The Open Philology Project and Humboldt Chair of Digital Humanities at Leipzig

I am incredibly happy to announce that as of 1st May 2013 I am a Research Associate in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Leipzig, working under the newly established Alexander von Humboldt Chair of Digital Humanities. My role here is to oversee the Open Greek and Latin Project, one of the three pillars of the Open Philology Project, as described in the Chair’s initial research plan (April 2013):

The Humboldt Chair of Digital Humanities at the University of Leipzig sees in the rise of Digital Technologies an opportunity to re-assess and re-establish how the humanities can advance the understanding of the past and to support a dialogue among civilizations. Philology, which uses surviving linguistic sources to understand the past as deeply and broadly as possible, is central to these tasks, because languages, present and historical, are central to human culture. To advance this larger effort, the Humboldt Chair focuses upon enabling Greco-Roman culture to realize the fullest possible role in intellectual life. Greco-Roman culture is particularly significant because it contributed to both Europe and the Islamic world and the study of Greco-Roman culture and its influence thus entails Classical Arabic as well as Ancient Greek and Latin. The Humboldt Chair inaugurates an Open Philology Project with three complementary efforts that produce open philological data, educate a wide audience about historical languages, and integrate open philological data from many sources: the Open Greek and Latin Project organizes content (including translations into Classical Arabic and modern languages); the Historical Language e-Learning Project explores ways to support learning across barriers of language and culture as well as space and time; the Scaife Digital Library focuses on integrating cultural heritage sources available under open licenses.

For more information about the Humboldt Chair of Digital Humanities, here are some announcements and press releases:

Needless to say, I’m ecstatic!!

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:!/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!