infrastructure – Dune Scholar

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Notes from National Digital Forum (NDF) Conference 2019

National Digital Forum (NDF) Conference 2019
November 19-20, 2019
Te Papa Tongarewa (Wellington, New Zealand)

The 2019 NDF conference was another two days full of ideas, inspiration, challenges, and network building. The four keynote presentations were stellar as usual and provided a lot of things to think about, ranging from creating new and beautiful data visualizations, facilitating more diverse perspectives on Wikipedia, cracking the patriarchy by getting men to work with others who don’t look and sound like them on media projects, and empowering people with data about the health of their homes to prevent illness and death. The other sessions offered useful information and ideas for how to educate and engage audiences in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums (GLAM) sector. The conference hashtag was #NDFNZ and videos of the sessions are available on NDF’s YouTube channel.

Day 1 – November 19, 2019

Keynote: We Are Here – Chris McDowall and Tim Denee (away)

We Are Here book

We Are Here

The conference began with a keynote by Chris McDowall, co-author of We Are Here, an amazing book of data visualizations using New Zealand data. He completed his PhD on data structure and calls himself a geographer to make it easier to describe to people what he does, and he said he wanted to show us what goes on in his head as a geographer in mediating between technology and observation. In showing the audience some maps, he acknowledged that there are problems with maps, such as that they enable states and corporations to exert power at a distance. Yet there is good in these technologies and some things that can only be said through maps. He showed some examples from a predecessor book, Contemporary Atlas New Zealand: The Shapes of Our Nation by Russell Kirkpatrick, that shows the activities of three women; the one on the left is someone who gets out and moves around town a lot, while the one on the right is a widow who is largely homebound. This is a way of visualizing data that can lead to other analysis and thought about what is occurring in society.


Contemporary Atlas New Zealand: The Shapes of Our Nation

three city women infographic

Three City Women visualization from Contemporary Atlas New Zealand: The Shapes of Our Nation by Russell Kirkpatrick

He showed the visualization of New Zealand music like a river that was very cool. He used Discogs API and built a spider program, and also relied on AudioCulture (“The noisy library of NZ music”) for information. He and Gareth Shute, a music historian, spent many hours reading all the musician biographies on Audioculture, on Wikipedia, on their own websites, and then putting dates and key info in a spreadsheet.

There were various interstitial essays in his book, and he encouraged writers to set their own tone; interestingly, about half looked at drafts of content beforehand but the other half didn’t and had to write just based on conversation about the content in general. At the last minute, a friend told them they should go with a matte page rather than glossy, because too much reflective light would exhaust the reader, and he is glad they went with matte for the book in the end. In terms of gathering feedback throughout the book-making, he discovered that he would receive less and feedback because people were busy, so he worked in isolation for too long before realizing that he needed feedback from people. So he changed his strategy and invited people over for a drink to get feedback without any other commitment needed and found this worked better than relying on emails.

He discussed the debate between having place names on maps or removing them. Getting rid of place names can allow the reader to see coastlines and discover mountains, etc. for themselves and let maps stand more as artistic on their own, so they are not always needed or wanted. What he wanted overall was for maps to be for everyone, so they couldn’t require him to be there to explain them. There’s an emotional dimension to trying to understand something that is opaque or hard, and he said he sometimes forgets how non-cartographers can find a map is ‘not for them’ and turn the page. He didn’t want that to be readers’ experience with this book. Along with that thinking, sometimes putting in something that’s obvious is important, and he gave the example of the icons/silhouettes of birds in one section. They let readers jump into each map without having to decode and avoid the need for legends, which are good for reference maps but not for visualizations like in his book.

secret lives of cats infographic

Secret Lives of Cats visualization from We Are Here

He talked about trying to find the balance in political issues and that putting the pages next to each other on birdlife and then predators like stoats and cats was one of the few minor editorializing instances. The page turning effect doesn’t seem to be able to be replicated in digital, but in print, the reader can proceed from a page on birds to one on rats and then one on the Secret Lives of Cats, which shows where a group of cats in Wellington travelled through tracking devices, and this can create different emotions in the reader as they see the relationship between bird populations, for example, and the number of other animals. He said some people are delighted by the page on the Secret Lives of Cats, and think thought like oh, where’s my cat, but others are disturbed.

He wants the book to be a point of conversation and dialogue and for lots of people to read it.

tools used in We Are Here

Tools used in making We Are Here book

There was another point about with data, not losing the trees for the forest sometimes. His example was when looking at data in Digital NZ API and finding a photo with the tags ‘Maori’, ‘horse’, ‘woman’, trying to visualize that didn’t do the photo or the data justice. Sometimes we need to see the photo for what’s important. They were able to make the book with data that was all open except for two datasets, and they used all open source software except Adobe Illustrator. They released the programming code on Github.

A Pacific Virtual Museum: Connecting device and dispersed people with taonga – Mark Crookston

Crookston discussed the Pacific Virtual Museum multi-year pilot project that is starting now and attempting to make connections via a virtual museum (see also the Pacific Libraries Network). An interesting and relevant fact is that although there are 8% Pacific people in New Zealand, they make up 36% of youth.

Keeping time: Digital dance archive adventures in North America – Rebecca Galloway

Galloway discussed her experience being at the Jacob’s Pillow dance festival in Massachusetts for nine months about a decade ago. In looking to create a website to showcase dance, Director of Preservation Norton Owen thought people would rather see a hint of something that intrigues them than whole videos, so this informed the development of the project. They wanted to consider the joy of use (a la Marie Kondo), not just ease of use. The site can be considered to fall into edutainment and is a type of online museum for the dance world. It has been called “irresistible” by the Washington Post. She liked the quote from an unknown source about how the digital world has thrust us into a world of perpetual migration. Something interesting about user design was that in Canada, everyone knows a French version of something will be 25% longer than English, so UX people know to consider this. This kind of design knowledge needs to be transferred to a NZ context.

Regional ambassador showcase – Jennifer Taylor Moore and Tim Jones

They noted some of the highlights, issues, and questions raised at the NDF regional forums, including things like the issue of a lack of IT support or infrastructure at smaller sites. Questions to consider going forward include: Is NDF a training provider? Could it be? Should it be? What would a business model look like? Are there training needs that are the same over time? Do people get unconferenced out? Is networking valuable in itself?

John Mawurndjul – Jean-Pierre Chabrol and Jazz Money

Chabrol and Money are from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney and discussed the John Mawurndjul exhibit “I am the old and the new”, which came from a quote from the artist himself. There are over 250 independent Aboriginal groups and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia and 600 dialects, so it is not like New Zealand in terms of the ability to have things be bilingual in a straightforward way. There was a challenge in working with a contemporary artist who is internationally known and had two shows in Europe but is not a known name in Australia. The exhibit was bilingual, which was big for Australia, and the linguistic area is one of most linguistically complex places on Earth. They did their best to provide a type of ‘indigenous level of safety’ for the artist by doing specific things like recording him in his language and ensuring that all of the digital resources belong to him and his community. In addition, everything was directed by the artist, which sadly is not common for indigenous artists in Australia.

Bringing archives alive: Using tech to tell the stories of the past – Alison Breese

Breese is an archivist at the Dunedin City Council and recently finished a postgraduate degree on public toilets in Dunedin that has received press coverage (Otago Daily Times article; Stuff article). She wanted to use VR to make a tour of underground toilets, but this process was cumbersome and only one person could do it at a time. 3rd-year IT students from Otago Polytechnic were enlisted to create an app to do a similar thing, and photogrammetry (stitching images together) was used to stitch hundreds of images together to create a virtual model of the space.

Raranga Matihiko – Weaving digital futures – Tara Fagan

This programme at Te Papa with other partners aimed to create an “education innovation” learning environment targeted at youth who don’t go to traditional GLAM sites like a museum. It wasn’t about turning them into coders but showing them how to use tech for meaningful things. There were 16 hours of contact between students and facilitators, and the programme connected young people with museums in a way that they could combine social experiences and technology. Some hadn’t ever been into Wellington city, even if they lived a short distance away, or hadn’t ridden an elevator so found the experience completely novel. There was a principle of ako underpinning it: everyone is a teacher and a learner. The students gained digital citizen and fluency skills as well as learning about digital museums and access (e.g. copyright issues). They also weren’t forced to use tech all the time; they could choose to use pen and paper or different types of tech. Students learned about possible career paths in cultural heritage (“Do you mean I could work here and care for our taonga?” “Yes!”), and everything was open source so students could use elsewhere if they had internet access. It strengthened students’ self-esteem (having the two facilitators helped) and another good result was that students were returning to the museum with their family on the weekends. Fagan showed a video of the virtual whare with a voice-over by Year 9 students, who used Tilt Brush by Google and Kapwing.

CSI: Pukekawa – Digital and natural experiences in the Auckland Domain – Ruby Moore and Tom Rowlands

Moore is Land Fauna Collections Manager at Auckland Museum, and Rowlands is Learning Specialist there. They mentioned projects like Bioblitz, a 24-hour survey of biodiversity that is a big public engagement event; bird studies that have found more tui in the city; and iNaturalist – Auckland Domain Project that is online citizen science that is open and available to anyone with a device. The latter creates another connection between museum staff and the public and teaches people to record important collection information. There is a remnant patch of forest in the Auckland Domain, next to the Auckland Museum, and this was used for the CSI: Pukekawa education programme (CSI standing for Citizen Science Investigations). It enables student agency and has students doing science and engaging with scientists, it complements the new digital curriculum, and it shows the potential for collaboration between nature and digital rather than competition between them. They teach students to be digitally responsible when uploading content to the iNaturalist site, and that people from all over the world can see their photo uploads (e.g. please don’t post a photo of a taxidermied penguin or Kit Harrington from Game of Thrones). An interesting observation from Moore was that her expertise was considered more legitimate by one student after it went online. She explained, “I became more real when I went through a digital medium” and that one student was only half listening to her explanation about a specimen until she uploaded it online and once he saw it there, he lit up and said “Oh, it’s a such-and-such”.

Museum in a box: Curiosity machines – Mandy Herrick and Tom Rowlands

They took as their challenge: how to marry 3-D objects from museums to a story or stories, and their question: how can we blow the minds of these young children? They used three components: NFC stickers, an NFC reader, and a Raspberry Pi computer. NFC uses the same technology as Snapper or transport cards and is increasingly being used in the museum environment (see The Wonderland coming to Te Papa). They interviewed youth to find out what they already know about the collection, and they thought there were 50 to 201 objects in safekeeping (when actually there are 1.5 million natural history objects and 200,000 human history artifacts, i.e. a lot more!). They decided to use the Museum in a Box created by a London-based company that was piloting them with 40 GLAM institutions around the world. This offers a layered self-guided participatory experience, akin to a micro museum. One significant question was: who would be the narrator/voice for the box? Another project in Capetown used Zulu elders to narrate.

One teacher interviewed liked that students had to use a different sense (auditory), had to listen to find out more. She suggested having an object that relates to students’ culture and country that could be really special, which sounded like an advanced version of the classic ‘show and tell’ activity. This project provided more reach than a traditional museum exhibition. Students loved the tech and hearing from experts, and bringing many voices into classroom could reduce the boredom with having just one teacher’s voice all the time. They suggested it can help to prime students beforehand but this is not essential; in a funny case, one teacher just left the box in classroom for a week and an ambitious and curious student emailed the email address on Rowlands’ business card on the box with lots of questions about what the box was, signalling that this was indeed a curiosity machine for youth.

Where are all the spotted shags? – Guy Annan

This project was about the creation of 3D printed spotted shags and fake poo that were put out in the wild to try to encourage birds to create a colony (RNZ article).

So…what’s the easiest way to process these 352 CD-ROMs? – Flora Feltham

This project was part of an R&D idea to compare two different machines that purported to be able to process CDs faster and more efficiently than human workers could (since this is quite manually intensive normally). It raised the question going forward: how are we going to change archival processes to deal with digital material? In the end, it was determined that the Acronova Nimbie USB Plus worked better than other machine though wasn’t perfect.

Bots I have met – Paul Rowe

bot limitations

Possible bot limitations (remembering science fiction)

The simple yet clever title of Rowe’s presentation foreshadowed a quick preview of bots being used in today’s world and the overriding notion that the more accessible and open content is, the more likely it is to be seen. Rowe first made a paper-based analogy, saying that the first ‘bot’ he encountered was actually a choose-your-own-adventure book that takes you to different places based on your choices. Auckland Art Gallery’s chat bot provides users with things like opening hours, what’s on, and access to the online collection if you ask it something like “send me cake”. It was built using the Facebook Messenger app. There are Twitter bots that can share content from a collection, like tweeting artworks several times a day. The Smithsonian’s humanoid robot, Pepper, is a possible worry in that we’re getting closer to uncanny valley. There are out of the box solutions like Chatfuel and Botsify.

The exhibition closes but the digital offspring lives on – Rachel Bush

Bush discussed how reusing exhibitions helps make the large costs for them more worth it. For example, the butterfly exhibit has been reused elsewhere. She said we need to think of new ways to reach audiences and keep exhibitions alive.

What were you using NZ Museums for today? Digging into user survey results – Emma Philpott

A Hotjar pop-up box on NZmuseums asks users “What were you using NZ Museums for today?” and has gathered 1,600 responses so far. They also have information from Google Analytics, but this wasn’t telling them what people were really doing on the site. They have fortunately received few negative responses (‘none of your business’), but some people have used the box to ask questions but haven’t provided contact details so there’s no way to actually respond to them. She encouraged the audience to ask visitors what they’re doing on your website if you’re not already.

The National Library and digital storage – Cynthia Wu

Wu discussed a new storage platform and two data centres in Wellington and Auckland that now provide geographic redundancy.

Creative Commons copyright licensing explained – Victoria Leachman (away) presented by Catriona McPherson

This presentation provided a helpful overview of Creative Commons licenses, which are kind of like a pre-approval. The analogy of a buss pass was used: just as you don’t travel on a bus without your pass, licenses need to travel with the work they belong to. This can take the form of a credit line, icons, or a list at the end of a presentation. The CC0 one means the author is waiving all rights now and in the future, making it for public domain. Note that you can’t put licenses on a public domain work, which some GLAM places are doing. Also, just because you own the physical work, doesn’t mean you own the copyright.

Possible futures from the present margins: Decolonizing knowledge, decolonizing the internet – Adele Vrana and Anasuya Sengupta

statistics on Wikipedia

Statistics on Wikipedia

This keynote by Vrana and Sengupta from Whose Knowledge? really needs to be seen and heard to be fully appreciated, as they wove facts and stories and struggles and highlights to provide a sobering look at the need to decolonize knowledge and the internet, with a focus on Wikipedia. Originally from Brazil and India, they now live in the US and UK and soon discovered what it was like to be present in a room and yet completely invisible. They are now putting technology into feminist organizing and feminist organizing into technology. They had some audience participation, asking us to chat with a neighbor about what we thought of when we saw these words:

  • Printing press
  • University
  • California Gold Rush

As expected, they said what many people think of is just one perspective or even not accurate. The printing press had origins in China, Japan, and Korea; the first university was founded in Morocco in 859 CE by Fatima al-Fihri; and the California Gold Rush involved the systemic genocide of Native Americans. But in the Wikipedia article for the gold rush, for example, there is a white settler perspective that barely mentions Native Americans.

Geographic unevenness on Wikipedia

The Geographically Uneven Coverage of Wikipedia

They gave a disclaimer saying they know there are Wikipedians who are passionate about the potentialities of the site, but that we need to consider whose knowledge does this site hold? It is default, go-to place for information, including things related to cultural heritage, but it prioritizes only certain knowledge. Only a fraction of human knowledge is represented in books; most is embodied, experiential, oral, auditory, etc. They asked, what might oral knowledge mean for Wikipedia? Connecting with McDowall’s earlier caveat about the problematic nature of maps, they talked about how maps are arguments.

types of knowledge

Different Types of Knowledge

They discussed the difference between embodied (tacit) knowledge and disembodied (formal) knowledge; when you make embodied knowledge visible/recorded, it becomes disembodied and formal, e.g. a dancer performing on stage versus being recorded or interviewed talking about their performance. The information on Wikipedia is amplified by Google, as are the gaps and silences, and we are still living in the shadow of the Enlightenment.

Decolonizing Methodologies book

Decolonizing Methodologies

They drew on ideas from Decolonizing Methodologies by Linda Tuhiwai Smith, who says that colonizers are okay with taking knowledge from the colonized but then reject the people who created it. They asked, what might a decolonized internet look like? The conversation is very different with women and people of color in the room than it is when there is a mainly white, mainly male, Silicon Valley crowd. Settler colonialism continues online. They said to look out for the State of the Internet’s Languages Report coming out next year and check out the feminist organization, the Association for Progressive Communications.

In looking at education, they said that instead of their students writing papers, they like to do something that goes in online space, but they are warned that they have to be careful as marginalized people not to marginalize others.

They mentioned radical non-institutional GLAM sites like the People’s Archive of Rural India. They recognize deep knowledges have been brutally extracted and abused so respect the rights for people to hold knowledge and choose to become open. They said they ask these questions as we dream of possible futures from the margins and beyond:

  • How have I benefited from colonization, racims, or the comfort of the status quo?
  • What from my own past do I choose to carry forward, and what should I let die?
  • Whose knowledge is still missing, and how can I support and honor the people who best hold these knowledges?
questions to ask of ourselves

Questions to ask as we dream together of possible futures from the margins

There is talk of the digital divide, but offline and online are not a binary but a continuum. Often being online is seen as a binary – you are or you aren’t, but for many in the world the internet is not Firefox or Chrome, it is a smartphone, Facebook, or messaging apps (e.g. Malaysia has the most messaging apps in the world). Many of the elders feel inadequate with digital technology, while young people are comfortably online.

They said discomfort has to be a second skin. If we are the designers of these technologies, we don’t have to trust others; we need to be at the table and behind the computer, coding and creating. It’s time to stop being the end user and be the producer. Yet in the case of Wikipedia, you need access to resources and a computer and leisure to be a Wikipedian, and who gets leisure? Another issue is that you need skills of argumentation if you get reverted or challenged, and not everyone has these or is able to use them on the site. They advised finding a Wikipedian to have in your pocket if you don’t like arguing but have expertise. There are more articles on Wikipedia on Antarctica than on Africa, and one of their articles was speedy-deleted five minutes after creation despite having 11 references, showing the kind of obstacles that one can face.

They addressed that we live in a world where we’re complicit with capitalism; they said that they’re on Facebook because that’s where their communities are, and Facebook’s language rendering is really good. The difference between tech capitalism and regular financial capitalism seems to be that with tech capitalism, there is a God complex, unlike with financial capitalism, which is focused on profit. Mark Zuckerberg thinks he’s making the world a better place through Facebook.

They said that they speak about Wikipedia with tough love is because if you want to have your small community known about, you have to get it up on Wikipedia. Otherwise, someone would have to visit you to learn about it, which isn’t practical.

They closed the Q&A time by saying that they’d be up for an impromptu edit-a-thon, which was then scheduled to take place the following day during lunchtime for those who were interested.


Day 2 – November 20, 2019

Keynote: Making sense of the unfathomable: Digital Humanities for desperate times – Deb Verhoeven

Verhoeven’s keynote continued the themes of feminist and decolonization criticism of the previous day, taking it to technological infrastructure and the film industry that she studies. Some challenging concepts include: How do we get ourselves out of our heads? How do we make connections based on ideas of people we don’t already know or who aren’t mirrors of ourselves? She discussed how we are living in a world of devastating and widening division; we are living in a closing-down world (examples include: build a wall and incarcerate people on islands, including children). To address this, we need to foster inclusion and connectivity. And these issues impact how we handle data and infrastructure. All infrastructure enables connections—that’s what it does—but it is largely built for us by engineers.

She linked the discussion on infrastructure to the 16th century discovery and navigation era by the Dutch, among others, and the terms and metaphors that we still use that come from imperialism times. The questions they would ask that we can also ask regarding our infrastructure are:

  1. Where am I now?
  2. Where am I going? (in the example of a link, you don’t really know where it is taking you when you click on it)
  3. What is my speed?
  4. What is my depth? What lies beneath my feet? (fathom) (this is not being done very well with digital infrastructure)
Advancing Digital Humanities: Research, Methods, Theory

Advancing Digital Humanities: Research, Methods, Theory

She mentioned the Advancing Digital Humanities: Research, Methods, Theory book and that we want to see traditional values of humanities flow through the Digital Humanities. She spoke of her work with Huni (Humanities Networked Infrastructure) and how the needs of humanities scholars differ from what is traditionally possible in digital infrastructure. For example, one can’t resist or contest in most digital infrastructures; also, the ability to say NOT (this is not related to this other thing) is incredibly valuable to humanities researchers.

She then discussed her work on the Kinomatics Project, which collects and analyzes data on the creative industries. In regards to Big Data, which is often thrown around, she said if your data hasn’t caused you to have an existential crisis, it’s probably not Big Data; if it hasn’t caused you to rethink how you see things, it’s probably not Big Data. For her, Big Data has been a revelation.

Next, she showed an (unfinished) painting by Turner of a shipwreck of female convicts and children who drowned on the way to Australia (A Disaster at Sea c. 1835); Turner is asking us – Are we just spectators? Do we turn away from it or just theorize it? She discussed the plimsoll line, the loading limit line for ships, as a very creative metaphor and asked: Does patriarchy have a plimsoll line? How do we sink the S.S. Patriarchy?

all male research team error

Possible error for those putting together all male research teams

She showed the data on women in the film industry in Australia and said in 30 years the data had gotten worse, and that continuing to show women this data may keep them from believing they can ever be a part of the media industry. She showed network graphs and explained how the problem is that there are so many men who don’t/won’t work with women. When she asked what if we stopped funding these men who don’t work with women, the audience clapped. She said we might think that patriarchy looks like male political leaders like presidents and prime ministers, but it actually looks like a network of men who only work with other men. This visualization is a way of seeing the contours of injustice in a new and different way. Then she brought in some stats on how many Davids/Daves there are in comparison to the number of women and humorously said that we don’t have a ‘diversity’ problem, we have a ‘Daversity’ problem. Then everyone was asked to sing along to the chorus of the song “The Daves I Know”.

the names of people receiving funding

The names of people receiving funding

Even if all of the ‘gender offenders’ were taken out of the network, it wouldn’t solve the issue; one would have to take all men out for it to work. This means the only solution is for people in power to collaborate with people who don’t look or sound like them, and their team has modelled it in the Workplace Inclusion Diversity and Gender Equity Tool (WIDGET).

Keynote: Why ‘why’ matters – Hīria Te Rangi

Hīria Te Rangi gave a stunning keynote on her story and her work with Whare Haurora, which develops sensors for homes to tell family members if their home is making them sick. For example, she said the sensor in the home with elderly people would be registering 9 to 13 degrees when it was almost the same outside, meaning that the house was only adding about 3 degrees of warmth, and the WHO recommendations for kaumatua or an elderly person is 21 degrees. She said we are a developed nation, yet pneumonia/respiratory illnesses are taking out people before it should be their time. A free insulation project was cancelled by the last government, even though it was successful. 60% humidity is a problem, and living in cold, damp housing is linked with anxiety and depression.

Hīria Te Rangi speaking on New Zealand housing problems

Hīria Te Rangi speaking on New Zealand housing problems

She explained how Whare Haurora was created by a bunch of nerdy ladies, who started with a prototype sensor that cost $30 and assembled the parts on kitchen tables. She eventually went to China to get manufacturing sorted. The idea is that their kits can be moved to another home once it is insulated. Every 10 minutes data is sent from the sensors in the home, and they wanted to make it accessible via PWA (Progressive Web App) offline since not all families have enough data to be constantly connected. One issue is that just showing people a jumble of numbers doesn’t work since it doesn’t mean anything to them; you have to tell people what it means for them and their health in an accessible way. You also have to explain how the device works and show them to alleviate concerns. The organization ensures that the whanau owns all the data and it just provides the service. This aspect is an example of the need for indigenous organizations like hers, to get things done with values intact, especially if the government isn’t doing it. The data at the aggregate level can be used for nationwide benchmarking and to predict respiratory disease, but they are careful as to how data is used and have their own ethics committee toward this end. Her determination to do something about a pressing societal issue was very inspiring and illustrated how technology can be used in a very practical way to empower communities without compromising values.

A regional approach to collections: ‘It’s all about the baking’ – David Luoni, Rosemary Jackson-Hunter, Tiffany Jenks

Project Ark in Southland was discussed as an example of how they helped put objects from a dozen of the museums in the region online and guided volunteers to be a part of the process in a meaningful way. One example was Mataura Museum, a small, 50 square-metre museum run by a group of women they affectionately called the grandmothers. They wanted to provide support for aging, volunteer-led teams and those who aren’t ‘digital natives’, and they know that just coming in for a week or providing a user guide is often not enough. This pilot is being helped by the fact that there is a regional heritage rate in Southland ($35 + GST a year) that can fund projects like these. Each organization picked 50 objects to share online via eHive, which made it equal for everyone. When provenance and record-keeping were patchy for an object, this project helped rectify that and show what was in a museum’s collection. They described helping volunteers by starting with tiny baby steps and were happy to find that within a fortnight, people were feeling more confident and had the hang of it and were even teaching others. They believe part of the success was that they were providing real work for people (perhaps versus straight training), the result is that the new standards are now the new way moving forward.

Table top seduction? How a small local library sought to implement an expensive digital tool, and not stuff it up – Reid Perkins and Wendy Horne

Perkins and Horne from Upper Hutt City Libraries used a romance analogy to discuss issues surrounding the decision to get a ‘fancy’ table top digital display to show off their collection. They had set up Recollect, an interactive database, years ago, but acknowledged that digitization has limitations and doesn’t reach all audiences. Other attempts to engage a broader range of people included pop-up museums (e.g. “Upper Hutt in the 1960s”) where images were printed out and put up on walls for people to view. They tried to create feedback loops between digital and analogue. They found that cautionary romance tales are a good metaphor for seduction by new shiny digital technology – you have to ask yourself similar questions such as Are we a good fit? Can I give it the attention it needs? They didn’t want the table top display to just be another iteration of Recollect content or a glorified iPad; they wanted special curated content. They find that the closeness to community is a big advantage of smaller, less-resourced sites like theirs. Unfortunately, due to production delays and some miscommunication, they had only just received the table top display so weren’t able to discuss it up and running. Some lessons learned in this process were that they would have preferred the company making it give them more hand holding and digital templates, especially since they’re librarians and archivists and don’t buy large tech frequently so it’s unfamiliar territory. They also see a need for better project management going forward.

The making of Te Taiao Nature digital labels – Amos Mann et al

This presentation was a behind-the-scenes look at many of the pieces that went into creating the digital labels for the Te Taiao Nature exhibit at Te Papa, which features nine digital label kiosks with over 200 specimen labels and is expected to have at last a 10-year lifespan. At its heart, the digital labels were designed to answer that primary visitor question: What is that? And why is it on display? There was lots of prototyping and testing, and different team members spoke about the areas they were responsible for. For UX, they wondered how they might make it effortless for visitors to view content they don’t know exists but would enjoy (e.g. a kiwi hatching from an egg). They took cues from social media and prioritized scrolling (continuation) over clicks (decision needed). They also chose to auto-load videos so people can stop if they want but don’t have to keep clicking to play. For special design, they had to consider the positioning of the kiosks to be far enough away from the cases for people to be able to take them all in, and also leave a path for people to look at the objects from next to the case. For the video and photography, they used 5,300 pixels wide, high-resolution images that have lots of detail, meaning that you can actually see more detail on the kiosk than in real life because of the ability to zoom in close. For the writing, they found coming up with 60 words and a  limited amount of media a challenge, and they didn’t shy away from stories that were sad. Every label is bilingual; it is not a straight translation but tells the story from a Māori point of view. They positioned what they thought was the most important information at the top, with videos and sounds as you scroll and a map at bottom. The maps are not as popular but some still really like to see them for context. The team used Google Sheets to coordinate and also set up notifications for cells (e.g. the photography team would receive an email when something was ready for imaging). They now have live digital analytics from labels coming from the floor and can analyze what people are clicking on and how long they’re spending on each item.

Invisible Islands: Locative media and its implications for GLAM projects – Sébastien Pierre

Spook Country book

Spook Country

Pierre opened by mentioning Pokemon Go and the phenomenon of mobs of people forming organically at street corners, trying to catch Pikachu and other digitally-created creatures. He finds inspiration in Blast Theory, “A Machine to See With” and William Gibson’s book Spook Country, which has locative art (renditions of fictional and past events only available at certain places with the right hardware).

Use of a definition from Wikipedia was justified by saying that Wikipedia is good for normative definitions. He discussed two iterations of the Invisible Islands project. The first was in Aarhus, Denmark, in 2014. The idea was to have ‘islands’ disconnected from internet across the city that people could access through QR codes in public spaces to act as entry points into digital, offline content. This meant there was no Google search engine to use – people had to use their eyes to find the QR codes. This has potential to be replicated elsewhere, such as putting QR codes on street art so people could see information like they would in an exhibit, or be directed away from one site to a different, interesting location. The second iteration was Les ȋles invisibles in Montreal in 2015. He moved away from the QR codes since they felt awkward to interact with. Seeing how there were layers of information in the city that already existed (e.g. construction lines spraypainted on the ground, duct tape with numbers written on it), he decided to have wavy lines with numbers spraypainted on the ground that related to events in the past and future. The blue paint and the waviness also were intended to remind viewers of rising sea levels. He advised that when space is scarce, you can consider using public space as exhibition space. One example is the Apple [AR]T walkthrough. He mentioned two recent articles of interest: “The Future of VR? Site-specific Art Installations” by Seth Porges, which discusses how technology like this could help reduce loneliness by bringing people out, and “From monologue to dialogue: Towards playable cities” by Dr. Steven Conway.

VR Ye ha! – Scott J. Burgess and Angela Jowitt

Burgess and Jowitt shared some of their journey with VR over the past year at the Puke Ariki Library.  There was an overview of VR tech: Oculus Go and Quest are stand-alone headsets, platforms include Oculus, Steam VR, and Viveport Infinity. The latter has an annual subscription to 700+ titles model that they opted to go with. For Tech Week 2019, they chose three VR experiences to showcase (Dreams of Dali, Singularity, and the Blu). They needed to have ones that were largely intuitive because people would just be coming in and out and so there needed to be a low learning curve. They surveyed people who participated, and there were 102 respondents with demographics: 52% male, 48% female; 40% in age range 15 and under and a good percentage of people in the 25-54 age bracket; 42% had used VR before and 58% hadn’t. Most chose the Blu, but many were able to do the other ones if there were enough time. People said they liked the immersion and interactivity and escapism (VR gives a safe way to make mistakes).

VR experience reactions

Survey responses about VR experience

They mentioned other benefits to using VR. There is the 3D Organon VR Anatomy and Medical Realities Platform that is being used in medical professionals’ training. There are experiences for the deaf and disabled and for migrant women. For example, Google Earth can be used by migrant women to travel back to their home town as well as show others where they came from. It can also be used to visit and scout out places before traveling. They said that content can be created in New Zealand too; New Zealand Geographic is shooting local footage in 8K that can be used for virtual experiences.

Their story of VR being used in a school and facilitating new connections between students was a positive example of the potential of VR in education. One girl who had been in the same class as another girl for a year but never talked to her was suddenly talking to her and laughing with her as they journeyed in the virtual world. In this case, the digital was actually a portal to real-life interactions, rather than closing people off.

He Tohu VR: Taking (virtual) archives to the people – Jared Davidson and Rene Burton

The National Library New Zealand He Tohu exhibit in Wellington is a permanent exhibition with three particularly significant documents: He Whakaputanga (the Declaration of Independence), Te Tiriti o Waitangi  (the Treaty of Waitangi), and Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine (the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition). Since the documents were too fragile to travel, they decided to create a VR experience of the He Tohu exhibition and used the Unreal game engine (the promo video of the VR experience is available on YouTube). This format allows people to get closer to the documents than they could in real life with a glass cabinet in the way. In creating an educational experience for youth, they knew they wanted to contextualize the learning around the documents and have facilitation. A challenge in VR is that it is a very individual, one-on-one activity. The whole experience takes six minutes, which means the other students need to have things to do while taking turns with the VR. It can be very embodied, with students doing things like getting on the ground and trying to reach the top to look at various aspects of the documents.

Future GLAM Panel – Richard Foy, Honiana Love, Deb Verhoeven, Courtney Johnston, David Reeves, Mark Crookston, Migoto Eria

This panel featured people from a range of institutions and contexts. In discussing NDF as an organization and a conference, it was noted that there is a remarkable collegiality and a spirit of sharing that has stayed the same over the years. The inaugural meeting had similar themes to ones now, but that’s because systemic issues need to be worked on over a long time period. One potential issue is that there is less said about collaboration between institutions, who have more resources, than about individuals working with an institution, and it is not fair to always ask for communities to engage with the institutions. It was noted that people care about taonga, not which institution it belongs to, and what is needed is sharing of power and mana. We should be thinking about user-centered strategies and how they view things, rather than what works for the institution. Audiences are institutional omnivores, but meanwhile the government encourages rivalry between organizations via funding models. Interestingly, institutions seem to be able to collaborate on war exhibits (or other collaborations that some people may see as ‘pointless commemoration’) but not anything else! Successful collaboration is work that is better together, not just done separately.

There was discussion around issues of equity and diversity. Although commercial art galleries in Australia have almost achieved gender parity, government-funded ones have not, and the government is not being held accountable for this. Some libraries don’t use the Dewey Decimal System because local people want to find stuff in a way that works for them and their cultural understanding. It wouldn’t make sense to have Dewey’s system there. It was asked, how do we empower communities to speak for themselves and tell stories from their point of view? Even if we digitize materials, that’s still us doing things from our view. It is up to boards to be leading on these kinds of issues, but boards can be weak and represent their institutions’ interests rather than what they are supposed to represent: those of the communities they serve. Lip service isn’t good enough; every university has a mission statement with equity, but how many of them are accountable to taking real action. It was mentioned that funding may end up benefiting individuals over the greater community, meaning the impact of receiving funding is uncertain. For example, if an institution receives funding for someone to take a te reo course, that helps that person, but it doesn’t actually flow on to the community, though the hope is that it will in the long term. Regarding encouraging more Maori into the sector, it was mentioned that training models need to be changed; in one instance, getting iwi interns in has worked well because they can see what it’s like to work with the collections.

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

Towards a Global Systems Analysis of the Humanities by Dr. James Smithies

The University of Canterbury Digital Humanities program hosted an afternoon of lectures on November 12, 2015, entitled The Frontiers of DH: Humanities Systems Infrastructure. It featured speakers Alan Liu, Paul Arthur, and James Smithies who provided their perspectives and insight on the looming issue of infrastructure in the Humanities, which is easy to ignore but shouldn’t be. The following are some notes from Smithies’ lecture.

Towards a Global Systems Analysis of the Humanities – James Smithies, Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities at the University of Canterbury

The Politics of Cyberinfrastructure

The American Council of Learned Societies’ “Our Cultural Commonwealth” report (2006) looked at opportunities for computationally intensive Humanities research. Models were based off of STEM and big dollar projects. Geoffrey Rockwell’s “As Transparent as Infrastructure” Open Stax CNS (2010) asked, do we really need expensive new infrastructure? Patrick Svenson’s “From Optical Fiber” DHQ 5.1 (2011) asked, what about people, spaces, and laboratories? Miriam Posner’s “What’s Next: The Radical, Unrealized Potential of Digital Humanities” (blog post July 27, 2015) asked, what about gender and race and inclusivity? Susan Leigh Star’s “Infrastructure and Ethnographic Practice” Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems 14.2 (2002) said that infrastructure isn’t boring; it’s political. Water, pipes, bridges, and playgrounds: these are worth fighting for. Ethnography gives us an interesting, nonboring way to look at infrastructure.

What is the current state of infrastructure? Wires, boxes, etc. Sciences have a good idea about what it means to them (telescope, databases, etc.) – do we?

Towards a Systems Analysis

Robert Lilienfield’s “Systems Theory as an Ideology” Social Research 42.4 (1975) shows that people talk about systems today but wouldn’t have in earlier centuries. Looking at the history of ideas, you can see that we were not always using terms like bureaucracy, managerialism, and neoliberalism. Once you put something under a microscope and examine it, you can start “pulling levers” and manipulating it as you see fit.

T. P. Hughes’ “Technological Momentum in History” Past and Present 44.1 (1969) reviews the history of technology and systems vs. technological determinism. People aren’t just determined by technology. Smithies gave the example of a NASA control room. It has computers, but there are people and weather conditions controlling it.

Jenny Chan’s “A Suicide Survivor” The Asia-Pacific Journal 11.31.1 (2013) and “The Politics of Global Production” The Asia-Pacific Journal 11.32.2 (2013) look at the ethics of infrastructure, labor market ethics, and corporate values and the classroom. There is an irony in a History teacher using an iPad made in the Foxconn factory in China (where people committing suicide because of working conditions has made the news in the West several times) to teach students about factory production.

There are four layers of infrastructure:
Layer 4: Application (websites, blogs…)
Layer 3: Transportation (TCP, UDP…)
Layer 2: Internet (IP address…)
Layer 1: Link (Ethernet…)

Humanities are still at the fourth layer. But meanwhile, issues around Open Internet/Net Neutrality are important because of the potential for companies to throttle at lower levels. We like to theorize (a la Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus) about non-linear structures, but this doesn’t do much practically.

Humanities cyberinfrastructure should not be just like STEM’s. It is much more capacious and deals with sectors like Government, NGOs, Non-Commercial, and Commercial. All of it is enclosed within a model/framework of metadata.

Smithies then showed an interesting diagram/model that tried to visualize how the infrastructure currently out there is related to different sectors and open/closed access. He emphasized that his model is grounded in engineering, but that we really need hundreds of these models to show how they’re subjective and diverse. Having a model is a more mature way of having a discussion about infrastructure with others. It’s difficult to demonstrate the value of systems analysis to Humanists. How do we measure uses in the different sectors? The diagram really shows us what we don’t know.

Smart Infrastructures for Cultural and Social Research by Professor Paul Arthur

The University of Canterbury Digital Humanities program hosted an afternoon of lectures on November 12, 2015, entitled The Frontiers of DH: Humanities Systems Infrastructure. It featured speakers Alan Liu, Paul Arthur, and James Smithies who provided their perspectives and insight on the looming issue of infrastructure in the Humanities, which is easy to ignore but shouldn’t be. The following are some notes from Arthur’s lecture.

Smart Infrastructures for Cultural and Social Research – Paul Arthur, Professor and inaugural Australian Chair in Digital Humanities at the University of Western Sydney

Infrastructure used to mostly mean equipment and facilities, but now it is  also about people, who are maybe even more important (for example, having people to communicate between IT and elsewhere).

Few predicted that Google, a big corporation, would end up doing so much of the digitization work that normally libraries might be expected to do. He mentioned Graeme Turner’s Towards an Australian Humanities Digital Archive. Australia chose not to proceed with doing it by itself, partly because of Google, but it does now have Trove. Digitization is important, but infrastructure for Humanities researchers are the texts. Those are their evidence, not the technology that enables it. Merely scanning is not enough; texts have to be searchable, etc. The success of Trove has put pressure on the National Library as a trusted custodian to expand its projects as well as support other libraries.

Social and Cultural Research were chosen as terms rather than Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS), so it is not restricted to specific disciplines.

NCRIS Status Report on the NCRIS eResearch Capability found that Australia’s HASS has not kept up with the rest of the world. What does that mean? Should there be one national infrastructure or many that interlock? (Sciences have diverse needs and infrastructure to match, from medical to biological to space.) HASS often told to talk more with each other; should we be cross-pollinating more? (yes)

Conversations around infrastructure should also discuss rewards and recognition for people and the work they do with digital. Ideally, research should be citable, Open Access, and reproducible.


It is now much easier for people to document their lives. We can look at people in their framework and environments (social network analysis). We’ve gone from linear print to multilinearity and hyperlinked texts. Biographies are no longer just looking at individuals in isolation but more broadly. Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) has become a research network; the term biography doesn’t really apply anymore. There are 13,000 entries, modeled after the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) which sees itself as a curated collection rather than a dictionary. It is now possible to look at themes instead of an A-Z or chronological approach – this is really changing how these dictionaries function.

Editing Process

In 2009, the ADB team was still using analogue processes of paper editing, pencils and sharpeners, and typists typing up material. It shows the persistence of analogue with its long history. One person would work on a thing at a time and be notified of articles to work on through folders placed in their pigeonhole. Articles’ progress was charted through magnets on a whiteboard. They eventually moved to Windows Live (then Skydrive, now Onedrive).

Once ADB went online, it prompted questions of what represents a life? What represents a nation? Who makes it in? Where are women, Aborigines, workers, etc.?

ADB is free but ODNB is behind a paywall. Some of ADB is also available in Trove.

Obituaries Australia

The goal is to publish all previously published obituaries in Australia. It offers different perspectives from ADB and the chance for more people to be included. There is a Related Entries box instead of hyperlinks within the text. You can create diagrams of family trees and spousal relationships.

HuNI (Humanities Networked Infrastructure)

HuNI (pronounced honey) is a Humanities infrastructure aggregator with open linked data and API. The good thing is, although cultural data is hard and laborious to collect, once it is collected, it withstands the test of time for scholars.

During the Q&A, Alan Liu posed an interesting question: Will DH always be tied to nations?

Digital Humanities and Critical Infrastructure Studies by Visiting Professor Alan Liu

The University of Canterbury Digital Humanities program hosted an afternoon of lectures on November 12, 2015, entitled The Frontiers of DH: Humanities Systems Infrastructure. It featured speakers Alan Liu, Paul Arthur, and James Smithies who provided their perspectives and insight on the looming issue of infrastructure in the Humanities, which is easy to ignore but shouldn’t be. The following are some notes from Liu’s lecture.

Against the Cultural Singularity: Digital Humanities and Critical Infrastructure Studies – by Visiting Professor Alan Liu

Liu opened with a fitting quote from Eliel Saarinen: “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.” [I believe this could also apply when thinking about teaching. As Liu said in a previous lecture, the Humanities are supposed to be building a human being. Shouldn’t we be considering where these students will end up after they leave the classroom? It might seem fine to continue in an analogue style without acknowledging changing technology or skills students will need, but this neglects considering where the human being will be in the larger world context of the Digital Age.]

The latecomer status of DH after cultural criticism and theory (hack vs. yack) during the development of the Humanities has posed a problem and tension within the field. “Culture” has become “Infrastructure”. Electricity grids, internet connectivity, etc. are now part of how we operate. Movies like Blade Runner and Mad Max foregrounded infrastructure to set up their atmosphere, culture, and dystopian setting. Infrastructure (or lack thereof) is culture. Theorists (ex. Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and Donna Haraway) going forward must start to include infrastructure in their critiques of discipline, gender, and cyborg/hybrid identities.

What Would DH Infrastructure Critique Look Like?

Method 1:

  • Agile
  • Scrum development: The All Blacks’ rugby analogy/metaphor is actually not very good; quilting one is better (see Trello which looks like a pattern).
  • Lightly anti-foundationalist
    • James Smithies’ “postfoundationalism” DHQ 8.1 (2014)
    • Michael Dieter’s “critical technical practice” differences 25.1 (2014)
    • Bruno Latour’s “compositionism”
    • Ackbar Abbas and David Theo Goldberg’s “poor theory”
    • These critics are okay with not being totalizing, instead providing just-in-time critique.
    • We’ve avoided being tactical because we think it’s too close to IT.
  • DH should treat infrastructure not as a stable foundation and thus allow Critical Infrastructure Studies to be a mode of Cultural Studies.

Method 2

  • LTS approach, Thomas Hughes’ Networks of Power (1983)
  • Star/Bowker’s information ethnography approach
  • Neoinstitutionalism (from sociology and organizational studies)
  • Social constructivist and adaptive structuration approaches to organizational technology (from sociology, organizational studies, and information science)

DH, more than New Media Studies (which has been more activist and not a paradigm of the library), has focused on intramural changes and directed energy (sometimes militant) to institutions (breaking down pay walls, changing pedagogy, etc. has been the equivalent to storming administration buildings in the 1970s). Can that drive be harnessed to go outside the institution too?

[Another science fiction reference came up!] Liu mentioned that insect hives are really popular in science fiction these days. The neoliberal environment is remodeling culture to its corporate structures (workers in hives, etc.).

Liu is exploring the crossover between academic and scholarly infrastructures and extra-academic infrastructure.

He is the only Humanities faculty on a board looking at different software choices (for example: Microsoft 365 and Google Apps for Education). [Many other organizations are also constantly going through these debates over which software package to go with, even without having a full understanding of the implications down the road.] What are the long-term implications or going with either one? Are we locking ourselves in by choosing one? Shouldn’t we be on these committees?

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