nowadays!] about how diabetes is discussed in the Australian media and how she used Wordsmith, a corpus linguistics tool. She recommended Antconc if you want a free version that is still powerful. Helen Caple in “Introducing a New Visualization Tool: Kaleidographictalked about this tool that is freely available and lets you has as many or as few variables in your spreadsheet as you want. She said after you prepare your data and load it into the builder, the data is saved to a zip file for you and isn’t kept on the tool’s end, which addressed some privacy concerns. KaleidographicPenelope Aitken and Susan Luckman’s “Adding Structural Value to Cultural Value: A Case Study of APO and UniSA’s New Cultural Policy and Creative Industries Collection” explored, which was established in 2002 and is both a database and alert service. Aitken said the government is the biggest audience and that policy makers tend not to read journal articles. Therefore, it is ‘gold’ if you put up something they are going to read, like a two-page executive summary of your research. Luckman discussed a current ARC LIEF Project to enhance collections. They are seeking ideas for how to get people to use collections, such as perhaps a competition, how to engage end-users as co-creators/editors of meta-data, and how to gain feedback and a review of the content. She encouraged the audience to join APO and contribute to the site.

Jean Burgess – What’s Next for Social Media Research? Digital Methods and Ethics after the API Apocalypse
Burgess discussed Digital Methods by Richard Rogers (2013) and made a joke about pie charts being very science-y, an idea which was played off in later tweets. She said we need shared dynamic infrastructure to support datasets, rather than ad-hoc ones that are only available on a grant-by-grant basis (ex. through LIEF). She mentioned AlgorithmWatch, algorithm audits, a data donation project, and ‘civil disobedience’ through data scraping on a platform like Instagram through ‘Instagrab’. She asked whether our institutions have the ability to back us in these risky activities. In discussing the creation of a timeline to document changes in Twitter, she gave a shout-out to Timeline.JS tool. One question concerned whether academics can use the public internet defense to argue for being able to scrape and interrogate this data even though or because companies are private.

Mahendra Mahey – Building Better ‘Library Labs’
Mahey’s presentation was an interesting whirlwind tour of some of the British Library Labs’ projects and its vision for supporting access to its collections. He said only 3% of the physical collections are digitized, and that they used to rely on government funding but are increasingly reliant on private funders and corporate funding. He reiterated that if you want to set up a lab, you have to go out and talk to people. And one of the most important things for collections is, do you have a real person at the library who can answer questions about it. Their Digital Research Support is able to offer 5 days of support per project. There are over 1 billion views of British Lab projects. An early lesson was that services that allow useful exploration of cultural heritage data are rare! He said the role as a national library should be to find a way to support everyone who wants to use the digital collections anywhere in the world.

One project had them using OCR to ‘cut’ images from digitized books and use algorithms productively (see “Peeking behind the curtain of the Mechanical Curator”), and they discovered it did better with female faces because there seemed to be fewer obstacles like beards. Another project had them create the provocation to post images every 30 minutes and put the images on Flickr Commons. But ‘real innovation breaks infrastructure’ and the IT team was annoyed that servers were slowing because so many people were clicking the links to the lab’s services on Flickr Commons images. The Victorian Meme Machine was also popular. One interesting thing about the taggers behind digitization and categorizing is that they may not be whom you’d expect. One of their most prolific ones is an elderly bed-ridden man in LA who has tagged over 45,000 images!

They are currently working on a ‘cookbook’ to help guide national, state, university, or public libraries that want or have a lab (if you want to help, send him your email). One version of the cookbook will be open-access, and there will also be a printed version (coffee-table book) that you can buy that will fund travel bursaries. Slides available:

Organize and Digital Session

Renee Dixson – Skullbook: A Bone Library of 3D Digital Models of Animal Crania
Dixson discussed 3D model-making and said that part of the purpose was to provide employability skills to students for the future, because employers expect digital skills. It appeared there were two ways of making them: either through 3D scanning or photogrammetry. Two examples were passed around so the audience could hold and compare them. 3-D Animal Skulls

Mapping Transformation Session

Angus Veitch – Mapping Last Century’s News: Constructing a Geo-Thematic Index of the Brisbane Courier
Veitch discussed his research into mapping information from newspapers, available at He created transparent overlays with old maps on Google Maps and explained how words on maps can be just as interesting as the maps themselves because they can show what the landscape meant to people at other points in time. He said he used Knime rather than R or Python to acquire and analyze data, and it ended up being a shortcut to learning coding. He used LDA to do geoparsing and figure out which place words go together (what he calls geotopics).

Emotion, Memory and Experience Session

Tehri Hurmikko-Fuller – Tweet, Death and Rock’n’Roll: Social Media Mourning on Twitter and Sina Weibo
Hurmikko-Fuller discussed the project that she worked on with her Chinese student which was able to analyze how people mourn on social media sites such as Twitter and Sina Weibo (Chinese version of Twitter). She said they noticed that Twitter users were trying to connect with and mourn with the widow of the Linkin Park band member who had died, whereas Weibo users made posts that were more emotionally distant and about sharing news. They determined that information cascade was not the cause but herd behavior was. She said they are now collecting data on social media mourning of the burning down of the Rio Museum, which is interesting because it is not a person but a GLAM institution.

Rachel Neaman – Making Connections in a Digital World
Rachel Neaman public lecture
Neaman gave a public lecture at the university in the evening to a quite large, packed-out lecture theater. She said many of us find digital connectivity astounding, but young people take it for granted. She said her background was not as a technologist but as someone who studied languages. She mentioned the 4th Industrial Revolution term being coined in 2016 and that the book Robot-Proof (2017) by a U.S. academic, Joseph E. Aoun, talked about the importance of ‘soft skills’. This book talked about three types of literacy (tech, data, and human) and coined the term humanics. She offered an anecdote about how Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant in people’s houses heard a comment over the radio about a girl ordering a dollhouse and ordered doll’s houses for them too.

Neaman said digital is no longer just for IT and technical teams, and vice versa; those teams need to know more about customers’ needs and business side of things. Alongside an image of sheep, she told the audience that leadership is not about following the crowd but asking the right questions. I was very disappointed to hear her use the terms ‘man’ and ‘mankind’ just as she discussed the need for more women and diversity in the industry. Slide mentioning 'man and machine'She mentioned that Honeybot had done a Women in Tech report and produced an index on women in OECD countries. There was an interesting quote from Professor Dame Wendy Hall about diversity: “We cannot allow our world to be organised by algorithms whose creators are dominated by one gender, ethnicity, age, or culture”.

Neaman did try to clarify that AI is more of sophisticated computational statistics than advanced robots, but I don’t know that that message really made it through based on audience questions. She noted that 21% of adults in the UK lack the five essential digital skills defined as digital literacy. Even though Australia doesn’t have the same measure, around 10% aren’t online as shown by the digital inclusion index. She said today it’s more about outcomes than technical skills and we need life-long learning. Few schools formally teach these skills, but it’s not just for kids in schools; we need future-proofed policies so we feel empowered and able to thrive. She mentioned the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Skills Outlook, which has columns for growing and declining, and the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer.Wendy Hall quote

There was a question about the difference between digital competency and literacy. Neaman responded by saying that teaching about these topics needs to be mainstream from the very beginning of kids’ schooling, and that it is disappointing to be still having this conversation in 2018. I didn’t agree that reading and writing won’t be needed in the future due to podcasts and YouTube becoming more dominant. There was a question about whether AI will be able to have or tap into other ways of knowing (i.e. indigenous knowledge) in the future, and this question signaled to me that the audience would have benefited from a clearer definition of AI.

Day 3 — September 28, 2018

New Learning and Collaboration Models Session                     

Roger Edmonds and Richard McInnes – Enhancing Humanities Learning Experiences with Location-Based Mobile Learning Games
Edmonds discussed the expansion of games from an initial Business & Society course to 13 disciplines. Originally, students had to go out to discover their city in this course with pen and paper in all sorts of weather and didn’t like it. Now there are 193 games that have been played almost 3000 times. The ‘Torrens Walkabout’ was the same as the one Jeanne-Marie Viljoen talked about. It is not just a tour but interactive, push-pull, and about a story/narrative. A game was also created for the Aboriginal Cultures gallery in the South Australia Museum using a floor plan rather than Google Maps. Edmonds said that just being able to create a game is a really rewarding and engaging experience for the students, and it built their ICT capability and capacity. See for slides and for more information on the project.

Kara Kennedy and Jakob Kristensen – Exploring the Impact of Digital Humanities on Students’ Engagement with Technology
We presented on our study that explores how Digital Humanities tools and methods in undergraduate courses are impacting students, especially in their engagement with digital technology, and how DH is affecting women in particular. We presented the context and reasons for the study, including the gender gap in STEM and the limited data on what undergraduates think about DH and how it impacts them. We gave an overview of the methodology and sample questions, and asked for people to get in touch if they have students who could be interviewed. 

Philip Marriott – Building Collaborative Real-Time Research Tools for Mobile Devices
Marriott began with the context, an advanced web design course where students had been using WordPress, which was pretty uninspiring. He suggested mobile phone web-based software instead and this ended up being more interesting of a project for them. Fifty of the 60 students were women, not from a STEM background, who already had basic idea of HTML, CSS, and PHP that he’d taught them earlier. They had great ideas but no mechanism for realizing them/doing anything with them, and there were lots of barriers to overcome. As a side note, he said it was helpful that Google allows you to use all their stuff if you sign up as a developer. He encouraged and empowered the students by telling them that anything you see out there on the web, you can do it too. It turned out that they were happy to use code as a way to do what they wanted.

Julian Thomas – DH and Digital Inequalities: Current State, Problems and Prospects
Thomas is head of the Digital Inclusion Index and defined digital inequality as an uneven distribution of digital skills, infrastructures, and resources. It is a problem because these are increasingly important for participation in contemporary economic, social, and civic life. Interestingly, he noted that young people are not the future of Australia – old people are! –according to the changing demographics. We assume mobile media is associated with sophisticated, intensive use, but that’s not necessarily the case. Their study showed that single parents, people with disabilities, Indigenous people, and other marginalized groups were likely to use mobile media more. He said we need to think hard about the ramifications of the next wave of automation. In the Q&A, Rachel Neaman asked if there were a standard for measuring digital ability (the UK, for example, has 5 prongs). Thomas said there isn’t the same thing as the UK, and that it’s nice to have international comparisons, but the cultural and human geography is different here in Australia, so he thinks there is need for Australia-specific measurements about digital strategies and inclusion. He acknowledged that yes, North America and Europe also have a divide between the country and city, but there are still unique geographies in Australia. He mentioned Broadband for the Bush as working in the space of digital inclusion in Australia. Digital Inclusion Dimension

Kristin Alford – Designing Research Experiences in the Technology Museum
Alford introduced herself as an engineer who has worked in mining and thinks in processes, and that her experiences with dance and gymnastics have critically shaped her thinking as well. She reflected ruefully that she sees the same percentage of women in her classes now as when she was a student. She said she reads a lot of fiction to take her to different worlds and is a futurist who likes the possibilities that fiction provides.

Her talk focused on how the MOD (Museum of Discovery) (where the conference opening reception was held) was designed and intentionally wants to be different than a typical museum. She mentioned the focus on the future that other places have and that this could be something to strive for, such as how in Dubai they’re already planning for a 100-year anniversary rather than a short-term one. She asked how do we showcase science in a way that doesn’t privilege one way of knowing, that allows for Western and Indigenous and other knowledge. She said kids aren’t inspired by the ‘get a job’ rhetoric around learning STEM, so she wants MOD to be different. Giving people more science doesn’t necessarily lead to better understanding; thus, the recent shift to more narrative and story-based museum experiences (ex. Museum of Tomorrow in Brazil).

She mentioned Kevin Kelly as a futurist from She said the fact is that if you tell the public, come learn about cancer, or tell young people, come learn how to transform industry, they’re going to think they have better things to do with their Friday night. She specified that MOD is deliberately not doing educational outreach or programs. Its aim is to try to get people to think of themselves as people who like science, rather than overtly encouraging them to like science. She mentioned the current exhibit on pain informing people that 90% of chronic pain is from your brain expecting signals and not a real physical cause. Finally, she provided some statistics about responses to MOD. Over 9 out of 10 rate is as good or excellent, and they are getting 1 in 3 visitors from their target 15-25-year-old target demographic. Since it has just recently opened, it will be a while until they have more data on visitors.

One of the questions was about whether there is any evidence that visiting a cultural institution about science will have an impact on going into STEM, or that it’s influencing academics. There doesn’t seem to yet be evidence on this. Another question was about how they recruited the teens they had involved in the design studio and workshops, and she said she focused on local teachers with whom she already had contact.

Digital Humanities in the Era of Linkage, Impact, Engagement and Innovation

Joanne Tompkins – ARC-funded DH Research

Tompkins noted that DH projects have more partnerships with industry and as a sector, DH should apply for more Linkage and LIEF grants. One tip in applying is that because the decision panel for Linkage grants is made up of a general audience, the project needs to be able to be understood by laypeople.

Panel: Joanna Tompkins, Penelope Aitken, Katherine Bode, Richard Maltby, Hamish Maxwell-Stewart

DH PanelAitken again urged academics to write outputs other than journal articles and believes it’s a skill that needs to be learned alongside traditional ones. Maltby called himself an occasional academic and observed that most people creating DH infrastructure are on short-term contracts (<2 years) even though sustainability is supposedly something that funders like ARC are concerned with.

Maxwell-Stewart said that unfortunately, putting data in a data repository tends to kill it off, so partnering with industry is critical for getting people to use it (basically, it needs a public interface). He finds it challenging to find postgraduate students who have skills that he doesn’t that he needs to do research. He spoke of GIS, math, and computer science and a frightening skills gap in the humanities. He said those who do have certain technical skills can end up being stretched thin because they aren’t that many of them. Bode mentioned the gap between those considered academics and those considered professional staff. There was a comment about needing better postgraduate training in DH and a question about how to get more complex assessment, so students don’t have to write 80,000 words every time to show their learning. Maxwell-Stewart suggested that more data visualization would be helpful and that that is the future.

Birds of a Feather: Upskilling Approaches

This session was presented by Greg D’Arcy, an informatics specialist for HASS, and Nicole Laurent, a project archivist for the Find and Connect web resource, eScholarship Research Centre. Slides are available: The context was that Chang et al.’s abstract for eResearch Australasia Conference shows that information professionals and library staff need expertise in lots of data-related skills. SCIP ( was designed to help break the ice for people who aren’t comfortable with digital stuff. They found there was a low response to ‘come learn about data visualization’, and that the just-in-time element was missing (many didn’t have their data ready). We know there is a lot of content out there (ex. YouTube), but it still needs to be packaged for students and it can be difficult when you’re working in isolation trying to learn stuff like Python. Another issue is that a lot of humanities researchers don’t see their data as data, and this can create discord when discussing it in that way with them. Learning with a purpose works well. There were questions about which tool to learn to start with (basically, whichever one is most relevant to the data you have and what you want to do with it, or what is used in your future career), what pitfalls there are to learning technology (having a learning group to collaborate with is helpful), and whether humanities researchers should do more to discuss their methodology to enable others to follow it in their research like scientists do (yes). The Future Humanities Workforce project in Australia was mentioned.

I didn’t attend the workshop with 3-D modeling of networks, but it looked fun, with LEGO and other craft materials used to make the models. 3-D modeling

National Digital Forum (NDF) Conference 2016 – Day 2

NDF Conference 2016

Annual Conference of National Digital Forum (NDF)
November 22-23, 2016
Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand (Wellington, NZ)
Conference program PDF
Twitter feed #NDFNZ
Recordings of sessions on NDF YouTube channel

See Cool Things to Check Out and Stand-out Presentation on my Day 1 post.

The following are my notes from the sessions I attended on day 2 of the NDF Conference. Most sessions were recorded and are available on the NDF YouTube channel.

Day 2 – Wednesday, November 23

Keynote: Ngāi Tahu Cultural Mapping Project – Takerei Norton (Ngāi Tahu Archives Team)

Norton began Day 2 of the NDF conference by stating that this is not a technical talk at all; it is more about how a community tells their story. He said that he found historical evidence through his elder that had a paragraph about a part of land from the 1800s, and they were able to get the tenure review from the government to create a conservation/preservation area of a particular lagoon. Then he had the idea to start mapping all of the Ngai Tahu cultural sites in the high country so they could try to protect more of them. At first, people were adding stickers to 30 maps with different colors of labels (green means food gathering site, blue means river, etc.). It was very laborious but also was a good activity to help people learn history and participate. Then they started taking trips to the high country and bringing 30ish people along. This became a time when they were reconnecting with their landscape.

Eventually, they ended up with over 4,000 place names on the South Island mapped on Google Earth! This is known as the Ngāi Tahu Cultural Mapping Project.

Twitter photo:

Every place name is referenced and validated by locals. They are trying to create an official portal for Ngāi Tahu history. Almost all the sites are on Crown land, and Norton only has access to copies of the original documentation. The originals are in Auckland and Wellington – he asked what are people who want to access their tribe’s history supposed to do if they can’t get to those places? They are also making travel routes and trails on the South Island (in green lines on Google Earth). Little red rectangles are the land that was allocated to the Maori by the government (not necessarily in the same area either). It was not 10% like it was supposed to be.

He said that we owe thanks to Pakeha historians like Beattie and Taylor because without them, we wouldn’t have a lot of history. But they did make mistakes, and it’s the job of our generation to correct them and build on their work to make it better. They have to make a decision on spelling when there are discrepancies. They want schools and other groups to use this resource they’ve created. He believes that it matters that the project hasn’t been done FOR us; we’ve done it ourselves. We’ve got skin in the game.

Keynote: See New Zealand clearly: Using numbers to understand who and where we are, where we’ve been, what’s going on and where we’re heading, or Creating a Data Democracy – Lillian Grace ( @GracefulLillian

Grace began by asking several questions about data. How many Labrador dogs are registered in NZ? How many young people aged 20-24 that should be getting on with their lives but don’t seem to be are in certain areas? (28% in Gisborne/Hawke’s Bay)? How many NZers have there ever been?

For all of time, it’s been hard to share information widely and communicate with other people. For the first time ever, now it’s easy. Devices enable us to share information widely and communicate with lots of people in multiple directions. Back in the day, there needed to be smart people to be great leaders and digest information. Now it can be done differently. We can make decisions in different ways. People are scared to change because they think it means that what they were doing before was wrong. But she thinks that it should be seen as an opportunity instead.

We have finally moved to thinking learning to read is for everyone, but we still don’t do this with numbers. We allow the experts to figure out numbers and use them in their thinking. is trying to change this. She likes to think of numbers as holding stories that not everyone is capable of understanding. Why don’t we use numbers in our thinking?

Datasets were set up before the Internet, so sharing wasn’t even thought about. No standards, etc. But now, people with information are expected to make it open and share it. But this is also terrifying for people who collected datasets, because they are asked to share it and they hadn’t been thinking they would have to do that. Having datasets sorted by source and institution and country is like having a dictionary where the words are sorted by the country they originated from. It’s too hard to deal with and not very helpful to have New Zealand data trapped on each individual website.

She gave the example of her brother, a truck driver, who gets excited about knowing how many accidents happen in a certain area or certain times of year. So people understand the importance of numbers when you present them in a different way. But most people don’t use data, and most of NZ’s data isn’t used. is a charity and the first organization in the world to assert that everyone can use data. Their mission is to enable everyone to make sense of data and see New Zealand clearly, in a way that inspires us forward. They charge places that have data like the Treasury or other government sites to process their data and tables. [But do these places actually want people to look closely at their numbers?…] Currently on their website you can look at a Pinterest-style page of figures. They know that at the moment, people still have to know what to search for on their website. Ex. A florist in Nelson might not just want to look at data in the floral industry, because it might be more helpful for them to look at other relevant data, such as funeral trends. We need to create a culture where people are encouraged and inspired to learn things and seek out things for themselves [yes, self-directed learning].

Youth, digital agency and encounters with the past and present – Louise Saunders (UNITEC)

 Louise Saunders was filling in for the originally-scheduled speaker. She said that she started as a student, became a leader, and then got published  [great trajectory for young students]. She was in a Communications class that had an assignment to make a community-based oral history project on WWI because of the centenary. It aimed to introduce students (outside of fields like history or cultural studies) to digital storytelling and content, to help them build a transmedia narrative. Her group produced an interactive exhibit called Help Me Tell My Story ( She mentioned that ePress at Unitech is an online publishing platform. The rest of the projects can be seen at

Even though they considered themselves marvellous Communications students, they quickly realized they didn’t have much digital technology skills, so had to partner with back-end and front-end developers [again reiterating the importance of digital literacy]. She said it was probably the best learning experience they had as students. Students in the class not from New Zealand (like those from Asian countries) said that participating in this activity meant that they could actually relate to the First World War. Once they had something to focus on (WWI), all the things they had been learning about in their degree really came to life (blogging, social media, etc.). Before it was just like ‘blah social media’, etc. Leith Haarhoff asked a question about how the logistics between GLAM and academia worked and if there were any problems. Saunders said that the issues were usually about who would take responsibility but they were always worked out. Strong leadership is needed to see the project through.

A model for relevant technology programming in libraries – Leith Haarhoff (Palmerston North Libraries) and Tyler Benson (Massey School of Engineering)

Haarhoff and Benson took turns discussing the Technology Summer Challenge and Technology Challenge project that involved the Massey School of Engineering and Palmerston North Libraries. Haarhoff began by talking about problems that face the world and then looking at how these can catalyze a solution. There is a pressure on libraries to prove relevance and do that through technology. He said they feel pressure to use 3-D printing and new technologies but don’t necessarily know why. Research shows that 75% of primary school kids are loving STEM, then something happens in the translation to their NCEA choices and it goes down to 25%. Massey is not getting enough students.

Benson is an engineer and made the comment that he was glad to see so many ‘older’ people who know technology in the audience, that it was a great environment to be in [some of them may have been a bit ruffled over that comment!]. He explained that the Technology Challenge used 3-D printers to make stuff and kids were dragging their parents to come over and participate. There was good energy. He saw five factors that made it successful: Real-world context; Hands-on experiments [tinkering]; Peer-to-peer interaction and group collaboration (challenge/problem/project-based learning); Interaction with parents/parental involvement; and Key mentors that are committed. What they learned was that the library can help facilitate the STEM program. This was a key aspect. The library might have the stuff but doesn’t know how to use it in a very advanced way. By bringing in engineering students, this then leads to more expertise around the local city (like engineers who know how to use 3-D printers). One question was about whether there was any transference of skills to library staff. Someone did learn how to solder. If you’re interested in something, it doesn’t take that long to learn a new skill. People felt a lot more confident by the second time.

A fireside chat with Seb Chan in conversation with Courtney Johnston (Chan from ACMI, @sebchan; Johnston from DOWSE Art Museum, @auchmill)

Chan said that he used to say that virtual visitors need to be paid attention to just like physical visitors. Now he realizes that they are differently important. The fact is we are spending more time on screens. Mobile hasn’t reduced the time on screens but has actually increased it. Americans spend about 8 hours on average a day on screens (according to new Pew research).

He discussed a difference between museums in the UK, Australia, NZ which have the idea that things are for the public, and museums in the U.S. There, the nonprofit educational aspect is why donations to museums incur a tax benefit. This seems more paternalistic than NZ and Australia. Chan thinks that the U.S. is a decade ahead in museum practice but a decade behind in terms of funding that practice. The certainty of financial security isn’t there. There are much larger boards with stakeholders (up to 40+). There is also the sense that “digital is done”. It was a way to be seen to be showing innovation but wasn’t necessarily about a structural change. He gave a case study of Cooper Hewitt.

Whenever we do digital projects, we never spend enough time marketing them. You need to demonstrate that your organization is outward-facing. Institutions need to be looking out to the world. We need to get out there. People don’t look down here. We’re far away.

Johnston asked a final question about visitor research vs. surveillance. There are issues of privacy and harvesting data with no real purpose. She says, don’t collect data if you don’t need to (how many people walk by a building with a phone, example).

Panel: Labs and incubators for the rest of us

Tui Te Hau (Mahuki lab at Te Papa) @Mahuki_TePapa
Seb Chan (ACMI) @sebchan
Julia Kaganskiy (New Inc.) @juliaxgulia
Paula Bray (DXLab at State Library NSW) @paulabray

ACMIx at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image is a new coworking space (for filmmakers, VR developers, gamers, etc.) for making connections, fostering ideas, and building a community. It has been open for seven months now and has two universities in Melbourne that have postgrads and academics in this space as well.

Mahuki at the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand is an innovation incubator.The Mahuki outreach program works with tertiary institutions, the start-up ecosystem, and the wider community. They provide $20,000 funding for teams. They get 6% equity in the businesses so are invested in their success. There is a priority on diversity (gender, Māori, Pasifika).

Kaganskiy runs New Inc., founded by the New Museum in New York. They have 8,000 sq. ft. with 100 creative practitioners. It seemed like every area had an incubator lab except for the arts. Artists lacked business and entrepreurial skills to stay in NY. It costs $600 a month for full time or $350 for part-time, so people pay for desk space. They are trying to offer scholarships and funding for those without means.

Bray talked about the DXLab at the State Library of New South Wales, which is more about Digital Humanities research than being an incubator program.

Question: Why are labs important? How can they be sustainable?

Kaganskiy: It extends the public service that your museum is doing for the community. It is sustainable because of membership fees (60-70% of operational budget) and they have some foundational funding as well.

Chan: Working with universities has removed the need to do things like build labs or studios (specialist physical resources).

Te Hau: They embrace fast failing, so speed is a good thing. Then people can move on to another project.

Q: What does success look like? How do you measure this?

Chan: They need to cultivate an alumni program like universities do, so they can help show the influence they have. The first step is making the lab and naming it. Then it takes more work to go from there.

Te Hau: They are hoping that 8 out of 10 will finish the program (looking like they are on track to do so).

There was a question from Andy Neale: What about organizations that won’t set up these incubators? Kaganskiy responded that these were filling a gap and a need. They weren’t competing with things that were already there. She thinks that the community value-add aspect is the most important. There was a question about whether or not incubators try to encourage people to use their content. It seems to depend on whether they are connected to an institution. New Inc. isn’t a collecting institution, but ACMI does encourage people in incubator to use museum space and ‘try out’ exhibits.

Should you start an incubator? Consider these factors: Real Estate, Community Value-Add, Strategic Partnerships, Business Model, Experiment and Iterate.

Keynote: Incubating culture and creative economies – Julia Kaganskiy (New Inc.) @juliaxgulia @Newinc

Kaganskiy mentioned the ‘Color the Temple’ activity at the Met Museum (Egyptian art being lit up with light). She highly recommended the MoMA R&D website/blog.

She said that incubators can help breathe life into struggling communities. They are most effective when they are site-specific and situated in a specific community. By the year 2020, 40% of the workforce will be freelance. Innovation doesn’t just come from the Sciences. It comes from the Arts too!

Twitter photo:

Virtual Reality is really hot at New Inc. right now. She gave a brief look at some of the exciting ideas coming out of the incubator.

Monegraph is trying to make it easier to share digital works.

Print All Over Me turns virtual designs into real world objects. It is run by a brother and sister duo. After this, the next year they started Kokowa, an easy tool to create 3-D environments. The process is still quite hard, so their startup made a drag and drop interface tool. You can view it cross-platform.

Artiphon is designed to make music really accessible for beginners. It can scale with you as you grow. Professional musicians could use it as well.

Micromuseums are another interesting concept. It is a mobile museum about 6 ft. high by 3 ft. wide, features 15 exhibitions, and is designed to go into places like DMVs and hospital waiting rooms that are classified as dehumanized zones.

Powerplnt is giving free art lessons to teens in Harlem.

Disability is a focus at New Inc. as well. Alice Sheppard is working on a new performance with ramps that she wants to disseminate. For her it is very much an advocacy project.

Elia Life (Education, Literary, and Independence for All) wants to redesign Braille to be more intuitive, because currently it’s very difficult to learn.

Kaganskiy discussed how we need to re-envision the incubator model to foster cultural value not just capital value. They initially had social impact as one of their objectives or focus areas, but then they decided to take it out because it was such a weighty term. But it has ended up happening anyway and has been something they support. Museums act as a credentialler and when connected with an incubator are possibly even more important than physical space.

Closing Remarks – Matthew Oliver (Chair, NDF Board) @talkingtothecan

Oliver offered some reflections on the tumultuous year, including the death of the icon David Bowie and the assault on human decency that Trump brings. Is it the end of Parliamentary democracy; do we need a discussion on neoliberalism? Our sector (cultural heritage) needs to be involved in these conversations. We need to help build society and communities where people want to help each other [empathy]. The future is about building a better world where hate can’t survive. He mentioned issues like sexism. He said that we need to stop trying to prove we’re relevant and just get on with our work. Then the award winners were announced, and the conference was over.

National Digital Forum (NDF) Conference 2016 – Day 1

NDF Conference 2016

Annual Conference of National Digital Forum (NDF)
November 22-23, 2016
Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand (Wellington, NZ)
Conference program PDF
Twitter feed #NDFNZ
Recordings of sessions on NDF YouTube channel

Cool Things to Check Out:

Stand-out Presentation:

The stand-out talk was Takerei Norton’s discussion of his work on the Ngāi Tahu Cultural Mapping Project, which now has over 4,000 Māori place names on the South Island mapped onto Google Earth, complete with references from Māori communities. This will enable countless Digital Humanities research projects and was so interesting and inspiring to learn about.

The following are my notes from the sessions I attended on day 1 of the NDF Conference. Most sessions were recorded and are available on the NDF YouTube channel. [If any errors, let me know.]

Day 1 – Tuesday, November 22

On Day 1, there was first a breakfast put on by DigitalNZ. Their big announcement was that they just launched Stories which is an easy way to put together images and text using historical material or your own material.

Then the conference opened and it was announced that they had over 300 registrations, which was the most they’d ever had. This number later was specified as 320 registrations.

Opening Address – Richard Foy (Department of Internal Affairs)

Richard Foy gave a fabulous opening address. He was funny, understandable, and relatable, and he used great images. He connected it with the personal/human element by showing images of his daughter Lucy and his grandmother. He said that we need to be people-first (rather than cloud-first, etc.).

It was pleasing to hear him make several science fiction references right off the bat, a big one being The Core science fiction movie. He humorously explained his attachment to this not-ranked-very-highly movie and encouraged us to please rate it on IMDB – it deserves better than a 5.4!

Foy then gave a hilarious overview of digitization – how we make PDFs and put them in the ‘cloud’ and then burn the rest of the leftovers. This has precedent! Actually, the Gibbons fire in New Zealand led to the Archives Act 1957. This kind of digitization is not best practice, obviously.

Foy next discussed time and memory. Our memory allows us to inextricably link our past with our present and our future. When we lose some of that memory, our memories tend to fade away. That can lead to a much darker future. We’re not accountable for things that have gone by in the past.

We’re moving from physical information to digital information and need to figure out how we manage those. Unlike Pokemon Go, we don’t want to catch it all. Some of it we don’t need and don’t want to remember. He said that copyright in the digital era is ripe for disruption! And he also gave a shout out to Digital Humanities – these are the things these guys are begging us for! We also need to make information useful and available for machines to be able to deal with it for us.

What would happen if we created the reading room on the web in the 21st century? But what if there were nothing to read? We have to make sure we preserve things for the future.

Keynote: Memory Institutions as Knowledge Machines – Eric T. Meyer (Oxford Internet Institute at University of Oxford) @etmeyter

Meyer is at the Oxford Internet Institute and has been there for 15 years, since 2001. He started by asking What does social informatics mean? He described the term “Socio-Technical” and how his book editors kept trying to take out the hyphen but he insisted on it. What social informatics does is to examine the hyphen – how do people interact with technology. He has an article about it: “Examining the Hyphen” (2014). Science and Technology Studies tends to look at the first side” of the hyphen (people), then add the technology later. Computer Science tends to look at the second side of the hyphen (technology), then add the socio/people thing just at the end.

Wired magazine tends to be quite focused on technology determinism. The Internet causes this, makes people dumber, etc. But actually, technology allows people to make certain choices.

Working with his colleague Ralph, whom he doesn’t often agree with, means that every sentence is carefully thought-out because they have to work hard to convince the other person of their position. (Benefit of co-writing rather than sole authorship)

No one used to care about data. Then after Snowden, now ‘big data’ draws larger crowds.

Do you indicate that you used a digital resource when building your list of references? Basically students use them but then delete because of academic standards.

He discussed marine biology research on humpback whales. There are many scientists around the world looking at their own populations, but it’s good to find a way to share that data with other scientists so they can build a map and estimate the numbers of whales in the world, rather than just one area. Another problem is that we don’t know how long they live, but they could live over 100 years. So how do scientists make sure that the scientists after them can use that data?

He discussed a ‘big data’ project on dementia ( Funders insisted that they use the word big data in the title, even though it really wasn’t that big of a data. (Big data is seen as sexy though.) How do we change the incentives in medical science to make it so they not only want to create data but want to make it accessible to others and share it? How many people have worked with a scientist who comes to the end of the project and hasn’t thought about what to do with the data and just wants to shove it into a repository to meet the requirements of founders? There is a need to get them thinking about data earlier in the process (this is what librarians in universities are working on).

An example of big data that could be used to help out in the health care realm but raises ethical questions: Tesco grocery store chain has a loyalty card that can pick up on shopping habits of someone coming down with dementia (like narrowing shopping choices or buying the same item day after day). But how ethically would they be able to share that data with health professionals? There are other issues with big data. RFID chips are used to track things. Meyer said that if he goes to a conference and they have a chip in the id badge and they can’t tell him what they’re doing with the data, he rips it out. He also gave the example that made the news about how Target knew a teenage girl was pregnant before her dad did (see article in Forbes), started sending her coupons, etc. for baby stuff. This shows how scary big data can be – they know more than our own families do. Also, the problem with loyalty shopping cards is that it is all proprietary data protected under no disclosure agreements that medical researchers, really anyone can’t get access to.

He finds Internet Archive Wayback Machine and other web archives frustrating because you can only look at URLs one at a time. The search function isn’t very good because they can’t crawl the data as fast as they need. You can’t look at broader information. Historians in the future will want to know what was going on today, on the web, because that is where things are mainly happening in our world.

‘Academics quite like to link to themselves.’ He showed a chart of how the subdomains link to each other (.co, .gov, .ac).

He discussed a Digital Humanities project where a Thomas Pynchon wiki was set up to annotate his book Against the Day and it only took a few months, whereas previously it had taken years. This is a new way of doing a humanities task, such as annotating a novel, and can be done by the crowd. It was done by a non-academic, a fan, who ran the server from his own computer. Weisenburger’s Rainbow (first annotation) was bought and stored by libraries, but there is no plan to preserve this person’s wiki project. It raises questions about how to proceed in future with this kind of humanities project.

Re: Humanities Browsing and Searching vs. Physical Sciences Browsing and Searching
Lots of people use Google search and Google Scholar but also rely on a lot of other resources. Over the last 20 years, libraries have gotten to be too good at being invisible. He said that when physical scientists have been asked about their library use, they don’t even realize where they are getting their online journal articles! On the one hand it’s good that libraries are less visible because it means the experience is smoother, but on the other hand, they are not being appreciated or noticed. It used to be very difficult to find information, but now it just takes a few clicks. So that has changed the nature of how things work. We’ve moved from information to analysis.

He mentioned Blockchain and Ascribe and the discussion around whether these can help artists get paid.

He finished by discussing a student project where they were asked to make films using nothing but an iPad. “Bottling Inspiration: Shoot Smart Swindon Final Project Report” (2014) It unleashed a lot of creativity among their students. Instead of separating out roles like camera person, editing person, it allowed everyone to collaborate and comment.

A round up on the latest inspirations and examples of tech in exhibitions around the world – Emily Loughnan (Clicksuite) @suitey

Loughnan presented a whirlwind tour of really innovative museum exhibits in the world. The interactive version of Hieronymous Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” painting inspired her to think about if they could make something that would allow others to do the same with their artworks and objects. Curio ( came out of Mahuki, the Innovation Hub at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand.

Museums are moving from being story-tellers to co-creators. Virtual Reality (VR) can allow people to create something for themselves. Check out the Tilt brush from Google. Yet 5 million people are going through the museum, so there are issues of through-put in terms of being able to offer augmented experiences like VR. It also takes a lot of staff work and there are health issues with the helmet having just been on someone else’s head. There are also tripping, bumping, and other hazards. (Ex: Ghostbuster exhibit in NY) One solution: swivel stools so you don’t worry about stumbling into other people. Another one: turning a bus into a VR experience (“Field Trip to Mars” on Vimeo) shows how a school bus was transformed into a VR experience without the use of headsets.

In the Rain Room at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it feels like you have a super power (back off rain!). Rain is everywhere except on you. At the Digital Waterfall in the Connected Worlds exhibit at the New York Hall of Science, you can divert the water into 5 or 6 different worlds. Boys come in and immediately dam the water and all the worlds are starved for water. Loughnan tried cutting down a bunch of trees in the rainforest and was actually saddened to see that they didn’t grow back. [I can see the potential for environmental education.]

Digitising the divide: Who’s in, who’s out? – Robyn Hunt (AccEase, Arts Access Aotearoa)

Hunt is from Arts Access Aotearoa and offered a challenge to the hype about digital by discussing disability issues. She said there is a certain group that doesn’t have access to all the digital stuff. Nearly one-quarter of New Zealanders are disabled. Older people are 14% of New Zealanders and growing.

Some digital solutions to disability issues are: accessible web sites, accessible devices, and closed captioning on YouTube (although it can be quite bad). But smart phones are more expensive with the accessibility additions so might be out of reach for disabled people. She mentioned BlindSquare, which is an app for the vision-impaired.

Digitally sculpted artworks for blind people are being done in the U.S. so they can then experience the world’s greatest paintings and art in a new way.

Hunt issued a challenge for everyone to Incorporate universal design into all of their projects. It should not be special – it should just be part of the way things are done.

She also brought up that what a nation chooses to remember is important and she is glad that Te Papa has started to document disabled soldiers in WWI.

Re-imagining Rutherford’s Den – Caroline Fenton (Communications Manager at The Arts Centre, Christchurch)

Rutherford’s Den is in the Christchurch Arts Centre. One good thing to come out of the earthquake damage has been that they had a chance to redesign the space. There is a time lapse on their website (change from a heritage space to the space that it is today with interactive exhibits). Their blackboards are actually screens, so you are tricked into thinking you walked back in time but there is actually a lot of digital material and technology that you can’t experience until you walk into the space. The exhibit has appeal to both Arts and Science people.

Getting it Done – Matariki Williams and Nina Finigan (TUSK Emergent Culture) @TUSKCulture

Tusk was launched in 2015 as an online platform for people entering GLAM institutions to contribute constructively, in their own voice, to the sector. They want to contribute to strengthening the cultural sector from the ground up. They mentioned LitCrawl (website; @tweetlitcrawl) then moved on to the ‘Trumppocalypse’ and millennial voting map (it was misleading because it actually was from a Survey Monkey survey done in October, but hopefully data people figured that out). They said the hamster wheel of short-term contracts in the Arts sector wasn’t working. They needed to fail in the traditional way so they could think laterally and get beyond the idea of funding being the primary goal. They wanted their online platform to be loose, reactive, and relevant to their generation. But this involves not always being taken seriously by the usual crowd. They said divergence and departure are the natural state of the Internet, and they wanted to be able to take advantage of this. The spirit of generosity helps when collaborating. They believe that those who have platforms need to use them; our voices need to be heard. We shouldn’t be restricted to what we’re doing as a day job. We should be active, engaged citizens. They asked: How do we avoid being an echo chamber? How can we bust down the doors and bring what we have to those outside of our circles?

Papers Past – A Redesign Case Study – Michael Lascarides (National Library) @PapersPastNZ

Lascarides discussed a new user experience for Papers Past. It was a well-liked service, so they didn’t want to change what people liked and what was working. Their Google Analytics says that there are 1200 different screen sizes per month being used to access their site. Google has started penalizing sites that aren’t mobile-friendly. A few years ago making it device friendly and responsive was a nice-to-have, but now is a must-have. They got rid of the search button on the home page. This was a bit radical. Now there are just 4 buttons for people to click and choose what they want to look at. They also changed their URLs (http://). They previously had very 1997 URLs so they redesigned them so they are a lot better. Now they use format, publication, year, month, day, page which is easy to understand and easy to parse with Google.

Learning to COPE with Galleries at Auckland Museum – Gareth de Walters (Auckland Museum) @gdewalters

Walters discussed how to use 3-D scanning technologies to bring objects to students and researchers, etc. They made a virtual laser scans of the old exhibit (unique permanent record) when it came time to renovate their long-standing Centennial Street exhibit. Ideally, they would be able to recreate it from storage if they wanted to. They worked with architects to make these plans. They also did photo stitching in the gallery. One of the goals was to make a digital tour (an interactive online collection). Matterport is a new technology that offers a relatively cheap and quick means of scanning galleries. It supports VR out of the box.

Regarding the Origins Gallery, they found that the gallery space wasn’t conducive to noisy kids (kids love dinosaurs!). There was a move to student-centered learning with teacher as a guide rather than an authoritative voice telling them what to know.

Shaping Knowledge: How can 3D Technology by Used in Libraries to Make New Knowledge Available? – Jason Hansen (National Library)

3D seems like a natural fit for museums, but it might not seem like something that fits in a library. They don’t hold that many 3-D objects. Hansen said that he would make the case that there is a reason to do it even if just because it is an emerging part of the technology in the world we’re living in. At this point, the conversation is just about 3D printing as a novelty (like printing chocolate) rather than about the potential for information storage, discovery, and dissemination. Libraries are still stuck in a 2-D model of scanned documents on screens. But, for example, a photograph of the parchment of the Treaty isn’t the same as having more details about the object. This is where 3-D that has more fidelity to the original object could be useful.

3-D printing could completely change the supply chain. Just like you might download music instead of getting CDs now, 3-D printing could do this to other objects that we buy. It could cut down on transport costs. What this means for libraries is that they would have a reason to collect the designs or 3-D models that may have some kind of cultural impact and to retain them in a repository to be made available later.

Hansen discussed Lightfield technology (mixed reality) and Magic Leap. [Reminded me of more Minority Report style of moving around data instead of needing a tablet since it is an overlay on the real world.] There was a YouTube video of a child showing their dad their Mount Everest project. Developing digital literacies was mentioned. The Rekrei (Project Mosul) was able to recreate some of the destroyed museums in Iraq. Semantic nodes (Augmented Reality and 3-D tech) allow ways of interacting with the world in ways that weren’t possible before. It blurs the line between physical and digital. It broadens the role of these tech as we use our role as learning facilitators.

Grisly Explorations into 3-D Models and 360degree Tours – Meredith Rigger (Nelson Provincial Museum & Relive360)

 The Nelson Provincial Museum didn’t have the same support as Auckland Museum, so it had to do 3-D stuff with 13 full-time equivalent staff just learning on their own. Rigger started off by telling a short history of Murder at Maungatapu: “Let’s meet some bandits shall we?” Later she explained how back in the day, a dentist took plaster casts of the heads of those executed for the now-famous murder because phenology was a hot topic at the time. They have 3 of these death casts at the museum. They took photos of them and then fed the photographic data into VisualSFM, Meshlab, Meshmixer, and Cinema 4D (some freeware, some not). They then created a 360-degree view in PanoTour software. She advised that text that looks good on a wall may not look good on a screen, so things may have to be adjusted for different locations.

The 2020s called: They want workers to be digitally literate – Kara Kennedy (University of Canterbury) @DuneScholar

[This was my presentation about how digital literacy needs to be incorporated into higher education. I discussed why there is a need for change away from just assigning traditional academic essays to assess learning, and how Digital Humanities offers a good way of accomplishing this through assignments that hone different skills. Examples include: blogging, editing Wikipedia, creating digital editions, working with digital archives, using map visualization tools, making multimedia assignments like videos, using textual analysis programs, working with databases, and digitizing images.]

Internet Arcade – Greig Roulston (National Library of New Zealand)

Roulston described the creation of a homemade video game arcade station and how surprisingly, it is not that complicated to make. It is now in the National Library in Wellington.

Crowdsourcing & how GLAMs encourage me to participate – Siobhan Leachman (Volunteer/Citizen scientist) @siobhanleachman

Leachman had three suggestions for a crowdsourcing project. 1. Be generous with content. Allow me to reuse what I helped to created. If I transcribe something, I want to be able to download it. If I’m tagging, I want to be able to use the images in Wikipedia or a blog. If you’re lucky, your volunteer will reuse your data in ways you never thought of. It’s a competitive market out there for volunteers. 2. Be generous with trust. We will not read the instructions until we hit a problem. Plan for this. Have easy tasks for beginners. Have challenges (like a game) to allow me to level up. 3. Be generous with time. The most successful crowdsourcing projects engage with their volunteers. Spend time cultivating. Think about what you can do for the crowd, not just what they can do for you. It’s about collaboration, which requires communication. Links from talk are available here:

A new type of audiotour – Tim Jones (Christchurch Art Gallery)

The Christchurch Art Gallery hadn’t really thought of the place of audio in galleries before. But as a result of the earthquakes and Civil Defence putting in good wi-fi, they were able to do some new things with an audio guide in their space.

What I learned about massive branded projects from editing Wikipedia – Mike Dickison (Whanganui Regional Museum) @adzebill

Dickison said that the Radio NZ Critter of the Week for endangered species initiative to improve and create pages on Wikipedia has become quite popular and successful. What are MBPs? Massive branded projects like Te Ara, New Zealand Birds Online, and the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network. They also always have a nice logo and are well-funded, well-designed, and well-thought out. They are usually an excellent resource. The downsides are that they are slow to start, slow to change, and slow to update. They become hungry for money or time and are often doomed to wither away or become zombies (where the site looks like it’s alive, but if you look too closely, it will eat your brain!). [In other words, they might not have been updated in years.] He proposed an alternative, that being to start small. An example is the NZ Organisms Register; however, that is also now a zombie site after losing funding. He called for people to embrace open editing and build on open resources like Wikispecies. Wikipedia projects can occur in a healthier way than traditional GLAM projects.

Social media struggles and sub branded communities – Holly Grover (Auckland War Memorial Museum)

Grover’s discussed how to empower employees and create social leaders. She said to consider sub-branding and fragmentation and to make sure to do social media audits to evaluate effectiveness.

See the forest, not the trees: free data visualisation tools – Paul Rowe (Vernon Systems) @armchair_caver

Rowe talked about how to take raw data and clean it up and do stuff with it. There are new tools evolving, like IBM’s Watson Analytics. Remember: Data is your friend!

Unauthorised audio tours: Theatricality in new technologies – Joel Baxendale and Ralph Upton (Binge Culture)

Binge Culture offered probably the most unconventional presentation which involved a clapping demo and then a video of their ‘Unauthorized audio tour of Te Papa’.

Keynote: Insights from Data – Dave Brown (Microsoft Research)

Brown began by giving an overview of Microsoft Research. It was founded in 1991. It is like a Computer Science faculty at a university but bigger and has published more than 10,000 peer-reviewed publications. He said that if research shows we remember and process data better in 3-D as opposed to 2-D, maybe the next wave of the Internet will make the current website experience seem medieval. Sometimes visualization of data can prompt new questions. [This is one of the benefits of Digital Humanities research. You find things you didn’t even know to look for or ask about.]

Brown showed a couple examples of technology. One was of seismic activity in 3-D where you could see the angle of the fault line under the earth. This was definitely more interesting and engaging than a spreadsheet for most people. It’s called “Holograph” on the Surface tablet (but works on other platforms too). Another one was of the annual rainfall in the U.S. mapped onto the map, where the blocks could be stacked into histograms. It’s not only pretty but actually shows a lot of context. It shows how the data they are looking at is related, and allows you to look at multiple times (using scroll function to move between time) rather than just snapshots.

He then did a demo of the HoloLens (Microsoft mixed reality offering) and asked us, “What will a world with holograms enable us to do?” [Couldn’t help myself with this tweet: Communicate with Sith lords?] The HoloLens was reminiscent of Pokemon Go where there are things on screen, but in his case he was looking at the U.S. maps shown earlier or the globe. It provides context and will be more memorable than other ways of looking at the data, he said.

He mentioned the Bing Translator that can be installed on your phone. It’s fast enough that you can have a conversation with someone who speaks a language you can’t understand. He spoke about empowerment for under-resourced communities by giving them Microsoft Translator Hub. [This raised some ethical questions for me, in terms of Western culture offering ‘solutions’ to people in other countries.]

Notes from aaDH Digital Humanities Australasia Conference 2016

Notes from aaDH Digital Humanities Australasia Conference

June 20-23, 2016
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Conference abstracts PDF
Twitter #DHA2016

DHA 2016 poster

DHA 2016 theme: Working with Complexity

The following are my notes from the Digital Humanities Australasia conference (June 20-23, 2016), the third conference of the Australasian Association for Digital Humanities (aaDH), held in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia). These are not comprehensive notes but rather what caught my attention in relation to my continually developing understanding of DH.

Although it is interesting to see the wide spectrum of presentations at DH conferences—from easily understandable/accessible ideas all the way to more technical descriptions of programs and methodologies—the highly technical ones seem to lose a fair portion of the often interdisciplinary DH audiences, which can include more traditional humanists, the GLAM sector, and computer scientists. Pitching to the right level may not be a resolvable issue because of this, but it is probably safer to assume that everyone isn’t familiar with programming complexities. There is a sense that people are not following when the Twitter feed dries up and no one asks any questions. Something else that was mentioned was making sure that Twitter handles are in the program. I have endeavored to include handles and affiliations when known (as well as authors listed in the program but not present), but if there any corrections that need to be made, please let me know.

Jump to:
Conference Day 1
Conference Day 2
Conference Day 3
Conference Day 4

DHA Conference Day 1 (June 20, 2016)

The first day began with a free workshop on regular expressions by Aidan Wilson (@aidanbwilson) from Intersect. For those of us who were unfamiliar with this ‘search on steroids’, it was an interesting and very useful session. I was particularly glad that a Shakespeare play was used as one of the examples, since I have been thinking about Digital Humanities pedagogy in relation to literature courses for the past year or so and think there is potential here.

The conference opened with a Welcome to Country. Then the rest of the first day was a series of short Provocations focused on three main points (Professional Recognition, Research Infrastructure, and Redefining Digital Humanities) and presentations on e-research infrastructure and Gale Publishing.

Provocations session

Sydney Shep (Victoria University of Wellington) discussed some of the issues in New Zealand. At her university, student numbers are set to double by 2030, presenting both opportunities and challenges. Interdisciplinary work is not rewarded by the PBRF (Performance Based Research Fund) system. She suggested that instead of us being boundary riders in DH, we should be edge walkers and take advantage of our positioning in the system.

Simon Musgrave (Monash University) asked questions, including What is a reasonable process of validating work so people will take it seriously? What kind of peer review is needed (and how much time is it going to take)? Will I have to look at corpora of colleagues, for example?

Paul Turnbull (University of Tasmania) said he spends a lot of time writing letters of support for younger scholars, because he feels that we should lead by example by helping them out to obtain recognition. He addressed the critical need for defining and embedding digital literacy in the undergraduate curriculum, because it can’t wait. He also asked who should be driving big infrastructure projects: we as academics or big consortiums, or communities that need the projects and access. Who should ultimately be in charge? Are big infrastructure projects like Bamboo what’s best for the future of DH?

Christina Parolin (Australian Academy of the Humanities) said that we need to articulate what we need in order to transform our disciplines. Do we need a long-term strategy and plan for the sector? This could help prioritize investment and effort over a longer term period, address diversity of scale and sustainability, and address skills and capabilities needed for DH in the future. She said that we need to engage, advocate, and lobby, especially outside of the department. This includes institutions, state and regional governments, as well as international bodies (many postgraduate students in China are using Trove, for example – are their needs or potential funding pools being investigated?). Should there be a DH research infrastructure alliance?

Sarah Kenderdine (University of New South Wales) discussed Artificial Intelligence and its potential for DH. She mentioned that Google just opened its AI research institute (machine learning) in Zurich. Rembrandt’s paintings were put into machine learning and a robot painted something that seems very similar to a real Rembrandt painting. [NPR article on it]

Camellia Webb-Gannon (Western Sydney University) said that the humanities must attend to the coming apocalypse. She asked how can we in DH be addressing things such as environmental issues, discard studies (gadgets and e-waste sent overseas), and poverty studies. She quoted Tara McPherson and asked about racial violence and DH. She showed a Postcolonial DH cartoon by Adeline Koh about the new Digital Divide. It’s not that projects that take these issues into consideration aren’t already taking place, but maybe we should do more to mainstream them in our projects. Let’s use DH to pursue a just and inclusive humanities.

One response to the first part of the Provocations session was that we must also address training needs – many Humanities researchers are poorly trained in new methodologies. It was also said that it’s not just training, that it actually fundamentally changes how we practice the humanities. And if we don’t embed that in our undergraduate courses, we are missing out. [Yes!!] When it comes to better digital literacy, we’re part of making that happen.

eResearch Infrastructure session

Lyle Winton (Deputy Director, Research Platforms for NeCTAR [National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources Project]) discussed NeCTAR and its 12 virtual laboratories in Australia with over 10,000 users.

Sarah Nisbet (Marketing Manager for eRSA) discussed examples of infrastructure for humanities and social sciences.

Ingrid Mason (eResearch Analyst for Intersect) discussed how she acts as a translator to communicate the needs of humanities and social sciences to infrastructure builders. She’s written several case studies so far and sees a gap in the understanding of data needs and issues.

Deb Verhoeven (Project Director at Deakin University for HuNI [Humanities Networked Infrastructure]) offered questions like How can we remake the world from the perspective of the people who live in it (research infrastructure build from below, not top-down)? How can museum, for example, look at its collections from the perspective of the people? It’s not necessarily always about building infrastructure, but maybe about puncturing the infrastructure, being more critical. She noted that one of the challenges in the humanities is that we haven’t had experience in team-driven research and individuals’ research often gets lost or overlooked compared to other projects. We need the humanities to have a seat at the table when these decisions are being made about research infrastructure. She discussed the draft Humanities Research Infrastructure Alliance Statement which aims to be a kind of white paper that will discuss needs and issues and that can be shared with parties outside academia.

During the question/discussion period, Shep asked about what it means to rethink infrastructure across national boundaries. aaDH seeks to position itself in Australia, NZ, and the Pacific, but so far the emphasis has been on Australia. There was discussion around if something is funded by the Australian government, does that limit which researchers can access it? The answer was not necessarily because it is not currently a requirement to be Australian or doing research on Australia to access certain resources.

Verhoeven responded to a question about how it is good that libraries get rid of things eventually and make decisions (How do we think about data? What about sunsetting — getting rid of data because it costs money to store and things must be prioritized?). She said that researchers might think more about these things if they had taken a first-year History course or were more knowledgeable about these kind of issues.

Mason noted that the biggest problem in the last five years has not been technical issues but rather communication issues. Verhoeven agreed, saying that interoperability on the technical side is not the most problematic; it is often things like getting universities and other bodies to communicate. Some in the audience believed that collaboration should be a key component of eResearch infrastructure (issues when groups won’t use Google, for example, because of data concerns). Mason discussed liking the Zoom conferencing tool.

Verhoeven said that we talk a lot about making data accessible, etc., but we don’t talk about the researchability of the data very much. She also noted that she and Mike Jones wrote an article for the Conversation (“Treasure Trove: Why Defunding Trove Leaves Australia Poorer” and it got picked up by the Australian Labor Party and into their platform about Trove, so we should be doing more like this for impact in public eye. The session closed with discussion of payment for data storage – no one wants to pay for it, but we all need it.

Gale and the Digital Humanities – by Craig Pett (Research Collections Specialist from Gale, a part of Cengage Learning)

Pett gave an overview of Gale’s work, noting that its best known collections like ECCO and State Papers Online are only a fraction of the things it has digitized. He anticipated concerns over free access and said that although the ideal is that public organizations (like government) will fund all digitisation projects for historical documents and then everything will become freely available through our national institutions, the reality is that not all governments can or will do this. This is where Gale and other companies come in, fund the project, get it done, and get it out to the world. Otherwise, you could be waiting for 10, 50, forever years for digitization to be done. Gale sells the collections at the institutional level (like the library) so that the end user (student, academic) gets ‘free access’ at least. [Problem is that this means there is a barrier of needing to be associated with academia to do research. It is hard to be an independent researcher.] He discussed Gale’s word association tool which helps facilitate humanities research breakthroughs and discoveries.

Gale realizes that metadata may in fact be more important than the primary source data and is moving in that direction. For about 18 months, Gale has put metadata on a separate hard drive and offered that to institutions for research at no cost (sending hard drives to the institution rather than putting information online). He announced exciting news about an upcoming release wherein Gale will be uploading the last 17 years of millions of metadata onto a cloud server (called the Sandbox). GoogleBooks is also supposed to be adding their metadata to this resource. The goal is to have it ready to download and work with immediately. He said this should be completed fairly soon.

DHA Conference Day 2 (June 21, 2016)

Data Trouble – by Miriam Posner (UCLA Digital Humanities) (@miriamkp)

Posner began by asking: What troubles humanists about data? For instance, humanists tend to love to hate Google’s knowledge data project. But she is hoping to develop a shared vocabulary to help us be able to talk about some of these issues. She said that the constellation of terms that we now use for the disciplines of the humanities has not actually been around for all that long. Around WWII, the definition changed to become what we now know it to be today.

The Science article “Quantitative Analysis of Cuture Using Millions of Digitized Books” was by mathematicians, scientists, linguists, and they called it culturomics. The media loved this, but humanists reacted with “almost visceral distaste”. Humanists didn’t like it, trust it, or use it. This brought to light that it was not just what humanists studied, but how they studied it and the interpretations that were essential to humanistic study. We prioritize close reading – is this why we have avoided big data projects? We don’t seem to like doing the work with large datasets. We have an aversion to positivism.

Posner mentioned the article “Literature is not Data: Against Digital Humanities” by Stephen Marche on October 28, 2012, and said, That’s true. Nothing is data until it is structured and becomes useable. She gave the example of time: we experience time in different ways, but to deal with it, we have to be able to measure it. In another example, data may present certain items as seemingly of the same nature, like the “charge/conviction” items in the Digital Harlem Everyday Life 1915-1930 project. Data visualization necessarily leaves out certain data, but this is not obvious from the final product. A dataset looks naked to a humanities scholar – it leaves out the data that weren’t thought by anyone to be important (like the paper that the poster was printed on, the other text on the poster, how it was crumbled, etc.).

You may prefer the label woman or womyn, but we need to categorize to be able to count or query the data and then visualize it. We tend to collapse labels into one data category (like a census box checked ‘black’ when person identifies as ‘African American and Germa/multiracial) but this doesn’t work when trying to work with data. [But this doesn’t mean some of these categories can’t be contested.] It seems like scientists think that what we humanists do is to fill in gaps on a timeline and sharpen our understanding of existing categories. But this is not what we see ourselves doing. We like to question and break categories.

Conference slide Posner

It seems like scientists think that what we humanists do is to fill in gaps on a timeline and sharpen our understanding of existing categories. – Miriam Posner

We also must be aware of the constructed nature of categories. For example, how Māori classify things is different from how Westerners would (like they might categorize something as being similar to a canoe but others wouldn’t).

Posner gave an interesting example of William S. Jevons’ logic piano. The keyboard represents a set of constraints, just like the piano keyboard also constrains how many sounds you can make. The musician then translates an infinite number of sounds into the tiny set of options they have in front of them. There is a sense of play involved that may be fruitful in how we as humanists think about data. Also, humanists don’t see replicability as something they should be concerned about. This could explain why librarians have been frustrated at getting humanists to deposit their data.

During the question time, Shep asked about how Posner is dealing with Joanna Drucker’s idea that the world is data, and that we can only study a small portion of it. Posner responded that she uses Drucker’s work in everything she does but finds this concept hard to explain to undergrads. Shep also asked about whether the keyboard metaphor is gendered and to think about differences in what work Māori men and women do. There was a brief discussion of issues of agency and empowerment.

The Digital Humanities in Three Dimensions – by Tim Hitchcock (University of Sussex) @TimHitchcock

Hitchcock challenged us to think beyond the one-dimensional text and embrace the benefits of 3-D. He said that as humanists, we’re not actually concerned with texts, but with the human experience. So then why are we so concerned with texts?

He discussed the history of how things that are sometimes taken for granted came to be. Geography departments in the U.S. were closed down in the early 1950s, deemed Marxist.

We think we are making our own decisions, but we are actually inheriting traditions from the Enlightenment and decisions made a long time ago. The Library of Congress digitized 18th century books through microfilm, and then these are what have become available through collections like ECCO. This is the origin of why some texts are available online and other texts like Arabic are not – because white male European culture was considered important and worth storing and saving. Basically, white male European culture dictates what is available online now; selection bias was driven by the role of microfilm. Then rich white people tend to make available the texts that humanists study (it’s a selective intellectual landscape). He referenced Verhoeven’s feminist speech at DH 2015 for men to ‘get off the stage’ and apologized for not doing so sooner, then asked, How do we move beyond that elite, Western knowledge, that privileges the male?

He then provided several examples of projects that are taking advantage of 3-D modelling to go beyond the text and look at other aspects of human experience. In another field, the Royal Veterinary College of London with its LIVE interface is using a model of a cow.

The Virtual St. Paul’s Cross Project is modelling noise and speech in a historic environment. This allows voices of the crowd and women’s voices to come through.

Oculus Rift and other new technologies are changing how we connect with historical evidence, whether that’s text or something more interesting. When you add in the oral, the haptic, etc., you get something that is beyond the white elitist history. History then becomes more than an explanation; it enables recovery of the voices of the rest of the people and is more democratic. The material world in digital allows us to follow the not-so-easy traces of those who didn’t leave scribbles on paper in the past few centuries. It leads to more inclusive history.

Founders & Survivors: Australian life courses in historical context 1803-1920 looks at the 73,000 men, women, and children who were transported to Tasmania. It helps us address the question: How do we create empathy across 200 years of silence?

Hitchcock discussed some of his experiences working on the Digital Panopticon: The Global Impact of London Punishments, 1780-1925 project. He discussed how putting a historic map overlay on Google Earth allows him to see where sunlight would hit on the streets and buildings of a certain time period. Looking at maps, pictures, and models helps create a sense of the positioning and space, including in something like a model of a courtroom. He also wants to create models of structures like houses and prisons to give people a sense of what it was like. What is it like when you walk into the dock? What was it like on a transport ship? What can space, place, and voices give us that we couldn’t get before? He believes that projects like this make the history ‘from below’ more accessible and more imaginable. It is in some ways a way around the conundrum of the limitations of the text and allows full emotional engagement with the people of the past.

Sites and Projects Mentioned: Virtual St. Paul’s Cross; Transcribe Bentham; Darwin Manuscripts Project; Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts; The Newton Project; The Digital Panopticon

During questions, Verhoeven asked, How do we move forward as a community of scholars, given that we are proscribed by past judgments? Hitchcock responded that we are nowhere near a systemic analysis of big data or where we got the data. He said footnotes are rubbish – they don’t work anymore. We need to be able to show what we know and don’t know, the methodology, in a different way. He also mentioned that he is skeptical of ‘authentic music performances’ like of the early ballads, because a modern audience has no context or idea what the feeling was like in a street performance in the 1790s.

Using Ontologies to Tame Complexity in Spoken Corpora – by Simon Musgrave (Monash University) (@SimonMusgrave1) (also Haugh Michael, Andrea Schalley)

Musgrave discussed coding practices in research on spoken corpora. He said that people code for what they’re interested in, not just pragmatic categories. Interestingly, laughter can actually be transcribed in a high degree of detail. (Conversation analysis is a field of study in itself.) What kind of vocalic quality does laughter have? Volume, pitch, etc. What prompts us to use awkward laughter? He has used regular expressions to find examples in the data, like looking for instances of (laughs) in a transcript. One issue is that with different coding practices, data sets and results can be very different.

Shep asked, Are there pragmatics that can code for irony? Musgrave responded that it’s hard because the text doesn’t necessarily have the visual cues that we need to know irony (why people on social media have to signal *irony because otherwise a post lacks context). Someone asked about whether semantic analysis on emoticons could be used since there is already some community agreement with what they mean.

Consuming Complexity: Genealogy Websites and the Digital Archive – by Aoife O’Connor (University of Sheffield) (@Ordinary_Times)

O’Connor works full-time for Find My Past, a subscription-based website and is currently doing her PhD part-time. She has noticed that when governments fund digitization projects, they usually focus on celebrating national identity (see Ireland). Genealogy is the second most popular hobby after gardening in the U.S., the second most popular search (after pornography), and a billion dollar industry. Interestingly, censuses were considered miscellaneous documents and relatively unimportant at one time. But priorities change, and we don’t know what will be important for historians and people in the future. Someone asked a question about when genealogy websites would make it possible to search for place not just person, like for people interested in the history of their house, for example.

Analysing Reciprocity and Diversity in Contemporary Cinema using Big Data – by Deb Verhoeven (Deakin University) (@bestqualitycrab) (also Bronwyn Coate, Colin Arrowsmith, Stuart Palmer)

Verhoeven discussed how the project is looking at 300 million show times, 97,000 movies, 33,000 venues, and 48 countries. She said it’s only big data if it causes you to have an existential crisis. The case study was of The Hobbit movie screenings. In looking at a visualization of how the film appeared in theatres around the world, it haemorrhaged, didn’t move in a linear movement or travel in that way. But none of the data turned up something that the researchers didn’t already know. So they switched from looking at countries’ tendency to show films to looking up which countries had more equitable relationships with other countries, more reciprocity. That revealed potentially more interesting data to analyze further. Verhoeven mentioned The Arclight Guidebook to Media History and the Digital Humanities, which is an open access book.

What’s Going On Over There? Ventures into Digital Humanities at University of Wollongong Library – by Clare McKenzie (Manager, Scholarly Content) (@ccmcknz) and Kerry Ross (Manager, Archives) (@libinwonderland)

McKenzie discussed the University of Wollongong’s institution-wide shift in 2015 towards digital skills. A success case was the History program and Creative Arts program working together on a project to engage undergraduate students. The third-year students filled out a survey through SurveyMonkey about the portal that had been set up to help them with the project, and the responses were favorable. Ross then talked about how it is challenging to know whose realm things are in at a university. What is the library’s role? How can people cross traditional intellectual boundaries (library, academics, students, tools) with a DH project?

Conference slide Ross

How can people cross traditional intellectual boundaries (library, academics, students, tools) with a DH project? – Kerry Ross

Going forward, they see the library as a partner rather than merely a service provider. This involves a project-based rather than service-based approach and learning on the fly to be able to build capacity for an agile response that is still sustainable. They invite collaborations for more of the library’s collections. They mentioned that they used Omeka because of its ease of use, and that it empowered a History academic to curate her material.

Research Environment for Ancient Documents READ Project – by Ian McCrabb (University of Sydney)

McCrabb discussed the Research Environment for Ancient Documents READ software and its potential for scholars of these kinds of texts.

Herding ElePHaTs: Coping with complex object biographies in Early English print – by Teri Nurmikko-Fuller (@tmtn) (also Pip Wilcox, Kevin R. Page)

Nurmikko-Fuller discussed the Early English Print in the HathiTrust, a sub project of the Mellon-funded Worksheet Creation for Scholarly Analysis WCSA project. Sometimes with birth and death dates, for example, all you can say is that you are certain there is ambiguity (know someone was active in 1850s, for example). The researchers created categories for ‘precisedate’ and ‘ambigdate’ [not exact terms], so even though they had to give a date for the ambiguous one, if you know the category is ambiguous, you know that they are not sure. Sometimes you just have to put a date to have some data to work with.

Deep Mapping & The Atlas of Maritime Buddhism – by Sarah Kenderdine (University of New South Wales)

The Atlas of Maritime Buddhism project aims to help rectify the dominance of Silk Road stories over other means of exchange, such as maritime trade and monks traveling. Its theoretical basis lies in carto-criticism (critiques the Cartesian map worldview). Kenderdine discussed how the Dunhuang Caves in the Gobi Desert in China (a World Heritage site) have been photographed and enabled the creation of an augmented reality version in a type of virtual cave [more about the process]. Visitors to the exhibit use handheld devices to hover over the walls and see what is in the real cave. These devices, she emphasized, are intuitive for both grandchildren and grandparents, and meant to be a social group experience and not everyone on their own devices. One quite interesting aspect was that they filmed dancers on green screen and superimposed them on the walls of the wall experience to simulate the four dances depicted.

Paper Miner: Towards Digital Conceptual History – by Paul Turnbull (University of Tasmania)

Turnbull noted the lack of collaboration and communication between information scientists and traditional humanists. He showed the project of Paper Miner, and how far they got before the money ran out, which seems to be a common issue with DH projects. They approached Google about getting their help with automating the finding of locations in the Trove newspaper data, but Google realized what they wanted to do and wanted to charge a lot of money for helping. Paper Miner is currently tied to Trove, but there is no reason why it can’t be linked to other datasets. The challenge is that the main driver of the project has since passed away and they are left with minimal documentation, so will probably have to build it all over again. Advice for other projects is to keep better records.

The Complexity of Commonplaces: Digging into Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) – by Glenn Roe (Australian National University) (@glennhroe) (also Clovis Gladstone, Robert Morrissey)

Roe noted that before the current information overload, there was the Early Modern information overload (see Ann M. Blair’s Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age). So we’ve actually been dealing with this problem since the printing press. The challenge with ECCO is that there are duplications of works (24 reeditions of Hamlet for example), dirty OCR, and a large dataset size (205,000 texts). The Commonplace Cultures project looks to find passages that were shared. The Bible also presents a challenge because there are so many common passages (so much so that they had to make a ‘Turn Bible off’ button). For a viral poem of its time, check out James Thomson’s “Spring” 1728. Roe said that they didn’t want a boring search function to come at the end of the project, but that’s what they ended up with. His passing comment about being able to look up famous figures like John Locke and Thomas Paine and see where they were referenced in EBBO and ECCO signalled potential pedagogical uses.

Ngrams Against Agnotology: Combatting Tobacco Industry Narratives About Addiction Through a Quantitative Analaysis of 14 Million Documents – by Stephan Risi (Stanford University)

Risi is a historian of tobacco and looks at Truth Tobacco Industry Documents (held at UCSF). is the resource he wishes he had had when he started his studies on tobacco. People have known they were addicted for a long time (John Quincy Adams, for example). Agnotology is the study of (culturally-induced) ignorance (see Agnotology: The Making & Unmaking of Ignorance) edited by Robert N. Proctor and Londa Schiebinger). Risi looked at the term nicotine as well as the 75 words that surround it (in order to get a sense of the context), then looked at addicted, addiction, addict, addictive in that nicotine database; he found that it wasn’t until the late 1980s and 1990s that nicotine addiction was used as a term. Smoking habit, on the other hand, was used before then. Thus arises one of the limitations with Ngram searches, that terminology and phrases change over time. When neurology became popular, as opposed to psychology and study of different types of personalities that might be predisposed to smoke, there became more evidence that things like gum, the patch, and replacements could affect the brain and be used. These terms only started being used in late 1980s and 1990s. Ngram can help find these kinds of connections or rises and falls in history. One challenge is to try to determine what was only available to tobacco industry executives and what was available to the public in things like newspapers. [My question: what happens to all of the documents stored by corporations and organizations that are not forced via subpoena to make these things publicly available?]

DHA Conference Day 3 (June 22, 2016)

Serendipity & Palimpsests: Deep Time, Spatial History and Biographical Complexity – by Sydney Shep (Victoria University of Wellington) (@nzsydney)

Shep opened her keynote with what she called a ghost story and went on to discuss the Tuatara Beer brand in New Zealand and their use of an old-school, weathered, distressed font in advertising. Buildings that have their outside walls painted over (like for advertising) are one example of a palimpsest, defined as “something that has changed over time and shows evidence of that change” or “a very old document on which the original writing has been erased and replaced with new writing” (Merriam-Webster). Shep reminded us that animal skin was scraped and used to write new text or correct scribal errors, a type of medieval recycling. Urban signage, like that discussed with Tuatara, allows the study of geosemiotics, and place is incredibly important. It speaks volumes about history and erasure. Outdoor advertising provides a window into history.

Shep talked about the tool and how it seems to show you your interests, but what if you don’t know what your interests are? Everything that it will find is already categorized in European terms and keywords that have been used in the collections it is searching. In discussing her Marsden grant work on biographies of Victorian people, she described how she ended up focusing on one man, William Colenso, and his entanglements. He’s a multifaceted biographical subject. How can biographers deal with such a polymathic personality?

She provided an interesting quote from Janet Brown’s (2009) “Making Darwin. Biography and the Changing Representations of Charles Darwin”: “Every generation of historians recasts the past.” She asked, Can there ever be biography? We make history in relation to what we want to figure out about our present. What if we recast Colenzo as my Colenzo, or your Colenzo?

She mentioned her work on The Colenso Project, Maurice Bennett’s Toast Art that originated in Wellington (where slice of white bread is the pixel unit), and Storycube & Biocube [there are printable teaching resources of these via Cube Creator]. The DigitalNZ Magic square (with help from Tim Sherrratt) can construct a biography out of various scraps from Colenso’s life, and can allow us to discover through serendipity things we didn’t think of about him. It creates a deep map that makes more complex the process of biography. Her goal is to create woodblocks and eventually sound (exhibit hopefully to be opening in November in Alexander Turnbull Library). She also wants to recreate the lost four years of Colenso’s life, and use the algorithms to do that. Often we only have one side of a correspondence, and historians already kind of make up what the other side is. This is a new way to do that.

Regarding academia, Shep says we can’t be afraid to make change if we want to push the boundaries of what scholarship is today and in the future. She submitted an electronic monograph as a key research output, and the Marsden grant provides curiosity-based funding for the humanities in New Zealand. Remix, reuse, and repurpose the past is a growing trend around the world (steampunk, for example). Interestingly, she purposefully didn’t study history in official channels because she didn’t want to have the love of history in historical fiction driven out [it is sad to think how many people would agree with some version of this; that they didn’t study a humanities subject because it would be boring or turn them away from loving it].

Enabling Evidence-Based Analysis and Implementation of Indigenous Housing Programs – by Jane Hunter (University of Queensland) (also Tung-kai Shyy, Carroll Go-sam, Mark Moran, Paul Memmott)

Hunter discussed her social science work on Indigenous housing programs, starting by saying that it is widely acknowledged that Aboriginal housing is inferior. The project’s goal is to use the most relevant and reliable datasets to then make a web portal and do analysis on the data to have a better picture of how many people are living in the housing (they might lie for official surveys, for example), quality, needs, etc. One challenge is that it is hard to reuse anonymized and non-geolocated data to get a good sense of Australian housing issues. The Midja Integrated Knowledge Base provides statistical and geographical data for researchers (not open access because of some sensitive data). Data shows that Indigenous Business Australia is giving loans to high and middle income earners and areas with only modest needs, while ignoring areas that have good potential to get loans. For example, an area like Moreton Bay is receiving lots of loans but other better positioned areas are not getting any or very few. She mentioned that government documents have a lot of data in hard to access tables in PDFs and that she is interested in finding an automatic PDF Extractor Tool to extract tabular data out of PDF publications. [A person on Twitter @drjtwit recommended trying and said he helped write some parts of it.] During questions, Shep asked about helicopter research issues, as in what responsibility does a DH researcher have when they bring Western-created tools to Aboriginal or Indigenous communities and then leave. Hunter responded that other members on her team are Aboriginal or highly respected in the Aboriginal communities around Australia. Several members go out in the field and collect stories, so that is one way of not doing helicopter research.

Ecdosis: Historical Texts on the Web – by Desmond Schmidt (University of Queensland) (also Paul Eggert)

Schmidt described the reality that although libraries’ digital first policy means virtually no new printed material is being stored, they still have kilometers of rare books and manuscripts and few usable tools to edit and publish this material. Furthermore, the boom-bust cycle of DH projects makes it so that many DH projects don’t get to the stage where they are good enough for other people to work on it (making it open source doesn’t necessary mean that it will be picked up by other programmers). He asked, Is software really that fragile? Programs from 1970s still work perfectly. It doesn’t seem to be funding that kills projects like German TextEdit, but that they are too big and bulky. Software should be designed backwards from a user’s true needs (business document systems are not designed for historical materials, either). It is false to believe: ‘build it and they will come’. He went over waterfall versus agile development. Another issue is that if you ask people what they want, they’ll say: put a button over here, make that text red, but actually none of the software is really doing what they need. In their project, they found they had to start over, essentially, and an agile approach worked better. Ecdosis is not based on XML because of its issues with interoperability, reusability, etc. and it can be searched more accurately than XML, has a dramatic simplification of markup. Schmidt discussed the The Charles Harpur Critical fArchive where you can compare different versions of poems and it only takes a second. There are different colors for changed texts (red and blue, like Wikipedia). He also discussed the TILT test in Ecdosis.

Bridging complex heterogeneous datasets, workflows, and projects in Transforming Musicology – by Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller (The Software Sustainability Institute) (@tmtn) (and Kevin R. Page)

Nurmikko-Fuller discussed and the MuSAK (music annotation kit) where they put sensors on people to record their reactions during a live music performance (heartbeat, sweating) of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. They also had a musicologist live-annotate the score using a tablet and special pen.

Beyond the Sole Author? Measuring Co-Authorship Trends in English Literary Studies – by Elizabeth Leane (University of Tasmania) (also Lisa Fletcher, Saurabh Garg)

Leane gave an interesting overview of authorship in literary studies. Literary studies is the most heavily invested in the idea of authorship, and the idea of the sole author is pretty much standard and entrenched. We as scholars are surprisingly unreflective about our own academic authorship practices. Literary studies scholars collaborate less than any others (“Coauthorship of journal articles and book chapters in the social sciences and humanities (2000–2010)” by Ossenblock, Verleysen and Engels; Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword). Why? How might the rise of DH affect this model? What are the implications of a change? Project looked at MLA data as data source. The 4% coauthorship rate began to increase in 2005, but this is usually due to just two authors becoming more likely. There has been a 72% increase between 2000 and 2015 in co-authorship in literary studies. It remains a minority practice but is increasing. One challenge is that Digital Humanities as a keyword didn’t exist 20 years ago. Another issue to consider going forward is the convention regarding author order – now it is usually alphabetical but this could become difficult in lead-author projects. We need to deal with this issue in the discipline. Also, if the system favors people who co-author (now, that is sciences), what does that mean for the discipline?

Time for a Cultural Shift: Academia and Wikipedia – by Kara Kennedy (University of Canterbury) (@DuneScholar)

[This was my own presentation, so I will give a summary of it and some of the questions.] I discussed the why, the how, and the what a shift in academic culture regarding Wikipedia would look like. I believe Wikipedia embodies Digital Humanities values like open access and that DH scholars should be leading the way in engaging with it. I gave a brief history of the site, problems with a lack of diversity among editors (only around 10% are women), why those in academia are better positioned to make quality contributions, and the fact that the altmetrics donut now gives 3 points for a Wikipedia reference.

Conference slide Kennedy

Academia can increase research visibility through Wikipedia; the altmetric donut gives 3 points for a reference on Wikipedia. – Kara Kennedy

I advocated for academics to make contributing part of their practice and teach their students to contribute (valuable for digital literacy). I noted that the face of DH to the wider world (the Digital Humanities Wikipedia page) receives over 5,000 pageviews a month and yet is a relatively short article with a C grade. I ended with a challenge for us to work together to raise this page to featured article status. My parting line was: “Because when it comes to Wikipedia and academia, abstinence just isn’t working.”

As often happens in discussions of Wikipedia, people have strong feelings on the topic. During questions, Turnbull expressed his frustration over interactions on the site in his area of expertise, where seemingly amateur or uninformed editors challenge scholarly content and either delete or replace it with their own. Barnett voiced a concern that I have heard others make, that sometimes you have to take a break from it because of hostility and edit wars (and there are known issues like this with a gender component currently being researched). One of my responses is that having more academics involved would help make it so one scholar is not alone in these kinds of battles, especially when it comes to sensitive, politically-charged issues. Someone else said they had success in appealing to an admin about an edit and enjoyed making a contribution. Webb-Gannon asked how one would go about referencing themselves and if it amounts to a kind of self-promotion (there is a conflict of interest policy and you would generally add a note or reference in the references or bibliography section).

Thinking through Metadata – by Tully Barnett (Flinders University) (@tully_barnett)

Barnett discussed metadata and said that it is seeping into cultural communicative processes. She talked about Metadata Games and asked, Do the benefits of metadata outweigh the negatives? One issue is that when terminology changes, using new metadata can erase the previous terms. Taking Medieval Textual Translation to the Masses – by Derek Whaley (University of Canterbury) (@whaleyland)

Whaley discussed the poor quality of digitized transcriptions of medieval manuscripts, and how he created a MediaWiki site ( to enable crowd-sourced transcriptions and translations. The wiki format presents a low barrier to entry and allows people with a variety of skill levels to contribute – translations are only one aspect of the site. Currently, many scholars end up doing this work for their projects, but it is never published (translations often not considered as important as other research output). The main pages are the document source page and the transcription/translation page.

Conference slide Whaley

An example of the Transcription/Translation Page on – Derek Whaley

The site makes medieval texts more easily found, since they are Google indexed, and can be used as a teaching resource as well.

Donating Digital Me: What Can Be Learned from My Digital Footprint? – by Katie Hannan (Australian Catholic University)

Hannan talked about the serious implications of digital data after death. There is currently no way to donate our data or metadata. So what happens to all of the data from our devices, iPhones, iPads, etc.? She interviewed 99 people on what they thought about personal data donation. Gmail, Facebook, and YouTube were the highest used services that people were concerned about regarding personal information being on there (after they pass). She brought up the issue of whether or not families should be able to know if their loved one’s body contributed to a scientific breakthrough (if it were donated to science). Then her academia part-joke, part-maybe-this-could-actually-happen went over well: Would it be considered a non-traditional research output if a scholar donated their body to science and it was used in research, and should that go in the university’s institutional repository? *audience laughter* Someone asked about, a service that sorts through a deceased person’s social media accounts to create an avatar of them.

Aligning Digital Humanities Datasets for Unified Access – by Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller (The Software Sustainability Institute) (@tmtn) (also David M. Weigl, Kevin R. Page)

Nurmikko-Fuller discussed some of the technical background on current projects (lots of acronyms, like SALT).

Fison’s Problem with Australian Aboriginal Kinship Terms: Many to one mapping of terms to meanings and how the AustKin database can help – by Patrick McConvell (Australian National University, Western Sydney University) (also Rachel Hendery)

McConvell discussed the AustKin Project, a database showing kinship and social category terminology for Aboriginal Australia. He talked about Online Digital Sources and Annotation System (ODSAS) and issues with marking up text with TEI.

Conference slide McConvell

ODSAS and handwriting issues – Patrick McConvell

He also mentioned the display of data online like in the Spencer & Gillen project. It was interesting to hear about the history of how kinship terms were originally obtained. At first a 200-question questionnaire was sent around; after this didn’t really work, then Westerners actually went to the communities and saw the genealogies drawn using sticks in the sand. Kinship terms were different than Westerner missionaries thought and also changed over time with life cycles and life stages.

Closed Access – by Tim Sherratt (University of Canberra) (@wragge)

Sherratt discussed the concepts of open and closed access, especially in relation to government documents. The idea that the public had a right of access to public records did not go uncontested, especially in the Cold War 1950s. In Australia, the closed period of commonwealth access to public records is 20 years under the Archives Act (when the Act was first passed in 1983, it was a 30-year period but was changed in 2010 to be a 20-year period). He explained that it was important to first cover a ‘potted history’ of Australian Archival History because it informs what we do. He has created a Closed Access tool to allow you to see why things are closed access. You can drill down to a list of the closed files. But since you can’t then open them, this could be one of the most frustrating searches ever! However, you can request that something be opened up by submitting a request form for reevaluation of the file. Why are files closed? National security and individual privacy are top two reasons. Files are presumed to be closed if no decision is made after a certain deadline. We’re not blaming the archives—we know people are busy—but saying that we need to be having these conversations about what gets closed, why, etc. (there could be benefits to things moving at a snail’s pace because terms might change or governments might become more liberal, but those are not guaranteed).

Drifter: Approaches to Landscape through Digital Heritage – by Mitchell Whitelaw (Australian National University) @mtchl

Whitelaw gave one of the most unique presentations, during which the audience was able to listen to recordings of frogs inhabiting a river basin, which filled the lecture theatre with the sounds of nature. He discussed John Thackara’s Bioregions: Notes on a Design Agenda (2015) and its definition of a bio-shed, that we live among watersheds, not just in cities, towns, etc. He also talked about Timothy Morton’s “Zero Landscapes in the Time of Hyperobjects” and hyper objects (like global warming, styrofoam) that are all around us. We can’t see hyper objects, but computers can help see them for us. Whitelaw brought up Bruno Latour’s “A Cautious Prometheus? A Few Steps Toward a Philosophy of Design” (2008) and asked, Where are the visualization tools for the matters of concern? Then he showed us the Drifter project site which has a map showing information while playing frog recordings that have been geolocated in various river basins. There were more interesting aspects of other parts of the website too. He closed by asking if a mashup like this could be a representational strategy for matters of concern. [Slides available]

DHA Conference Day 4 (June 23, 2016)

Digital Knowledge in the Humanities & Social Sciences – by Paul Arthur (Western Sydney University) (@pwlarthur)

Arthur provided an overview of the changes that technology has wrought in the humanities and social sciences sector, as well as a brief look at where aaDH fits into that progression. He said that particularly in this DH community we can see the changes that technology has had in our lives and our research. Regarding the Internet of Things: by 2020, there are expected to be 50 billion intelligent devices on the network participating in the global data fest and communicating with each other. It’s interesting how this world has been taken in by humans as normal and routine, though it is similar to “A shattering of tradition” that the printing press brought about. The grand narrative of state-sponsored stories and information has given way to people being able to access all kinds of information on the Internet.

Therefore, the definition of writing now needs to incorporate activities like tweeting and texting as well as traditional book-length projects. The specialist computing power that was available in the 20th century is now within easy reach of many researchers and even the general public here in the second decade of the 21st century. Raw computing power is literally in our hands, rather than in a huge room, and it is not for just secrecy anymore (networks started with defense projects).

Post-structuralist theory (Roland Barthes’ 1975 Pleasure of the Text, Foucault) seemed to anticipate the dispersed network and questioning of subjectivity. Social media has led to many-to-many networking rather than one-to-one or one-to-many networking kind of communication. Web 2.0 has helped to tighten the Digital Divide by being more accessible to lower-income people. LinkedIn was just sold to Microsoft for $26 billion; it is hard to believe how social media networks grew that fast and became so valuable.

We are now conditioned to celebrate connectivity. We check how many followers, likes, etc. Obama became the first U.S. president to tweet out news/announcements before traditional means of sharing. Mass surveillance has now become standard. Who gathers data and what they do with it are now questions but there is no clear answer. There is tension between open data and privacy protection. Now it is virtually impossible to sign up for a service without giving away the right to not be tracked and have that data used for unknown purposes. Time magazine called ‘you’ the person of the year in 2006, signalling that we were in charge of our online lives. But this is no longer the case. We are not in control of our data.

Arthur then turned to discussion of academia in particular. He discussed the tension between crowdsourced knowledge production with its open access (Wikipedia model) and traditional specialized, academic knowledge production in limited distribution. Twitter is another example of a different kind of knowledge production that can easily reach millions. Two decades later we haven’t made a huge difference in the mainstream presentation of our humanities material (e-books for example). He said that Paul Turnbull’s South Seas online was influential to him in terms of showing what you could do with materials and how you could present them. He asked, How can we capture our humanities knowledge in new ways with unlimited potential? (This includes using components like GIS frameworks.) He noted that HuNI (Humanities Networked Infrastructure) is innovative not only for technical development but as an example of collaboration (hard-won). The thirty datasets aggregated on HuNI all have their own policies and restrictions on data sharing. But it’s a success of collaboration AND a research tool.

He said that energy in this part of the world is ramping up for Digital Humanities, so it’s an exciting time. We need new ways to recognize and evaluate the DH work we do. He mentioned the DOME Lab at Western Sydney University, the 2002 Australian e-Humanities Gateway, and the eResearch Australasia Conference 2016. Interestingly, the category of DH was not reported on in the October 2014 report entitled Mapping the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences in Australia, perhaps because it spans disciplines (computer science, health sciences, humanities, creative arts). The Australasian Association for Digital Humanities (aaDH) was established in 2011, and the first conference was in 2012 in Canberra. aaDH has an MOU and organizes joint events with the Australasian Consortium of Humanities Research Centres (ACHRC) as well as with the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS).

Arthur closed by saying that analysis of data often provides only a starting point for ideas, rather than solutions or answers. We have a remarkable chance to participate in new methods and new modes of publication, and we should remember that digital citizens and digital literacy are important. During questions, Shep asked about what our moral responsibility is when we feed the machine by in a way celebrating all of this push toward more data. Arthur responded that there are movements seeking to address some of these issues, including the low-tech movement and Postcolonial DH.

AARNet GLAM Panel: How do we leverage research infrastructure to build data bridges between GLAMs and DH researchers in universities?

The four panelists were sponsored by AARNet (@AARNet) and included:

  • Ely Wallis (Museum Victoria) (@elyw)
  • Janet Carding (Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery) (@janetcarding)
  • Richard Neville (State Library of NSW) (@RNevilleSLNSW)
  • Mary Louise-Ayers (National Library of Australia) (@MarieLAyres)

Louise-Ayers raised the issue of funding for Trove early on. She said that academics have a big problem looming that they might not be aware of. So far Trove content has been jointly funded, but only one-half of 1% is funded by universities even though academics are the ones who want to use it the most. The problem is that to get the whole corpus currently, it has to be downloaded onto a hard drive and soon they will have to start charging for it. There was 0% from research infrastructure funding to make Trove. The National Library can’t pay for it. How are researchers going to be able to access born-digital material in future when universities aren’t paying for the infrastructure?

Carding said that she thinks museums and galleries have been slower than libraries and archives to make data accessible. Also, funders haven’t necessarily been jumping on new ways of doing things, like big data. At the state level, they want to know what the benefits of digitizing things are. It should be conceived of as a citizen humanities project, and the goal should be to make a meaningful connection between people and their landscape and expressions through GLAM artifacts. She doesn’t think the solution for the next 20 to 50 years is being stuck in a room with a flatbed scanner! Someone asked about the Atlas of Living Australia, and it was not on Trove as far as she was aware.

Neville discussed how libraries’ systems are set up to capture bibliographic data, but now there is a lot of unstructured data being generated. The question is what to do with it? There is research potential to make projects around discoverability, because otherwise we are all scrambling around with massive collections that only have bibliographic data available to find. How to make it more accessible?

Wallis gave an example of how scientists in a funded project weren’t allowed to spend one cent of grant money on digitization, which caused a lot of uproar and forced them to use money to do other things.

The next questions directed at the panel were: How can GLAM & DH communities’ better leverage existing services provided and inform the development of new services? How can GLAM & DH practices be aligned so that GLAM data is quickly, appropriately and readily available to researchers using national research infrastructure services?

Neville found that students weren’t going to archives to look at real material anymore. So he started inviting students to see artifacts and manuscripts and experience the wonder of tangible objects. Libraries forget that people can’t read cards and abbreviations, and the average person can’t handle an API. How can libraries make data more accessible without using terminology or tools with specialist knowledge? Louise-Ayers noted that small-scale solutions (agile) are probably better than big infrastructure/committee when it comes to some of these issues.

Tim Hitchcock from the audience added that collaborative doctoral projects (comprising 10% now in the UK) between GLAM and DH are fruitful and establish lots of connections. Then it doesn’t become a zero-sum game of ‘who funds Trove’. Sydney Shep said that in her experience, the best research assistants are people who come out of information management, not computer scientists. They speak the language of the cultural heritage domain and the language of the subject specialist (English, History). They can translate. She mentioned summer scholarships with Digital NZ and internships. Mike Jones mentioned the McCoy project as an example of a joint venture working (it is between the University of Melbourne and Museum Victoria)

The next questions were: What advantages are there in alignment of the needs of GLAM & DH communities? Do we need to create data bridges for GLAM data to flow on and off Australia’s research data nodes for DH research? How do we build sustainable and scalable infrastructure for the long term to increase the capacity for Australian humanities researchers so they are able to search legacy archives and collections and sustain the value of data collections long term?

Wallis raised the challenge of data moving around and not taking with it information about copyright and licensing. An audience member noted that there is currently a license ref tag being developed to be able to attach to each object to address this issue. Louise-Ayers said that there’s a good list of references/licensing (Creative Commons, free-to-read) available now, but it’s hard to distribute this and explain it to the collecting institutions. There is just not enough funding for a roadshow to go around the country for two years to tell other GLAM institutions about their options. Wallis mentioned that a key challenge is how to make it so the next researcher doesn’t have to start from scratch.

Ingrid Mason read out the highlights of her notes compiled during the session, that it was about:

  • reformatting relationships
  • reconnecting those relationships and the processes that sit underneath them
  • PhD programs
  • how data is made accessible through licensing (progressing Open Access agenda when possible)
  • forum opportunities
  • how to collaborate effectively and join forces
  • how to make feedback loop occur
  • looking to NZ for their one knowledge network model (Digital NZ)
  • making a citizen humanities topic for these communities (GLAM and DH) to explore together
As Luck Would Have it: Discovery in the Digital Age – by Deb Verhoeven (Deakin University) (@bestqualitycrab) (also Toby Burrows)

Verhoeven emphasized that making connections is no longer something that we can approach in a linear fashion – we need serendipity! She gave a few examples of serendipitous discoveries, including x-rays, pacemaker, LSD, microwave, superglue, and text messaging. Also, a fun fact is that Serendip was actually a place (Sri Lanka). Serendipity is renowned as a property of innovation. She uses Twitter for serendipity; she only goes on it for certain times of the day, so she is limited to who is online at that time or what bots are tweeting at that time. King’s College London even has a code of conduct for serendipitous research opportunities! The word serendipity has become increasingly popular. (But when she gave this talk in China, they didn’t have a word for it, so it is not a concept that translates everywhere.) Google is great at telling us what we already think we want to know. But it can’t really do much to make the serendipitous connections we might want in the humanities. She said that it’s not just about making connections to increase productivity, which is what governments are often interested in, and gave a quote from Jeanette Winterson to emphasize the point: “We didn’t build our bridges simply to avoid walking on water. Nothing so obvious.”

Music, Mobile Phones and Community Justice in Melanesia – by Camellia Webb-Gannon (Western Sydney University) (@camwebbgannon)

Webb-Gannon discussed how music production has changed to embrace mobile phones and allows for more expansive music communities. will make an app to build a database (a Melanesian jukebox app). An additional benefit is that it will help address the overwhelmingly male domination in music production. She mentioned A Manifesto for Music Technology and that music was chosen especially because it is political.

Death and the Internet: Digital Legacies – by Craig Bellamy (@txtcraigbellamy) (also Bjorn Nansen, Michael Arnold, Martin Gibbs, Tamara Kohn)

Bellamy discussed some of the key issues with digital legacies: online memorials, property and privacy, and personal digital archives. The first online memorials appeared in the 1990s and were predominantly stand-alone webpages done by funeral directors. Then came Facebook. A user’s account is memorialized so that only confirmed friends can see the timeline, friends can leave posts in remembrance, and the system prevents anyone from logging into the account. It raises questions about what’s appropriate and who moderates the content (case study of Jill Meagher from Sydney, Australia). Regarding property, you need to think about: What do I actually own? Should I delete it? Or should I give it away? For example, with music you own physical copies of CDs but you don’t actually own online collections. The same goes for images and videos. Ebooks cannot be bequeathed like physical libraries. Email accounts are another issue to consider. However, mobile phone accounts are transferable, so their texts are recoverable (if worried about privacy, make sure to delete all your texts). The Google inactive account manager (or ‘death manager’) will send you an email every 6-12 months and will assume you’re dead if there is no response. Then it will carry out your wishes (including something like sending a list of your passwords to somebody you’ve chosen ahead of time).

Conference slide Bellamy

Google inactive account manager (death manager) – Craig Bellamy

You can create a digital register (which is a way of hacking non-transferability, because technically it is not legal to share your password, for example). How these issues are currently being handled do not include repurposing or remixing. The problem is the account: that’s what’s not transferable. It’s fine if you give someone your hard drive with your images, videos, etc.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Things – by Mike Jones (University of Melbourne; Museum Victoria)

Jones discussed challenges with data and information, especially in relation to search. For example, a Trove search is not as detailed as what’s available in Museum Victoria, but people might not realize there is more data on the home institution’s site. Even still, there is data that is not linked through a typical search box search on Museum Victoria. The challenge is how to show relationships and connections between things, rather than just keywords and data about the one thing. Things aren’t isolated blocks of information. Rather than a one-way flow, we might have a cycle of information that flows back on itself, especially in the GLAM sector. That way, you don’t have to look up a piece of information about, say, an explorer’s notebooks every time you look him up, especially when that information is already available at other institutions. The search box is too limited and often requires you to know the connections already.

Tending the Archive – by Louise Curham (University of Canberra)

Curham provided an examination of performance and pedagogy in the Expanded Cinema re-enactments being done by Teaching and Learning Cinema. The performance-dependent object is the connection between analog and digital. To access this material in a way you can understand relies on your experience. The project is looking at 1960s and 1970s performances. Embodiment is at the front, and it changes the paradigm. It’s about maintaining and invigorating the performances (a kind of reuse).

Evaluating Ontologies in the Context of Ancient Sumerian Literature – by Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller (The Software Sustainability Institute) (@tmtn)

Nurmikko-Fuller reviewed several aspects of a DH project involving Ancient Sumarian literature, noting that there is much richness in the literary corpora of the ancient Near East and so much potential. She mentioned the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL), Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI), and Open Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus (Oracc). She also discussed an ontology for cultural heritage data through the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model (CRM); OntoMedia, which was used for capturing narrative in fiction [including science fiction]; and the Brat rapid annotation tool, which lets you mark up a text according to an ontology you have already uploaded.

Hidden Narratives: Inventing Universal History in Joseph Priestley’s Charts of History and Biography – by Crystal Lee (MIT) (@crystaljjlee)

Lee began with a list of monarchs considered to be important (like Charlemagne) and then reviewed Joseph Priestley’s New Chart of History and Biography. She then gave the audience some questions to think about, including: How would you redraw this chart today? What assumptions or arguments are you making in your own data visualizations?

Visualising the Seven Years’ War: Testing Spatial-Temporal and Visual Analysis Methods for Postgraduate Historians – by David Taylor (University of Tasmania)

Taylor expressed some of the concerns that postgraduate students encounter when becoming involved with Digital Humanities projects, namely that students are still disconnected with the growth of Digital Humanities and often lack training.

Conference slide Taylor

Problems with student led DH projects and training – David Taylor

He referenced a recent article by Katrina Anderson et al (2016) on “Student Labour and Training in Digital Humanities”. Taylor said that digital tools can seem counterintuitive to those embedded in close reading practices and pedagogies (he referenced Franco Moretti, Shawna Ross, and Mahony & Pierazzo). He said that the benefit of using DH for him was that it made him ask questions in a different way as a postgraduate historian. He urged the audience to involve students more in their digital projects.

Enhancing Search for Complex Historical Texts – by Desmond Schmidt (University of Queensland)

Schmidt continued his critique of other digital projects and demonstrated how difficult it can be to search historical texts with the search functions on offer. What’s a digital scholarly edition? It originally meant a critical edition created by scholars; now it can mean new digital versions of something like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The six challenges (or tests) he has found for search engines searching documents are:

  1. Can search engine find words split into parts?
  2. Can search engine find words broken over lines?
  3. Can search engine find deleted text?
  4. Can search engine find inline-variants in their correct context?
  5. Can search engine perform literal search?
  6. Can search engine highlight text found in the document?

The answer is often no, and it isn’t easy to find things in a digital scholarly edition beyond the basics. Thus in his assessment of search, search is pretty poor. His solution was to ensure all text is findable, and all text that can be found is actually in the document. One challenge is to search many versions without duplicate matches. He looks at his Charles Harpur Critical Archive as an example of search working better. He wrote his own search engine [Classic DH! If you can’t find something that works, build your own].

Sonorising and Visualizing Archive Records – by Nick Thieberger (University of Melbourne) (also Rachel Hendery)

Thieberger discussed languages that are in danger of being lost and ways of visualizing or hearing them through various projects. The Worldmapper has maps where countries are distended by the number of languages in them. The Pacific and Regional Archive for Digital Sources in Endangered Cultures (PARADISEC) collection contains unique records, sometimes the only recording of a language. He spoke about giving voice to the voiceless. There is work on augmented reality, like holding a device over a trigger that then plays something (a type of Harry Potter moment where the thing you’re looking at comes to life), and Virtual Reality headsets, where your gaze rests on a language and then activates the language being played. He acknowledged that these are cute visualizations, but are they research? Well, there is little online presence for many languages in the world and these projects can help us know our own content better. Museums are increasingly looking for indigenous language content. Speakers of these languages and their descendants will likely also be interested.

The Lex Method: Visually Analyzing Cohesion in Text – by Caroline McKinnon (University of Queensland) (@Caroline_McKin)

McKinnon discussed the tool she has built (Lex) which uses latent statistical analysis (LSA) to measure cohesion in the text and visualize it.

Conference slide McKinnon

Lex editing tool – Caroline McKinnon

Each unit is a sentence. Her focus is on the process of editing, and she said that editing for coherence is very subjective and time consuming. We tend to work through a list of do’s and don’ts (like don’t have too many long sentences, etc.). But issues like incorrect grammar are actually not as problematic as a lack of cohesion. She found that there aren’t many computational tools to help with scholarly editing. Plus, following the do’s and don’ts to do something like shorten sentences isn’t the whole picture and can actually reduce cohesion. McKinnon is therefore aiming to improve on what’s on offer from her competitor. Referring back to Verhoeven’s statement, she said that if big data gives us existential crisis, maybe small data makes us go ‘hmm’ and be thoughtful on a smaller scale. She admitted that Lex is not an intuitive tool (the pyramid visualization is not easy to read), but not all visualization is designed to be easy to read nor give an instant result (if you attempt to use, it can take up to ten minutes to load, so be patient). Someone asked about Discursus and she said that her supervisor actually created that, so she is definitely aware of it.

Conference Closing

Paul Turnbull closed the conference by playing a digistory on Youtube called ‘For the Life of Him’ where historical documents are paired with a song to tell the story of a convict. Future conference ideas that came up over the course of the four days included holding it in New Zealand and having a Citizen Humanities theme.

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Key Trends in Digital Humanities by Visiting Professor Alan Liu

I am very fortunate to be at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand while Professor Alan Liu is here for six weeks as a Visiting Fulbright Specialist (he is cofounder of and teaches at the University of California Santa Barbara). He has given two talks already and impressed me and other postgraduate students with his accessible and understandable explanations and compelling ideas about the place of the Digital Humanities in today and tomorrow’s world. One of my friends now “gets” why I am so interested in DH thanks to Liu.

His first talk on October 28, 2015, was entitled “Key Trends in Digital Humanities: How the Digital Humanities Challenge the Idea of the Humanities”.

He said the gold standard for humanists was hermeneutics and examining meaning-making. He then outlined five key trends in DH that we need to consider:

1 — “Data”: Quantified, Big, Structured

The new question at conferences is where’s your data? But humanists are not used to thinking about their work as data or considering how to analyze it in meaningfully interpretable ways. Compared to the science fields, our data is messy. Part of this is because we are dealing with heritage collections from the past which are hard to structure and made up of bits and pieces. In “Scraping the Social? Issues in Live Social Research” Marres and Weltevrede (2013) argue that data already has assumptions built into it.

In large-scale DH projects, we don’t currently have the apparatus to present large data in something like a block quote or with a reference to go check the library (you can’t cite 3,000 novels in a journal article). He mentioned the Dataverse Project. We now need something different from a library to meet our needs. Data provenance is a lot more important than library provenance (provenance = where something came from). The day is coming when you will have a colleague whose job is to curate and manage data, and that person will get tenure based on these tasks because they will be necessary to humanist work. Without them, we will give up and go back to reading one book!

The upside to lots of data is that you get access to seeing large shifts and patterns across time. But there is a danger in drawing seemingly conclusive meaning from big data as we seek to fit our results into our previous ways of knowing like genres and classes. This is a limited way of drawing meaning from data.

2 — Spatial Pattern

He mentioned several interesting projects and texts:

Although diagrams and maps are types of models, humanities scholars are more comfortable with representations than models and manipulations. But we need to learn these kinds of modeling skills to successfully analyze the models.

3 — Temporal Pattern (Narrative)

As humanists, we like to find linear patterns and tell stories. But hypertexts are not  linear. He cited Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media (2001) which said the “database and narrative are natural enemies” (pg. 225). He also mentioned Karl Grossner’s “Topotime” (2013) and Wolfgang Ernst’s “Archives in Transition” (2013). We must deal with the differences between microtime and computer time and our human concept of time.

4 — Social Networks

The social network analysis model was originally designed to look at the relationship between people and organizations. But now things like the RoSE system are moving away from this goal and using books and plays instead (example: seeing how Shakespeare’s plays relate to one another). He mentioned Bearman and Stovel’s “Becoming a Nazi” (2000). DH is making humanists face up to the challenge of the crowd. It is no longer enough to call it culture and dismiss it.

5 — Topic Models

A good introduction to topic modeling is Ted Underwood’s “Topic Modeling Made Just Simple Enough” (2012). Basically, it infers from a large data set a discrete set of topics, treating documents as a “bag of words”. For example, you might put Moby Dick through a program and come up with several topics like whales and religion. The research sweet spot/problem is between the topics you already know and the ones you’re not sure about. Topic modeling is really trending. Ways to do this include visualizations in a word cloud or Andrew Goldstone’s Dfr-browser. Also check out Matt Burton’s “The Joy of Topic Modeling”. We are now in a probabilistic universe, where in science, they recognize that you can’t know definitively where an electron is when you’re modeling the atom. But in the humanities, we find that view frustrating because it is hard to tell a good story without a definitive answer! Example: instead of saying “Raskolnikov kills the old woman” you might only be able to say “There is a 74% chance that such and such event happened”.

A parting thought was a return to Plato’s Phaedrus and the belief that meaning is in our minds, not in books.


Liu brought up the current discussions about the material history of the book by Peter Stallybrass, University of Pennsylvania. In Liu’s classes, he goes back to the beginning of text and shows students how punctuation and spacing have not always been around. Actually, humans have been “text-encoding” forever and text has never been a static object. Although there were fears that the digital age would make it go away, it has deeply embedded itself into the source code and become really important.

Liu said that one critique of DH is that it is obsessed with distant reading, but it does close reading too. The key is balance. One method enables some things; the other enables other things. The scrambling of knowledge can be valuable too.

Liu emphasized that discursive knowledge is not the capstone of knowledge. And that the discursive narrative essay is not the only way to present information. Digital won’t become normalized until we get rid of this notion. We need to displace the relationship between that mode and other modes. (For example: instead of a thesis always being at the end, have students make a thesis at the beginning or middle.) The world wants reports and spreadsheets and parts of knowledge. The future lies in humanists forming small teams and producing research both for the public and other scholars.

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