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Preview: Melissa Terras' Blog

Melissa Terras' Blog



Adventures in Digital Humanities and digital cultural heritage. Plus some musings on academia.



Updated: 2017-12-05T13:38:13.031+00:00

 



New digs!

2015-07-14T11:35:07.107+01:00

After 8 years here over at blogger, its time to take my blogging a little more seriously and make sure I own the content and how it is presented: its one of these things, when you a choose a platform, that you don't know how it is going to grow, or develop, and occasionally you need to make the leap.

 I’ve been quiet from a bloggy point of view over the last few months – but behind the scenes I’ve been working hard with UCLDH’s designer at large, Rudolf Ammann, on a shiny new blog space, all of my very own, which you can peruse over at:

melissaterras.org


for all your ranty bloggy digitally culturally heritagey needs. I've decided to keep this blogger space live, to prevent link-rot, but all of the content (including comments) has been ported over to melissaterras.org and I'll post new content from now on over there. I hope to see you over at the new space, and thanks for reading.



Reuse of Digitised Content (4): Chasing an Orphan Work Through the UK's New Copyright Licensing Scheme

2015-06-14T13:58:04.433+01:00

An (award winning!) regularly updated concluded blog post in which I document trying to get a license to reuse an item for which no copyright information exists, under the UK Government's new legal framework. Diary Entry 1: Weds 29th October, 1.16am UK time.  Well, today's the day! Wednesday 29th October, the day the UK law changes to allow licenses to be granted for "orphan works" - items whose copyright owners cannot be located. This is a thorny problem - as a recent government publication explainsIf an individual wants to use a copyright work they must, with a fewexceptions, seek the permission of the creator or right holder. If the right holder – or perhaps one of a number of right holders – cannot be found, the work cannot lawfully be used. This situation benefits neither the right holder, who may miss opportunities for licensing, nor potential users of those works. This is not a situation peculiar to the UK; other countries face the same issues [source]. A new framework was announced as part of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, and has been implemented after a consultation process earlier in 2014. The UK government also introduced regulations to ensure that they comply with the EU Directive on Orphan Works. This new scheme will be administered by the UK's Intellectual Property Office. In my previous blog post I introduced a lovely orphan work, from the mid 1960s: a"lantern" interval slide tempting patrons to buy an ice lolly, used at the Odeon Cinema, Eglinton Toll, Glasgow.The image is used here with permission from the Scottish Screen Archive, National Library of Scotland. It's part of a collection of Lantern Slides, with no individual collections record. It has a small identifying note to say it was made by Morgans Slides Ltd, which is no longer trading. The Odeon cinema were contacted, but their records dont go that far back for design so they cannot prove they own copyright, but they gave me permission to use it if they do, with the caveat that a copyright owner, whom they cannot speak for, may come forward at some future date. It's an orphan.I want to adopt it, so I can use it widely, but also, to investigate how easy? hard? costly? problematic? easy? it is to get a license for orphan works under this new scheme. So let's go! This blog post will expand over time as I update on the process. I have all the data I can get on the item gathered, and am ready to roll. I contacted the IPO last week via email, and they promise that "all the relevant information on how to apply for a license and the due diligence needed will appear on the website on Wednesday morning". There's nothing up there yet (I'm on Australian time writing this, in Melbourne, and its only just past midnight in the UK)... but will check back later, come UK business hours.Diary Entry 2: Weds 29th October, 11am UK time It's online! Here we have the process and the system of how to apply for a license for an orphan work. It's an online form - I'll get cracking with it...Diary Entry 3: Weds 5th NovemberIts taken me a week to update this - not because I'm not interested, but because I'm over in Australia just now on a lecture tour, and its been a jolly whirlwind of lectures, lunches, masterclasses, flights, trains, dinners, and kangaroo spotting. Excuses excuses. I'm now in a hotel room in Sydney with a few hours spare of an evening and an actual internet connection: lets get to it.The first thing to report is that the IPO read this nascent blogpost and contacted me! The Head of Copyright Delivery, from the Intellectual Property Office, thought my blog was interesting, and we've already exchanged an email or two: they are interested in the needs of our sector, and want to assist in this. Isn't that interesting (and slightly scary - that's social media for you) - and I assured them that I wasn't doing this out of "lets see what is wrong with the process" but in the spirit of genuine exploration. The process is clearly flagged as in Beta, so lets all proceed in manner of mutual respect, and give[...]



Reuse of Digitised Content (3): Special Festive Halloween Image Give-away Edition

2014-10-22T21:49:59.245+01:00

In my first blog post about reuse of digitised content, particularly images, I suggested that institutions could think about batching up some good images, for people to take and reuse, so they could find them easily. They could also be prepared for people to reuse. But what would this mean, in reality? I decided to have a try, myself. Halloween is approaching - lets look for 5 really cute, public domain images about Halloween, and see if we can make them "more" reusable, whatever that may mean. Like this one:Isn't she handsome? An illustration tagged with witch, over at the British Library book images photoset, Flickr. Originally taken from "Life & Finding of Dr. Livingstone", 1897.But bother about all that writing, which makes it unusable on my Halloween party invitations. It would be better if there wasnt all that writing, just the image, right?Or even, make the background transparent. Ta da! take it and do with it as you like, please do.Nice, huh? and all this took me was time. An hour or so of grubbing about on flickr, an hour or so of messing around in Photoshop (I'm rusty). And as we all know, time is precious, and institutions dont have that level of time to devote to this kind of thing. Hmmm. I also wonder what I'm really doing here. Turning images into clip art? erm, yay? Is that what we mean by reuse? But why else are we making images available, if its not for people to take them and do something with them? Does this make them more "useable"? Its certainly more easy to take the image and dump it into a poster, or webpage, etc. We need to ask ourselves what we mean by use and reuse, if we cant conceptualise what that really means in the first place. But I said 5 images, right? I'm time pressed at the moment (shortly off on a big work trip), so - being honest here - I signed up for the first time to Fiverr, where you can get a myriad of small tasks done for $5, and bought some photo retouching for photos, and within an hour, I had four other Halloween images, this time from the Internet Archive Flickr Pool,  converted into black and white, with transparency too. A set of Halloween images! But Fiverr made me feel icky - even though this fixing up would be a relatively simple task for someone with better PhotoShop chops than I to do, and even though I chose someone who said they were a student in a first world country, it just seems such a small amount to pay someone. (I did try to engage them in conversation about that, and offered going hourly rate I would pay a student: they didn't reply). I am happy with the images provided, but I wouldn't advocate institutional use of this type of service if it can be avoided, something about it feels exploitative to me. It was interesting to try. (Perhaps its part of my penance that I share these images here for everyone but... shudder. Is that how we value skills now? Sorry, world. I know is the market economy, but, doesn't mean I have to pay people less than I believe a job is worth). So now what. I parked this, and a selection of others I found that I'll put at the bottom of this post, on a group over at Flickr. There's been obvious interest in them, with a total of 50 views or so in 24 hours, even though I didn't tell anyone where they were, yet. So I'll leave them up there, and take them if you like! I think they are cute. Do something, they are in the public domain! they are free! Use them at will! It only cost me time and some perhaps student's time and $5 and the electric that drives the internet and the heavy metals that are in our computers etc etc! and if you fancy telling me how you used them, on here or on twitter, that would be great, but you dont have to because its public domain! woohoo! (I may do some reverse image lookup in a while and see where they got to). This is a minor experiment - especially compared to my last blog post, which was much more of an investment in both time and money - but it goes back to what I was saying previously about the time and skill needed to use the image content a[...]



Reuse of Digitised Content (2): Here's One I Made Earlier, or, It's Lolly Time

2014-10-14T11:00:15.762+01:00

Following on from my previous post in which I bemoan how hard it is to reuse digitised content as a source for creating something, I reuse a digitised image of an item in the National Library of Scotland, discovering how tricky it is to reuse images of "orphan works", but producing something that, well, I like! After a few months of exploring digitised collections looking for A Thing to Make and Do, something caught my eye. Ironically, I found it whilst flicking through a print catalogue of an exhibition I hadn't had the chance to attend: Going to the pictures: Scotland at the cinema, which had run at the National Library of Scotland* in the summer of 2012. A quick google showed it had been digitised at least in low resolution, appearing on the website: A 1960s "lantern" interval slide tempting patrons to buy an ice lolly, used at the Odeon Cinema, Eglinton Toll, Glasgow. Image used here with permission from the Scottish Screen Archive,National Library of Scotland. [source page]Look at that! How cheerful is it? And right up my street. I kept going back to it and going... ahhhhh! But was it digitised in high enough resolution, and could I get permission to do anything with it, given it is quite clearly still in copyright?The folks at the Scottish Screen Archive, and the Intellectual Property Officer at the National Library of Scotland, couldn't have been more helpful. Yes, they had previously digitised it at high resolution (all 69MB of it), and I could get permission to use it for my own use (and to feature the image(s) here on my blog) for the princely sum of ten of your British Pounds for the license. I also contacted the Odeon: their records dont go that far back for design so they cannot prove they own copyright, but they gave me permission to use it if they do, with the caveat that a copyright owner, whom they cannot speak for, may come forward at some future date (and hey, stranger things have happened once you put things into the blogosphere, if anyone knows anything about the illustrator, please get in touch). This lantern slide is officially an "orphan work", then. This means it isn't in the public domain, and I cant reuse the high resolution image provided from the SSA willy-nilly (such as making a pattern for anyone to use with it, or giving away the source files, or putting it up on third party website such as spoonflower), under the terms of the license agreed. But it means I can use it for personal use. I'll come back to that later, but lets crack on.Getting My Make OnThe process of turning this into something was straightforward. Once I had the high res file, I spent a few hours tidying up the image, removing some scratches and marks from the slide: this is a fragile, opaque, archival item, and it's no wonder that, close up, there were some marks that may detract from print quality. Its a line to walk, though: you dont want to make it too cleaned up. It still wants to look original. Before and after, with a bit of cleaning up in PhotoShop. This resulted in a cleaned up version of the lantern slide, ready to go:It's not a huge difference from the original (and I havent put the full resolution file up here that I have, I'm not allowed to), but it just makes the whole thing a bit fresher for printing. Then it was just a case of more PhotoShop jiggery pokery, measuring up, tiling, choosing my printer (I went with BagsofLove, a UK company which seems to offer quite a range of printing: people online say that if you order from Spoonflower, a company based in the USA, import duty can really make the costs mount up for shipping to the UK).The Big RevealTa da! A pure silk scarf, with repeating motif. Cute, huh? Bagsoflove offer silk printing plus hemming, given a lot of people want silk scarves to test patterns. I got quite a large one made, and the whole thing cost £100 all in, ready to wear). And here I am wearing it! While we are talking about copyright, etc, this photo was taken by my 6 year old who has g[...]



Reuse of Digitised Content (1): So you want to reuse digital heritage content in a creative context? Good luck with that.

2014-10-06T11:54:09.401+01:00

Although there is a lot of digitised cultural heritage content online, it is still incredibly difficult to source good material to reuse in creative projects. What can institutions do to help people who want to invest their time in making and creating using digitised historical items as source material?  The Garden of Earthly Delights, repurposed over at EtsyOver the last few months I have become increasingly interested obsessed with creative reuse of digitised cultural heritage content. We live at a time when most galleries, libraries, archives and museums are digitising collections and putting them up online to increase access, with some (such as the Rijksmuseum, LACMA, The British Library, and the Internet Archive) releasing content with open licensing actively encouraging reuse.  We also live at a time where it has become increasingly easy to take digital content, repurpose it, mash it up, produce new material, and make physical items (with many commercial photographic services offering no end of digital printing possibilities, and cheaper global manufacturing opportunities at scale being assisted with internet technologies). What relationship does digitisation of cultural and heritage content have to the maker movement? Where are all the people looking at online image collections like Europeana or the book images from the Internet Archive and going... fantastic! Cousin Henry would love a teatowel of that: I'll make some xmas presents based on that lot! I'm not the only person interested in this: The British Library is currently tracking their Public Domain Reuse in the Wild, looking to see where the 1 million images they released into the public domain, and on Flickr, end up being used. At the moment, they manually maintain a list of creative projects of what people have got up to with their content. And people are using digitised stuff: pop over to a commercial fabric printing service like Spoonflower and you can see people grabbing creative commons images off Wikipedia and providing the means to print them on a whole range of materials for creative reuse. At Spoonflower, people are remixing images, providing opportunities for creative projects, designing and playing with available heritage content, using it as a design source and inspiration, although many dont quote the source of their hopefully out of copyright images used a basis for fabric design. Pop over to Etsy, and you can see (as the illustration above shows) high res images of historical art and culture turned into coasters, corsets, bangles, pillows, phone cases, jewellery, etc - and mashed up and remixed into further creations, all of which are for sale (although, again, where they got the source images from isnt usually made clear, and there are obvious copyright infringements happening in some cases). But overall, I'm left wondering why more use isn't made of online digital collections - and why we havent seen the "maker's revolution" where everyone is walking around going "this old thing? I cobbled it together from public domain images on wikimedia and had a tailor on Etsy run it up for me!" - or even see more commercial  companies start to use this content as the basis for their home and fashion collections on the high street. There are now funding programs and efforts to help try and help the exchange between the "multiple sub-sectors of the creative industries and the public infrastructure of museums, galleries, libraries, orchestras, theatres and the like" and funds for "collaboration between arts and humanities researchers and creative companies" etc etc - in this this new "impact" world, allowing reuse of your content will probably score huge brownie points - but what can institutions be doing off their own back to make sure the digitised content they spent so much time creating is used, and reused, further? I was really impressed, at DH2014, to see Quinn Dombrowski have an entire wardrobe made with fabric designed [...]



Want to be taken seriously as scholar in the humanities? Publish a monograph

2014-10-01T10:26:33.789+01:00

(This is the unedited version of a piece published yesterday over at Guardian Higher Ed.)A decade ago, in my first year as lecturer in a Humanities department, an eminent Professor helped me secure a book contract with a top university press for my recently completed doctoral thesis. Another senior colleague stopped me in the corridor: “This is very rare,” she said. “And this is what gets you ahead in this game.” The book itself is a lovely object, of which I’m still very proud (it took me four years of doctoral research, plus another two years of preparation). It only sold a few hundred copies: enough to make the press happy, and to give me annual royalties of a fiver. There is an ebook, comparable in price to the physical version, but no Open Access version. Despite little proof that it is well read, it has been cited just enough to give me another elusive point on the dreaded H-index. We don't write Humanities monographs for riches, we may do for an attempt at academic fame, but the career kickback for me was rapid promotion. In the Humanities, the monograph’s the thing.Today, the Humanities publishing landscape is, of course, changing alongside every other. We must work through the potentials and issues that digital technologies bring. With digital publishing comes the uncoupling of content from print: why should those six years of work (or more) result in only a physical book that sits on a few shelves? Why can’t the content be made available freely online via Open Access? Isn’t this the great ethical stance: making knowledge available to all? Won’t opening up access to the detailed, considered arguments held within Humanities monographs do wonders for the reputation and impact of subject areas whose contribution to society is often under-rated?Research councils are prescribing Open Access requirements for outputs which will be submittable in the next REF, and there are now nods towards monographs being included in those requirements at some elusive point in the future. The Humanities’ dependency on the monograph for the shaping and sharing of scholarship means thatscholars, and publishers, should be paying attention.  How will small-print runs of expensive books fare in this new “content should be available for free” marketplace? How will production costs be recouped? Predatory models are already emerging, with established presses offering Open Access monographs alongside the print version for an all inclusive £10,000 charge to offset a presumed (but not proven) fall in revenue: out of the reach for most individual academics, or many institutions. I certainly couldn't have afforded those costs, a junior academic fresh out of the doctoral pod, with student debt hanging around my neck. The latest JISC survey on the attitudes of academics in the Humanities and Social Sciences to Open Access monograph publishing makes an interesting contribution to this debate, showing how central single author monographs still are to the Humanities, and how important the physical – rather than digital – copies are. People still like to read, and in many cases buy, them. The survey suggests monographs are fairly easy to access even in physical form (inter-library loan, anyone?). Open Access is welcomed, and is seen to increase readership, but the physical object is still central to the consideration of the monograph: something which should allay fears of publishers wondering how any change in the REF requirement will affect their bottom line.  The most difficult problem seems to be securing a book contract in the first place, whether that has an Open Access option or not: the survey clearly shows that ECRs need help and guidance to do so. Will I publish another monograph without an associated Open Access version? No, but getting published in the first place is the important thing. What advice do I have for early career researchers looking to publish their doctora[...]



Inaugural Lecture: A Decade in Digital Humanities

2014-06-09T12:54:58.529+01:00

This is the crux of what I planned to say - or hoped to say! at my professorial inaugural lecture at UCL on the 27th May 2014. I'm not one for reading off a script though, so may have deviated, hesitated, or expanded on the night. A video of my talk on the night is now available. No I haven't watched it myself!I decided to call my inaugural lecture "A Decade in Digital Humanities" for three reasons.1. The term Digital Humanities has been commonly used to describe the application of computational methods in the arts and humanities for 10 years, since the publication, in 2004, of the Companion to Digital Humanities. "Digital Humanities" was quickly picked up by the academic community as a catch-all, big tent name for a range of activities in computing, the arts, and culture.  A decade on from the publication of this text, I thought it would be useful to reflect on the growth, spread, and changes that had occurred in our discipline, and my place within them.2. This year sees me in my 10th year of being in an academic post. I joined UCL in August 2003, my first academic post after obtaining my doctorate, and since then have worked my way up the ranks from probationary lecturer, to senior lecturer, to reader, and now full professor. The professorial lecture gives me a rare chance to pause and look behind me to see what the body of work built up over this time represents, and what it means to be undertaking research in this area.3. You'll have to wait for later in the lecture to see the third reason...Who here would be comfortable defining what is meant by the term Digital Humanities? In this, the week of UCL Festival of the Arts, celebrating all things to do with the Arts and Humanities, let's go back to first principles. In UCLDH and 4Humanities' award winning infographic "The Humanities Matter" we defined the humanities as "academic disciplines that seek to understand and interpret the human experience, from individuals to entire cultures, engaging in the discovery, preservation, and communication of the past and present record to enable a deeper understanding of contemporary society." It stands to reason, then, that the Digital Humanities are computational methods that are trying to understand what it means to be human, in both our past and present society. But it may be easier if I give some brief examples to demonstrate the kind of work we Digital Humanists get up to.One of the easiest things we can do with computers is count things. For data to be computationally manipulated, it has to be in numeric form. If we can get text into a computational form, we can easily count and manipulate the language, showing trends across time. For example, if we take a million words of conference abstracts from my discipline from the ALLC/ACH conference across various years, we can easily see how mentions of one technology (XML) becomes more popular, while another (SGML) is in decline. Much of the work in DH is in manipulating and processing and analysing text - our iOS app Textal is just part of that trajectory. Much of my work, though, has been in digital images, starting with developing systems to try and read damaged documents from Hadrian's wall, and more recently working on multispectral and 3D manipulation of damaged texts. We've also worked with museums on large scale 3D capture of cultural and heritage objects. The important thing about all of this is that as well as implementation, we're also interested in use and usage of these technologies, and what impact that they have on those working in culture and heritage, and the ability to study the past and present human record. We often innovate new systems, or adopt concepts and apply them to humanities projects, such as the crowdsourcing of Jeremy Bentham's handwriting by volunteers, or working with visitors to the Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL to encourage debate about zoological collections. We build, we test, w[...]



Roy Wisbey, and Literary and Linguistic Computing, 1965 style

2014-05-24T15:42:24.085+01:00



I recently got in touch with Professor Roy Wisbey, who set up the University of Cambridge's Linguistic Computing Centre in 1960, to invite him to my inaugural lecture. He is not able to attend (but passes on his regards to those who know him!) and he also briefly loaned me this newspaper article, from 24th September 1965, from the Cambridge News. A very early piece of Humanities Computing history! It's in very fragile condition - I've spliced it together here to give the whole piece in one image (and the blog stylesheet is not my friend here - will sort out later - but...) - enjoy!

The use of computers will save the scholar years of mindless drudgery! indeed!







Siberian Digital Humanities Adventure

2014-05-16T17:02:05.621+01:00

The Siberian Federal UniversityGreetings from Krasnoyark, Siberia, where for the past week I've been hanging out at the Siberian Federal University, the largest university in the Siberian region, which is in the top rankings in Russia. I've been giving some guest lectures on digital humanities, meeting various staff and students, and plotting with them on how to support their work and how to make connections to the wider digital humanities community.How did I end up here? Its all down to the wonderful Inna Kizhner who approached me nearly two years ago, in my guise then as secretary of what is now the European Association for Digital Humanities. After helping source some teaching materials, in English and Russian, for their taught courses, Inna remarked to me "no-one ever comes to Siberia..." and I immediately said "ask me!". And finally, after much preparation, here I am.Siberian Federal University are establishing a solid Digital Humanities presence. In the Institute of Humanities they currently offer digital humanities modules at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, and also an undergraduate module in the subject area of digital history (which next year will be taught by Inna). They have a digital lab (door sign, above!)  and digitisation lab. They have a range of projects they have been working on with both researchers and students, many of them led by Maxim Rumyantsev who is now the university's deputy head, so there is positive institutional support here. These projects are mostly in the area of multimedia and digitisation. For example, working with the Museum of Geology of Central Siberia to create the simply stunning companion to their minerals collection (it is no easy task to capture minerals in this detail, at this quality); capturing, virtually exploring,  and explaining regional heritage architecture (which is fast disappearing under new developments in this region) from the nearby town of Yeniseisk, documenting regional art shows and youth art shows; capturing high resolution images of the art contained within the Surikov Museum (life size copies of which adorn the university's walls at every turn); working with Gigapan capture methods and the State Russian Museum to create zoomable images of large art works (can you spot Pushkin?); and creating an interactive model of the Siberian Federal University campus itself. They are keen, now, to be making connections with others across the world, and I'm delighted to be helping them, and introducing them to various figures, and associations, in Digital Humanities. There is much work to be done, we have plans set out, and they are keen to make new relationships and new collaborations. Its not all been work! I've been welcomed into colleagues' homes for meals (often meeting their families), treated at friendly restaurants (the food is wonderful), and toured round museums and supermarkets (Inna patiently put up with me pointing and exclaiming at various products we dont have in the UK, such as dried fish, and tinned horse). Today we went to the Krasnoyarsk Dam, 30km upstream from the city, on a glorious spring day which showed off this remarkable feat of engineering (which is so exceptional it features on banknotes across Russia). There is a heavy security presence, and no photos allowed, but I did manage this sneaky selfie...It's been a fantastic, trip, and I've been very welcome here. Thanks to Inna, Maxim and Marina for their hospitality, and I look forward to further opportunities, visits and introducing anyone who wants to be introduced (if I can be of help, drop me an email and I will forward it on). I have to admit I was nervous about my trip here - but instead of stress I've found friendly connections, and much opportunity to help further establish DH in this region, and throughout Russia. Now to pack, and begin the long trip h[...]



Digitisation's Most Wanted

2014-05-23T09:07:16.559+01:00

What are the most commonly accessed digitised items from heritage organisations? Even asking the question leads to further understanding about the current digitisation landscape.Have you seen this Dog? Last spotted on the Flickr account of the National Library of Wales. Dog with a Pipe in Its Mouth, Taken by P. B. Abery, 1940s. Last month, at a meeting at the National Library of Scotland, an interesting fact flew by me. The NLS has hundreds of thousands of digitised items online, so what do you think is the most popular, and most regularly accessed and/or downloaded? (it is difficult to make the distinction regarding accessed or downloaded on most sites.) Is it the original Robert Burns material? The last letter of Mary Queen of Scots? or any of the 86,000 maps held in this, one of the best map collections worldwide? No. It is "A grammar and dictionary of the Malay language : with a preliminary dissertation" by John Crawfurd, published in 1852. This is accessed by hundreds of people every month - mostly from Malaysia, partly because it is featured on many product pages providing definitions of malaysian words - demonstrating the surprising reach and potential in digitising items and then making them freely available online, reaching out to a worldwide audience far beyond the geographical local of the library itself. Wonderful.This left me pondering... what are the other most downloaded items at major institutions in the UK? So I sent out some feelers, and here are the results, demonstrating both the hidden complexity of the question, and the relationship of digitised heritage content to the current online audience landscape. At Cambridge University Library, the most accessed collection overall is the Newton Papers, which was the first major digitised collection launched by the Library in 2010, and promoted widely. Within that, there is one particular notebook (which Newton acquired while he was an undergraduate at Trinity College and used from about 1661 to 1665 for his lecture notes) which is the most popular, featuring heavily in the initial promotion of the collection, and also in an In Our Time special series hosted my Melvyn Bragg on Radio 4.  But within that notebook there is one page that is accessed more than the others, with most of the traffic coming from Greece. Why? This page was picked up in the Greek press and pointed to on many websites, blogs, newspaper reports, and in social media as evidence that Newton knew Greek. The links that remain still direct thousands of users to view Newton's jottings from his Greek lessons at the front of the book, showing the fascinating relationship between publicity, social media, linkage, and an item which reflects national pride, to a worldwide audience.The most downloaded items at Cambridge also reflect the rapidly changing mentions of items on social media: in April 2014, an item downloaded/accessed more than 6000 times was the Breviary of Marie de Saint Pol, which went live this month. Why the sudden notice? On the 3rd of April, one of the Cambridge colleges with thousands of followers posted a link to it on Facebook followed by the Cambridge Digital Library Facebook and Twitter feed on the 4th of April. Retweeted a few times, these few postings led to the thousands of views of the document, demonstrating the growing importance of using social media to tell people about newly mounted digitised content.Over at Trinity College Library, the most accessed item from their digital collection in general is the Book of Kells,  which again was their first major digitised item, heavily promoted in the press, and attracting a level of viewing that is unique due to general tourism and cultural heritage interest. The second most accessed digitised item is the surprise: a book of Lute music by William Ballet, from the 17th Century[...]



Inaugural Preparations

2014-04-24T11:25:55.181+01:00

So, my inaugural lecture is coming up in a few weeks, and I'm starting to write it now, nervously... The event has already sold out, but will be streamed online live, and there is also another lecture theatre at UCL that it will be shown live in (The Terras Terrace?).  Dr Rudolf Ammann, UCLDH's designer at large, has kindly provided some visuals for me... here's the promotional flyer.

I plan to write the lecture out long hand once it is done, and of course, you will be the first to know about it (after I've given it...)







Making it Free, Making it Open - Transcribe Bentham, publications, and unexpected benefits

2014-02-27T12:06:14.458+00:00

A few years ago I made a commitment to Open Access - in an attempt to reach a wider audience for my academic work, and to tell people about research as it was happening (not three of four years later once it was locked behind a paywalled journal). I'm really pleased to have something new to talk about once again, and this time I can share it with you before it even comes out in print. Allied to this are a few spin offs from the project in question - Transcribe Bentham, which aims to make the work of the the philosopher and reformer, Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832) available via a double award-winning collaborative transcription initiative, which is digitising and making available digital images of Bentham’s unpublished manuscripts through a platform known as the ‘Transcription Desk‘. There, you can access the material and—just as importantly—transcribe the material, to help the work of UCL’s Bentham Project, and further improve access to, and searchability of, this enormously important collection of historical and philosophical material. [Link]First, the article: a pre-publication version which will be published in April in a special issue of the International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing, from Edinburgh University Press. In it, Tim Causer and myself talk about crowdsourcing transcriptions of Bentham's writings, the impact of Transcribe Bentham on the work of the Bentham Project, and the use of volunteers to help us with tasks traditionally associated with lone academic researchers. We give particular examples of new Bentham material transcribed by volunteers dealing with the subjects of political economy, animal welfare, and convict transportation and the history of early New South Wales, which has further clarified and widened our understanding of certain aspects of Bentham’s thought. You can go and get it here: Causer, T. and Terras, M. M. (2014) "Crowdsourcing Bentham: beyond the traditional boundaries of academic history". International Journal of Humanities and Arts Computing, 8 (1) (In press). Link to PDF version in UCL Repository. I'm pleased it is up there quickly, and openly, and free for all to see. Its one of the aims of the Transcribe Bentham project, of which I am only a small cog, to make Bentham's writings more well known, accessible, and searchable, over the long term. Allied to that is the ethos in involving a wider group of society in contributing to the project - this is about "co-creation" (as it gets called in Gallery, Library, Archive, and Museum (GLAM) circles) rather than academic broadcast. It would make no sense for us to take the product of something developed in online crowdsourcing, and lock it back in the academic ivory tower, given we asked for help to understand and find the material in the first place. We're finding our way with how to credit transcribers along the way (some of them are named in the article above, and we did ask their permission to do so) and to carry out crowdsourcing in as ethical a way as possible (something which is also of concern to others figuring out crowdsourcing in GLAM as we go). All in all, open access here is part of the Transcribe Bentham product: make it free, make it open. And future doors line up ahead of us to walk through. This week we hit over 7000 manuscripts transcribed via the Transcription Desk, and a few months ago we passed the 3 million words of transcribed material mark. So we now have a body of digital material with which to work, and make available, and to a certain extent play with. We're pursuing various research aims here - from both a Digital Humanities side, and a Bentham studies side, and a Library side, and  Publishing side. We're working on making canonical versions of all images and transcrib[...]



Male, Mad and Muddleheaded: Academics in Children's Picture Books

2014-02-05T11:49:11.468+00:00

Academics in children's picture books tend to be elderly, old men, who work in science, called Professor SomethingDumb. Why does this matter? Like many academics, I love books. Like many book-loving parents, I'm keen to share that love with my young children. Two years ago, I chanced upon two different professors in children's books, in quick succession. Wouldn't it be a fun project, I thought, to see how academics, and universities, appear in children's illustrated books? This would function both as an excuse to buy more books (we do live in a golden age of second hand books, cheaply delivered to your front door) and to explain to my kids - now five and a half, and twins of three - what Mummy Actually Does.It turns out it's hard to search just for children's books, and picture books, in library catalogues, but I combed through various electronic library resources, as well as Amazon, eBay, LibraryThing, and Abe, to dig up source material. I began to obsessively search the bookshelves of kids books in friend's houses, and doctors and dentist and hospital waiting rooms, whilst also keeping on the look out on our regular visits to our local library: often academics appear in books without being named in the title, so dont turn up easily via electronic searches. Parking my finds on a devoted Tumblr which was shared on social media, friends, family members, and total strangers tweeted, facebooked, and emailed me to suggest additions. People sidled up to me after invited guest lectures to whisper "I have a good professor for you..." Two years on, I've no doubt still not found all of the possible candidates, but new finds in my source material are becoming less frequent. 101 books (or individual books from a series*) and 108 academics, and a few specific mentions of university architecture and systems later, its time to look at what results from a survey of the representation of academics and academia in children's picture books. What are academics in children's books like? The 108 academics found consist of 76 Professors, 21 Academic Doctors, 2 Students, 2 Lecturers, 1 Assistant Professor, 1 Child, 1 Astronomer, 1 Geographer, 1 Medical Doctor who undertakes research, 1 researcher, and 1 lab assistant. In general, the Academic Doctors tend to be crazy mad evil egotists ("It's Dr Frankensteiner - the maddest mad scientist on mercury!"), whilst the Professors tend to be kindly, but baffled, obsessive egg-heads who dont quite function normally. The academics are mostly (old, white) males. Out of the 108 found, only 9 are female: 90% of the identified academics are male, 8% are female, and 2% have no identifiable gender (there are therefore much fewer women in this cohort than in reality, where it is estimated that one third of senior research posts are occupied by women).  They are also nearly all caucasian: only two of those identified are people of colour: one Professor, and one child who is so smart he is called The Prof: both are male: this is scarily close to the recent statistic that only 0.4% of the UK professoriat are black. 43% of those found in this corpus are are elderly men, 33% are middle aged (comprising of 27% male and 6% female, there are no elderly female professors, as they are all middle age or younger). The women are so lacking that the denoument of one whodunnit/ solve the mystery/ choose your own adventure book for slightly older children is that the professor they have been talking about was actually a woman, and you didn't see that coming, did you? Ha!The earliest published academic in a children's book found was in 1922 (although its probable that the real craze for featuring baffled old men came after the success of Professor Branestawm, which was a major interna[...]



I'm not going to edit your £10,000 pay-to-open-access-publish monograph series for you

2013-11-28T12:09:56.660+00:00

Over the last three or four months, I’ve been talking with an academic publisher – one of the big names that most people have heard of – who approached me to talk about launching a series in Digital Humanities. Now, Digital Humanities is quite fashionable at the moment, with many presses launching books and series about digital arts, culture, humanities and heritage, but goodness knows there is a need for a series that would publish only academic monographs in the area, rather than text books like this and this. I’ve been enjoying talking through the issues of publication with the press in question, and I asked Bethany Nowviskie to join me as co-editor, hoping to work together and thinking about how we could do something that suits our academic neck of the woods: offering good digital as well as print content, and tackling the open access monograph issue in as brave a way as possible, committing to delivering a high quality print publication that would also be available in open access too.Last week they emailed me with their new company policy on open access. They are fully committed to offering high quality open access versions of their high quality academic books. But to produce open access versions, authors would be required to pay £10,000 (with applicable taxes added on top) to cover the “number of costs” that are involved to “produce” these titles. I believe – at a time where rumours are flying that the next Research Excellent Framework will require all submissions to be available in open access, including monographs (although, please see later update at the end of the post about this) – that placing a £10,000 cost-to-publish fee onto monographs is iniquitous and will exclude many, if not most, early career scholars in the humanities from publishing their books in open access, as well as excluding any academic who is not at a very rich institution who has the resources to meet this publisher’s ransom demand. (There's an excellent blog post by Mercedes Bunz which demonstrates this very point).  This will have deleterious effects on humanities academic career progression, as the monograph is still seen to be the proof of academic excellence (even if “just print” will no longer “count”.) I believe that this stance by publishers to place the costs of publishing open access monographs onto humanities academics (in particular) is perfidious, and the only way we can counteract it is to stop engaging with presses who behave in this manner, refusing to submit manuscripts to them, but also, refusing to peer review manuscripts for them, and refusing to edit manuscripts – or a series of manuscripts - for them.So I'm not going to edit their £10,000 pay-to-open-access-publish monograph series. And here is my reply to them. I’m not sure about the legalities of talking about this, so I have stripped out any identifying information regarding the individual publisher to safeguard myself. I would very much welcome your comments. Dear (doesn’t matter which particular publisher, this could be directed to the whole shower of those who are asking for £10,000 for pay to open access publish a humanities monograph). I understand that you are operating in a world where traditional publishing mechanisms and relationships have been turned on their heads. I understand that you have revenues to make to cover your costs, and profits to report to shareholders. I understand that, given a lot of authors from now on will have to provide open access versions of their research, you see this as an opportunity to further extend your profits. But I cannot understand the maths involved in calculating that it will cost £10,000 to turn a ready-for-print PDF proof in[...]



For Ada Lovelace Day – Father Busa’s Female Punch Card Operatives

2013-10-23T15:19:54.070+01:00

15th October 2013 is Ada Lovelace Day – the annual celebration of women in science, technology, engineering and maths, named after Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer.  Working with Charles Babbage in 1840, Lovelace understood the significance of his Analytical Engine (a machine that can conduct a number of different functions, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) and its implications for computational method. She saw that via the punched card input device the Analytical Engine opened up a whole new opportunity for designing machines that could manipulate symbols rather than just numbers. Lovelace attempted to draw together romanticism and rationality to create a ‘poetical science’ that allowed mathematics and computing to explore the world around us, recognizing the potential for a move away from pure calculation to computation, and possessing a vision that foretold how computing could be used in creative areas such as music and literature.It seems apposite on Ada Lovelace day to look at some female punchcard operators from the very first days of available electronic computation, working on one of the first "poetical science" projects in "Humanities Computing". From 1949, an Italian Jesuit priest called Father Roberto Busa (November 13, 1913 – August 9, 2011) pioneered the use of computing for linguistic and literary analysis, teaming up with IBM to produce an index of the works of St Thomas Aquinas. Thomas Aquinas wrote some 9 million words of medieval Latin, and so Busa’s project to index his works via computational methods took over 30 years, being one of the earliest and most ambitious projects in the field which is now called Digital Humanities.  To produce an index, the works of St Thomas Aquinas had to be encoded onto punchcards, and Marco Passarotti, from the CIRCSE Research Centre, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, Italy (where the Index Thomisticus Treebank project is hosted), explains how this happened: Once, I was told by father Busa that he was used to choose young women for punching cards on purpose, because they were more careful than men. Further, he chose women who did not know Latin, because the quality of their work was higher than that of those who knew it (the latter felt more secure while typing the texts of Thomas Aquinas and, so, less careful). These women were working on the Index Thomisticus, punching the texts on cards provided by IBM. Busa had created a kind of "school for punching cards" in Gallarate. That work experience gave these women a professionally transferable and documented skill attested to by Father Busa himself.Update! (23/1013): We now know the name of the woman top left: Livia Canestraro. She also appears in many of the pictures below. Livia CanestraroLivia Canestraro, above and below.Update! (23/1013): We now know the name of the woman back left: Rosetta Rossi Bertolli. Livia Canestraro is bottom right, and below. Update! (23/1013): We now know the name of the woman second from the left: Gisa Crosta.These previously unpublished images come from the archive of Father Busa and date from the late 1950s and early 1960s. Taken in Gallarate, Italy, they show the ranks of women involved in encoding and checking the punchcard content of Thomas Aquinas’ works. The women can also be seen demonstrating the technologies to visiting dignitaries, and overseeing the loading of the punchcards into the mainframe. We don’t know the names of these women: further research and enquiries are ongoing to try to establish their identities, and their role in the project. However, it shouldn’t be that surprising to us that women were so important in Father Bus[...]



Digital Humanities in works of literature?

2013-07-23T18:18:44.596+01:00

This post finds me jetlagged and happily worn out after my trip over the pond to the Social, Digital, Scholarly Editing conference in Saskatoon, followed in quick succession by Digital Humanities 2013 in Lincoln, Nebraska. 10 days, 6 flights, 2 countries, 2 conferences, 2 papers, 1 panel session, 2 chaired meetings and 3 posters later, I made my way home yesterday and decided not to work on the plane home (shock! horror!) but to treat myself to a nice novel. I picked up "Her Fearful Symmetry" by Audrey Niffenegger, and happily battered through it whilst airbourne - laughing to myself when the following paragraphs emerged...Martin shook his head... "I used to work at the British Museum, translating ancient and classical languages. But now I work from home".Julia smiled. "So they bring the Rosetta Stone and all that here to you?"..."No, no. I don't often need the actual objects. They take photographs and make drawings - I use those. It's all become so much easier now everything is digital. I suppose someday they'll just wave the objects over the computer and it will sing the translation in Gregorian chant.  But in the meantime they still need somebody like me to work it out." Martin paused, then said, rather shyly, "Do you like crossword puzzles?"  (Niffenegger, A.  (2009). Her Fearful Symmetry, p. 129.  Scribner, New York.)Later on in the book - set in and around Highgate Cemetry in London - the following is also said: "Perhaps we ought to make another sign to post at the gate," said James. "All uncertain grave owners please present yourselves during office hours when the staff can attend to your very time-consuming requests"."We want to help them," said Jessica. "But they must call ahead. These people who pitch up on the cemetery's doorstep wanting us to do a grave search while they wait - it's beyond anything.""They think the records are digitised," Robert said.Jessica laughed.  "Ten years from now, perhaps. Evelyn and Paul are typing in the burial records as fast as their fingers can fly, but with one hundred and sixty-nine thousand entries -""I know."Its not the first time I've seen digital humanities/ digitisation creep into fiction - I remember some ludicrous database in Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code* - but it did make me think, people are starting to notice the kind of things we've been working on for (in my case) over a decade. It's great to see something that so relates to my doctoral work and published texts pop up in a work of fiction. Heck, the people at US immigration who ask you what you do when you say you are going to a conference might even understand what "Digital Humanities" means next! Maybe not. Anyone else stumble across mentions of computing, culture, humanities and heritage in fiction? If so, I might feel another Tumblr coming on. Uh-oh... * I dont have a copy of the Da Vinci Code, but the internet has provided an illegal online version, I copy the scene here. First one to send me a cease and desist and ask me to take it down wins. She glanced at her guests. "What is this? Some kind of Harvard scavenger hunt?" Langdon's laugh sounded forced. "Yeah, something like that." Gettum paused, feeling she was not getting the whole story. Nonetheless, she felt intrigued and found herself pondering the verse carefully. "According to this rhyme, a knight did something that incurred displeasure with God, and yet a Pope was kind enough to bury him in London."Langdon nodded. "Does it ring any bells?"Gettum moved toward one of the workstations. "Not offhand, but let's see what we can pull up in the database."Over the past two decades, King's College Research Institute in Systema[...]



On Changing the Rules of Digital Humanities from the Inside

2013-05-28T13:05:42.967+01:00

There has been a lot of talk recently about how my field – Digital Humanities – has to change. We are too insular. We’re excluding those who want to partake in it. The structures that have been built within the discipline preclude the type and means of research which we claim to do.  Issues of gender, race, ethnicity, and class raise their heads. There are a few online resources that exist which sum up these feelings: see “Toward an Open DigitalHumanities” google discussion document and, more recently, the Open Thread on “The Digital Humanities as a Historical“Refuge” from Race/Class/Gender/Sexuality/Disability?” over at Postcolonial Digital Humanities. I’m not denying that there are issues in Digital Humanities. One need only look at the recently published program for DH2013 and cast your eye over the authorship of the accepted papers to see that this year’s Digital Humanities presenting cohort is around 65% male, 35% female. But what I would say, speaking on a personal level and not representing any authority here, is an obvious point which I don’t hear often voiced. Most people “within” Digital Humanities – that is those within the ADHO committee structures, those helping to run the conferences, those helping to allocate student bursaries and prizes, those helping to review papers and manuscripts, and heck, even the cool kids on twitter, are people who want Digital Humanities to be as open and as great as possible. This whole field has been built on the hard work of many academics who have given up their free time to try and entrench the use of computing in humanistic study into an academic field of enquiry, and it wouldn't exist without them, even if the form it exists in is currently imperfect. I would say, from where I sit on various committees, that people want to keep DH growing, and growing healthily. So if there are things wrong with DH, then do give concrete examples, or propose concrete solutions, so they can be taken forward. They're listening - we're listening. There are things that have really frustrated me within DH, and it is only recently that I’ve started to actively question and pursue them, to get them to be changed. For example, in 2006 I first noticed that the TEI guidelines encouraged the use of ISO5218:2004 to assign sexuality of persons in a document (with attributes being given as 1 for male, 2 for female, 9 for non-applicable, and 0 for unknown). I find this an outmoded and problematic representation of sexuality, which in particular formally assigns women to be secondary to men, and so, in one of the core guidelines in Digital Humanities, we allow and indeed encourage sexist structures to be encoded. I was shocked to hear this – and have often brought it up when discussing entrenched issues in DH about gender balance. In a recent conversation on twitter about this topic, Stephen Ramsay summed up the issue: James Cummingsresponded to our tweets, asking why, if it bothered me (and others) so much, hadn’t anyone submitted a feature request to TEI about it? And you know, it had never occurred to me that there would be an easy route to question this sort of stuff. He pointed me to where to submit a request, which I did here.  The discussion which follows is really very interesting – look out for the “you cant possibly be offended!” argument, or the “but we’ve always done it this way!” response. Also look out for very vocal support from Gabriel Bodard, in particular, who helped steer the discussion forward to ensure that at“the TEI Council meeting in Brown, 2013-04, we agreed to change the datatype of person/[...]



On Throwing Your Klout Around

2013-05-27T14:54:37.461+01:00

I am @melissaterras. I have just shy of 4500 followers on twitter, a blog which garnered 100,000 readers last year, and a current Klout score of 64. I tend to take this kind of thing with a grain of salt: I hang out on social media because I enjoy it and it has also proved useful and beneficial to my career. I’m aware I’m not Justin Bieber and that my stats – while above average - are not particularly big shakes.  But over the past few weeks a few things have happened which have made me think about digital identity, responsibility, and where academic use of social media crosses into the “real life” arena. Case 1. I travel a lot with work, usually using Opodo to book tickets. A few weeks ago I found myself locked out of “My Opodo” and couldn’t access it to check itineraries, tickets, or print boarding passes, etc.  I tried getting in touch with customer services, spending hours on the phone, emailing, tweeting and asking for help. Nothing. With an upcoming trip, and growing frustration (spending an hour on hold to Opodo is never in the plan of my day) I posted a few disgruntled tweets about their shocking customer service, which, retweeted by some followers, had the potential to reach over 10,000 users within a matter of minutes. My mobile rang. Opodo – a firm reknowned for not answering customer complaints in a timely fashion- had phoned me to help resolve the problem.I’ve seen it reported that Klout scores andtwitter follower counts are now being paid attention by customer services, but while I can provide various concrete examples of why having a digital profile has helped my academic career, this is the first time I can point to something which has actually helped resolve an issue I have had with a commercial entity. I’m simultaneously aghast that it would take an above average twitter following to help you get on a departing flight, and relieved that it helped me to get an increasing pressing travel issue sorted out.  What about those not-so-valued customers that didn’t manage to get the issue resolved in time? Case 2 is where I now am aware that writing something online could cost a local business tens of thousands of pounds in business. I’m not happy with the project management company who looked after a build at our home, as the ceiling is now leaking, and they are ignoring any enquiries we are making to help have this sorted.  It would be easy for me to name them here, linking to their website, and within a couple of days if you googled for them my blog post would appear above their own website in the rankings, due to the fact that my blog is tapped into more existing networks than theirs. It would seem that, at the moment, the easiest tool at my disposal to use is my digital identity. Indeed, it is probably the only leverage I have to stop the growing discolouration of our new dining room ceiling. But that makes me uneasy, as I know how difficult it would be for them to claw back in a negative customer comment once it has been broadcast online, and we are happy in general with our build and are sure this is a minor issue to resolve. Should I be throwing my klout around, if it will negatively affect others in the long term?  I’m left thinking of the increasingly intertwined nature of customer service, digital presence, and moral responsibility. Whilst I was playing at this, this stuff got real. [...]



What People Study When They Study Twitter

2013-05-09T12:57:20.329+01:00

So, keeping good to my Open Access promises - my latest co-authored paper to go up in preprint, which will be out in print sometime this year in the Journal of Documentation - hot off the presses! Just as it goes up in preprint behind a paywall on the journal pages! is a jointly authored paper with Shirley Williams, from the University of Reading, and Claire Warwick, from UCLDIS. And here it is:

Williams, S and Terras, M and Warwick, C (2013) "What people study when they study Twitter: Classifying Twitter related academic papers". Journal of Documentation , 69 (3). Free PDF Download From UCL repository.

In this paper, we identify the 1161 academic papers that were published about Twitter between 2007 (when the first papers on Twitter appeared) and the close of 2011. We then analyse method, subject, and approach, to show what people are doing (or have been publishing!) on the use of Twitter in academic studies, providing a framework within which researchers studying the development and use of twitter as a source of data will be able to position their work. Oh, we also provide the list of the papers we found, so you can have a look-see yourself.


And the story behind this one? Shirley was introduced to Claire and myself by the late (and much missed) Prof. Mark Baker at Reading, when we undertook the Linksphere project.  Now, I've written about Linksphere elsewhere - it was an ambitious project which really didnt take off due to a variety of factors - but the good things to come out of it were our RA, Claire Ross, and meeting Shirley. We published a paper on the use of twitter by academics at conferences when the Linksphere project was going. A year or so after the project finished, Shirley was granted a research sabbatical, and asked Claire and I if we would be interested in carrying on that work with her. Kicking around a few ideas, we wondered whether it would be possible to round up all the published work on Twitter - what are people using it for? And then to analyse it, to see if we can classify how people are using it, what the datasets are, what the methods are, and what the domains are. Wouldnt it be nice to have a bibliography on the use of twitter in research papers? And so away Shirley went, working with Claire and I, and building up this nice framework in which we can look at twitter based research.

The paper was accepted into the Journal of Documentation last summer, and this month went up in preprint at the Journal of Documentation website, and is now out in Open Access from UCL's research repository, before it even hits the Library shelves. Which is how it should be, non?



Changes at UCLDH

2013-04-15T14:52:26.827+01:00

We’re going into our fourth year at UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, and there have been quite a few changes along the way. Since the centre was founded under the direction of Professor Claire Warwick, Claire has also taken on Head of Department in UCL Department of Information Studies, as well as Vice Dean of Research for the Arts and Humanities faculty. Over the past year, Claire and I have been co-directing the centre. I’m pleased, proud, and a little bit nervous to say that from now on I’ll be taking on full operational duties as Director of UCLDH, still working closely with Claire, who remains committed to Digital Humanities as a subject, and UCLDH in particular. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Claire for her continued input into UCLDH – and I look forward to working with her in this slightly different capacity over the next few years, as well as the rest of the team at UCLDH, and putting my efforts into building up UCLDH even further after its great start.

Onwards! 



How Many Digital Humanists does it take to change a lightbulb?

2013-04-08T21:01:27.203+01:00

Q. How many Digital Humanists does it take to change a lightbulb?A. Two: The first to change the lightbulb using the available, existing technology. The second to say “You’re not DH unless you make the lightbulb yourself!”.Q. How many Digital Humanists does it take to change a lightbulb?A. Yay! Lets Crowdsource!Q. How many Digital Humanists does it take to change a lightbulb?A. One. But they have to have a PhD in Byzantine Sigillography AND at least 4 years experience of XSLT before you are going to let them near that bad boy.Q. How many Digital Humanists does it take to change a lightbulb?A. As many as you like, but no REAL humanities academic is going to trust that lightsource.Q. How many Digital Humanists does it take to change a lightbulb?A. It depends. Does the lightbulb count as a “scholarly primitive”?Q. How many Digital Humanists does it take to change a lightbulb?A. One. But only if they are allowed to include “multimedia experience” in their tenure portfolio. Q. How many Digital Humanists does it take to change a lightbulb? A. These are such IN JOKES only the COOL KIDS on twitter will get them. Pout. (I originally came up with these jokes on the DayofDH2011 - reposting them here on the DayofDH2013 to have a copy on my own blog.) [...]



This is not a blog post

2013-04-08T20:55:22.660+01:00

(This is the blog post I've put up on the Day of DH site - where Digital Humanists all over the world are telling people what they are up to on a specific day. Me, I'm working hard in a different way, on holiday).  This Day of DH sees me not doing much DH at all… but yet. I’m on holiday, on the second week of the school easter break, with my three young boys, in Scotland, staying with family. I wasn’t going to blog anything at all – but then, hey, this is part of my life as a DHer too, right? Its not just about the work, its about what you do elsewhere? But can you actually switch off from DH, from work, when you are away?– at least, it seems not that way if you are an academic.So what did we get up to today? Not a bad night, up only three times (two night terrors and one sea shanty) and then woken early to a boy shouting “Mummy! Robot! Monkey!” repeatedly. A slow walk to the shop for papers and sweeties, some playing with watering cans, a trip to a garden centre to meet an old friend and her kid for coffee, a visit from my Aunt. The endless cleaning and tidying and management of stuff which comes with having three small people, roll calls to ensure people have their shoes and their stuffed animals from one stop to the next. Highlights included driving alongside a wind farm for a mile or so and the boys shouting “BIG. WINDMILLS! BIG. WINDMILLS!” – lowlights include turning my back for two minutes and seeing Twin Two up 8 feet in the air on something he shouldn’t be climbing on in the garden centre – tuts from other parents in the vicinity very forthcoming.Its not like I haven’t thought about work. I find it very difficult to switch off when on holiday – it takes me about a week to stop sending myself emails reminding me to do X, Y, and Z when I get back. I’m on the twitters – I find hanging out on twitter gets me through the day when looking after the three weans all day and all night, especially if they are up through the night – and today of all days, it was fascinating to see twitter erupt and turn and shift around a news item. The asynchronous nature suits having a quick shufty at quiet moments – seconds – in the parenting day. But I haven’t been on work email for a week or so, and wont be for another week or so. Usually I’m glued to it, answering emails at all times of the day, but its important for me to step back from it a few times a year. I popped on there a couple of days ago to action something time-limited and laughed at all the emails that had come in setting me deadlines I hadn’t agreed to that I will miss in my absence. Meh – I’m usually quick on the mark but this week? I’m teaching my twins how to do forward rolls instead.As I do more and more managerial work in my role at UCL Centre for Digital Humanities I wonder really how much of my interaction with computing is through email. (Most of it now). I’m a professional email answerer, really.  Been a while since I implemented something myself.  I wonder, amidst all the arguments about should DHers code, etc, how the whole “can code, but manages coders” fits in. But this week, I’m not even answering email. Oh no.  I’m on holiday. I’m away. And goodness, it is good to step away from email, that harsh, thankless taskmistress. But if I’m not on email…. I am a DHer any more?But its not like I haven’t thought about work. It’s the blessing/curse of academia: obsessive comp[...]



What Price a Hashtag? The cost of #digitalhumanities

2013-03-28T09:43:19.195+00:00

The academic community I’m most heavily involved in – Digital Humanities – are fairly invested in twitter. At all times of the day there are major figures, students, and newbies in the field on there, just hanging out, debating topics, forwarding links to events, job postings, interesting research and cool things they have stumbled upon. People have studied this – graphing and charting the discussions, especially around the DH conference, and heck, even I have co-authored a paper on the subject.I’m currently working on a book/project called Defining Digital Humanities  and I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to get all – and I mean all – the tweets that contain the hashtag #Digitalhumanities – what fun could be had charting the growth of the discipline, the geolocation of tweets, the networks that exist, the sentiments surrounding it – etc etc. Now, hindsight is a grand thing  - I should have thought to start scraping these back in 2006 – but surely it must be possible to get access to this for research? So I asked.The first approach was to Gnip – who have “full historical access to the twitter firehose available exclusively”.  They were really very helpful, and we got into a conversation about my needs, their licensing, and – of course – costs. The upshot is that if you want a hashtag, you can get it for a price, with the text delivered in JSON format. I was quoted between $15,000 and $25,000 for the full historical set (depending on the exact volume of the data, they are now looking into it to give me the final figure - I and they dont yet know how many tweets there are containing this hashtag). The second place I asked was Datasift– “the leading platform for building applications with insights derived from the most popular social networks and news sources”.  They do have access to the historical twitter firehose, but they don’t do one off searches, and licensing will start at $3000 per month to get access to it (on a yearly contract). They will be launching a pay as you go service at some point, they tell me. By the way,  you can get $10 worth of free credit for processing if you sign up and play around with some current searches: I set a set for #digitalhumanities and I had run out of credit within a few hours. (I find the user interface very obfuscating  – I’m still wrangling with it to see what that data actually is!). Now, these costs are very little compared to the costs to access the full firehose and lets face it – a free service like twitter has to make its money somewhere. These were not vexatious enquiries: I’d really like to do this study. But now I have to find $25k down the back of the sofa to get access to this data (and incidentally, if I do, I wont be allowed to quote it, only to show the stats that emerge from the analysis).  $25k is a fair whack of money in academia-land. It will also take around 6 months (at least) to write it into a grant proposal to raise the money – and how to persuade academic funders that buying this dataset is good use of their money? Frankly, I’m not sure that will fly in the arts and humanities, where complete grant costings can come under £100k for a one year project. Thinking caps are now on to see how we can get funding put together to get access to the data of the community I – goddamit – helped (in some small way) to create. I love twitter with a passion and it continues to inf[...]



What's in a name? Academic Identity in the metadata age, or, I didnt see #tarotgate coming

2013-05-06T17:14:13.239+01:00

At the end of last week I was pulling together some internal appraisal documentation - the kind of thing where you say "oh look how many people cited my work over the past year". Wandering over to my Google scholar profile to check some citation counts I noted something weird. Alongside my usual digital humanities-ey, digitisation-ey, digital classicist-ey journal papers and book chapters were some strange papers that I definitely had not written. Things like Human Experience and Tarot Symbolism, (link still working to my Google scholar profile at time of writing) or Tarot and Projective Hypothesis.Now, I'm a committed atheist, which means I also don't care for the occult either. And while I try to respect other's research choices (its a bit like feminism - I may not like what you are doing with your life, but I respect your right to choose what you do with it) this is not something that, professionally, I would choose to be associated with. And it's extremely strange to see your name academically associated with something you don't want to be associated with - especially when academic identity is everything in this game. Perhaps there is another Melissa M. Terras? I first thought. I'm very lucky that there aren't too many Terrases about - I've never really had to deal with name disambiguation (I know academics who have other colleagues with the same name as them in the same department) so I'm a bit spoiled on that front in real life. Melissa is a really rare name in Scotland (although not other parts of the world) and so I had never met another one until I was 15. I sometimes get confused for Melody Terras, who is in Psychology, and automated algorithms especially like to assign me her works (such as Google scholar, or the algorithm in our open access repository).  But no, the works clearly showed that the Melissa M. Terras was in the Department of Information Studies at UCL. There's only one of us there, and that's me.A bit of googling told me that the author of the book in which all of these chapters were published was Inna Semetsky. A few seconds more of googling took me to her personal website, which had a big fat CALL ME NOW skype button on it (I'm not linking to it here, as I dont want to encourage anyone to call her. If you want to seek her out, you will have to do so yourself).  So I CALLED HER NOW, not really expecting anyone to pick up. She picked up on video chat after a few rings, although it was clearly in the middle of the night wherever she was (which I wasnt to know). She knew immediately who I was: it was clear that the book had been up with the wrong authorship attributed for some time, which I find strange: if you had written a book, and the "Internet" decided it was written by someone else, would you not fight to get it righted? A heated exchange followed. I dont want to say too much about Inna Semetsky - she is entitled to her own privacy and her own research space. Let's just say we didnt exactly hit it off, and that heated exchange continued over email. (Everyone knows that the one way to anger someone from Scotland is to call them English, right?) By now it had become clear that there was no real malice in this: but I suspected metadata fail. I had previously published a chapter in a book which was published by Sense Publishers - who published Semetsky's book Re-Symbolization of the Self, Human Development and Tarot Hermeneutic. It seemed to me that somewhere in the ing[...]



Showing the Arts and Humanities Matter

2012-09-22T14:15:45.954+01:00


Greetings from Dublin airport. Its been a busy week - on Tuesday I hosted the first 4Humanities conference, at UCL, then jetted off to Galway, Ireland where on Thursday I keynoted at the Digital Arts and Humanities PhD Programme annual conference.

The conference at UCL, entitled Showing the Arts and Humanities Matter gathered together various initiatives who are actively promoting the arts and humanities, to allow discussion regarding what is the best way forward to ensure that the benefits and contribution that the Arts and Humanities make to society is recognised. It was a fantastic day, and I learnt a lot - I'm fairly new to this area. Ernesto Priego live blogged and tweeted the event, and there is a storify of the tweets for those who want to catch up on the discussion.

One thing we decided to do was have a practice based artist, Dr Lucy Lyons, as a conference artist in residence, sketching and note taking, using a different sort of technology (pen, pencil, paper) than the ones we usually use, in what she calls "a frenetic, haptic method of note taking and engaging with the speakers". Lucy created a wonderful set of notes and drawings of the day that capture the flavour of the event.

It is interesting to reflect that our discussions seldom wandered into talking about the practice led arts - and the fact that the immediate reaction of many speakers who saw Lucy's drawings was "great! a new avatar for me on twitter!" (how we are all addicted) rather than a discussion of what integrating this process into the conference setting would show or tell us. I'm still processing that, myself - but I loved having a conference artist in residence, and hope to feature this again at future events.

Time for me to check in, I'll tell you about #dahphdie at another time!