Apr 032014
 Posted by on April 3, 2014 digital humanities, e-learning, education No Responses »

I would like to see a future for the Digital Humanities that engages fully with eLearning. It makes absolutely no sense for the DH to exclusively collaborate with the scientific support mechanisms of eResearch (ie. infrastructure). The social sciences have done ok out of eLearning and there are also lots of opportunities for the humanities in eLearning as we have most of the worlds great content.

Content is always king, especially if it is well taught!

May 012013

I recently attended a seminar at UWS on Friday 26 April, 2013 led by Lynne and Ray Siemens of the University of Victoria in Canada. The theme of the event was collaboration in the humanities and in particular; how digital humanities projects exemplify effective collaboration in the broader humanities. This is because digital humanities projects often cross-disciplines and geography and the often more demanding collaborative terrain of computer science, computational methods and the humanities.

Lynne Siemens, specialises in project management and team building. She stated that people aren’t always well-trained to work together and outlined some of the positives and negatives of working in teams. She claimed that some people are better able to collaborate than others, often because they have developed skills of listening, are flexible, can negotiate, and can compromise.  Lynne described these as the ‘soft skills’ of effective collaborative teams. A team approach often produces more diverse and possibly higher quality ideas (and is a good way to learn new skills and perspectives), but some projects are better done as an individual (but of course, some projects are beyond the scope and skills-sets of individuals).

Lynne outlined some of successful team interactions she had observed, partly through research she had undertaken through case –studies.  Good communication skills are vital, as is project management, and the ability to think across technology and the humanities and indeed, culture and language. Also the objectives of the team, the outcomes, and the individual tasks need to be clearly described with not too many grey areas that may be potential areas of conflict. And teams operate within institutional contexts so there are certain contingencies to negotiate either within or between institutions.  Still, one of the best ways to build teams is through casual conversations, lots of face-to-face meetings, and large bottles of rum (I put in the last one).

Ray Siemans is a Professor of Humanities Computing at the University of Victoria in Victoria, Canada and is well known for his work in the Digital Humanities and in particular, through the founding of the annual Digital Humanities Summer Institute (that I attended 2 years ago and now attracts around 500 participants).  He discussed the important work of the digital humanities, particularly around content modelling and computational analysis of content (a core form of scholarship within the field). He also discussed the typology of curriculum development in the digital humanities either through stand-alone degrees or through digital humanities inflicted programs and in particular, the highly successful Summer Institute model.


DHSI (Digital Humanities Summer Institute) http://www.dhsi.org/

ETCL (Electronic Textual Culture Lab) http://etcl.uvic.ca/

Apr 272013
 Posted by on April 27, 2013 collaboration, education, gadfly No Responses »

The term interdisciplinary is used a lot, often unthinkingly and uncritically.  I asserted in the last post that the ”socio-technical’ is a false dichotomy and that technical production is also ”social” and technology advances within its own understanding of ‘the social’ (grounded by the laws of physics).  And the separation of the two modes of thinking is unproductive.

It is this idea of ”unproductive” thinking that needs to be explored, especially in fields that exist in the gaps, ie. interdisciplinary fields such as ”STS” or the ‘Digital Humanities”.  Understandings of ”the social” and the tools and methods we use to do this advance rapidly. And tool and methods to understand the world through computer science change rapidly as well (ie programming methods change rapidly).  It is easy to get stuck in one camp and make claims that one is interdisciplinary whilst falling behind in one of the disciplines that are important for your particular ”interdisciplinary” practice. I see this all the time in fields such as cultural studies that are advanced in the finer skills of academic practice, but the technical objects of their study are often many years behind contemporary technical research .   And some technical areas such as eResearch tend to be bogged down in some very old-fashioned ideas of utility and are often unable to contribute to humanities research in a meaningful way because it is far too distant from it and lacks a sophisticated understanding of it.

Interdisciplinary requires deliberation and also empathy towards what one does not know. It is often very difficult if not possible to stay on top of a number of fields, but one can recognize this in ones-self and develop the skills and strategies to make good contributions to the interdisciplinary space that are both balanced and informed and aware of the key work and technical advances across fields.


Apr 212013

I have been undertaking a lot of research of late that involves ‘sociology-technical’ approaches to computing. Whilst the subject matter of the studies is interesting and worthy, I do worry about falling into the academic trap (in which there are way too many) of being ‘socially determinist’. What I mean by this, is exclusively using in the research process, books and related theories that are very distant from the creation and understandings of software. ‘Technical capital’ through exercising technical skills (ie. from the people who built software) does not occur in a social void and the decisions made here are important and are often made by individuals unawares of the otherwise important social theories that someone else may have about them in some other research context. In other words, the ‘sociology-technical’ is a false dichotomy because it all-to-often fails to engage with the the technical production of software and the people that do this (so that they may inform each other). They are also ‘human’ and ‘social’ and have their own understanding of this and it is naive to believe that studies that are exclusivity ‘books about books’ are more in tune with the human condition or more ‘social’ (ie they are lacking in wisdom and balance). It would be much better to educate students about socially responsible coding. This is the two-hands of the ‘sociology-technical’ (that are hopefully connected to the same human being). We suffer from the same false dichotomy in the digital humanities and I think that the problem is more acute here in Australia because we import nearly all the software we use, so we are a long way from understanding the context in which it is made. And the people that make it in Germany, the UK, and the USA will continue to make it in their own context.

I think the hardest lesson I learned as a historian is that technology doesn’t need history. And technology certainly doesn’t need an Australian historian; in fact I may just write a book about this! (or learn how to program a machine that writes books without human intervention; the ultimate revenge of the digital humanist).

Nov 242012
 Posted by on November 24, 2012 digital humanities, education, video, video diary 1 Response »

Milkbar:The Everyday City and Globalisation was a project that sought to uncover some of the stories and concerns of some of the local residents of Fitzroy; an inner city Australian community. The videos assembled here are part of a larger project on the subject completed in October 2002 (more details below).

Forty four people within the suburb were interviewed with a video camera with the purpose of creating a record of a local, inner-city community in a significant period of change and to try and understand much of this change. It is an attempt to critically objectify historical change at a local level through an online oral history.
(This video is all the interviews stitched together. The individual videos with some contextual information are also on YouTube).

Continue reading »

Mar 162012
 Posted by on March 16, 2012 digital humanities, education No Responses »

This is Ted Nelson demonstrating Project Xanadu. Nelson first coined the phrase 'hypertext' in this article: Nelson, Theodore.H. A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing and the Intermediate Proceedings, Association for Computing Machinery,1965.

This is my 1998 Masters thesis completed at the University of Melbourne in 1998.  This was my first serious inroads into the ‘digital humanities’ and some of the language within it now seems very dated (ie CD ROM). I was reflecting upon how I entered the digital humanities after being prompted in a stimulating article by Johanna Drucker in a book (Debates in the Digital Humanities) that I am reviewing. This was perhaps my most personally-extending work as many of the individuals in the bibliography I have since met and many have become colleagues and even friends.

I am not sure how mature my thinking was about the humanities and the digital was at the time; I was certainly a lot less mentally traveled. Still, I stand by its central concepts and I later went on to apply a prototype system to explicate the ‘history and hypertext’ thesis. And hypertext became normal to be usurped by data! I think I like hypertext better than data. I wish we has an Australian National Hypertext Service than a Australian national data service…

The objective of this thesis is to investigate critically some of the recent developments in information technology within the discipline of history. In particular, I will focus upon hypertext and how it is being used within the World Wide Web and CD-ROM (Compact Disk Read Only Memory) environments. By applying recent hypertext theory (that is both book and author centred) to the practical adaptations of historians, I hope to offer some insight on where these projects stand in relation to the book. The printed and published codex with its idea of the author has been the stalwart of humanist intellectual culture in the Western world for many centuries. Its understandings, both in a physical and intellectual sense, offer an excellent position to illuminate some of the central issues that hypertext raises for our discipline. The historical record makes clear that the most distinctive features of the printing revolution were to stabilise written culture into a canon of authored texts, to create the notion of the book as property, and to envision the author as creator. In a hypertext environment, the physical manifestation of the book and the institutions that support it do not exist; thus the framework of what we understand as an author is altered considerably. The questions that I wish to address in this thesis are: what is a hypertext history author in both the CD-ROM and World Wide Web environments or in place of the author what structure does one use to determine if hypertext can successfully communicate the knowledge of our craft? To explore these questions I have surveyed a number of web based and CD-ROM hypertext history projects that were mainly produced by professional academic historians within Australia. The development of hypertext, both technologically and as a means of communicating history, is decentralised and patchy. This is a reflection of the multiplicity of use of these new mediums, as opposed to the somewhat established authorial practices of the standardised modern book. This thesis seeks to define hypertext history authorship, discuss how this is different to a book, and hopefully in doing so, reveal some of the best practices. Will hypertext produce simplistic catalogues of empirical facts or uninterpreted primary sources, or will hypertext with its combination of image text and sound, offer the historian fresh scope for authorship? (link to .pdf)