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:
Category Archives: Seminars
You’re invited to our 4th Digital Humanities monthly meetup: “Online Collections & Exhibitions: An Introduction to Omeka”.
When: Tuesday 30 May, 3-5 pm
Where: Puaka-James Hight Library Building, Room 388
Omeka (https://omeka.org/about/) is a free, open-source web publishing platform for the display of collections and exhibitions. It’s used by libraries, museums, archives, scholars and communities around the world – including students and researchers here at UC, with the support of the UC Arts Digital Lab.
Staff from the Lab will showcase two key Lab projects that demonstrate the power and versatility of Omeka, and will walk participants through setting up a simple Omeka site. You’ll get the most out of this workshop if you bring your own laptop with VirtualBox (https://
If you’d like help installing VirtualBox, feel free to drop into the UC Digital Arts Lab (Karl Popper 414) any day between 9-5pm, before Tuesday 30th.
When: 26 April 2017, 3.00 – 5.00 pm
Where: UC Puaka-James Hight Library Building, Room 388
The 3rd Digital Humanities monthly meetup is entitled “Internet Memes: The crumbling boundaries between the serious and the unserious”.
The study of Internet memes is new both as concept and practice. This is largely due to the novelty of the concept itself, as well as the academic resistance against the serious study of the unserious. But the boundary between the serious and unserious is crumbling, and cyberculturally literate scholars have emerged to tackle the task of studying memes.
This presentation will explore the three major traditions of meme studies in their historical, theoretical and cultural contexts, introducing the most prominent thinkers and how they are shaping the future of meme studies. The presentation will be followed by a workshop in which participants will learn how to start their own memepage on Facebook. A laptop or a smartphone is recommended for the workshop, but not required.
As always, feel free to invite others and we look forward to seeing you!
Please join us for the Digital Humanities Meetup of the year: “Network Analysis – Looking at the World Through Likes, Hashtags and Other Digital Traces”
When: Tuesday 28 March, 3-5 pm
Where: Room 388, Puaka-James Hight
Don’t forget you can also join the meetups group: www.facebook.com/groups/
Come along to our first Digital Humanities meetup for the year – “Digital Humanities: What is it and why should we care?” – at 3pm Tuesday 28th Feb, Room 388 Puaka-James Hight (Central Library). All welcome!
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!
On Saturday, Lucy-Jane presented at the 3rd Annual FemSoc Feminist Conference on Digital Humanities and empowering women with technology. The talk was well attended but we thought we would share it here for others.
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 http://editions.canterbury.ac.nz), 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 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.
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.