2018 Bursary Holders Reports
For information about the bursaries offered in 2018 and bios of the bursary holders, visit our Bursaries page.
Mimi Goodall, University of Oxford
I was immensely pleased to participate in the 2018 Digital Humanities Summer School. I’ve always been excited by the way that humanities research can be enhanced by a wide range of digital resources. I believe that it can truly democratise it. It pulls research out of libraries and dense, impenetrable academic journals, making it approachable, engaging and relevant.
I attended the workshop Crowdsourced Research in the Humanities, run by Dr Samantha Blickhan. This was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about both the theory behind crowd-sourcing research and gave you the chance to put some of it into practice.
We were introduced to the zooniverse platform, whereby researchers can build their own crowdsourcing project and reach out to zooniverse members to participate in the research. This platform is incredible! It creates a vast community and completely transforms the research process from something that is isolated and lonely into something that is truly collaborative. During the week, we began to develop our own projects on the platform, and I got the chance to see just how useful it would be. On a superficial level, it can help to speed up a project massively (lots of people = far speedier data processing) but it’s much more than that.
The platform is engineered to help the project really engage with their citizen researchers. You can chat with them and explore ideas together. We were told how citizen researchers have changed the whole course of projects, but noticing something new, important and exciting.
This leads me onto the other focus of the week was the ethics and theory behind crowd-sourcing research. We learnt first-hand how important the ‘crowd’ are to the project. This is in no way getting people just ‘to do your work for you’. It’s important to engage with and learn from your co-researchers. They can teach you as much as you teach them.
Throughout the week, I was constantly struck by how much scientific research was crowdsourced. (Zooniverse was started by physicists.) It showed me just how similar humanities and scientific research really could be. I think, today, we spend a lot of time trying to show how different these two areas are – but in fact we can learn a lot from each other.
Ganit Richter, University of Haifa, Israel
I am honoured to be one of the recipients of the Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School Scholarship. Taking part in this exciting program, gaining up-to-date knowledge, learning new skills, and networking are invaluable for future early-career researchers such as myself. Intensive but well planned, including lectures and hands-on workshops, this week offered a perfect mix of individual and group work. The lectures were my favourite part: the plenary presentations were a wonderful opportunity for learning in a variety of directions, while the lectures within the workshop enabled deeper discussions in specific fields of study.
I would like to extend my appreciation to Dr Victoria Van Hyning and Ms. Sarah Ellis for their excellent lectures. As my research interest lies in the field of serious games for crowds, I found Dr Van Hyning’s lecture highly relevant. Questions about crowds; approaches to producing, quantifying and validating data; and motivations for participating in crowd-based systems-are addressed in my research as well. Ms. Ellis’ talk, about new ways to present live drama and interact with the audience, was revealing.
I also attended the Crowdsourced Research workshop convened by Dr Samantha Blickhan. She shared her rich knowledge, skills and enthusiasm with the participants. Her guest speakers were superb. I learned about a new tool, Zooniverse Project Builder, and gained in its design and building process. This activity met my interest in learning more about the real-world meaning of social machines, and hearing more about crowds and crowdsourcing.
I found the opportunity to share my research to be highly relevant experience for my practice and personal development. It was also a great pleasure to present in the poster session at the Weston Library along with speakers and members of the University of Oxford.
I would like to thank you also for the social aspect. The social events were enjoyable and highly informative because they brought together participants from multiple spheres of knowledge.
With such an inspiring atmosphere, it was an exciting and inspiring event. I am deeply grateful for your support in making this experience and learning event possible. Without this scholarship, I would have been unable to benefit from it.
Yelda Nasifoglu, University of Oxford
From Text to Tech
A researcher with the ‘Reading Euclid’ project based at the History Faculty in Oxford, I attended DHOxSS 2018 with the intention of picking up some new skills. These, I hoped, would enable me to implement a couple of projects I had been interested in developing. However, halfway through the first day, I realised just how limited my expectations had been, and that there was so much more to explore.
The workshop I attended, ‘From Text to Tech’, was centred around Python programming which I had always found difficult to get a handle on, so I was thankful to have guidance from experts I could ask questions of, rather than search for hours on the web for answers. The workshop convenors, Barbara McGillivray and Gard Jenset, have backgrounds in computational linguistics, so they also introduced us to ‘corpus linguistics’, ‘natural language processing’ and ‘topic modelling’, all of which I had been unfamiliar with until then. Barbara and Gard are extremely good at explaining the applicability of each tool they introduced us to, always giving relevant examples. (As an early modernist, I was pleasantly surprised that even seventeenth-century ‘intelligencer’ Samuel Hartlib received a mention!)
Guest presentations by Giovanni Colavizza, Alessandro Vatri, and Tom Wood were particularly useful as they gave in-depth, behind-the-scenes look into the code in action. Once familiarised with the Python tools corresponding to linguistic methods, it became easy to see their relevance not only for the projects I already had in mind, but also to think of many other possibilities. Perhaps the biggest take-away for me was that the summer school was not about picking up ‘skills’ but discovering entirely new methodologies and expanding one’s ways of thinking.
Digital humanities, whether because it is in its relative infancy or due to the nature of its medium, has a way of inspiring or even forcing cross-disciplinary approaches. It is also (finally!) making scholarship more collaborative. With a background in architecture, a field that by necessity involves collaboration, I find the life of the scholar rather isolated, so I was particularly delighted to hear presentations on various collaborative digital humanities projects. Indeed, the opening keynote by Victoria Van Hyning at Zooniverse was about collaboration at a large scale, i.e. crowd-sourcing. Cristina Dondi showed us the lengthy list of participating institutions in the impressive ‘15th Century Booktrade’ project, while Matilda Malaspina demonstrated their collaboration with the Oxford Visual Geometry Group on 15th-century printed images.
The importance of partnerships in setting standards for Linked Data was highlighted by Athanasios Velios, while Martin Poulter showed us just what could be achieved by linking all kinds of data in a single platform like Wikidata. With all of these collaborations and partnerships producing large amounts of data, ‘information overload’ has become a concern. In his closing keynote, Glenn Roe showed us how this anxiety was in fact nothing new, and that despite the changes in technology, certain humanistic questions and concerns have remained the same.
In terms of digital humanities, this is an exciting time to be alive indeed as no rigid boundaries have yet been set, leaving much room for creative experimentation: this was one of the many subjects I got to discuss with fellow attendees during coffee and lunch breaks. The jovial, stress-free atmosphere throughout the week was no doubt due to the amazing organisational skills of Pip Willcox, David De Roure, and the whole Summer School team. I am particularly grateful to Barbara McGillivray and Gard Jenset for not only helping me navigate Python but inspiring me to further explore computational linguistics and machine learning.
Karen Heath, Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford
Hands-on Humanities Data Curation
I was very pleased to be awarded a bursary to attend the Digital Humanities at Oxford Summer School (DHOxSS) 2018. I am a historian of the modern United States based at the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford, and my specialist research interests focus on political, policy, presidential, and cultural history, particular the history of political ideologies and cultural policymaking.
Thanks to this training, I have gained a much better insight into two key areas that I have termed Learning Strategies for Digital Humanists and Doing Digital Humanities Research.
Learning Strategies for Digital Humanists
By Learning Strategies for Digital Humanists, I am referring to the tips for continued learning in this field that I gained throughout the week in sessions such as ‘Learning Strategies for Technical Skills’. This session was most useful for me, as it offered practical ideas for professional development, including asking yourself, ‘Is a big investment of time in learning a particular programme actually worth it?’ For busy academics this is a very pertinent question, and it was good to see such issues addressed in a realistic manner. Other suggestions included looking for supportive communities of practice, wherever they might be, such as within your department, on social media, or GitHub (an online space for developers).
Doing Digital Humanities Research
The second key area that was of great interest to me related to what I would term Doing Digital Humanities Research, and here I am thinking about the practicalities of this kind of research, and how it may or may not differ from the historical research that I undertake myself.
What is Data? What is Data Curation?
In particular, the early ‘Introduction to Humanities Data’ session was very interesting, as it addressed key questions such as ‘What is data?’ and ‘What is data curation?’ I came to understand more fully that much of the effort involved in Digital Humanities research pertains to data cleaning and curation, i.e. that it may involve a very large investment of time.
Finding Aids as a Primary Source & Writing Methods Sections
I was also interested to consider further the idea that archival finding aids might constitute a useful primary source in their own right, although I did find this a somewhat difficult concept to apply to my own research, as the archives that I use are often uncatalogued. Other discussions involved thinking about writing methodological sections for journal articles, something that is not generally a normal practice in my field, but it did get me to wondering why that was the case, and the benefits that might be gained from doing so.
The Right Tool for the Right Job & Readme Files
Additional sessions on ‘Information Organisation and Data Quality’ focussed on the need for version control, and the importance of always asking yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’, ‘Is this the right tool for the job?’, and ‘What am I trying to achieve?’ In the ‘Minimum Viable Curation: Case Studies” session we explored the concept of readme files, something that I have generally made for myself in the form of notes, but perhaps not in such a focussed manner. We also discussed the use of data management plans, and I gained a better sense of how best to go about writing one.
Lastly, the ‘Selective Preservation’ session was useful in terms of thinking about the longevity of digital humanities projects. Useful questions to ask of oneself here included, ‘What is mission critical, in terms of preservation?’, ‘What is already being preserved by others?’, and ‘What is the key contribution that you will make with your own project?’
Cataloguing Archival Images
As a result of my research undertakings so far, I have gathered a considerable amount of archival material in digital form, and what has been stopping me from properly organising this data is the desire not to waste hours of my time (and perhaps money too, if I chose the wrong tool) in cataloguing my images with a programme that then becomes obsolete. The discussion we had on data curation as not simply a one-time activity, but as a process, was therefore very useful for me, as were the conversations on future proofing (for instance, researching how data might be exported out of specific programmes into widely-used file formats to ensure it is accessible in the future).
The last session on Friday, where we spent time in groups learning from each other rather than from the tutors, was also very helpful. I was able to speak to other scholars in different disciplines who were working on problems that were similar to my own: as a result, I have drawn up a list of useful tools to explore further, including Tropy (a tool to organise and describe archival photographs). I have also made a number of international contacts who I plan to stay in touch with as I continue to work on Doing Digital Humanities Research.
In summary then, I wanted to attend DHOxSS in order to develop my Digital Humanities research philosophy, and to gain practical skills in a multidisciplinary context. In addition to the specific areas listed above, I certainly feel that the training has given me a better sense of what Digital Humanities actually is, particularly its democratic rationales, collaborative underpinnings, and hand-on methodology.
Lenka Sediva, Durham University
An Introduction to Digital Humanities
My interest in digital humanities was sparked and encouraged during the Digital Approaches to the History of Science workshops organized in the Faculty of History at Oxford University in September 2017 and in March 2018. Being an early-stage PhD researcher, I wanted to get a better understanding of what digital humanities stands for and how it could be related to my own cultural-historical research. The summer school was an amazing opportunity to develop my interest and extend my knowledge as it provided me with an adequate and intensive introductory survey-course.
I attended the workshop strand ‘An Introduction to Digital Humanities’ which promised a thorough overview of the theory and practice of Digital Humanities. For me, this goal was fully achieved. The opening key note explained that ‘digital humanities consists of methodologies and tools to pursue research questions in the humanities’. Over the next 5 days, the programme demonstrated that digital humanities is the intersection of humanities and digital technologies which encompass a wide range of work. It opened many new questions and ways of how to think about my own PhD project.
I am a cultural historian of domestic science and medicine. Studying the past in our digital age means that digital methods play a key role in the historical research. Before coming to Oxford, I only knew the user perspective of working with digital records, for instance, in online databases and collections of libraries, museums and other institutions. DHOxSS revealed to me the world which seems to be rather ‘hidden’ beyond digital collections, transcribed documents and digitized images. Overall, it was very exciting to see Pip Willcox’s infectious enthusiasm for all the ‘cool things’ which digital technologies enable us to do and how they could be beneficial for historical research. Those included the possibilities of modelling historical texts as structured, machine-readable data and human-usable collections; tools for comparing, annotating and remixing digital images; text encoding; symbolic music encoding; Raman spectroscopy; photogrammetry; relational databases; reproducibility and digital preservation.
My strand offered a wide and complex variety of lectures and workshops which provided a well-arranged introduction and great inspiration for future research on the humanities in the digital age. For instance, it was very inspiring to meet the students involved in the Bodleian Student Editions Workshop and observe their skilled work with early modern letters which included preparing the metadata and transcription of manuscript texts for including them in the Early Modern Letters Online (EMLO) catalogue.
On the second day, Alfie Abdul-Rahman introduced the concepts, techniques, tools and application of visualization. Her beautiful and rich presentation highlighted visualization as a tool for making observation, facilitating external memorization, stimulating and evaluating hypotheses and dissemination of knowledge. Alfie clearly stated what a good visualization is, what processes are included and what their particular problems are. She demonstrated how visualization can be used in the digital humanities, which besides texts and images, have very interesting aspects for me such as visualization of phonemic features. In this context, I also appreciated Andres Hankinson’s talk later during the week, which provided an extraordinary overview of the different techniques in use by digital musicologists.
Visualization, its techniques, practices and applications, was also a central point for Jassim Happa. His talk focused on how visualization could be used for investigating the past. Introducing three kinds of visualisation (informational, analytical, realistic), Happa stressed the importance of the correct documentation, rendition and interpretation of extant historical evidence. I was most impressed by the attempt to reconstruct the visual perception of the environment in the past by the use of authentic techniques, that is, recreating light sources in order capture and measure its colour. With reference to Cultural Heritage Imaging, Happa mentioned photogrammetric measurement as an important visualizing technique.
Finally, in her impressive presentation on the Cabinet project, Kathryn Eccles introduced photogrammetry as an intriguing modelling technique and a way for making artefacts in museum more accessible for teaching and research through digitisation. More precisely, through the use of digital photogrammetry, the team produces highly detailed full-colour 2D and 3D models of objects from across Oxford’s museum collections. Cabinet is an interactive, mobile-optimised digital platform designed to support and encourage object-based learning and teaching. Having been introduced to the Cabinet project in September 2017, I was fascinated how this project has progressed within the past few months. I am looking forward to seeing its further development and I hope to benefit from its digital collection one day. For the future, a hands-on workshop that allows experiencing the practical use of Cabinet and a practical session on photogrammetry would be most appreciated.
Moreover, DHOxSS is an extraordinary event where scholars at different stages of their career, who come from different parts of the world and from various backgrounds, are brought together through their interest and involvement in digital humanities in order to learn, teach, extend and share their knowledge. I very much appreciated the beautiful and peaceful environment of Keble College which became my temporary home. The programme included breaks, lunches and evening events such as welcome drinks and a poster session, additional lectures and a walking tour, which provided a great opportunity to meet, dine, discuss and socialize with participants from all strands. Therefore, besides fostering the exchange of knowledge, DHOxSS brought together new colleagues and new friends. I also think that the photo competition was a smart idea ensuring the digital preservation of our sunny memories of DHOxSS 2018.
In summary, DHOxSS was a first-class experience in terms of the range of topics, the quality of presentations and teaching, the learning environment and fantastic people. The combination of lectures and presentations provided me with a unique opportunity to explore new ways for revealing, visualising and interpreting the past. Thanks to DHOxSS I have a better understanding and, more importantly, new questions about what digital theories and practices bring to the study of human culture. Digital humanities is a research area which gives a new dimension to my PhD.
Louis Henderson, University of Oxford
My experience at DHOxSS in the Quantitative Humanities stream was a whirlwind introduction to new ideas and methods. The program was designed to give participants an introductory understanding of a variety of tools to facilitate collaboration. It was certainly that. I met so many interesting people working with projects that I would have never thought of before.
The workshop began quickly with hands-on data analysis using the Oxford English Dictionary. Although the original plan was to work with Excel, with its more user-friendly interface, it soon became clear that many members of the group wanted to use the more robust RStudio. The exceptionally useful Tidyverse library made this relatively painless. Prof. De Roure was very accommodating of different levels of proficiency with either software, although this clearly involved a lot of work jumping back and forth on his part. The workshop members themselves were also quick to help one another, and I came away from this session with a deeper understanding of the possibilities of digital tools for the humanities.
My own research in economic and social history straddles the border between humanities and social science. Prior to attending DHOXSS, I had just completed a methodology seminar on how to best use the data available in autobiographical narratives that was sensitive to issues of subjectivity and partiality. I was perhaps thinking along these lines already. Still, I remember having an exciting conversation with another participant about the possibilities of using a historical mood tagger to evaluate historical texts and how this could be applied to quantify how autobiographers felt towards certain institutions. This was not on the seminar agenda, but it followed from a discussion about the data available in the OED and gives a sense of the intellectual ferment of the seminar.
Other highlights included Pip Willcox's introduction to PROV, a data provenance markup language, if not because data provenance is particularly exciting then because it addressed a problem that I had been dealing with already. That is, traditional bibliographic and referencing methods seem inadequate to refer to the construction of datasets where various modifications and merges may have been performed by their author. The possibility of building a standardized system for documenting such processes will be a necessity in the social sciences and humanities going forward, especially as data linkage and other big data techniques become more prominent.
The additional lecture by Nicholas Cole on the Quill project was also fascinating. In contrast to many of the digital humanities techniques that I encountered in the "quantitative" workshop, which condensed detail into quick insights, the Quill project dwells in details. It involves reconstructing draft documents in the process of constitutional negotiations from the minutes. It thus enables historians to better understand the negotiation process in minute detail and even, if Cole's conclusions are to be believed, to have insight into the micro-sociology of building consent. It might be that less time was given to discuss certain proposals because the participants were following certain rules of politeness or because the room was stiflingly hot.
So much more was on offer at DHOxSS than I can properly describe. I am still in the process of decompressing from it all. From critical discussions on machine learning and simulation, to applications of gephi for network visualization, there was never a dull moment. In addition, the cross-over with From Text-To-Tech, while occasionally it seemed disconnected from other topics covered during the day, in retrospect provided a useful introduction to a large wing of digital humanities applications in the field of information science.
In sum, the quantitative humanities stream was like a cheese plate offering tastes of the world of digital humanities. I left feeling more competent discussing quantitative tools in the humanities with peers and more confident to take the leap in applying them in my own research. This week was a first step on what will hopefully be a long continuing engagement.
Emily Di Dodo, University of Oxford
An Introduction to Digital Humanities
As I am very early in my academic career (about to begin a DPhil at Oxford) I attended the Introduction to Digital Humanities strand of the summer school mainly to act as an opportunity for me to see the breadth of possibilities regarding how to represent the data that I will collect as my doctoral thesis progresses. The summer school certainly accomplished this for me, as I now understand that there are many ways in which the Digital Humanities can aid both the collection and the publication of my future research.
My doctoral research will include the creation of a critical edition of a 1496 Castilian translation of Boccaccio’s Decameron. In order to do this I will need to collect an enormous amount of data regarding any changes between the five editions of the text. In the advanced stages of my research it would be extremely useful for me to apply what I learned in the visualisation workshops to present my data visually.
One option for me would be to encode and digitise the entire text and its variants for digital or online publication, to allow other researchers interested in my work to view either the original text, one of the variants presented in the other editions, my edited text, or two of these for side by side comparison. The introduction to the Text Encoding Initiative certainly gave me a taste of how this could be accomplished, and has left me longing to return soon to attend the TEI strand of the summer school!
I also found it to be incredibly enriching to see how I could participate in others’ research via the Zooniverse (I have already started identifying beluga whales!), and also through the Bodleian Student Editions. I am eager to attend one of their workshops in the coming academic year.
The most resonating lesson I learned during this week is the importance of rendering any research I carry out in my career accessible to other academics, and to preserve it in such a way that it remains accessible even after many many years. Academic collaboration is imperative to furthering research and allowing for new discoveries to be made. I hope that my research on Boccaccio’s early Spanish translation will add to the field of Boccaccio’s influence and fate across Europe and eventually be useful to someone also interested in this field, and this initial venture into the Digital Humanities will surely help me make this a reality.
Of course, another wonderful aspect of the summer school is the other people who attend it! I had a rather difficult week due to an unexpected death in the family, and I don’t think I could have got through it without the kindness and support of these strangers who quickly became my friends.
Katherine Clough, Newcastle University, Victoria & Albert Museum
Hands on Humanities Data Curation
I thoroughly enjoyed my week at DHOxSS and the specialist training on Hands-On Humanities Data Curation led by Elizabeth Wickes and Katrina Fenlon from the iSchool at Illinois. It was a beautiful time to be in the stunning grounds of Keble College, with frequent coffee breaks, communal lunches in the Dining Hall, and workshop style activities allowing plenty of opportunity to chat with and get to know other delegates visiting from across the UK and from around the world.
The additional Summer School keynotes, choice of optional lectures, and poster displays also enriched the group-work style sessions, and gave further opportunity to talk with delegates in other streams about their experiences too. I arrived Monday morning hoping to attain a better understanding of current best practice in data management for using data arising from my own research based on museum collections. By Friday I left not only equipped with new ways of thinking digitally about curation, but also with increased confidence to further explore the introduced digital tools, and full of inspiration for the potential of digital approaches to humanities-based research. I have created a roughly chronological Twitter Moment of highlights from my week for further reference. Below are five things I learnt from the five fabulous days, focusing on my experience of the data curation stream as summarised in five themes: Exploring, Planning, Organising, Coding, and being Humanities-based (EPOCH).
Five things I learnt about curating data from five days at DHOxSS 2018
1. Exploring data types and definitions of curation
After the initial registration and inspiring opening keynote, we separated into our specialist sessions to begin training in data curation by thinking about what we mean when we talk about ‘data’ and ‘curation’. It was great to discuss the curation of ‘data’ in an accessible way. Data curation activities were introduced as concerned with data lifecycles, including the ability to discover, retrieve, maintain (preserve), interpret, present, and re-use data for present and future research. Different data formats were presented. We were encouraged to think about curation in the digital realm as more than simply managing data, and instead as an ongoing process with data expressed at conceptual, logical, and physical levels (for example, relational data, arranged in a table, stored as a file). We were also able to individually explore a shared spreadsheet of humanities research data that we would be using to learn curation techniques with different software throughout the week.
2. Planning curation from minimum viable standards to choosing models for analysis
While the first day introduced us to key terms, the second day of data curation focus on learning strategies, or ‘learning how to learn programming’. Knowing that it would be too intensive to comprehensively cover the range of tools on offer in just one week, we were wisely prepared for thinking about the bigger aims of doing data curation, to help plan research and identify training needs for our own research from the broad range of approaches available. This included thinking about minimum standards in data curation, as well as an additional introduction to thinking about data modelling from Neil Jefferies (Head of Innovation for Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services at Oxford).
3. Organising data by ‘cleaning’ and asking queries using Open Refine and SQLite
Wednesday was the first intensive day of hands-on introductions to different digital tools available, although we also had presentations on introducing data preservation. There was a palpable appreciation of the potential of the open-source tool OpenRefine for organising and ‘cleaning’ data from delegates across the room as we followed a group-led tutorial with the spreadsheet data provided on the first day. We were also introduced to the multi-windowed interface of SQLiteStudio as an additional way of asking queries of a text-based dataset of typed correspondence.
4. Coding as data curation using Python
On Thursday we were introduced to the wonders of Python and the power of using coding to ask humanities-based research queries. The structure of the group tutorial worked well, encouraging discussions on our group tables. A detailed step-by-step guide was also provided for further consultation, and the workshop leaders were on hand to help with individual queries and issues on our individual laptops. David Tomkins (Curator of Digital Research Data at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford) also presented a session on archiving and data management from the perspective of institutional repositories, which built on the ongoing themes of preservation and long-term accessibility involved in ‘better’ data curation practice.
5. Humanities-based research and the responsible curation of cultural data
After a couple of days getting into the specifics of different digital tools and computational needs of research, Friday focused on a return to the big picture of humanities-based research, including key issues of ethics around data collection, analysis and sharing. Fenlon’s presentation on the need to consider legal, ethical and policy issues around data curation featured the EU rejection of controversial copyright layers that had been voted on the previous day, demonstrating the up-to-date nature of the training offered. I was also very impressed by an open session where we were able to split into groups to explore specific aspects covered in the week in more detail; Fenlon delivered a great spontaneous workshop for a small group of us, recapping the conceptual basis for understanding how ‘triples’ work in linked-data, as well as an introduction to a range of online data visualisation tools.
Overall, the week-long session on Data Curation delivered more than my expectations. The course leaders pitched the sessions just right so that we were able to grasp the wider concepts of data curation as well as get hands-on tasters with using specific open-source tools that now don’t feel so intimidating to further explore.
The week started with an opening keynote by Victoria Van Hyning (Humanities PI at Zooniverse) - an inspirational deluge of the possibilities of crowd-sourced approaches demonstrated through highlighted Zooniverse projects. To end the week, the closing keynote by Glenn Roe (Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities at Australian National University) reminded us both of the criticism and the limitations of digital humanities approaches, but also that information overload has been around for hundreds of years with digital approaches offering new ways of answering both old and new questions.
It was a tough choice picking which optional lectures to attend from the great selection offered during the week. I roughly prioritised presentations looking at tracing the histories and relationships between collected objects (‘15th Century Booktrade' by Cristina Dondi & Matilda Malaspina), ways of curating museum collection data (Athanasios Velios’ ‘Integration and Linked Data for Museums and Library Collections’), and ways of using digital humanities to thinking about digital curation in the art world (Laura Mollay’s ‘Art Making, Digital Curation and Real World Value’ ).
These additional presentations not only provided a varied structure and broader scope to the week, but also helped me to contextualise the specific role of data curation within the wider remit and potentials of digital humanities research. In conclusion, the week as a whole was an excellent experience for its training in thinking critically about curating data, as an introduction to learning how to code, and for the wider conversations on digital humanities research that it enabled with other attendees.
Antonio Marson Franchini, University of Oxford
Introduction to the Text Encoding Initiative
I was introduced to the Digital Humanities Summer School by a dear friend of mine who is attending Oxford University. She had the bright idea to suggest me to keep my eyes open on the website to get ready to apply for this year’s Summer School. When I received notice that application had gone through and that I had been granted a bursary to attend this exciting School, I couldn’t be more happy. I was eager to join the program to develop my skills.
In total sincerity, even before applying, I had read a lot online about the great experience that this Summer School could be for scholars interested in developing their digital prowess. My interest in this field was born after my graduation at the University of Bologna. By education I’m a medievalist but I have always been fascinated by the multiple applications that digital techniques could have in my field of studies. Therefore, when I took a look at the program and, in a particular manner, at the “An Introduction to the Text Encoding Initiative: From Primary Sources to Publication” workshop, I was convinced that the learning experience would be of extreme use for my PhD project.
After this brief introduction, it’s time for me to talk about the actual experience. The School took place on the premises of Keble College at Oxford. From the first moment I put myself in line to collect my badge I had the perception that the reception and the actual handling all of the guests has been organized to the slightest detail, something to be surely be proud of. In fact, on this subject I have only good remarks about how friendly and present the members of the staff were to everybody.
The School started with a keynote on the importance and recognition that DH are getting by a day-by-day larger public without forgetting to point out important elements that should be kept in mind when working with DH such as copyright, crowdsourcing and the new European regulations. After this interesting start more nice things were to come.
Among the various classes that composed the workshop that I have chosen, I want to remember the general feeling over the plain narration of this wonderful experience. I can not stress in a better way the need that scholars have for competent teachers who take genuine pleasure, as I have seen, in sharing their knowledge. This positive attitude had a significant effect on the listeners that, driven by the need to apply this technology to their research, were deeply interested in learning how to play with the TEI Guidelines in order to adapt them for their goals.
I have learned a lot during this five days program which had a good mixture of theory and practice that is always needed when using mark-up languages. I particularly enjoyed the days dedicated to the actual revising the guidelines and basic functions of TEI and the explanations that we were given on the use of TEI of manuscript description and encoding. The latter of the two was followed by a visit to the Bodleian Library in which a series of manuscripts were presented for understanding the necessary levels of description that we have to take into account when encoding the metadata and the information of a source. I have to thank in a particular manner those teachers, as Giles Bergel, Alex Dutton and Matthew Holford for their important covering of the TEI basis and the steps to take for describing primary sources as manuscripts. Between the two, the latter is of particular interest for me because I will be working with a vast number of manuscripts and primary sources to my PhD thesis on medieval sermons.
The human bonding and the possibility to build a proper network of TEI-using scholars that took place in between classes, have been of invaluable importance to me. Every interaction with other students has proven to be a part of this experience that I will cherish for a long time. On this matter would be an unpardonable omission not to recall the beautiful locations at Keble College that made the whole experience even more agreeable by providing the most exquisite background for the activities of the Summer School.
In concluding this report I want to thank every member of the staff, every lecturer that had the patience to walk us through every single element of TEI and Oxford University for pioneering this field that is growing into an important and necessary part of the competences of every scholar in the field of Humanities. Thank you DHOxSS for this incredible opportunity that has been given to me.
Laura Wright, University of Oxford
Introduction to the Text Encoding Initiative
A (much needed) Introduction to the Text Encoding Initiative!
I needed an introduction to the Text Encoding Initiative; I couldn’t have been less experienced in encoding when I walked into Keble College for DHOxSS 2018.
We had five days to learn the basics of xml, in which a series of open and closed brackets can spell out the details of a text, rendering it digitally for wider online use. I’d applied for the summer school with the idea of learning the basics of how to make digital editions of the plays and printed texts I’m lucky enough to access through the Bodleian, but within the first session of the week it became clear just how much more TEI could do (and how much more I’d have to learn!). Using the software Oxygen, which we were able to download via our institutions, we learned the rules of encoding – always close your brackets! – and familiarised ourselves with xml. The summer school offered a lot of hands-on time at our laptops, as we learned how to render the details of a page into a language a computer can understand. Coding might have seemed a mechanical kind of skill to learn, but as we applied it to real textual examples – from Shakespeare’s sonnets to Van Gough’s letters – the potential of using TEI creatively in research became clear.
Since the invention of the printing press, authors have “marked up” their work to make their intentions plain to their printers; we enjoyed a demonstration at the Weston library to that effect. “Marking up” a text for a digital edition has just the same goal: details of font, spacing, emphasis, and errata, have to be clearly explained in code, compelling the reader/encoder to pay unfailing attention to the presentation of a page. With the basics mastered, it became clear that encoding a page is only the first step. It is possible to include various spellings (original and modernised), to highlight important terms, and to make information searchable for those using a database of encoded texts. We were able to see the effects of such work in the Bodleian Digital Editions in which students – myself amongst them, in 2017 – are able to contribute to a research catalogue while learning how to transcribe. The Introduction to the Text Encoding Initiative was full of such case studies, from European letters to epigraphic texts from ancient Sicily, with each presentation offering an example of how TEI can aid research.
Our final session on Friday afternoon brought together what we had learned in what was, for me, a revelatory talk on teaching given by Dr Lizzy Williamson, a Research Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Exeter: ‘Encoding Early Modern English Drama (EMED): practice and teaching.’ Dr Williamson discussed her use of TEI in teaching her undergraduates about traditions of textual editing. While some chose to edit their chosen play (King Lear) for print, those who wished to learn were introduced to the basics of TEI, so that they were able to digitise their edited scene. The talk was brimming with ideas about how to introduce students to editing while teaching them a transferable, digital skill (and encouraging them to think more carefully about the editorial decisions which go into the digital texts that they use in their own work).
Learning to encode text was complicated and at times frustrating, but there was so much satisfaction in being able to put even a few lines of text online (briefly!). The little victories – aligning the date correctly, spotting the error that caused my entire page of xml to be rendered incorrect, searching for all the parts spoken by a particular character and finding them at a click – were enough for one week; but it will take a lot more work to reach the larger successes of encoding an entire play.
The Intro to TEI was a busy workshop, but within five days I went from not knowing the first thing about digitising texts to being able to understand how the process worked and how it might be applied, not only in making the databases and digital editions I use in my own research, but in teaching undergraduates about editing and close reading in an online world.
Shashikala Assella, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka
Introduction to Digital Humanities
DHOxSS 2018- A week of sunshine (both literal and metaphorical)
What is Digital Humanities? Family and friends asked when I gleefully told them that I am thinking of applying to the Summer School for Digital Humanities at Oxford. Did I know? Not really…but since life is all about learning, I took the leap of ‘digital’ faith and after a week of being immersed in digital humanities, I now talk casually about data visualization and SPARQL!!
Let’s begin at the beginning. I applied for the summer school and also for the bursary that would help me to attend the summer school. After securing a bursary (Thank you DHOxSS) and securing a place in the Introduction to Digital Humanities strand, all I had to do was pack my bags and head to Oxford.
It was a power packed week, to say the least. Despite its intensity and new information that threatened to overpower your senses, it was a wonderful week full of new knowledge, new friends, warmth and laughter of a community with common interests. Day one began with a wonderful keynote by Dr Victoria Van Hyning. "We're All in This Together" set the tone for the week. We are all in this together became clearer as the day progressed, as posters were presented and as participants found others with the same shared interests. By the end of the day I have begun to make small connections with Digital Humanities and why it should be in the English Department.
Day two began as usual with a lot of promise. I have found new friends, there was coffee and sunshine, and the world was ready for an exciting new day. Dr Alfie Abdul-Rahman’s session signaled another fun filled day. How to visualize data in the Humanities suddenly took on a completely new meaning. Who knew that there are so many ways of making your everyday literary project look so jazzy? That also set the tone for the rest of the day. I got to know of the challenges, new horizons and ethical practices of visualizing data. The cherry on the cake was none other than the lecture on the 15th Century Book Trade. Emily (@emilydidodo) had already got me very curious about the lecture because she already knew the presenters, but listening to how the project became what it is today was intriguing, to say the least. Maybe I should change my research and become a book historian?...maybe not?
If you thought that is all I got to know, wait for the best. Day three was when the inner nerd in me was awakened. I learnt all about XML, TEI and computer vision tools. If that was not nerdy enough, I also understood how you can use digital objects in a classroom and about linked data. Now if you will excuse me I have to take a deep breath and plan my life, so that I can actually write and execute something in XML.
A week is a long time. Usually by Thursday, our energies have all been consumed and we are tired. That is for the lesser mortals, because the excited community of digital humanists were all eager and shiny eyed on Thursday to absorb more knowledge. Thursday offered more insights into Zooniverse, Hyperspectral imaging and more complex knowledge on Linked Data. The lecture on Wikidata was an eye opener and I am glad to say that I am more responsible when I extract data now. The TORCH lecture was the highlight of the week and I am sure more than one among us wanted to watch the amazing VR enhanced performance of The Tempest staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Sarah Ellis struck the perfect balance between tech and literature in her lecture and I personally missed my Shakespeare days.
The last day dawned, still as sunny as it was on Monday but with heavier hearts. It is the last day, said no one with glee, but this will be missed, said a lot of us. (Excuse my bad poetry) The final day was as intense as the first day, with insights into how to collaborate with your future self (Reproducible Research in the Humanities), designing databases and digital preservation. The super team of Merin (Merin Simi Raj), Emily and I designed a wonderful database, and also with Emily’s kind instructions mastered the art of taking a decent Selfie! If that is not the perfect end to a lovely week of lectures, I don’t know what is better!
While the final keynote asserted the importance of big data in the humanities and how texts function in different social spaces, creating intertextuality and influence, it was also the perfect wrap-up for a week full of new and exciting knowledge in digital humanities and critical insights into humanities research through digital practices.
It was a wonderful week of likeminded people, abundant sunshine, wonderful (read smashing) lunches, a liberal dose of history and mostly a week full of new and exciting avenues to improve research in the humanities.
Thank you Pip Willcox, David De Roure and the Events Team for organizing a wonderful DHOxSS 2018. Thank you Emma Stanford and Tim Dungate for convening a smooth functioning, very informative strand on Introduction to Digital Humanities. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes many dedicated individuals, passionate about not only what they do, but also about how they share the latest digital practices and critical insights in to humanities research, to get someone like me to be confident about digital practices in my own humanities research.
Alexander Chiu Smit, University of Oxford
I am about to embark on my second year of the MPhil in Classical Archaeology and my upcoming thesis project seeks to use computational simulation modelling to attempt a contribution to the study of the ancient Roman economy. I was very excited to receive one of the bursaries for the Quantitative Humanities strand, especially considering the workshop programme covered the exact technologies that I will be using in the coming months. The Summer School experience did not disappoint; it has undoubtedly helped in creating a solid grounding in the relevant theoretical frameworks and programming languages. The entire week was also good fun!
The Summer School started with Dr Victoria Van Hyning’s fascinating keynote: “We’re All in This Together” gave an overview of recent developments in the Digital Humanities, with an in-depth discussion of crowdsourcing the highlight of the talk. The introduction of projects such as AnnoTate and Shakespeare’s World, both using the popular Zooniverse platform, provided plenty of inspiration for potential uses in archaeology.
The Quantitative Humanities workshops consisted of a series of talks covering specific real-world ventures such as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and Early Modern Letters Online (EMLO). Professor De Roure drafted in speakers who were directly involved in each project, ensuring engaging and information-laden discussions. These lectures were interesting in their own right, but the real strength of the structure of the workshops was the hands-on usage of curated datasets from the featured projects. We used tools such as Gephi to visualise information, which allowed for a real insight into how we may use the available technologies in our own research.
The workshops were defined by their flexible and responsive nature. Professor De Roure’s malleable class structure predicted our specific (and changing!) requirements, thereby catering to the varying levels of technical expertise and individual research aims. He also went the extra mile by creating a file repository for us to download relevant materials and any further instructions. This not only helped during the workshops themselves, but continues to be useful now that the Summer School has ended.
The organisers also did a fantastic job in arranging the social events surrounding the workshops and lectures, which provided a platform to get to know fellow attendees and lecturers alike. I also enjoyed the excellent daily lunches at Keble’s wonderful dining hall and the various coffee breaks, giving the necessary refuelling and a chance to relax in between the very enjoyable but brain-heavy workshops! I was very thankful for the opportunity to converse with people from all over the globe and with wildly varying research interests, all of which leaving me with plenty of food for thought!
The Quantitative Humanities workshop strand was a new introduction to the Digital Humanities Summer School, which resulted in a few teething problems. I felt these were relatively minor, however, and did not detract from the overall experience. The course offered a flexible teaching approach, exchanges with peers from a wide range of disciplines, hands-on training to tackle individual problems, and fascinating lecture series. I highly recommend the course and look forward to keeping up with the organisation’s future work.
Omer Gunes, University of Oxford
From Text to Tech
As a recent graduate of the D.Phil. programme in Computer Science from Oxford University's Department of Computer Science, I have been interested into the field of digital humanities (DH) since the early days of my D.Phil. studies. The particular reason for my interest was the topic that I had been studying in my thesis. I was working in the field of natural language processing (NLP), a subproblem of artificial intelligence (AI) and NLP deals with text in any field including digital humanities. Although I have not applied it to DH directly in my thesis, I had the chance to survey the potential applications of NLP in digital humanities and also there were quite a few talks organised by Oxford e-Research Centre to some of which I had the chance to attend.
However, digital humanities has become a crucial part of my ongoing research recently after I had joined the Quill project at Pembroke College, Oxford University in January 2018. Although since January, I had the chance to attend workshops in the field and also to meet some researchers from the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH), it was my first attendance at a summer school in digital humanities.
Regarding that I would like to share my pleasure to experience the ambience. It was a very well organised event where there is an interesting talk, tutorial or event at each time. As a person who has a background in computer science, I was not aware the size and variety of the DH community is that big. Especially, the variety of the research topics made me adjust my future plans and to consider one of more of the research topics in DH to be added to my list.
First of all, I would like to share my views on the starting keynote speech given by Dr Victoria Van Hyning. Although, I had a superficial knowledge about the Zooniverse project and Dr Hyning's involvement into the project, the talk gave me the chance to deepen my knowledge. There were lots of details in her talk which were quite interesting to me to see the potential for future collaborations. The closing keynote speech by Dr Glenn Roe is also quite interesting in which he described his work on applying machine learning techniques to the historical data (18th century). Thanks to Dr Roe's talk, I have seen quite a few implementations of text processing techniques that I am very familiar with already.
In the poster session, we presented two posters on behalf of the Quill team. The first poster was on the general overview of the Quill platform. The second one which I have presented was related to the specific topic of aspect extraction on negotiated texts. Although I have been to other events at Weston library before, it was the first event that I participated as an exhibitor. I had chance to get questions, comments or feedback from quite a few visitors. I can categorise those interested in my poster into two groups: i) researchers that have textual data but do not have any resources on how to process the data, ii) researchers that apply some text processing techniques but have only a shallow understanding of the state of the art techniques in the field. It was very exciting to talk with the people from both of these profiles. Each researcher comes with a different dataset and new challenges. I realised the potential which is a great opportunity for an AI/NLP researcher.
The tutorial that I have attended is titled "From Text to Tech" given by Dr Barbara McGillivray and Dr Gard Jenset. I was the only person with a technical background among the participants and this situation gave me the opportunity to observe the challenges that the beginners face in Python programming and entry-level text processing. Sitting next to a lady from a background in history, it was good to see how tiny pieces of programming make a difference in their lives. After seeing the interest of the participants, I was aware of the potential for another tutorial session which covers more advanced text processing techniques.
In conclusion, from the beginning to the end, I managed to meet researchers from lots of different backgrounds. Each conversation, that I was involved in, provided with a new perspective through which I notified some new aspects of the problems that I am dealing with or new application areas.