Bursary Reports 2019

 

Alžbeta Zavřelová, PhD researcher, Masaryk University/Moravian Library, Czech Republic

Workshop: An Introduction to Digital Humanities

 

I came across Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School by chance, I tried my luck and I was very pleased to be awarded a bursary to take part in it. I was looking forward to the summer school for months, professionally and personally.

 

My background is in cultural-historical heritage. I graduated in Auxiliary sciences of history which provide content and analysis of primary sources from different perspectives. These specific skills allow us to decipher old texts, evaluate and interpret historical evidence. Now, being an early-stage PhD researcher and a member of memory institution, I mostly work with historic libraries and special collections, which are often in digital formats. Therefore, Digital Humanities offer me the best methods and tools to make them accessible to the public - transcribe documents as text encoding, annotate and comment images, make proper visualizations etc.

 

I attended the workshop strand “An Introduction to Digital Humanities: Expert insights into our digital landscape”. It gave an overview of the theory and practice of DH and of potential technologies that I could use in my research. It was a five-day intensive introduction course which included presentations and demonstrations that showed ongoing projects, national and international collaborations, as well as collections from the Bodleian library.

 

David de Roure welcomed our diverse group that had members coming from different fields from fifteen countries. During the week we had a number of very interesting presentations, such as the keynote speech that Barbara McGillivray opened on the balance between specific humanities research and information technologies. She graphically showed us how society perceives this connection - we are split to scale from early innovators to sceptics. The essential future research should be based on merging thick data and big data by the idea “homo in machina”. Later, Alfie Abdul-Raman brought to the attention concepts of visualization, explained theories of gestalt effects and illusions and its function in our brain. She examined visualization techniques and applications. The best way of simple visualization is to respect some pop-up effects connected to our embrace channels. My professional highlight was David Howell with his experience in hyperspectral imaging and use of AI for digital scans of Mexican palimpsests. I enjoyed it a lot even though his talk was very brief and the subject was largely unknown. The last one was presentation “Machine Learning in an hour” or how to explain machine learning to your grandma :) by Stephen Downie. He demonstrated how to use probability of data in machine learning with many simple examples. I was impressed how he was able to talk with ease about such a complicated topic. Let’s see if my grandma understands…

 

Tuesday's panel discussion was about enhancement and I saw many people from universities all around the world, who were facing the same problems, for example the decline of students in traditional fields and difficulties in applying innovative research methods. Many questions we discussed enhanced my understanding of dealing with these problems.

 

The organization of the summer school was excellent - all the pre-information was clear, and the pocket booklets were very useful and practical. All the staff were friendly and the evening sessions were excellent. On the first evening, there was a poster session in the Museum of Natural History. I felt guilty that I had not prepared my own poster because it was an amazing opportunity to share our research with lecturers and other participants. I highly appreciated the Oxford walking tour. Our guide explained to us the system of colleges and showed us the most interesting places in the city centre. The environment of Keble College was wonderful. There was always time to get to know participants from all the workshops during coffee breaks and build potential collaborations for the future.

 

In summary, the summer school is a great chance to get to know people with the same professional interests from all around the world. During the training, I felt that I would have benefited from being in a more advanced level. There were workshops there that would have been better suited for me. Before the program, I had been concerned that it would be too technical so my advice for other candidates is - challenge yourself and go for a high level to maximize your benefits!

 

Thank you Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School 2019 for a valuable experience and inspiration that I can research and develop back home.

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