Reflections on Digital Humanities Congress, 8th September 2012

Entrance to ‘The Edge’,
University of Sheffield. Photo: MTG

KAPTUR presented findings of the project to-date at the Digital Humanities Congress 2012 hosted by the University of Sheffield.

Links and reflections on other presentations from 8th September:

Session 16: Working with Image Collections

  • Using cultural and visual analytics for VEJA magazine, Brazil’s most important weekly magazine. Images and more information about the analysis of magazine covers from 1968-2012 is available via this blog post:
  • In response to the KAPTUR presentation a question was raised about the role of judgement with regard to the curation of visual arts research data – comparing a colour analysis exercise by a student with a sketch by Rembrandt – ‘is it art?’. Although I made it clear that KAPTUR was not trying to judge ‘what is art?’ it was interesting to think about the role of the data curator of visual arts data in those terms and the potential impact of decisions made now for the future of Art History. In terms of the relationship between practice and research, this is also an interesting debate – for example, ‘good’ research may not result in ‘good’ art.
  • The final presentation in the session was from a Postgraduate researching Victorian Illustrations in the four major Shakespeare editions of 1840-1865. It was interesting to hear how the illustrations were described as ‘the primary source’ for his dissertation, and how he considered the database he was producing to be ‘a cultural artefact in its own right’. After the session Leigh and I had an opportunity to speak to a few PhD students about their ‘research data’.

Session 21: Research on the Go

  • In ‘Crowd-Sourcing our Cultural Heritage’ the project team described participants in a research project who used a mobile diary application to record phenomenological, and other, data as they re-traced an ancient route to a sanctuary site. Unfortunately, although there are lots of mobile diary apps out there, this one which looked very good is not publicly available yet. It enabled locative data to be collected (apart from at this archaeological site which was too isolated); participants could record a voice note, take an image or video, or write a text note. I wondered if it could be used by artist-researchers as a way to annotate intangible research data. More information about the mobile app is available here: Sun, X., Sharples, S. & Makri, S. (2011). “A user-centred mobile diary study approach to understanding serendipity in information research” Information Research16(3) paper 492. [Available at]
  • An architectural postgraduate from the University of Sheffield spoke about collaborative research with contemporary art and performance practitioners, and in particular a project called The Port of Sheffield. More information is available from the blog about the PhD: Context-aware: Articulating place through pervasive practices.
  • Textal is a mobile app for text analysis with the potential to open up digital humanities to a wider audience. This was a fascinating presentation about the process of developing a mobile phone application for iOS and included a statement from the project’s developer: ‘XML is dead’ (JSON has several advantages for mobile delivery over XML). See also @textal

Plenary Session 3

The conference’s closing keynote from Professor Ethington, University of Southern California, was titled ‘The Transcendence of Genre: Multimodal Publishing After Cervantes.’ I found this talk and the resulting discussion very thought-provoking and inspiring; a few key points and quotes from the Twittersphere:

  • Ethington placed Cervantes’ don Quijote (1605) at the middle of an hourglass effect between fiction and non-fiction writing. Don Quixote/don Quijote was out-of-the-ordinary on many levels, it had no single author, no privileged narrator and was fiction written about fiction; it was also subversive. Later in the presentation this was related to a second hourglass effect at which Ethington put the Web at the centre, with private/privileged forms of publication happening prior to the WWW, and now new forms of open and multimodal publication happening such as SCALAR and Hypercities.

Via @Ajprescott: “For @EthingtonPhil Scalar and Hypercities are part of the transformation of genre – comparable moment to Cervantes #dhcshef”

  • Ethington also spoke about the power of visual communication – it is much easier for humans to interpret an image than textual semantics. Referencing the morning’s speaker, Michael Goodman, Ethington commented how the introduction of illustrations and also the re-setting of the text around, inside,and juxtaposed with, the illustrations would have changed the Victorian’s experience and interpretation of their reading of Shakespeare.
  • What is an Ethingtograph? (link provides explanation and images)
  • Ethington cited “The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0” lead authors Jeffrey Schnapp and Todd Presner, with contributions by Peter Lunenfeld, Johanna Drucker, members of the UCLA Mellon Seminar on the Digital Humanities (“What Is(n’t) Digital Humanities?) and members of the DH community.

Via @keri_thomas: “Ethington believes #dh is a set of tools & practices, NOT a discipline. What is significant is the humanities, proposed by Dilthey. #dhcshef”

Via @Ajprescott: “Jerry McGann’s chapter in ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ v relevant to this discussion. Book available here:

Via @keri_thomas Ethington’s seven challenges for the Digital Humanities (will update with the link to Ethington’s presentation or Keri Thomas’ blog post when available):

1. Transforming humanities in substance, not just form: new answers to old questions, new questions to old sources demonstrate difference that digital methods make.

2. Avoid confusing convergence of media with convergence of genres of knowledge: digital methods distinct from social science methods. As Dilthean Divide goes where will humanities stand? Are the digital humanities distinct from digital social science or digital natural science?

3. Modifying institutional practices to recognise trans-media, trans-genre scholarly production preserving and updating not rejecting core intellectual traditions like peer review assessing scholarly impact for career development.

4. Lower the technical barriers to participation while continuing to engineer new technological affordances.

5. Avoid dependence on for-profit enterprise as much as possible, while profiting methodologically from profit-driven innovations.

6. Develop recognisable formats for trans-media, trans-genre scholarly products. What is the online, interactive, multimedia, collaboratively produced equivalent of a “book” or an “article”? How to do this without forcing new media formats backwards into old one, without preventing the minting of new formats in addition?

7. Work with presses: university, trade, and open.