Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Hello Worlds

I am pleased to announce the safe arrival of non-identical twin boys on the 26th November 2010 at 3am (just a few hours after I posted the entry below - they must have known...). It was all a bit of a mad emergency rush, but we are all fine, and after a week or so in special care the twins are thriving.

Left: Edward Buckminster Terras Ostler, 7lb. Right: Fergusson James Terras Ostler, 5.5lb.

I expect to be off radar until the spring...

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Shutting Up Shop

Hey folks. My maternity leave starts tomorrow. I'm crossing off the to do list, battening down the hatches, making like a tree and leaving, etc etc. Twins are due in less than 3 weeks.

No doubt I'll be hovering on email and twitter (@melissaterras) but anything I do from now, workwise, is a bonus rather than mandatory. Back to work full time in September 2011. (Who knows what state the blogosphere will be in by then?)

I'll post here when there is any news - but probably nothing else terribly interesting for a few months. I hope to emerge in the spring sometime, when sleep routines should start to happen... fingers crossed. Wish me luck.

Sorry we're closed by threelittlecupcakes on Flickr

Friday, 19 November 2010


You'd have to be hiding under a rock to not notice the attack on the Arts and Humanities in the UK, and beyond, recently.

As a response to the threads on Humanist in October on "industrialisation of
the digital humanities" (http://lists.digitalhumanities.org/pipermail/humanist/2010-October/001644.html) and "digital humanities and the cuts (http://lists.digitalhumanities.org/pipermail/humanist/2010-October/001649.html), I am part of an international collective of digital humanists that Alan Liu is coordinating. We have started an initiative and Web site called "4Humanities: Advocating for the Humanities" (http://humanistica.ualberta.ca/).

(Members so far in the U.S., Canada, and U.K.): Edward Ayers, Cathy N. Davidson, Patrick Durusau,
David Theo Goldberg, Tim Hitchcock, Lorna Hughes, Alan Liu, Andrew Prescott, Stephen Ramsay, Geoffrey Rockwell, Lisa Spiro, Me, and William G. Thomas, III.

The 4Humanities Mission Statement goes as follows (http://humanistica.ualberta.ca/mission/):

4Humanities is a site created by the international community of digital humanities scholars and educators to assist in advocacy for the humanities.

Government and private support for the humanities—for research, teaching, preservation, and creative renewal in such fields as literature, history, languages, philosophy, classics, art history, cultural studies, libraries, and so on—are in decline. In some nations, especially since the economic recession that started in 2007, the decline has resulted in major cuts in government and university funding. Leaders of society and business stake all the future on innovative and entrepreneurial discoveries in science,engineering, biomedicine, green technology, and so on. But the humanities contribute the needed perspective, training in complex human phenomena, and communication skills needed to spark, understand, and make “human” the new discoveries. In the process, they themselves discover new, and also very old, ways to be human. They do so through their unique contribution of the wisdom of the past, awareness of other cultures in the present, and imagination of innovative and fair futures. Many people care about the humanities, not just in the educational and cultural institutions directly affected by the recent cutbacks, but also in business, government, science, media, politics, the professions, and the general public. They believe that society will be poorer, not richer, without the humanities to help us grasp, and evolve, what it means to be “human” and “humane” in today’s complex

4Humanities is both a platform and a resource for humanities advocacy. As a platform, 4Humanities stages the efforts of humanities advocates to reach out to the public. We are a combination newspaper, magazine, channel, blog, wiki, and social network. We solicit well-reasoned or creative demonstrations, examples, testimonials, arguments, opinion pieces, open letters, press releases, print posters, video “advertisements,” write-in campaigns, social-media campaigns, short films, and other innovative forms of humanities advocacy, along with accessibly-written scholarly works grounding the whole in research or reflection about the state of the humanities.

As a resource, 4Humanities provides humanities advocates with a stockpile of digital tools, collaboration methods, royalty-free designs and images, best practices, new-media expertise, and customizable newsfeeds of issues and events relevant to the state of the humanities in any local or national context. Whether humanities advocates choose to conduct their publicity on 4Humanities itself or instead through their own newsletter, Web site, blog, and so on, we want to help with the best that digital-humanities experts have to offer.

4Humanities began because the digital humanities community—which specializes in making creative use of digital technology to advance humanities research and teaching as well as to think about the basic nature of the new media and technologies–woke up to its special potential and responsibility to assist humanities advocacy. The digital humanities are increasingly integrated in the humanities at large. They catch the eye of administrators and funding agencies who otherwise dismiss the humanities as yesterday’s news. They connect across disciplines with science and engineering fields. They have the potential to use new technologies to help the humanities communicate with, and adapt to, contemporary society.

So how can you help?

We are calling for participants and assistance from the digital humanities community. Some of the help we need most immediately is as follows:

(1) Before we become more public (i.e., recruiting talent and time from the general humanities community, itself a prelude to recruiting advocacy from people in the sciences, business, government, film industry, etc.), we need to build up more resources under the "Digital Resources for Advocacy" part of the site, (Lisa Spiro, for instance, will be helping by harvesting from her DIRT wiki: https://digitalresearchtools.pbworks.com/w/page/17801672/FrontPage)

(2) We are especially keen to begin collecting posts, images, podcasts, etc., in the currently empty category of "Students for the Humanities"--i.e., student voices.

(3) We'd really like to recruit some creative multimedia people to begin producing a video "advertisement for the humanities"--so that we don't stay only in the realm of essay-like advocacy statements.

Please write to Alan Liu at ayliu@english.ucsb.edu if you would be interested in helping. Please also help put out the word about 4Humanities.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Ask and Ye Shall Recieve

A couple of weeks ago I had dinner with a friend of mine who had done his PhD (in Philosophy) at the same time I had done mine. He is now in the financial sector, but keeps his creative mind active. His latest hobby, he announced, was learning Old English.

What surprised me was that, although he had been searching for a while, he said that he was really disappointed with the level of provision of online materials for Old English. Of course, my hackles went up a little - OE really isnt my area of expertise, or even passing acquaintance - but surely the DH peeps into OE and Medieval studies must have made something that was available for learners, that was decent?

Let not the good name of DH be besmirched! I cried. I shall prove you wrong!

First port of call for me was twitter. Within a few hours, I had been pointed to various resources, from various scholars - none of which my friend had been able to find on a Google search.
- http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=6072484486 for online teaching resources for Old English (via @hurricaneally)
- The electronic beowulf CD-ROM (via @dougreside)
- teachers upload Beowulf guides & other Old English resources to Woruldhord community collection http://projects.oucs.ox.ac.uk/woruldhord/ (via @RunCoCo)
- recommend search for Stuart Lee Old English lectures on iTunesU & Oxford podcasts http://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/ (via @ltgoxford)
- Peter Baker's electronic intro to OE: http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/resources/IOE/index.html (via @Rwelzenb)
- Not sure how accessible it is: http://www.wordloca.com/ (via @iridium)

Sometimes, I just love twitter. How else would I have been able to find these things in such a short time, with so little effort on my part apart from a 140 character question?

Then, of course, there's DH Questions and Answers, which I've just posted the question to to see if I've missed anything else. Again - what a resource! Populated by both experts and newbies - all of them enthusiasts.

Thanks, DH people. I feel like we've not only disproved a criticism, but also highlighted the helpful nature of our community.

My friend thanks everyone for the pointers. And said: "I really must join twitter!".

Friday, 1 October 2010

Spot the Difference

Something on here has changed. What is it? 10 points if you can see...

I just updated my job title. I'm now proud to be the "Reader in Electronic Communication" in the Department of Information Studies at UCL.

Reader is one of those funny titles that no-one really knows how to place. You dont have to go for it - you can apply to be Professor straight after Senior Lecturer, but I am such a completionist I wanted to collect the set. I'm really proud to have been promoted so soon after Senior Lecturer - and just before a year off on maternity leave, too.

Time to pause and reflect on the next phase... and a nice glass of something in celebration will have to wait for a few months!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Turning Japanese

My plenary speech for DH2010, Present, Not Voting: Digital Humanities in the Panopticon, has just been translated into Japanese!

The translator was Satoshi Kodama Ph.D, a Lecturer at the University of Tokyo School of Medicine who teaches medical ethics. His research interests include the moral and legal philosophy of Jeremy Bentham - he can be found on twitter as @bentham.

Thanks to Satoshi, and to the International Institute for Digital Humanities for hosting.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

New MA/MSc in Digital Humanities

We've been putting the final touches to our promotional material for the new MA/MSc in Digital Humanities at UCL. Here is our new poster!

We had to follow quite strict style guidelines from UCL communications. They tend to use a London landmark to publicise courses. I liked the idea of London Bridge - given that the degree will be bridging two disciplines -but didnt want to use the stock photo given. How could we demonstrate cultural heritage, plus digital transformations, using a picture of London Bridge?

How about, I thought, using a historic image. So I bought an out-of-copyright Victorian postcard off eBay that had the right feel. Experiments with pixelation were mocked up, and Rudolf Ammann, who designed the UCLDH logo, suggested this "look through the window" design, with one pixel skewed to add movement and suggest transformation. Comms did a good job in complying with our demands on making it look good as well adhering to the style guide.

We like it. Hope you do too! If anyone out there wants physical copies to stick up at their institution, get in touch...

Transcribing Bentham

... whilst I was away for a few weeks, Transcribe Bentham launched. Hurrah! We've had a lot of publicity, and now have 156 registered users who have transcribed 150 manuscripts in the last couple of weeks. Progress is steady!

... do of course register and sign up, to see if you can help read Bentham's handwriting!

All quiet from the shed front

If things have been quiet around here.... its because I'm getting quieter. Those who know me in person will be aware that I'm expecting twins at Xmas. The last few weeks have seen me trying to tidy up various things, meet with various people, and get various projects wrapped up into a state I can comfortably leave them in until I'm back up to speed after The Event.

Early you say! I'm not due til Xmas! ... but I've just been medically signed off from commuting into London. I have a relatively rare condition in pregnancy that makes it increasingly difficult and painful to walk, as the ligaments in my pelvis overstretch. I'm not quite in my wheelchair yet - I still can leave the house under my own steam on crutches. But my world is gradually shrinking to house, shed (home office at the end of the garden) and hospital and physio appointments. That's ok, we knew it would happen this time round. My job is to keep chipper over the next three months before the twins arrive, and the three or four months recovery time after, until I'm able to walk under my own steam again.

Its worth noting how much the Internet contributes to my general wellbeing, though. It is a godsend. I can still get on with work, still communicate with friends and colleagues, and still shop (given that twins are due, there is a lot of shopping to be done). I dont know what I'd do without it. Once again, I breathe a sigh of relief that I live now, and not 20 or 30 years or longer ago. On the Internet, no-one knows you are a disabled. Except for when you tell them. Whoops.

My teaching for the next 16 months will be covered by Julianne Nyhan, who we are glad to welcome on board to UCLDH. I'll be hovering on email and twitter for the duration, no doubt. In the meantime, life goes on as normal, just increasingly physically localised.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

EngD Scholarship at UCLDH

(This is going to be a great project - looking at the use of 3D scanning in a Museum environment. We are working with a major London museum - cant reveal who until we have a memorandum of understanding worked out, but it will be a very interesting and innovative project. Do get in touch if you want to talk more about the project, or the EngD program.)

Engineering Doctorate Studentship

Understanding the Use of 3D Scanning in a Museum Environment

Applications are invited for an Engineering Doctorate (EngD) in the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and Department of Computer Science in conjunction with a major London museum. This is a 4-year studentship, starting in October 2010, leading to the award of an Engineering Doctorate, which offers the opportunity to conduct research within a cultural heritage context.

The research will seek to understand more about how 3D scans of museum objects can be used in a physical or virtual exhibition space. Within this we wish to ask the following subsidiary questions: how does the use of 3D scans affect the user experience of visiting an exhibition? (For example the user’s level and type of learning, or how much they enjoy the experience.) Can users understand the relationship between the original and virtual object? Can users understand how such exhibitions should be navigated?

This EPSRC (UK Research Council) funded studentship is available to UK citizens and EU nationals if a relevant connection with the UK has been established (usually by being resident for a period of three years immediately before the EngD). Applicants must fulfil EPSRC eligibility criteria and the normal academic requirements for admission to study in the Department. This studentship will pay a tax-free stipend of approximately £18,000 per year, plus tuition fees. EU students without a relevant connection to the UK can receive an award to cover tuition fees only.

Applicants should have at least a high 2.1 in Computer Science, Human Computer Interaction, engineering or a related field. Applicants must also demonstrate an interest in cultural heritage, and the use of new media within a museum context.

Informal enquiries on the project can be made to Dr Melissa Terras (m.terras@ucl.ac.uk). For further information on the EngD Programme, see http://web4.cs.ucl.ac.uk/teaching/engd/ or contact Dr Jamie O'Brien, j.obrien@cs.ucl.ac.uk.

To be considered, you must fill in the general UCL application form. Please see http://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/graduate-study/application-admission/, where you can download the forms and guidelines. Make sure you specify Supervisor (Melissa Terras), and EngD (“Understanding the use of 3D Scanning in a Museum Environment”) on the “Research Subject Area” part of the form. Please send the completed form to Naomi Jones & Melanie Johnson, Department of Computer Science, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT.

If you need further assistance regarding our application process, please contact the postgraduate administrators - Naomi Jones & Melanie Johnson (postgradadmin@cs.ucl.ac.uk).

The closing date for applications is September 1st 2010. Interviews will be held shortly thereafter.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

where's my dinosaur party?

From a post on lifehacker, about
How to Deal with Distractions in a Web Worker's World,comes this fantastic cartoon (which came my way via @expertsleepers).

I need to give this to all my MA students who are wading through writing their dissertations right now.

And have it printed out big on my office wall.

In the online money

My 6 monthly royalty statement came in from OUP for Image to Interpretation today. A cheque enclosed! for the princely sum of £10.23!

... but what is interesting about this is that most of the revenue was my (tiny) cut of the proceeds made from selling access to digital versions of the book. Ten times more ebooks sold than hardbacks in the same period. Admittedly, this is not a sample that you can statistically extrapolate findings about the whole of the book industry from - but its just worth saying that I'm glad I ticked the "can we make this book available in digital form?" box when signing all the paperwork a couple of years ago.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Decoding Digital Humanities - Melbourne Chapter

I said in the post below that I would post more details about the Decoding Digital Humanities reading group who will be meeting in Melbourne, Australia, on thurs 29th July, at the Prince Alfred Hotel, 191 Grattan Street, 5.30- 7.30pm. More information here.

They'll be discussing my plenary at DH2010. Gulp.

Decoding Digital Humanities is an informal gathering for those who are interested in all things digital, providing an opportunity to mingle, share ideas, discuss readings and raise questions surrounding the field of digital humanities. If anyone else feels like setting up a Decoding Digital Humanities group at their own institution (the aim would be to do the same readings each month as the London group, and piling in to the discussions online later) then do get in touch with the organisers of the first group, Claire Ross and Kathryn Piquette, here at UCLDH.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Plenary revisited

Well. Just coming up for air after the excitement that was DH2010.

The video of my plenary is available at http://www.arts-humanities.net/, which has been viewed and downloaded (by humans, not bots) around 400 times in the past week.

The plenary made the Times Higher, although the reportage gave it a negative spin, rather than focussing on the positive aspects I suggested throughout. Nevermind - all publicity good publicity, etc - and I appreciate that some of you found the time to pile in and correct the reporter on her tone in the comments below the article. (If I have one comment on the slightly sensational reporting - its that they didnt focus on the fact that I said things about the state of the Humanities at King's, when giving a plenary at a Humanities conference at King's. Surely more of a story? But nevermind! It made the Times Higher!).

Next week the plenary will be discussed at the Decoding Digital Humanities reading (and drinking) group in London. And at the Australian chapter of Decoding Digital Humanities (I will provide a link when I find out more about this). And at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, University of Maryland, staff meeting.

I've had lots of email, and twitter, messages from those who agreed - and vehemently disagreed - with points I made in the plenary. Thanks for all your comments. I am, of course, pleased to discuss any points that anyone would like to make to me, whether on email or via twitter.

I admit that I wasn't expecting all of this! But it is nice when you have worked hard on something (and I worked hard on the plenary - it could have gone horribly wrong to be a relatively young scholar standing up in front of the whole discipline for an hour...) to get a reaction. Thanks for your feedback, and (in general) your support.

Type-casting the iPad

Like most folks interested in new media technologies, we got us an iPad as soon as they came out. And it’s great for some things – such as sitting on the sofa and doing some online shopping, reading blogs, etc. You’ve heard all this before. Great for passive consumption.

I was surprised at DH2010 how many people were toting iPads around as their work machines, though. And I am surprised at the increasing number of people who bring them to meetings at work. Why? Because the iPad is not a machine to do academic work on if you can actually type.

One of the best things I did when I started my PhD and had some time on my hands was spend 30 mins a day for a few months learning to touchtype (thanks, past-semi-bored-self!). Although the quick brown fox jumps over the rusty fence was tedious, it means I can motor through emails and student assessments and drafts of articles now. (I never mastered touch typing numerical, or complex punctuation, but hey, that doesn’t slow me down much). But it also means I could never seriously use the iPad as a work machine: the layout of the keyboard reduces everyone to two-fingered dad-typing. I cant use trusty keyboard shortcuts to make processes that little bit quicker. My productivity – on email, in taking notes, in creating documents – is massively reduced. Back to the normal keyboard and normal laptop it is.

As a result, when more and more colleagues turn up to meetings with their shiny new iPad toy, I’m not sitting there impressed and cooing. I’m thinking – ahaa, thats why it takes you so long to answer emails.

Youth of today: learn to touchtype! (But, as the old advice goes, don’t tell anyone that you can, you don’t want to be treated like a secretary...) And don’t think that shiny and new and touch screen means increased productivity - well, not where emails and documents and reports are concerned, anyway.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

TEI By Example Launched!

After a good few years work on this - we are finally ready to launch!:

The Centre for Scholarly Editing and Document Studies (CTB) of the Royal Academy of Dutch Language and Literature, the Centre for Computing in the Humanities (CCH) of King's College London, and the Department of Information Studies of University College London, are pleased to announce the launch of TEI By Example: freely available online tutorials walking individuals through the different stages in marking up a document in TEI (Text Encoding Initiative). These online tutorials provide examples for users of all levels. Examples are provided of different document types, with varying degrees in the granularity of markup, to provide a useful teaching and reference aid for those involved in the marking up of texts.

Thanks go to my collaborators, Edward Vanhoutte and Ron Van den Branden, for all their hard work on TEIbyexample.org. Do let us know what you think!

Teaching Fellow Post at UCLDH

After all the excitement of #DH2010, back to business. All being well, I'll be going on maternity leave in the autumn term, and the advert for teaching cover for my post has just gone up. This is a 16 month teaching post in the Dept of Information Studies at UCL, and the candidate will also be involved with the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities.

I'll even share my lecture notes and guest-lecturer contacts with the person who gets the job...

More information on the UCL recruitment pages.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

DH2010 Plenary: Present, Not Voting: Digital Humanities in the Panopticon

This is an approximation of what I plan – or hope – to say in my closing plenary speech at Digital Humanities 2010 at King’s College London, June 2010. I’m not one for reading off prewritten speeches, however, so expect diversions and ad-libs in the recorded speech. I wanted to write a written record for those in the discipline who could not attend, or who were busy keeping their seats in the pub for the World Cup semi final.

(ps. I'll go back in the future and put the links in to the tweets, for verification purposes)

Preamble, the First.
Firstly, let me say how honoured I am to have been asked to be the plenary speaker at DH2010. I understand that this is a deviation from previous conferences – for the first time, instead of getting someone external to the community to talk about semi-related research areas, they’ve asked someone from well within the discipline to present. I’m aware that, in a room that holds 250 people, there are 249 people other than myself who are more than qualified to stand up for an hour and say what they currently think of the Digital Humanities (not to mention the other 200 folks registered for the conference who may be watching from the streaming lecture theatre).
It’s also worth saying that I am incredibly nervous. Many of those in the audience are close colleagues, many are good friends. This is not a conference I can walk away from and forget a disastrous presentation. I’m very aware that the rules of giving plenary speeches have changed as rapidly as the information environment over the last few years. I remember a plenary at ALLC/ACH (as the conference was then known) ten or so years ago where the speaker read out a chapter of their book, never looking up at the audience once, and with no concession given for the change of presentational mode: “As I said on page 39. As I will discuss in chapter five...” Nowadays, given that I’m being recorded and simultaneously broadcast online, that just won’t cut it. You expect more.
As well as being , I’m aware that I’m being #nervous. Many of you will already have tweeted comments about what I’ve said online, even though I’ve not really begun yet. That’s fine, and I’m not looking for any special treatment. I just want you to be aware that I’m aware that these are changed days. I don’t know how I’m being watched and perceived, as much as you don’t know what I’m going to say next. In fact, surveillance is just one of the things I want to talk to you about today.

Preamble the Second
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m from University College London, just a mile north from King’s. UCL and King’s were both founder members of the University of London in 1836, and the two Universities have an interesting, competitive history. UCL was set up as a secular educational establishment, letting in anyone who could pay the fees (such as Gandhi. And Women.) whereas King’s was set up as an Anglican church based institution, in reaction to the “Great Godless of Gower Street” threatening to allow education to all just up the road. The two institutions have remained locked in friendly – but sometimes fierce – competitive mode, ever since. A recent Provost’s newsletter from UCL ran with its most important headline that UCL had beaten King’s in the rugby varsity match 22-0. On the academic front, we are often competing for the same staff, students, grants, even facilities. UCL has recently established its Centre for Digital Humanities, which forms a competitive alternative to the teaching and research that has been established at King’s Centre for Computing in the Humanities (soon to be the Department of Digital Humanities). And so it goes on.
We’re proud at UCL of the different nature of our University. As opposed to King’s, we never will have a theology department, and do not provide a place of worship on campus. Much of the founding principles of UCL were influenced by the Jurist, Philosopher, and legal and social reformer, Jeremy Bentham who believed in equality, animal rights, utilitarianism, and welfarism. UCL special collections host 60,000 folios of Bentham’s letters and manuscripts, many of which have not been transcribed. Upon his death, Bentham’s skeleton was preserved as an “Auto-icon” (a two fingers up to those who believed in religion and the need for a Christian funeral) which now sits, dressed in his favourite outfit, in the cloisters at UCL. There is an oft repeated story that Bentham’s body is wheeled into Senate meetings, although he is noted in the minutes as “Present, not Voting”.
You will notice that in early colour photos, you can still see Bentham’s real preserved head at the base of the Auto-Icon. This has been stored in Special Collections ever since 1975, when (the story goes) students from King’s stole it, merrily kicked it around the quad, and then held it to ransom. Friendly competition, indeed.

Time to draw this properly back to Digital Humanities and the plenary in question. One of Bentham’s main interests was penal reform, and he is perhaps most famous for his design of the Panopticon, a prison which allowed jailors to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the incarcerated being able to tell whether they are being watched. This psychologically, and physically, brutal prison was never built, but the concept has lived on as metaphor, influencing a wide range of artists, writers, and theorists, including George Orwell (who worked in room 101 of Senate House, in-between UCL and King’s, and would have been well aware of Jeremy Bentham’s work) and Foucault. Indeed, the Panopticon can be taken as a metaphor for western society, and increasingly, online communication, particularly social media. Every time you tweet, do you know who is paying attention? What audience are we performing for, and can you be sure you are in control of how our actions are viewed and used?
Now, I cannot pretend to be an omnipresence that has been watching all that has been happening in the Digital Humanities over the past few months. But when you are asked to do a plenary speech such as this, believe me, you start to pay attention to things. You do your homework. I’ve been peering into the twittersphere panopticon and wondering what to say. Which will be the following:
  • I’m going to talk briefly about the Transcribe Bentham project, as a type of Digital Humanities project that can objectively demonstrate the changes that are occurring in our field at the moment.
  • I’m going to use this project as a window to peer at current issues in Digital Humanities – or at least things that I’ve learnt from the project – and the wider community – over the past few months.
  • And finally, I’m going to set you all homework based on the key things that are emerging in our field. Friendly competition is not so friendly just now. There are tough times ahead for academia, given the current financial crisis and promised cutbacks. What can we learn from the areas highlighted by this discussion, and what can we do better as a field, so those who are looking at us (and believe me, managers and administrators and financial experts are looking at us) can visibly see what we are up to?
Transcribe Bentham
Transcribe Bentham is a one year, Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project, housed under the auspices of the Bentham Project at UCL (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/Bentham-Project/). The Bentham Project aims to produce new editions of the scholarship of Jeremy Bentham, and so far twelve volumes of Bentham’s correspondence have been published by the Bentham Project, plus various collections of his work on jurisprudence and legal matters (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/Bentham-Project/Publications/index.htm). However, there is much more work to be done to make his writings more accessible, and to provide transcripts of the materials therein. Although a previous grant from the AHRC in 2003-6 has allowed for the completion of a catalogue of the manuscripts held within UCL (http://www.benthampapers.ucl.ac.uk/), and transcriptions have been completed of some 10,000 folios (currently stored in MS Word...), there are many hours of work that need to be invested in reading, transcribing, labelling, and making accessible the works of this interdisciplinary historical figure if they are to be analysed, consulted, and utilised by scholars across the various disciplines interested in Bentham’s writings.
Crowdsourcing - the harnessing of online activity to aid in large scale projects that require human cognition - is becoming of interest to those in the library, museum and cultural heritage industry, as institutions seek ways to publically engage their online communities, as well as aid in creating useful and usable digital resources. As one of the first cultural and heritage projects to apply crowdsourcing to a non-trivial task, UCL's Bentham Project has recently set up the "Transcribe Bentham" initiative; an ambitious, open source, participatory online environment which is being developed to aid in transcribing 10,000 folios of Bentham’s handwritten documents. To be launched in August 2010, this experimental project will aim to engage with individuals such as school children, amateur historians, and other interested parties, who can provide time to help us read Bentham’s manuscripts. The integration of user communities will be key to the success of the project, and an additional project remit is to monitor the success of trying to engage the wider community with such documentary material: will we get high quality, trustworthy transcriptions as a result of this work? Will people be interested in volunteering their time and effort to read the (poor) handwriting of a great philosopher? What technical and pragmatic difficulties will we run into? How can we monitor success in a crowdsourced environment?
One of the other things that is interesting about the Bentham Project, and the Transcribe Bentham initiative, it is demonstrates neatly the progression of Digital Humanities in historical manuscript based projects. The Bentham Project has been primarily occupied with print output, gaining a web presence in the mid 1990s, then an online database of the Bentham archive in the early 20th Century, and is now carrying out a moderately large scale digitisation project to scan in Bentham’s writings for Transcribe Bentham. In addition, the Bentham Project has gone from a simple web page, to interactive Web 2.0 environment, from MS Word to TEI encoded XML texts, and from relatively inward looking academic project to an outward facing, community- building exercise. We can peer at Digital Humanities through this one project, and see the transformative aspects that technologies have had on our working practices, and the practices of those working in the historical domain.

Transcribe Bentham, and Emerging Issues in DH
I could talk about crowdsourcing for an entire hour, but I thought it would be more useful to point out to those involved in the Digital Humanities community some of the emergent issues that I have found myself tackling whilst engaging in the Transcribe Bentham project. It’s certainly true that for every project that you work on you learn new things about the field, and over the past year various aspects of DH research and issues that concern the DH community have raised their head.
I’m going now to talk about some of these issues, backing it up with some observations of what has been happening in the DH community, through conversations that others have been having on Twitter. Forgive me if you just think I’m a stalker. A lot of these issues are becoming more visible in the DH community, so I’m going to quote you on those.

1. Our Dependence on Primary Sources, Our Dependence on Modern Technology
I’ve never felt more of a Jack of all trades, master of none working on Transcribe Bentham. And it’s great. Let’s be clear – The Bentham Project belongs to Professor Philip Schofield, who has been working on it for over 25 years. I’ve just been drafted in to help bridge the gap between primary sources, dedicated scholars, and new technology. On the one hand, I’m utterly dependent on scholars who know less than me about IT, and more than me about their subject domain, to make an academic contribution. On the other, I’m utterly dependent on some programmers who have the time to work up the ideas we have for TB into a complex (but seemingly simple!) working environment for transcribing documents, in just a few months. I’d be lost without access to historical knowledge and source material, but I’d be lost without access to new, online cutting edge, technologies.
This is something I see repeated across our discipline. When Ray Siemens tweets “Among many highlights of an excellent week, holding a well-read copy of Thynne’s 1532 Chaucer, as well as an iPad...” we get the joy. When Brian Croxall tweets “Gah, can’t get online at this hotel” we feel his frustration at being cut off from a service and an environment which is becoming as essential to us as running water or Oxygen. When Bethany Nowviskie tweets “Dreamed last night that my #DH2010 poster was a set of flexible, give away, interactive touchscreens. Maybe not too far in the future” we nod in recognition, and go, yeah... that would be cool... let me Google that and see if they exist... We exist in this parallel state where we are looking towards humanities research, and computational technology, and it can be immensely rewarding, and great fun. I’m really enjoying working on Transcribe Bentham. I really enjoy the duality of DH research (as long as I can get online when I want).

2. Legacy Data
But as well as working with historical documents (or artefacts, or whatever), it’s becoming increasingly common with the Digital Humanities that we have to work with historical digital documents – or legacy data, left over from the not-so-distant past, in different formats and structures that need bringing into current thinking on best practice with Digital data. This can take immense amounts of work. Converting 10,000 transcribed Bentham documents from MS Word to TEI compliant XML, with any granularity of markup, is not a trivial task. Linking these transcripts with the records currently held in the online database, and then UCL’s library record system (to deal with usability and sustainability issues) is not a trivial task. Linking existing transcriptions with any digitised images of the writings which exist is not a trivial task. Transcribe Bentham, then, is dealing with sorting its own ducks into a row, as well as undertaking new and novel research.
Most of us understand this, and we understand just how much work (and cost) is involved in continually ensuring we are maintaining and updating our work and our records to make sure that our digital resources can continue to be used. So we understand that a seemingly simple tweet by Tom Elliot saying “more BAtlas legacy data added to Pleiades today, courtesy of @sgillies http://bit.ly/dBuYFg” belies an incredible amount of work to ensure to convert and maintain an existing resource. As well as looking forward to the future, and new technologies, us DH peoples must be our own archivists.

3. Sustainability
Which brings me to the thorny issue of sustainability. We hope with Transcribe Bentham that the project will continue far beyond its one year remit, but there are some decisions to make with that regard. Will the user forums, and user contributions, continue to be monitored and moderated if we can’t afford a staff member to do so? Will the wiki get locked down at the close of funding or will we leave it to its own devices, becoming an online-free-for all? We are at the stage, in a one-year-project, where we already need to be applying for future funding, before we have even got anything to demonstrate that its worth continuing our funding (and there is no guarantee in the current climate that any funding will be forthcoming, see below). But we are lucky in Transcribe Bentham – its father project, the Bentham Project, will continue whatever happens, under the watchful auspices of Philip Schofield. So when Dan Cohen is quoted, by Shane Landrum, in a tweet that reminds us “Being a labour of love is often the best sustainability model” we understand what that means. Sustainability is an area of huge concern for the DH community, and is going to become more so as financial issues get more complex.

4. Digital Identity
Transcribe Bentham is going to live or die by its digital identity and digital presence. It doesn’t have any equivalent in the offline world. It is what it is: an online place to hang out and help Transcribe some documents, should that take your fancy. To be a success, then, our functionality, digital presence, and digital identity need to be absolutely spot on. Ironically, I’ve never worked on a Digital Humanities project before where the digital presence mattered so much, and I’ve come to realise that we all should be taking our digital identity and digital presence a lot more seriously. It’s not enough just to whack up a website and say “that’ll do, now back to writing books”. If we are going to be in the business of producing digital resources, we have to be able to excel at producing digital resources, and be conscious of our digital identity and digital presence.
We are lucky at Transcribe Bentham to have gained the input of one of my PhD students, Rudolf Ammann (@rkammann) who is also a gifted graphic designer. He has taken it upon himself to whip both UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, and Transcribe Bentham, into online shape, whilst designing logos for us which are both fitting, useful, and memorable. We’re being careful with TB to roll our presence out over twitter and Facebook to try and encourage interaction. We hope that someone will be watching.
Suddenly, it matters in a way that didn’t matter before, if people are looking at our website and our resource. I believe that digital presence and digital identity is becoming more important to Digital Humanities as a discipline. So when Amanda French jokily tweets “I feel like a got a rejection letter yesterday from @DHNow when too few RTed my “binary hero” post http://bit.ly/aKpBiX” we understand the complexity of interacting in the new digital environment: we want the discourse, and want the attention (and if you don’t know what DHNow is, you should be reading it every day). Likewise when Matt Kirschenbaum tweets “Has Twitter done more as DH infrastructure than any dedicated effort to date?” and this is immediately retweeted by Tim Sherratt with an addendum “[For me it has!]” we understand the possibilities that are afforded with new modes of online communication. How we can harness this properly for Transcribe Bentham remains to be seen – but we are at least aware we need to make the effort.

5. Embracing the Random, Embracing the Open
There are large differences between producing a perfect (or near as perfect as can be) print edition of Bentham’s letters, and learning to deal with the various levels of quality of input we will be getting with Transcribe Bentham. There are large differences between working in a close knit group of scholars, to working with the general public. There are also differences in producing online editions and sources which you are willing to open up to other uses – and one of the things we want to do with Transcribe Bentham is to provide access to the resulting XML files so that others can reuse the information (via web-services, etc). The hosting and transcription environment we are developing will be open source, so that others can use it. And this sea change, from working in small groups, to really reaching out to users is something we have to embrace, and learn to work with. We also have to give up on ideas of absolute perfection, and go for broader projects, embracing input from a wider audience, and the chaos that ensues. So we understand when Dan Cohen tweets “Another leitmotif I’m sensing: as academics, we need to get over our obsession w/ perfect, singular, finished, editorial vols”. Bring it. Let’s see what happens...

6. Impact
I only realised recently that my automatic reaction to getting involved with the Transcribe Bentham project was “how can I get from this some output that counts for me”. We wrote into the grant bid a period of user testing and feedback, and one of the reasons is to get a few pretty much guaranteed publications out of the project, looking at the success – or not! – or crowdsourcing in cultural heritage projects. Get few academic outputs in there, then we can go and play online, and not have to worry too much about how creating an open source tool, or reaching out to a potential audience of thousands, will “count” in the academic world. Because no matter how successful Transcribe Bentham, the “impact” will be felt in the same usual way – through publications. This is a nonsense, but it’s part of the academic game, and is becoming of increasing frustration to those working in the Digital Humanities. It’s not enough to make something that is successful and interesting and well used: you have to write a paper about it that gets published in the Journal of Successful Academic Stuff to make that line on your CV count, and to justify your time spent on the project. So we understand the frustration felt by Stephen Ramsay when he puts a mini-documentary online which goes as viral as things really get in the Digital Humanities, viewed by thousands of people, which will have no real impact on his career: “I’ve published some print articles. Funny thing though: None of them were read by 2000 people in the space of 2 weeks .... had their titles printed on t-shirts, or resulted in dozens of emails from adoring fans. So why am I writing journal articles again? .... Oh wait, nevermind, my department doesn’t count movies.”

7. Routes to Jobs
This is a tricky one. Should those hired in Digital Humanities projects to do technical work have a PhD in Digital Humanities – even if the tasks in the role are service level (such as marking up TEI) and don’t require that academic training? I’m willing to admit that Transcribe Bentham walked right into the storm with this one when our job adverts for our two RAs went up. We advertised for two postdocs: one with a historical background that had experience working in the Bentham studies area, one with TEI chops to help us with the back end of the system. We specified that we wanted PhDs because of the changed rules in employment at Universities in the UK (well, at least those involved in the common pay framework): if we had advertised for posts at non-PhD level, we wouldn’t have been able to employ someone with a PhD, even if they wanted to work for less money, because of the spine point system. So, we advertise for two postdocs, and if someone good comes through without a PhD, we can employ them on a lower rate. But we forgot to mention that applications from those without a PhD may also be considered. Cue much online discussion in various forums.
We get this frustration. Dot Porter said, on Facebook rather than twitter, “I get annoyed when I read job postings for positions that require a PhD, and then read the job description and can’t figure out why. Maybe I’m sensitive, not having a PhD? Is a PhD really required for one to take part in the digital humanities these days, even in supporting (non-research) roles?”
This is becoming a real issue in Digital Humanities. There is no clear route to an academic job, and no clear route to PhD, and there are a lot of people at a high level in the field who do not have PhDs. Yet increasingly, we expect the younger intake to have gone down that route, and then to work in service level roles (partly because there are few academic jobs). It remains to be seen how we can address this. In Transcribe Bentham, we changed the advert to make it clear we accepted applications from non-PhDs. In the end we did appoint two post-docs, but at least we made it clear that people had the option to apply for a job where, ostensibly, you didn’t need a PhD, just the skill set, to undertake the task properly.

8. Young Scholars
This problem of employment and career and progression taps into a general frustration for young scholars in our field. It can be hard to get a foothold, and hard to get a job (not just in Digital Humanities – in the UK over 15% of graduates under the age of 25 are currently unemployed. It’s a tough time to be coming out of university, PhD or no PhD). Perhaps twas always difficult to make the transition from academic student to academic Academic, but twitter amplifies the issues that are facing young scholars in the field trying to make headway. I was very aware when hiring for Transcribe Bentham that there were some very good candidates out there who just weren’t getting a break (the person who came second in the interview, and who we would have employed instantly had we had two historical post-doc positions, later told me that he had had over 20 interviews, but we were the first people to give him any feedback). We shouldn’t forget the pressure young scholars are under (at a time when we are complaining of the financial pressures that us paid academics are under) and how difficult it can be for them on both a professional and personal level. It makes me sad to hear tweets like the one from Ryan Cordell saying “Just wrote a tough email withdrawing from #DH2010. Even if I got a bursary, I just couldn’t swing it in the same summer as our move #sigh”.

9. Economic Downturn
Which brings me to the next doom and gloom point. When Brett Bobbley tweets “Two weeks ago, no one in my kid’s school had Silly Bandz; now they all wear them. How come higher ed never moves that fast?” we all chuckle at the thought of the academy as being a reactive, immediate place to be. It takes a few years for the impact of outside events to trickle down. Its only now that the economic downturn is starting to hit Higher Education. In the UK, cuts over the next few years are predicted to be anything between 25% to 40%, depending on what leak or rumour or Governmental minister you believe. These are uncertain times for research, and for institutions, and for individuals, and for projects. We don’t know if there will be money to even apply for to continue the research and application in the Transcribe Bentham project. We don’t know, even if we submit an application, that the funding council wont suddenly reject all applications due to their funding cuts. We don’t know how to make an economic case for projects in the Arts, Humanities, Heritage, and Culture, so that when panjandrums and apparatchiks are deciding which swinging cut to make next, we can display our relevance, our impact, the point of our existence, and why people should keep writing the cheques. These are uncertain times. How this is affecting Digital Humanities is slowly beginning to be played out.

10. Money, The Humanities, and Job Security
I feel that it would be morally wrong of me to come to a conference at King’s that has the word Humanities in the title and not broach the subject of what had happened over the past year to the Humanities at King’s. Palaeography is a subject close to my heart, and as @DrGnosis tweeted during the opening speech of #DH2010, “I weep for Palaeography”. I also like to think that had any one of the 420 other registered conference attendees from the Digital Humanities community been asked to give this plenary that they would have the guts to raise this issue. But I am guest here and do not want to be rude or impolite. So I’ll repeat what was tweeted by John Theibault: “There’s going to be a bit of a pall over dh2010 because of all that’s gone on with KCL”. And I recommend if you do not understand what I am talking about, then you read about it, and understand how little respect was given to Humanities academics at Kings over the past year from their management. And I suggest you hope that your own management have not been taking notes, and do not proceed in a similar fashion, for what hope is there then for the Humanities?
It’s very difficult for those in the Humanities to make the economic case for their existence, and that is what we are being expected to do in the current climate. We need to be able to explain why projects like Transcribe Bentham are relevant, and important and useful. Those in the humanities are historically bad at doing this, and those in DH are no different. But DH is different from traditional humanities research: on the plus side, we should be able to articulate the transferable skill set that comes with DH research, that can educate and influence a wide range of culture, heritage, creative, and even business processes. On the downside, projects like Transcribe Bentham are more expensive than paying one individual scholar for a year to write their scholarly tome on, say, Byzantine Sigillography – the digital equivalent will require researchers, computer programmers, computer kit, digitisation costs, etc. To ensure that the Digital Humanities are funded at the time when funding is being withdrawn from the Humanities, we need to be prepared, and to articulate and explain why what we do is important, and relevant.

11. Fears for the Future.
Of course, it’s not just the Humanities that are in a perilous financial state: in the UK, it’s the whole of the sector. At King’s, it’s not just Humanities that have taken the hit, but also the Engineering Faculty. Profitable groups from disciplines such as Computer Science have been poached wholesale by other Universities (not so friendly competition now, is it?). And this is a pattern we are seeing across the Universities in the UK. We’re all scared; for the continuation of our projects (such as Transcribe Bentham), for our students, for our young scholars on temporary contracts, for our “research profile” (whatever that may mean) and for our own jobs. We understand the implicit horror in a tweet such as that from Simon Tanner saying “England next? Plan to close smaller #Welsh #Universities broadly welcomed by #education professionals. http://bit.ly/dxWBsj #HE #wales.”

If we think that no-one is watching us and making value judgements about our community, our research, our relevance, and our output, then we are misguided. It’s not just other scholars who are paying attention, but those who hold the purse strings – who often have no choice but to make brutal cuts. The Humanities are one of the easiest targets, given scholar’s reluctance or inability to make the case for themselves. I’m reminded of a phrase from Orwell’s 1984, and what happened to society when under the horrific pressure and surveillance within. Allow me to paraphrase: if we are not prepared, and if we are not careful, these cuts will be “a boot stamping on the face of the humanities, forever”. I remember very strongly that at the end of an upbeat DH2009 Neil Fraistat stood up and said “The Digital Humanities have arrived!”. But in 2010, the place we have arrived to is a changed landscape, and not nearly as optimistic. We are not in Kansas now, Toto.

Digital Humanities in the Panopticon
So let us pretend that we are someone from outside our community, watching the goings on in academia and making value judgements, and financial judgements, about our discipline and field. How does Digital Humanities itself hold up when under scrutiny? How do we fair with the crucial aspects of Digital Identity, Impact, and Sustainability?
The answer is – not very well. From the outside looking in, we look amateur. We should know and understand best, amongst many academic fields, how important it is to maintain and sustain our digital presence and our community. But our web presence, across the associations, sucks. The ACH website says it was last updated in 2003. The ALLC web site is a paean to unnecessary white space. SDH/SEMI is not so bad, but has its own problems with navigation and presentation (I’m including it here so as not to leave out a whole association) – but the ADHO website is a prime example of what happens when Wikis are not wiki-ed. These are our outward faces. These are our representations of the field. We’ve been slow to embrace other social media and new technologies when we are the field that is supposed to show how it is done.
But what you may not know is that the associations have recently taken this on board. There is a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes on all accounts, so I don’t want to lay into folks too badly on this. A wireframe of the new ADHO site, which should be up and running shortly, demonstrates that we are moving into the 21st Century, finally. What’s interesting is the big space for a mission statement, and a definition of the field (which we at DH don’t have, yet!). We need to take our digital presence more seriously, and to embrace the potentials that we all know about, but haven’t pitched in to help represent for the discipline.
What about impact? We’ve been historically bad at articulating our relevance and our successes and our impact beyond our immediate community (and sometimes within our immediate community – it surprised me recently when a leading scholar in the field was told, via twitter, of the role the DH community had in the formulation of XML, and he hadn’t heard of this before). We’re bad at knowing our own history, as a discipline, and having examples listed off the top of our heads of why our research community is required in today’s academe.
As for sustainability, we should know best among many fields of the importance of preservation of our discipline’s heritage. Yet it’s only been recently that scholars in the field have started to note the disappearance of abstracts from previous conferences, websites which have disappeared overnight, the fact we don’t have, and can’t locate, a complete back run of the journals printed by the associations. For example, we don’t have any of the image files included in the ALLC/ACH 2000 abstract book. We need to look after our heritage: no-one else will. What you may not know, again, is that a few people are working behind the scenes to try and build up digital copies of our discipline’s history, and hopefully over the next year or so we’ll see this available online. We need to be leading the way in the humanities for publishing and maintaining and sustaining our discipline, to demonstrate that, yes, we really do know what we are talking about. At the moment, it looks like we don’t.
Why does all this matter? I bring you back to the title of my talk: “Present, not Voting: Digital Humanities in the Panopticon”. Our community matters (although heck, a lot of you are not voting – for the ACH and ALLC elections, turnout was around 30%. We need new blood in the associations. We need people who are not just prepared to whine but prepared to roll up their sleeves and do things to improve our associations, our community, and our presence in academia.) But the fact of the matter remains: if we do not treat our research presence seriously, if we are not prepared to stick up for Digital Humanities, if we are not prepared to demonstrate our relevance and our excellence and our achievements, then the status of those working within DH (including the relevance of digital scholarship, and how it is treated by those in the Humanities) will not improve, and we’ll be as impotent as we have ever been. We should be demonstrating excellence and cohesion and strength in numbers. We should be prepared, as best we can, for whatever is coming next in the financial downturn, and in academia. If we self identify as Digital Humanists – and I presume many of those here at the conference would – then we need to articulate what that means, and what’s the point of our community. It’s the only way to prepare for what is coming.

So far, so doom and gloom. But we are a community who are full of those who like to do things, and make things, and achieve things. And there are plenty of practical things we can do to ensure both the continuation of our individual careers, our individual projects (such as Transcribe Bentham), our centres, and our teaching.
For the individual, we can be prepared by having at the tip of our tongues what we do and why we matter and why we should be supported and why DH makes sense. (Those definitions of DH must be personal, and must vary – but how many of us, when asked to explain DH, go “well, its kinda the intersection of....” – and you lost them at kinda). We need to have thought about the impact of our work, and why it is relevant. When asked, or queried, about this (either in a personal or professional setting) we should know. And it really doesn’t hurt to have learnt a little about the background of our field, and its impact, and its successes, so we can throw in a few “for examples” when the blue-sky nature of research pays off, and for when the application of our research in the wider community works, and for some major problems that need to be solved about digital culture and use and tools and why we are the people to do it.
Individuals can find support in networks of scholars, and become active in communities (both DH and individual subject organisations): there is strength in numbers. Individuals can take their digital identity seriously – let’s show other scholars and other disciplines how best to proceed. We need to learn to play the academic game with regard to publications, though, and ensure all of our wonderful whizz bangy tools are equally as followed up with research papers in important places, which is a bit of a bind, but the only way with which to maintain and improve our academic credentials at present. Individuals can promote and be the advocates for DH, and for DH based research. We can also ensure that we support the younger cohort and students and young scholars who are just entering our field: it’s our role to be ambassadors for DH in every way we can.
For those individuals who do have some management sway and some management clout, there is also plenty that can be done to push forward the Digital Humanities agenda, within departments and institutions. More support and kudos can be given to digital scholarship and digital outputs within the humanities, and this becomes something that can be raised and pushed within institutional committee structures, to ensure they count for hiring and promotion and tenure. (Indeed, established devoted tenure track posts for Digital Humanities scholars may be something those in the states could work towards). Issues of funding and employment for young scholars in the discipline should be watched out for, including the PhD and hiring/ qualification issue, but this is something that can be tackled through careful, watchful leadership. My main advice to those in DH management, though, would be to ensure you fully embed your activities within institutional infrastructures: become indispensible. Get involved with academic departments and service areas. Provide advisory services and engage with as wide a spectrum as people within your institution as you can. Be ready to defend your staff and your projects in the current financial climate, and be forewarned.
There is also strength in numbers in management, in local, regional, national, and international communities. Collaborations should be entered into, rather than competition, to further imbed projects and people into the wider academic field. Strategies and policies should be developed to deal with the coming hardships that face us.
From an institutional point of view, building up a centralised record of all the individuals and projects involved in DH within an institution can facilitate new research, and build on existing strengths to make it clear where new research opportunities may lie. I would suggest that DH centres should integrate closely with library systems (and iSchools). Institutions can also support digital outputs as being research in the internal promotion of individual scholars. The establishment of teaching programs (such as the new UCL Centre for Digital Humanities MA in Digital Humanities) provides essential training for young scholars entering our field, and institutions should look to the opportunities which exist in providing this graduate level training – which is sorely needed in our field. Institutions can also encourage collaboration with other institutions, and provide facilities, for example, for visiting scholars, to encourage cross-fertilisation of teaching and research ideas.
The ADHO organisations can also do plenty to maintain and support research, teaching, and the DH community. Our digital presence should be (and is being) sorted out as a matter of urgency. Within those digital resources, ADHO and its constituent organisations should provide the community with the ammunition which is necessary to defend DH at a relevant, useful, successful research field. Information about the successes of DH can be pushed, including projects and initiatives that have been important to both our and other communities. The value and impact of DH can be documented and presented. A register of good projects can also be maintained. Best practice in the running of projects and centres can be pushed, and advice given to those who need it in all matters DH. Collaboration should be encouraged, and the associations should continue the work they are doing in supporting young scholars. If anyone has any further ideas, then please do contact the associations. They are there to help you.
My suggestions for funding agencies are relatively succinct – I am not sure how much leeway they have in providing funds at the moment, although it is worth saying that certain funders (more than others) have been and are being very supportive to DH, and are engaged with and listening to our community. We need financial support, both to carry out blue sky research, and to build DH infrastructures. Funding agencies can also help with the sustainability of projects, and in wrapping up and archiving projects. They can aid, encourage, and facilitate collaboration, and graduate research. Considering the large investment that has been made in DH, particularly over the past ten to fifteen years, it makes sense for them to continue supporting us to ensure our research comes to fruition, although we are all very aware of the changed financial academic world in which we live.

Wrapping up
This has been an honest tour of what DH means to me, and some of the issues which DH is presented with at the moment. It’s been necessarily negative in places. But I hope I have left you with the feeling that there is proactive activity which we, as individuals, departments, institutions, organisations, and agencies can take to further entrench ourselves in the humanities pantheon and to demonstrate that we really are indispensible to the humanities.
I don’t know what is going to happen with Transcribe Bentham, whether the project itself will be a success, or whether we’ll still have a funded project to talk about in a year’s time, but for me it is part of the learning curve to distil and understand how our current research aims fit into the current academic framework.
One thing I do know, is that I think that Jeremy Bentham would have loved the fact that a picture of his manky embalmed head was being broadcast on a giant screen at King’s College London (especially when involved with a speech that raises issues about KCL!). I’ve really enjoyed having the chance to talk to you about my thoughts about Transcribe Bentham, and the Digital Humanities in general. A rough transcript of this talk will be posted to my blog. Thank you for listening in person, and see you on Twitter, in the Panopticon.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Hacking the Career: Digital Humanities as Academic Hackerdom

Tom Scheinfeldt and Dan Cohen have put forward a proposal for an edited book entitled Hacking the Academy, To be written in a week by folks from the Digital Humanities community and beyond. More details here. I thought I would put down some of my thoughts on what this immediately said to me.

The OED definition of the word “hacker” contains two distinct definitions.
hacker /"hak@/ n. me. [f. hack v.1 + -er1.]
1 A person who or thing which hacks (something).
2 spec. An enthusiastic computer programmer or user; a person who tries to gain unauthorized access to a computer or to data held in one. colloq.
hackerdom n. the realm or world of computer hackers

Unauthorized access. It strikes me that my views on how I ended up here – Senior Lecturer at one of the best Universities in the world, and Deputy Director of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, is one giant hack. Lack of self confidence aside, as I look around the discipline of Digital Humanities, I see many people like myself. Enthusiastic computer programmers or users, for sure. But wiley, creative, individuals who have taken every unpredictable opportunity available and turned it into an academic career, and as a result, an academic discipline.

Let me explain. Until recently, you couldn’t go to University and train how to be a Digital Humanities.... what? Scholar? Digital Humanist? How would you start? Most paths into professional academe are a series of increasing specialisations. So, you’d turn up to fresher’s week to study English Literature. Somewhere along the line you’d get interested in Modern Poetry. An undergraduate dissertation here, a masters dissertation there, and before you know it, you’re handing in your PhD thesis on Metaphors of Travel in the Works of Elizabeth Bishop. You’re the expert. Now it’s up to you to battle out the job market to find that English Lit position that will let you burrow further into your specialisation.

I don’t think thats too narrow a description of how it happens (although of course, there is serpendipity, the influence of others, the vaguaries of the funding system and jobs market to surf). But Digital Humanities is not like that.

There is not a traditional path in.

I look around the folks who are part of the team at the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, and we are a motley crew – and all the better for it. The Eng Lit PhD- turned publisher- turned usability expert. The trained and practicing Librarian – turned academic information seeking specialist. The archaeologist- turned museums and the web expert – turned usability expert. The computer-scientist turned-medical physicist – turned manuscript expert. The computer scientist-archaeologist. Me? I’m the art historian-english literature- turned computer science – turned engineering science –turned information science digital classicist (I think).

I’m at risk here of describing Digital Humanities scholars as the freaks and geeks of the academic world, but this is far from negative. For most of us, getting here has been a series of random connections, introductions, jumps from one career structure to the next. Somewhere along the line, you need to know enough about Humanities to talk the humanities talk. Somewhere along the line, you need to have worked up enough programming chops to use, and utilise, computers as (not “like”) a pro. Until the last 4 or 5 years, academic programs that did that just did not exist (and there are still only a few: Alberta, KCL, soon at UCL, for example). Most of the folks who self identify as Digital Humanists and are active in the DH community have picked up their skills through a mixture of backgrounds and challenges. And used their smarts to get access to – and be active in - the academy along the way. Many of those have a love for Digital Humanities, but will still be teaching Chaucer 101 to undergrads in the Eng Lit dept, whilst being a world expert in TEI and overlapping markup. Or teaching databases in the CS department, whilst working on imaging of ancient coins. Or teaching, like me, how the internet works to librarians and archivists, whilst pottering with whatever advanced computational techniques I can get access to for relevant humanities projects. Or the programmer, working on interesting interfaces for projects. Or the database expert, figuring out how to jam those representations of Byzantine seals into a data structure. (This is not just about teaching, but a way of thinking).

Of course, the same goes for that Eng Lit scholar (the expert in Elizabeth Bishop, who gets lumbered with teaching the Comedies of Shakespeare to the freshers) – but the point I am making is this. Our academic discipline does not have the same structure as traditional, more established ones. We do not have the obvious career progressions. We do not have the obvious tenure track. We do not have the obvious places to publish to guarantee that Nobel Prize. We are the academic magpies, the interdisciplinary scholars with one foot in the sciences and one foot in the humanities, creating our own “portfolio careers”. We are hacking our way through both fields, and creating – making - a space where we can talk about the need for, the use for, and the reason for the use of computational techniques in the humanities (whether to benefit the humanities or the computational sciences).

Unauthorized access to the academe? Digital Humanities has a habit of being labelled by others as “service” rather than academic endeavour: those of us undertaking research in this area know too well the steps we take to maintain and reinforce our scholarly position, and the enthusiasm and conviction necessary to maintain and build a career in this area.

Its still all up for grabs, and there is much to be done. I believe there is room here, for many many more scholars to engage with, utilise, develop, and theorize about digital culture (in its purest sense). Most of them still wont get here by following a traditional degree pathway in. There is a specific mindset that is required to be a success in the Digital Humanities community. I’d argue the enthusiasm, challenge to traditional structures, and querying, querying nature fits us squarely within the “academic hacker” label. Digital Humanities as hackerdom. Lets see how far we can get.

Digital Classicist/ICS 2010 summer seminar programme

Meetings are on Fridays at 16:30
in room STB9 (Stewart House)
Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Seminars will be followed by refreshments

* Jun 4 _Leif Isaksen (Southampton)_ Reading Between the
Lines: unearthing structure in Ptolemy's Geography
* Jun 11 _Hafed Walda (King's College London)_ and Charles Lequesne
(RPS Group) Towards a National Inventory for Libyan Archaeology
* Jun 18 _Timothy Hill (King's College London)_ After
Prosopography? Data modelling, models of history, and new directions
for a scholarly genre.
* Jun 25 _Matteo Romanello (King's College London)_ Towards a
Tool for the Automatic Extraction of Canonical References
* Jul 2 _Mona Hess (University College London)_ 3D Colour Imaging
For Cultural Heritage Artefacts
* Jul 16 _Annemarie La Pensée (National Conservation Centre) and
Françoise Rutland (World Museum Liverpool)_ Non-contact 3D
laser scanning as a tool to aid identification and interpretation of
archaeological artefacts: the case of a Middle Bronze Age Hittite Dice
* Jul 23 _Mike Priddy (King's College London)_ On-demand Virtual
Research Environments: a case study from the Humanities
* Jul 30 _Monica Berti (Torino) and Marco Büchler (Leipzig)_
Fragmentary Texts and Digital Collections of Fragmentary Authors
* Aug 6 _Kathryn Piquette (University College London)_ Material
Mediates Meaning: Exploring the artefactuality of writing utilising
qualitative data analysis software
* Aug 13 _Linda Spinazzè (Venice)_ Musisque Deoque. Developing new
features: manuscripts tracing on the net

For more information on individual seminars and updates on the
programme, see http://www.digitalclassicist.org/wip/

Friday, 21 May 2010

The Day After

We officially launched the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities yesterday! James Murdoch, Chairman and CEO of News Corporation gave a brilliant speech with strong opinions on creativity, culture, and online content (which you can read the full text of). The Guardian have already covered this - and we are eagerly awaiting responses from cultural and heritage institutions, making the case for freely available digital content as opposed to the paid for model championed by James - as well as considering our thoughts on the matter.

The event went swimmingly - UCL was looking handsome in the early summer sunshine, the champagne flowed, and there were many distinguished guests who we were able to explain the role, focus, and impact of Digital Humanities to. At dinner afterwards, I sat beside the newly appointed Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt. It was great to have the opportunity to explain why our field matters, and to showcase the varied research interests we have.

Update: there is quite a lot of media coverage about this.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Gearing up

We're gearing up to the big launch of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities here, on Thursday. Expect more coverage soon, including the url on which to watch live streaming action of our opening speaker, James Murdoch from News International, who will be talking about cultural heritage and access in the digital age.

Friday, 30 April 2010

And a final taster

As I said below, I'll share the rotating gallery of all 40 posters when they go online, and start to pepper UCL noticeboards, soon.

And Another UCLDH poster

.. featuring some DH peeps who I am friends with on facebook.

Another UCLDH Poster

Have you guessed who it is, yet? (think @TranscriBentham).


We are gearing up to the official external launch of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities. One of the things we have done is prepare a set of 40 or so posters that rather jokily should raise the profile of UCLDH around campus itself. They should be going up on the website in the next week or so, in a rotating gallery, and I'll share that with you then. I'm really pleased with them - they walk a fine line between provocative and tongue in cheek, and will be ideal for grabbing people's attention who are, say, going places in lifts at UCL and looking at the posters therein.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Changing the Center of Gravity

Here's the book cover for Changing the Center of Gravity - the book of essays in memoriam to Ross Scaife that was first published as an online journal volume in DHQ. It's in press, and should be out shortly.

The British Museum kindly gave us permission to use the image on the front - psychostasia, the weighing of the souls, as featured on a white ground, black figure Lekythos, around 480BC. We thought this a fitting tribute to Ross and a poignant image- not only was he fond of black figure painting from this period, and the scales reference the title of the book, but the weighing of the souls refers to the gods balancing the scales to determine which heroes will not return from battle.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

PhD Studentship at UCL in Digital Humanities

We have here up for grabs one PhD studentship to come to the good ship UCL Centre for Digital Humanities to undertake a PhD. Details below.

Vacancy Information
The PhD studentship in Digital Humanities will be held at the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities which brings together work being done in many different UCL departments and centres, in the humanities, computer science and engineering, as well as Library Services and Museums and Collections. We also collaborate with organisations outside UCL, such as museums, galleries, libraries and archives. We aim to produce research that is meaningful to both computer scientists and humanities scholars, and that will bring about new knowledge in both research areas.
Studentship Description
The award may be held by a student working on any topic relevant to digital humanities. However, it should involve genuinely interdisciplinary research, which is likely to require joint supervision from more than one UCL department or faculty. For further information about examples of current UCLDH research projects, please visit www.ucl.ac.uk/dh/projects. The award provides funding for tuition fees at the UK/EU rate and a student stipend for three years. Informal enquiries may be made to Samantha Hulston (s.hulston@ucl.ac.uk) or Dr Claire Warwick begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting (c.warwick@ucl.ac.uk).
Person Specification
Applicants must have at least a good 2.1 in their first degree, and ideally an MA or MSc in a relevant discipline and should have a background in the humanities, computer science, information or museum studies or ideally a combination of some of these fields.
To apply, please download and complete the application form.

More info on the UCL jobs website.

Back! From Outer Space!

... or at least, the Easter shutdown plus computer fail. I am now revving on my new little machine, vroom vroom. Backlog, here I come!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Vaio as Chin Scratcher

Vaio as chin scratcher
Originally uploaded by monkeysorama
Maybe I shouldnt have let the cat use my old computer as a scratching post.

Take a Stand! ALLC elections

The ALLC elections for 2010 are now underway.
Nominations are now invited for three Committee posts, each to serve a 3-year term, and for one Committee post to serve a 2-year term.
And a new Chair needs to be chosen and elected, too.

Any DHers out there who subscribe to LLC (joint membership, or membership of ALLC) are eligible to stand. Being on the committee means that you get to contribute to the running of the association, perhaps also initiatives on the ADHO level, and the running of the various journals. As well as a great thing to have on your CV, its a good way to understand more about the workings of academic associations, conferences, and journals. Its also a great way to get to meet other DH people from across Europe. All this for a couple of meetings a year.

We really need new blood in the committee, and a few individuals who have been very involved for the past decade are now moving on. Do stand for election if you are interested. And do take the time to vote!

More info about the elections here.

Still no new machine

But working in the cloud is not as bad as it would have been even a few years ago. I had an interesting exchange with a ticket collector yesterday at Kings Cross station - my train was delayed, so I was hanging out on the platform alongside a train that offers free wifi, picking up email and docs on my iPhone whilst waiting. "Are you travelling with us today, madam?" "only online, sir".

Its not ideal, at the end of term, to be a bit of an internet hobo, but heck, at least all my email records, calendars, etc didnt dissapear into scrambled electron soup. And my new docking station arrived yesterday. Fingers crossed a new machine will arrive to dock into it in the next day or so...

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Day of DH

Today is the day of DH! over 150 people in digital humanities will be blogging throughout the day, saying what they are up to, and showing the diversity of the discipline.

You can see my own mini blog here, although its not going to be the day I thought, for yesterday my dear little laptop keeled over, forever. I am currently typing this on my TV in my living room (thank goodness we have 5 or 6 computers just kicking about, that come in useful in situations like this). But still - I am oddly bereft.

Bereft, but not tearing my hair out. I keep pretty good backups, so think I may have irrecoverably lost about 30 mins of work, and a to do list, so its not the disaster it could have been. But my little machine! my machine!

I'll remember the good times. sniff.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Crowdsourcing Manuscript Material

So, when I announced the Bentham Transcription Initiative (which will soon have its own website, we are working on things behind the scenes) I said it was a “highly innovative and novel attempt to aid in the transcription of Bentham’s work”. I firmly believe that: I don’t know of any other large scale transcription attempt of correspondence that is opening things up to crowdsourcing, and our project has a broad remit, producing an open source tool, whilst undertaking user studies on the use of crowdsourcing in cultural heritage application.

But that is not to say that there are not other crowdsourcing projects out there (and I’m sorry if I implied that!). I have had very interesting exchanges with quite a few people, and so I thought I’d draw a few other projects to your attention, if you are interested in community based online cultural heritage projects (and beyond).
  • There is huge amateur interest in genealogy, and the Free Births, Marriages and Death (FreeBMD) register have been transcribing the Civil Registration index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales, and to provide free Internet access to the transcribed records.
  • Small and Special” has been using volunteer effort to create a database relating to the early years of The Hospital for Sick Children at Great Ormond Street, including patient admission records and articles.
  • The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre have an interest in transcription of cultural material, and they've been doing some very exploratory work in crowd-sourcing transcription.
  • The National Library of Australia's Australian Newspapers is using crowd sourcing to correct the OCR of digitised Australian newspapers and with some contributors correcting hundreds of thousands of lines of text.
  • The USGS North American Bird Phenology program encouraged volunteers to submit bird sightings across North America from the 1880s through the 1970s. These cards are now being transcribed into a database for analysis of migratory pattern changes and what they imply about climate change.
Then there is the idea that building an online tool to help transcribing manuscripts is novel. There are a good few things out there, it turns out.
  • Ben Brumfield was kind enough to point out his blog, Collaborative Manuscript Transcription, which has both links to projects and tools, as well as considering the types of things one has to keep in mind when designing an online tool for transcribing texts. Ben has also developed his own system, http://beta.fromthepage.com/, software that allows volunteers to transcribe handwritten documents online. We’ll be looking at it closely.
  • The MediaWiki ProofreadPage plugin has been developed for many print transcription projects and a few manuscript projects. Current English-language projects using the plugin are listed there (and there are quite a few).
  • The BYU Historic Journals Project has developed an online transcription tool. The server seems to be down for maintenance (http://journals.byu.edu/) but there is a video online which demonstrates how they have been using their online tool for both searching and creating information.
  • The Worcester Polytechnic Institute Emergent Transcriptions/Transcription Assistant software system has also been pointed out, you can see more at E-Scripts@ WPI and Uscript.org.
  • The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre have produced a tool called OpenScribe (Online Volunteer Transcription Service) which is based on a slightly-modified Drupal installation, the source-code for which is hosted in svn on Google Code. They have developed another tool, Remote Writer, which provides a web-based word-processor GUI for someone to easily markup text to xhtml which can then be translated to TEI using stylesheets, and is how they have enabled non-technical contributors to create the content found at sites such as Turbine literary journal and Best New Zealand Poems.
  • The SCRATCH (SCRipt Analysis Tools for the Cultural Heritage) project is exploring methods for automated information retrieval and analysis in large collections of scanned handwritten-document images. That’s a slightly difference focus to the rest of the projects named here, but I include it as it may be of interest.

So that’s the round up so far. Richard Davis, the developer from ULCC who is working on the Bentham project with us, has also posted an overview of who he has been chatting to. Once we get the project name, domain name, and website sorted out, we'll be posting lots of updates about our development of the tool - keeping the project as open as possible, in all kinds of ways.

If you know of any other cultural heritage projects using crowdsourcing, in particular for manuscript material, then please do get in touch. And if you hear about any other online manuscript environments we need to be aware of, drop us a line too! We wont be getting properly stuck into the Bentham Transcription project til RA’s are appointed (closing date for applications March 8th…. ) but it is good to learn what else is out there.

Update: I forgot to mention the "International Amateur Scanning League" which is a crowdsourcing digitisation project to digitise material from the USA's National Archives and Records Administration. Its a different focus - digitisation rather then transcription - but what a great name! They have a badge, and everything!