Category Archives: Seminars


Eric Meyer visit

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We were delighted to welcome Professor Eric Meyer back to the University of Canterbury for a brief visit over the past two days. Eric previously visited the UC Digital Humanities programme as a Visiting Canterbury Fellow in 2014, and was back in New Zealand to speak at the National Digital Forum in Wellington earlier this week. He very kindly added a Christchurch leg to his trip, so we were able to hear him speak yesterday about work arising from his book Knowledge Machines (with Ralph Schroeder, published in 2015 by The MIT Press), then this morning we attended his workshop entitled “Metrics and Measurement: The Impacts of Digital Resources and Collections”.

The workshop stimulated some broad ranging discussion that moved from ways of measuring impact into exploration of data collection tools and methods of data analysis in various fields of research. A number of our Media & Communications postgrads took the opportunity to ask Eric about possibilities and limitations of using social media data, which led to some interesting debate.

Thank you, Eric & Michelle, for making the trip down to see us in Christchurch – we wish you safe travels for the journey home. And thanks National Digital Forum for inviting Eric to speak and getting him over to our part of the world!


Eric Meyer speaking at the University of Canterbury on 24 November 2016.

Professor Eric Meyer of the Oxford Internet Institute addresses UC staff and postgrads

Digital Humanities Infrastructure Workshop: Part Four

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Today I finish my series on the Digital Humanities Infrastructure Workshops held in November last year, by discussing my own perspective on cyberinfrastructure. But before I do this, I thought that I should outline my background in Digital Humanities and my role at CEISMIC in order to put my thoughts in context.

I was introduced to the Digital Humanities in the third year of my English degree when I took the University’s first DH paper, Electronic Scholarly Editing. This paper was run by Prof. Paul Millar, with the help of Dr Christopher Thomson as a tutor. It aimed to critically examine digital texts and equip students with the skills to create their own, namely through the TEI (a set of guidelines which specify methods for encoding machine-readable texts ). Over the next two years, I worked on two projects digitising manuscripts using the TEI. The first is a collection of World War I letters from a member of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles (which you can view at, and the other a memoir in letter form from New Zealand doctor Stanley Aylward. As well as teaching me how to encode texts with the TEI, these projects opened my eyes to the opportunities that digitisation offers the Humanities, and the intensive work that goes into it. In both projects, the manuscripts required more complex and nuanced analysis than computers were capable of giving and had to be encoded by hand – a common requirement for many Digital Humanities projects.

My position at CEISMIC has further highlighted this requirement, as I work daily to gather, organise, and describe large quantities of earthquake-related data. CEISMIC’s focus has always been on social data, with an aim to collect as many stories and documents about the earthquakes possible before they are forgotten or lost. Today we have over 100,000 items in the archive – a fantastic achievement, but not an easy one since we described and annotated every item by hand. On average, our team estimates that it takes us six minutes to describe and geolocate a photograph, a number which doesn’t sound too bad until you extrapolate it over the 46,447 photographs we currently hold in QuakeStudies (adding up to 276,682 minutes, or 4645 hours, or 580 days). And that’s just the photographs – we have also archived hundreds of stories (such as with our QuakeBox project), academic research, community data (such as newsletters and artworks), newspapers, and much, much more.

Given my experiences, it would be easy for me to agree with Paul Arthur that investing in the digitisation (or in our case archiving) of social data may be the most valuable form of infrastructure for the Humanities. However, I would argue that this process is not possible without people with the skills and knowledge required.  Often I hear Humanists and people from the GLAM sector comment that they need more people who have skills both in the Humanities and the digital, and yet there are very few programmes in existence training people in both skills. As readers of this blog are likely aware, the University of Canterbury offers Digital Humanities courses at honours and masters level, and is offering a Digital Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities minor to undergraduate students for the first time next year. However, we are the only university in New Zealand that has a Digital Humanities programme, and the impetus for this came from within the College of Arts and the University. As of yet, there is no national strategy in New Zealand for the training of Digital Humanists.

Moreover if the Digital Humanities, as Alan Liu argues, is tasked with critiquing academic infrastructure and its relation to larger society, this critique needs to represent the diversity in society.  My problem with the current ‘lightly antifoundationalist’ model and ‘hacking’ is that it can only be achieved by Humanists that have digital skills. As I have already discussed, people with these skills are usually in the minority, but they also tend to come from certain groups in society – e.g men and people from high socio-economic backgrounds who have had access to computers from a young age. The problem with this is that these tools are potentially being created by one group in society, and any critique that they allow is potentially coming from one perspective. If we want our cyberinfrastructure to reflect the diverse needs and values of society, then I would argue that we need to ensure that a wide range of people are participating in the field.

Perhaps this naive, but if, as Liu claims, the shaping of academic infrastructure can have a bearing on other organisations and the community at large, then perhaps training more people in the Digital Humanities will have a factor too. I personally would love to see a world where the tech industry held equal numbers of women and men, where there was more ethnic diversity, and where the average Humanities student graduated with some technical nous. In some ways this could be seen as a form of infrastructure – training people with the skills and sensibilities to critique digital culture both in their work, but also in their wider environs. It’s my hope that doing so would widen the pool of ideas, revealing new and innovative solutions, and more nuanced critiques of infrastructure.

Digital Humanities Infrastructure Workshop: Part Three

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Digital Content Analyst Lucy-Jane Walsh, continues her discussion of the UCDH Cyberinfrastructure with a summary of Alan Liu’s talk:

Against the Cultural Singularity: Digital Humanities & Cultural Infrastructure Studies ­– Alan Liu

Alan Liu began his talk with a quote from Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen: “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context”.  With this in mind, he chose to focus on Digital Humanities cyberinfrastructure as a sub-domain of Humanities infrastructure, and to look at how Digital Humanities can support traditional Humanities fields.

Liu argued that the Digital Humanities has a tradition of critiquing infrastructure, which is not only unique to the field, but the best mechanism for supporting traditional modes of criticism. This is because infrastructure has the same impact on individuals and communities as culture – it makes up our environment and how we interact with each other. Liu used dystopian films as an example, pointing out that whole cultures in these films are dominated by the infrastructure that is available to them. In Blade Runner, for example, flying cars make up the environment, where as in Mad Max the world is driven by fuel. Today culture could be said to be shaped by smart phones, social networking, and big data. By critiquing these systems, Digital Humanists can add to the larger debates surrounding culture while remaining in the digital sphere.

According to Liu, the current style of Digital Humanities critique is “lightly anti-foundationalist”. He cited James Smithies, Michael Dieter, Bruno Latour, Ackbar Abbas, and David Theo Goldberg as examples of this, arguing that while Digital Humanists believe in the potential for known and trusted digital tools and methodologies to provide new insights in the field of humanities, they are also distrustful of them. This is evident in Digital Humanists’ tendencies to ‘hack’ – where hacking in this context means using the skills and tools one understands and has at hand rather than investing in more formal forms of infrastructure. To Liu ‘hacking’ gives the Digital Humanities a unique perspective: it allows the field to be efficient and flexible, and to get close enough to systems to understand their weaknesses without being vulnerable to them.

In order to move forward, Liu suggested that Digital Humanities should adopt what he calls ‘Critical Infrastructure Studies’, the formal study of academic infrastructure in its relation to larger society, which he sees as the Digital Humanities’ mode of cultural studies.  Liu suggested two approaches to Critical Infrastructure Studies: the Neoinstitutionalist approach to organizations in sociology, which explores how institutional structures and norms influence the decisions and actions of individuals in the institutions; or Social Constructionist (especially Adaptive Structuration) approaches to organizational infrastructure in sociology and information science, which would investigate how the interactions and connections between people can construct beliefs and understandings of the world, and how these interactions can affect our perceptions and use of particular technologies. Liu believes that these approaches would help Digital Humanists to create new academic programmes and roles, and to advocate for the creation of national collaborative infrastructures, opening up research data to wider audiences.

Revisiting the quote from the beginning, Liu suggested that the work that Digital Humanists put into shaping academic infrastructure will have a bearing on other organisations and the community at large. This is where Liu’s title for this talk – Against the cultural singularity – comes into focus, for he argues that the current neoliberal capitalist thinking is creating a ‘cultural singularity’. He defines this as an environment where all parts of cultural are capitalized and brought under a corporate framework.  Liu argues that society would be stronger if institutions adopted their own metrics of value and success, and used these metrics to make decisions about infrastructure. He believes that by critiquing infrastructure, Digital Humanists can resist the neoliberal model and offer alternatives.

Digital Humanities Infrastructure Workshop: Part One

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Today we have a guest blogger, Lucy-Jane Walsh, Digital Content Analyst at the CEISMIC Programme, talking about her impressions of a recent seminar held by the UC Digital Humanities Programme:

A few weeks ago I attended an afternoon of short seminars about Digital Humanities cyberinfrastructure held by the Digital Humanities Programme at the University of Canterbury. Speakers included Dr James Smithies, Director of the UC Digital Humanities Programme and Co-Director of the UC CEISMIC Programme; Dr Alan Liu, Professor in the English Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an affiliated faculty member of UCSB’s Media Arts & Technology graduate program; and Paul Arthur, Professor and Chair in Digital Humanities at Western Sydney University. The aim of the workshop was to begin an informal discussion on national and international Digital Humanities cyberinfrastructure – what tools and resources exist presently; how can we better leverage and improve them; and how can we advocate for their funding and development?

I must admit that I had not come across the notion of ‘cyberinfrastructure’ before this seminar series and I tend to associate the term ‘infrastructure’ with Engineering (buildings, roads, power lines). However the need for people, funding, computers, and software in the Humanities – particularly in regards to digital research and project development – is not news to me. As a Digital Content Analyst at the UC CEISMIC Programme, I not only rely on this infrastructure every day, but am also in the business of creating it. Over the next few weeks, I intend to summarise the points made by Smithies, Liu, and Arthur during the cyberinfrastructure workshop in a series of blog posts, before adding my own thoughts to the conversation. I begin with James Smithie’s talk today:

Towards a Global Systems Analysis of the Humanities – James Smithies

James Smithies was actually the last to speak at the event, but I felt that his talk was a good introduction to the topic of Digital Humanities cyberinfrastructure, so I have decided to reverse the order in my blog posts. His talk was drawn from the first chapter of his upcoming book, The Digital Modern: Humanities and new media for Palgrave Macmillan.

Smithies began the talk by discussing the politics of cyberinfrastructure. He identified Our Cultural Commonwealth – a report by the American Council of Learned Commission (ACLS) on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences – as one of the initial attempts to charter opportunities for computationally intensive Humanities research. This report, like many early models for DH infrastructure, borrowed much of its mode of thinking from the STEM fields. It stated that, “computers should be used by scholars in the Humanities, just as microscopes should be used by scientists” (Our Cultural Commonwealth, 2006: i). In other words it is as important to invest in infrastructure in the Humanities as it is in Engineering, Maths, and Science.

Smithies argued that this STEM-based model caused tension in the Humanities, as many digital projects were given large amounts of money over more traditional projects. When these digital projects failed to deliver their promises, this infrastructure model began to generate criticism. Patrick Svensson, for example, argued that the allocation of space and the ability to collaborate with people in and outside the Humanities department is as important to Digital Humanists as computers and information systems. Feminists also called for more inclusive data models which would take into account gender and ethnic inequalities.  Susan Leigh Star argued that infrastructure should be evaluated in ethnological terms, in that it does not only represent tools or resources that we can use, but also the values and norms of the culture that created it. She argued that infrastructure is created to serve particular types of people and practices – in essence, infrastructure is political in nature and it is the task of Digital Humanists to challenge the preconceived notions of what infrastructure is and can be.

The problem with challenging the status quo is that the Digital Humanities community does not currently have a strong concept of what that is. Smithies suggested that the first step in analysing and critiquing Digital Humanities infrastructure would be to identify the cyberinfrastructure that already exists. He suggested using a systems analysis approach, borrowed from the STEM fields, to provide an initial overview of the current state of global cyberinfrastructure.

Smithies further argued that Humanists’ investigation of infrastructure should go right down to how the tools are made and whether they mirror Digital Humanities values such as openness and net neutrality. Eventually, he hopes that systems analysis will move from a model to a genre – a collection of approaches for analysing systems which reflect a multitude of values and perspectives.

Walsh will continue her discussion on these workshops next week.

Medieval and Early Modern Digital Humanities: Postgraduate Seminar at the University of Canterbury

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This Wednesday 18 November the Australian and New Zealand Association of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (ANZAMEMS) is holding a Postgraduate Advanced Training Seminar (PATS) at the University of Canterbury. Organised in conjunction with UC’s Festival of Digital Humanities, the seminar will focus on digital research methods for scholars in Medieval and Early Modern history, literary studies, and musicology.

The full-day event will take place in Undercroft 101. It will be compered by Tracy Adams (Associate Professor of French, University of Auckland), and feature keynote presentations by Prof. Patricia Fumerton (University of California Santa Barbara) and Prof. Lyn Tribble (University of Otago). There will also be a hands-on session. In this, Professor Fumerton will give an overview of the English Broadside Ballads Archive, a multi-million dollar project funded by the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities that has been digitising, transcribing, reconstructing music and songs, and creating scholarship for many thousands of early modern ballads (the “ephemeral” new media of the time), and James Smithies (UC Digital Humanities) will guide participants on how to write a digital project scope document. The day will conclude with a panel discussion by James Smithies, Chris Jones (UC History), and Joanna Condon (Macmillan Brown Library), chaired by Anton Angelo (UC Library Research Repository).

The PATS will bring 15 postgraduate students from around New Zealand and Australia to UC for the day. It will also be live-streamed on YouTube and simulcast in universities across Australasia. Archive versions will be available on this site afterwards.

The full schedule is as follows:

9.00                 Welcome
9.15–10.30      Keynote by Professor Lyn Tribble, followed by discussion
11.00–11.30    Morning tea
11.30–12.45    Keynote by Professor Patricia Fumerton, followed by discussion
12.45 – 1.45    Lunch
1.45 – 3.00      Behind the scenes at EBBA / How to write a digital project scope document
3.00 – 3.30      Afternoon tea
3.30 – 4.45      Panel discussion by Anton Angelo, James Smithies, Chris Jones, and Joanna Condon
6.00                 Dinner

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The Frontiers of DH: Humanities Systems Infrastructure

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This Thursday 12 November the UC Digital Humanities programme is hosting an afternoon of short seminars, followed by a workshop, centered on humanities systems infrastructure. Please note the venue has changed to Undercroft 101. The time is still 1pm – 5pm.

The goal is to start thinking about what humanities systems infrastructure is, what it might become, and what values and goals should be used to develop it. The workshop is low-key but might be of interest to researchers interested in digital research and the politics of infrastructure, GLAM and university professionals with responsibility for digital strategy, and IT professionals with interests in the cultural heritage and research sectors. Speakers have been allocated 45 minutes but we’ll take a relaxed approach to timing. Input is strongly encouraged from all attendees.

1.00 – 1.15: Introduction by Dr. James Smithies, University of Canterbury Digital Humanities Programme.
1.15 – 2.00: Prof. Alan Liu, University of California at Santa Barbara, ‘Against the Cultural Singularity’.
2.00 – 2.45: Prof. Paul Arthur, University of Western Sydney, ‘Smart Infrastructures for Cultural and Social Research’.
2.45 – 3.30: Dr. James Smithies, University of Canterbury, ‘Towards a Systems Analysis of the Humanities’.
3.30 – 4.00: Afternoon tea.
4.00 – 5.00: Group discussion: ‘What is humanities cyber-infrastructure? Do we want it or need it, and if so how do we build it?’

The session will be followed by an open meeting on Friday 13th November, 10am – 12pm in Karl Popper 414, to discuss possible actions and outputs.

The 3 keynote seminars will be videoed.

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Key Trends in DH & their challenge to the idea of the Humanities

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events-liuTo kick off a 6-week Festival of Digital Humanities, our visiting Fulbright Specialist Professor Alan Liu (University of California, Santa Barbara) is presenting the first in a series of seminars and workshops, tomorrow (Wednesday 28 October) at 4pm.

Professor Liu is a highly distinguished figure within Digital Humanities circles, and we are privileged to have him at UC as a Fulbright Visiting Specialist, thanks to the generous support of the Fulbright Scholar Program.

Key Trends in Digital Humanities: how the digital humanities challenge the idea of the humanities

Wednesday 28 October, 4 – 5.30pm
Undercroft 101

How do such key methods in the digital humanities as data mining, mapping, visualization, social network analysis, and topic modeling make an essential difference in the idea of the humanities, and vice versa? Using examples of digital humanities research, Alan will speculate on the large questions that confront the humanities in the face of computational media – most importantly, questions about the nature and function of interpretive “meaning”.

Special Guest Seminar: Dr Tim Sherratt

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Coming up this Wednesday 21 October is a seminar by special guest Dr. Tim Sherratt.

tim.sherrattDr. Sherratt is well known in the field of digital humanities, and recently received a standing ovation for his keynote presentation at DH2015, the annual international conference of the Alliance of Digital Humanities.

In his own words, Dr. Sherratt is a historian and hacker who researches the possibilities and politics of digital cultural collections. He has been creating online resources relating to archives, museums and history since 1993, and is currently an Associate Professor of Digital Heritage at the University of Canberra, while also co-managing the National Library of Australia’s Trove database. Sherratt is a member of the THATCamp Council, an organiser of THATCamp Canberra, and a committee member of the Australasian Association for the Digital Humanities.

Details of the seminar are below:

‘A Manifesto for Tactical DH Research Infrastructure’

Wednesday 21 October, 1-2pm
Undercroft 101, James Hight

Digital research infrastructure is typically understood as big and expensive, but some of our most valuable tools live in the GitHub accounts of individual coders. Investment in digital infrastructure and coding education tend to be framed in the language of innovation and large-scale ‘disruption’, and yet DH offers a more critical and reflexive path based around small-scale interventions.

DH encourages us to share, to do our work in public, and yet…these are not simply matters of policy or strategy. They are real moments of uncertainty in the lives of individual DH practitioners. How do we help? How do we build an infrastructure aimed not at lofty national goals, but at supporting people who want to do things differently?