Catalogue of Digital Editions

This morning I successfully upgraded from Masters of Philosophy to PhD status so the time has come for me to finally share my work with you all! What you will see is a catalogue of digital editions I have collected thus far along with a detailed analysis of their features. The aim of this exercise is to collect as many editions as possible in an effort to better understand the field of electronic editing and the digital edition status quo, as it were. While I’ll be regularly updating and adding data to the spreadsheet, the intent is to encourage as many people, students and scholars to join so as to make this catalogue bigger and better, providing a unique and rich reference tool for the benefit of the whole Digital Humanities communities and, indeed, of all those disciplines to whom this work might be relevant or useful.

Please visit https://sites.google.com/site/digitaleds/, join the project or let me know what you think!

Decoding DH London, 22.2.2012

DDH logoLast week’s DDH session discussed the impact of social networks on academia, particularly the ways in which researchers and academics use social media and how these support DH projects. The paper selected to kick off the conversation was Dr Beer’s Social network(ing) sites…revisiting the story so far: A response to Danah Boyd & Nicole Ellison, which can be accessed here.

The paper provocatively responds to the definition analyses proposed by Boyd and Ellison’s in their popular article (Google Scholar has recorded almost 2000 citations), whereby social networking should not be used as a synonym of social network as it implies a connection between strangers rather than friends. Dr Beer challenges Boyd’s and Ellison’s definitions, arguing that they should not be looking into definitions of social network sites (SNS) but, rather, into umbrella topics such as Web 2.0 or the offline/online concept.

The issue of social network(ing) inserts itself into the (fairly) new area of digital culture and cultural identities which are often imposed by SNS. How do we distinguish our personal self from our digital alter ego? After all, the term ‘virtual’, as one of the research students pointed out, was heavily used before the rise of SNS. But since the popularisation of social media, its use has considerably decreased as virtual and real seem to be more and more interconnected. And speaking about connection, SNS, particularly Twitter, allow us to meet people we’d never have met otherwise or engage with audiences we had no idea would be interested in our research.

But to go back to our article, Dr Beer describes SNS as democratic due to their free and accessible essence, but also as commercial spaces and entities. With increasing funding cuts in the Arts & Humanities sector and freely-available work published under Creative Commons Licenses, should/can digital humanists use social media as a commercial tool? Beer stresses the importance of using SNS as a way of learning from other users – should we learn from them and start making some money?? Or does it defeat our object??

image of a network of peopleSocial networking tends to rely on friendship connections, thus defining the relationships of the people we connect with. But does it also define us as active social media participators? Most digital humanists have active web presence, but are they expected to set up blogs and twitter accounts? Social media activity is generally a good reflection of a person’s personality. YouTube has more users than creators. With Twitter, you have participators, but you also have listeners – you might well be an excellent academic or an influential digital humanist, but your status doesn’t necessarily denote you as an extrovert. And, to continue with the Twitter example, just as we are not all equally present tweet-wise, not all topics are equally disseminated. The field of Digital Humanities is much more discussed than, say, Medieval History. But, Professor Prescott asks, how do we know if it’s us who are not plugged into all the Twitter Medieval History channels or if it’s the community’s size that determines web presence? On the other hand, there are times when we are more productive (i.e. participation in a conference) and others when we prefer to simply retweet.

The discussion then turned to the limitations of social media and the user’s control over information. While promoting access and openness, SNS also enable us to limit information in the form of  filters which are becoming increasingly important as a means of customising news pages and even our email inbox. In truth, today’s information load has reached such a level that filtering has become more of a necessity. The irony is that up until 20-30 years ago people missed out on a lot of what was going on. Then information technology came along and we wanted more. Now, we deliberately leave a lot out in order to preserve mental sanity.

SNS are also adopted as a way of delivering and obtaining news first. Journalists now all have Twitter accounts so that they can keep on top of the latest developments. Last summer’s riots here in London and last year’s North African uprise are a perfect example of just how powerful social media can be. Another good example is the 2008 killing of a boy by Greek police. The event appeared on SNS 30 minutes after its happening but took news channels 3-4 hours to catch-up. By the same token, there have also been instances of tweets reporting false information and accidents which cost emergency services valuable time and resources.

So when do we trust social media and how do we identify the authenticity and reliability of the information they deliver? But, wait a minute, why do we trust newspapers?!? Oh, true, it’s because newspapers are institutions: they are accountable and, thus, easily at risk. So, if Twitter were an institution, would we trust it more?

Enough with the questions and back to facts. How useful is it for digital humanists, whether researchers or scholars, to have a social media presence online? What are the benefits? Well, here are a few:

  • We can learn from each other
  • Good way to be easily searched for
  • Share ideas, collect feedback and advice
  • Interdisciplinary collaborations and discussions
  • Market ourselves

An excellent read on the topic is Michael Ullyot’s blog post On Blogging in the Digital Humanities. Highly recommended!

You might also want to listen to the Digital Researcher 2012 Podcast which discusses the impact of new technologies on research.


Seth Denbo: DH background and Q&A session

Today’s event clash was indicative of just how many DH seminars are going on at the moment: super, but hard to manage! So, while some of us were over at the Engineering Department at the Google talk, others, including myself, stayed in Foster Court where Seth Denbo kindly agreed to talk about his work and answer any DH-related questions.

Image of 18th cent pocket

Mid 18th century embroidered pocket

Seth has a background in history and did his PhD on the history of incest and the family in 18th century England. His DH career began with the Pockets of History project, a digital history project whose aim was to examine and photograph several hundred 17-20th century pockets (fashion items women used to wear under their clothes) to better understand their historical and social context. Thanks to the high quality digital photography researchers made discoveries which would have not been possible otherwise. 

It was this project that further stimulated Seth’s interest in the Digital Humanities. He moved on to work at Reading University on a five-year AHRC & JISC funded programme and later at King’s College London. He also became involved in DARIAH (European-funded infrastructure development project) but finally moved back to the US where he currently works as project coordinator at MITH.

Seth’s ongoing projects at MITH are:

  • Project Bamboo: “The North American equivalent of DARIAH”, as Seth describes it. The aim of Project Bamboo is to build an infrastructure to enable scholars to utilise and explore large scale corpora of digital texts by providing analytical tools. While the only medium considered thus far is text, the plan is to stretch out to include non-textual media (video, images, etc). Project Bamboo is also collaborating with the Hathi Trust, the largest digital library after Google Books but more geared towards researchers and scholars. Hathi and Bamboo are working together to allow scholars to easily access text, capture it (even with Zotero which Seth is very fond of!), run it through a set of tools and share derivative research. 
  • The Black Gotham Digital Archive. The project works around a recent publication by Carla Peterson whose wish was for her  readers to experience black New York in new, interactive ways.

Other MITH projects include:

  • The Shelley-Godwin Archive project, which features digital reproductions of works of Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
  • Bitcurator, a project on the preservation and curation of  born-digital materials.

After sharing his career stories and ideas with us, Seth answered* questions coming from a few Digital Humanities MA students, including:

Q: Whom is Project Bamboo going to be made available to?

A: To as many people as possible. Bamboo (a Mellon Foundation funded project) is currently looking at sustainability models, including enterprise-level adoption by campus IT departments  in parallel with and working closely with humanities scholars to directly address their research needs.

Q: What kind of text-analysis tools do you build at Bamboo?

A: Hhhhm, still working on that! One of the tools we built as part of Bamboo is Woodchipper, a visualisation tool which uses computational linguistics to model topics across texts. We are also working with the University of Wisconsin on WindTunnel (another Mellon-funded project) which is similar to Woodchipper but more sophisticated. Another tool, which has nothing to do with Bamboo but relates to some of the things we are trying to achieve in Bamboo is Voyant Tools. Voyant Tools will display the analytics of an e-Book like, say, Moll Flanders from Project Gutenberg and allow the user to manipulate the data.

Q: Many texts we work on at DH are out-of-copyright material. Do DH people currently work with publishers and do you see a collaboration with publishing companies in the future?

A: Good question. One of the reasons why we work on early material is to avoid complex copyright issues (though this does not mean that derivative works aren’t covered by copyright). Publishers often protect access to scholarly information so it can be quite difficult to collaborate. It is possible but not easy.

To conclude, Seth was asked to share his own perspective on the Digital Humanities:

Digital Humanities has many layers. It shouldn’t consider itself a separate discipline but a tool embedded within the Humanities used to enrich and look at our cultural heritage from a different angle.

You can follow Seth on Twitter at:  twitter.com/#!/seth_denbo

*I tried to word Seth’s answers as best as I could. If there are any mistakes or misunderstandings, please let me know or blame it on my slow-typing hands!