All posts by UC Arts Digital Lab


Understanding Place: Mapping Memories and Meaning in the Residential Red Zone

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Our aim is to develop a tool that will allow individuals with personal, familial, cultural, or historical connections to the Residential Red Zone area to tell their story and to reflect on what this space means to them.

© OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA. An OpenStreetMap view of the Residential Red Zone Area.

Seven years on from the 2011 Canterbury earthquakes the future of Christchurch’s Flat Land Residential Red Zone (RRZ), an area of quake-damaged land starting within the four avenues of the CBD and extending northeast to the Avon-Heathcote Estuary, still remains uncertain. This sizeable area of land that once housed over 5000 residents now consists mostly of open green space, largely devoid of any built structures or residential housing. In recent years, there has been much discussion around plans for the future use of the RRZ. Organisations such as Avon-Ōtākaro Network and Regenerate Christchurch have been key players in these discussions and have presented a number of crowd-sourced visions for what the future for the RRZ could look like. While discussions around the regeneration of the red zone land excite landscape architects, urban planners, and developers throughout the region and abroad, many of the people that once lived in this area of Christchurch (including the few that still do) are yet to tell their stories.

An aerial photograph taken by BeckerFraserPhotos in 2012 showing mostly red zone land in the Avonside Loop area. Virtually all the houses within the Avonside Loop have now been demolished.

Photograph and caption by Jon Mollivan, CC-BY-NC. “The Christchurch residential Red Zone. Once this was all houses. Now it’s lawn with some old garden trees.”

The UC Arts Digital Lab has recently embarked on a digital project in conjunction with researchers from across the fields of English, Digital Humanities, Geography, and Media and Communication studies that will gather and present these stories. This three-year project entitled Understanding Place is funded by the National Science Challenge: Building Better Homes, Towns and Cities contestable fund, and is comprised of two main elements: a web-based interactive map and a digital archive. We are currently in the process of developing the web-based digital map that will allow users to upload, comment on, and curate geo-located photographs, videos, audio, and text. The digital map will also be able to ‘talk’ directly to the QuakeStudies earthquake digital archive (, and will automatically archive contributions from the public for long-term storage and posterity. Our aim is to develop a tool that will allow individuals with personal, familial, cultural, or historical connections to the Residential Red Zone area to tell their story and to reflect on what this space means to them.

With Understanding Place we lead with open questions such as the provocation put forward by Presner, Shepard, and Kawano … “Where are you from? What used to be here?”

A VOSviewer visualisation of bibliographic data produced during the early research phase of the project.

Understanding Place occupies the space in between urban planning public consultation and volunteered geographical survey. It is a multi-disciplinary project that is interested primarily in cultural understandings and experiences tied to place in post-disaster urban settings. We want to enable people to convey their rich connections with spaces and places through photography, video, audio, and text, and thereby encourage them to represent the various experiences and memories embedded within the Residential Red Zone. We hope that through the provision of the interactive digital map people will find a space in which to reflect on and consider what the area means to them. With Understanding Place we lead with open questions such as the provocation put forward by Presner, Shepard, and Kawano (2014) in their book HyperCities: Thick Mapping in the Digital Humanities: “Where are you from? What used to be here?” We are not seeking to develop a tool that will be used for urban planning or development (though it may contribute important cultural knowledge to these practices), rather, we are developing something that will use digital media to produce meaningful connections between people, memories, and place. The tool we will develop will enable personal storytelling and cultural mapping; it will be a practice in what Giannachi (2016) terms “Archives 3.0”, wherein personal and collective memories talk to one another through interconnected platforms and media. Ultimately, Understanding Place is about creating space for people to tell their stories and to provide another perspective or layer to discussions around the Residential Red Zone and its future.

Project Page


Giannachi, Gabriella. Archive Everything: Mapping the Everyday. MIT Press, 2016.

Presner, Todd, et al. HyperCities: Thick Mapping in the Digital Humanities. Harvard University Press, 2014.

External Links

Avon-Ōtākaro Network

Regenerate Christchurch

Christchurch Dilemmas: Red Zone 

‘I’m just connected to it’ – former red zoner still tends garden seven years after quake

A New Look for UC QuakeStudies

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The UC Arts Digital Lab is excited to announce the launch of a new and improved UC QuakeStudies earthquake research repository.

QuakeStudies, the University of Canterbury’s major contribution to the CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquakes Digital Archive, contains photographs, documents, videos, audio recordings, media articles, and other material relating to the 2010/2011 Canterbury earthquakes. Each item in the repository is accompanied by high-quality human-curated metadata such as descriptions, geolocations, and dates and times, offering rich datasets for researchers from a range of disciplines to draw on.

The project to update the QuakeStudies online platform was undertaken by the UC Arts Digital Lab in collaboration with local open source technologists Catalyst IT. The new QuakeStudies platform, built on the Islandora digital repository system, boasts enhanced searchability, improved document viewing tools, and a cleaner, more user-friendly layout offering greater navigability.

UC Arts Digital Lab Director, Professor Paul Millar, launches the new-look QuakeStudies

A launch event was held in the UC Arts City Location in the Arts Centre’s old Chemistry building last week, and was attended by representatives of the CEISMIC consortium from Christchurch City Council, Canterbury Museum and Christchurch City Libraries, contributors to the archive, and UC researchers keen to hear how the new QuakeStudies can assist them in their research.

The Arts Digital Lab hopes researchers will find the new platform easier to search for, view, and download content that is of interest to them. Additionally, much of the content housed in QuakeStudies has been released under Creative Commons licenses, making it easier for researchers to reuse content in their own work.

PhD student Sionainn Byrnes talks about how she is using QuakeStudies material in her research

Researchers interested in exploring the breadth of content in QuakeStudies are encouraged to discuss their needs with Arts Digital Lab staff.  With around 150,000 items in the repository, of which 12,000 are available only to approved researchers, the Lab team can help guide you to the content that will be most useful for your research.

Six years on from the initial launch of UC QuakeStudies in 2012 the repository is still going strong, and it continues to grow and receive new content. This new upgrade ensures that the ongoing preservation of digital archival materials relating to the earthquakes will continue long into the future.

Photographs by Samuel Hope (Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 NZ)

The Canterbury Roll Symposium

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As well as the discussions and presentations, the symposium gave us an opportunity to examine the Roll in person.

Last Friday, staff and students involved in the Canterbury Roll project, along with a team from Nottingham Trent University here to do a scientific analysis on the Roll, met for a symposium to discuss progress so far and our next steps.

Natasha Hodgson of Nottingham Trent University talks about some of the Roll’s features.


Chris Thomson discusses the significance of the Digital Edition, and the work the Arts Digital Lab has been doing.

We had some great presentations from the various people involved in the project: everything from the project’s lead transcriber, Maree Shirota, talking about how the Roll fits into the larger picture of medieval genealogies, to Haida Laing of Nottingham Trent talking about how her team use the latest imaging technologies to discover the secrets of ancient documents and artworks.  Even our Arts Digital Lab interns, Josh Kim and Jayson Boon, gave a presentation, talking about the work they’re doing marking up in TEI the connections between historical figures on the Roll.

An important part of the symposium was a round-table discussion of the next stages for the project – watch this space!


Jayson Boon and Josh Kim answer questions about their markup work

End-of-Year Digital Humanities Meetup Get-Together

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Please join us as we review highlights from the year and look toward next year. We will have refreshments, so you can enjoy a chat and give us feedback on what topics you’d like to see in future. There will also be a showcase of some of the Arts Digital Lab’s recent projects that you won’t want to miss.

Where: Puaka-James Hight Library, Room 388

When: Tuesday 14 November, 3-5 pm

Crowdsourcing the Macdonald Dictionary

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If you’re a UC student interested in Digital Humanities, you might like to help us out with the Macdonald Dictionary crowdsourcing project, a feminist public history project being developed by Canterbury Museum and UC.

The project is transcribing names from handwritten index cards that document the biographies of European settlers in Canterbury. We aim to record the names of the women and children who are mostly absent from the collection’s existing metadata. There are over 12,000 cards, so it’s a pretty significant task!

You can participate by dropping in to the UC Arts Digital Lab (Rm 414 in Karl Popper) between now and 10 November, 10:00am – 3:00pm. All you need to do is read and transcribe names from a brief handwritten text, then answer a few questions about the process. It’s fun! So, take a break from exam study, nab some Whittaker’s chocolate as a reward, and–most importantly–help us better understand our local history by bringing women out of the shadows.

If you have any questions, please email Antoine at

Canterbury Westland Regional Digital Forum 2017

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Last week we attended the Canterbury Westland Regional Digital Forum, held at the Halswell Library.  As well as being a valuable forum for discussing regional issues and sharing our latest projects with our colleagues across the sector, the day presented an opportunity for our Digital Projects Specialist, Antoine Landrieu, to show off his video editing skills, producing this short film about our day: