Tag Archives: conference

Museums on the Web 2011

At the end of this year’s Museums on the Web conference at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) we were asked what our “key takeaways” from the day were. The presentations and discussions covered a wide range of interesting topics but I was most impressed with the work going on in the area of public engagement with creating and using digital resources; and the emphasis of the importance of user-centred design processes in enabling this.

365.162: Imperial War Museum

Mark O’Neill from the Government Data Service opened proceedings with a keynote speech highighting the challenges of improving user experience for the use of digital resources; particularly important given the commitment to “digital by default” for government services.

An interesting comparison was suggested: how are museums different from Ikea? Comparing a search across the Ikea website and a museum website (which will remain namless!) for an object, “vase” it was clear which one of these had a more seamless user experience: the commercial website was designed around the needs of users to easily achieve their goals (in this instance find a vase for sale) whilst the museum website lagged somewhat behind, its interface designed around the institution’s own internal language, not welcoming outsiders.

Subsequent speakers gave presentations on participatory projects initiated by their institutions. The Pallant House Gallery‘s  Outside In project provides a platform for artists with disabilities to display their work, uploading images of it via a web interface developed in an iterative manner during workshops with the artists themselves. The next stage is to develop a mobile app which removes further boundaries to involvement: direct upload via mobile involves fewer cognitive steps as images can be selected directly from the device that created them.

Tom Grinsted from the Imperial War Museum and Claire Ross from UCL department of Digital Humanities described an IWM project in development to make use of visitors’ commentaries of museum objects: Social Interpretation — bringing the levels of engagement and interaction that users experience with social media to the museum environment. The project is being run using an agile methodology at all stages: design, development and management to ensure that the outputs are produced iteratively and thoroughly tested with users at every stage. The project aims to develop interfaces to allow visitors to add their commentaries and interpretations via kiosk in the museum and web and mobile outside.

Another exciting participatory project run by the IWM is Lives of the Great War: using public involvement to recreate the stories behind those who served and died in the First World War. It aims to support this by providing direct access to the various information resources, currently dispersed across the web, some behind paywalls. It is also hoped that the data generated will be released under a “CC0” licence (the most permissive Creative Commons licence) and be archived permanently.

Interestingly, the IWM were shown to be pioneers in crowdsourcing: their earliest request for objects and memorabilia from the Great War took part at the war’s end in the form of a leaflet included with ration books!

Issues surrounding crowdsourcing received attention: namely questions of moderation of content and authority. Some basic moderation can be handled technically (e.g. via filters to remove swearing) but the community itself can also be a useful moderation tool (as it is currently on the Guardian website). Data release under Creative Commons licences (particularly “CC0”) can be more problematic in some areas than others, e.g. the performing arts.

Other presentations covered some very interesting areas I haven’t discussed here, including planning and measuring your digital strategy, refining your metadata and demonstrations of some very innovative software; it will be worth checking the MCG website for links to the presentation slides.

Overall I was impressed with the level of innovation — and collaboration —  in the sector; something I’m sure the digital humanities as a closely related area could learn from and share in.

Event: THATcamp Kansas and Digital Humanities Forum

The THATcamp Kansas and Digital Humanities Forum happened last week at the Institute for Digital Research in the Humanities, which is part of the University of Kansas in beautiful Lawrence. I had the opportunity to be there and give a talk about some recent stuff I’ve been working on regarding digital prosopography and computer ontologies, so in this blog post I’m summing up a bit the things that caught my attention while at the conference.

The event happened on September 22-24 and consisted of three separate things:

  • Bootcamp Workshops: a set of in-depth workshops on digital tools and other DH topics http://kansas2011.thatcamp.org/bootcamps/.
  • THATCamp: an “unconference” for technologists and humanists http://kansas2011.thatcamp.org/.
  • Representing Knowledge in the DH conference: a one-day program of panels and poster sessions (schedule | abstracts )
  • The workshop and THATcamp were both packed with interesting stuff, so I strongly suggest you take a look at the online documentation, which is very comprehensive. In what follows I’ll instead highlight some of the contributed papers which a) I liked and b) I was able to attend (needless to say, this list matches only my individual preference and interests). Hope you’ll find something of interest there too!

    A (quite subjective) list of interesting papers


  • The Graphic Visualization of XML Documents, by David Birnbaum ( abstract ): a quite inspiring example of how to employ visualizations in order to support philological research in the humanities. Mostly focused on Russian texts and XML-oriented technologies, but its principles easily generalizable to other contexts and technologies.
  • Exploring Issues at the Intersection of Humanities and Computing with LADL, by Gregory Aist ( abstract ): the talk presented LADL, the Learning Activity Description Language, a fascinating software environment provides a way to “describe both the information structure and the interaction structure of an interactive experience”, to the purpose of “constructing a single interactive Web page that allows for viewing and comparing of multiple source documents together with online tools”.
  • Making the most of free, unrestricted texts–a first look at the promise of the Text Creation Partnership, by Rebecca Welzenbach ( abstract ): an interesting report on the pros and cons of making available a large repository of SGML/XML encoded texts from the Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) corpus.
  • The hermeneutics of data representation, by Michael Sperberg-McQueen ( abstract ): a speculative and challenging investigation of the assumptions at the root of any machine-readable representation of knowledge – and their cultural implications.
  • Breaking the Historian’s Code: Finding Patterns of Historical Representation, by Ryan Shaw ( abstract ): an investigation on the usage of natural language processing techniques to the purpose of ‘breaking down’ the ‘code’ of historical narrative. In particular, the sets of documents used are related to the civil rights movement, and the specific NLP techniques being employed are named entity recognition, event extraction, and event chain mining.
  • Employing Geospatial Genealogy to Reveal Residential and Kinship Patterns in a Pre-Holocaust Ukrainian Village, by Stephen Egbert.( abstract ): this paper showed how it is possible to visualize residential and kinship patterns in the mixed-ethnic settlements of pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe by using geographic information systems (GIS), and how these results can provide useful materials for humanists to base their work on.
  • Prosopography and Computer Ontologies: towards a formal representation of the ‘factoid’ model by means of CIDOC-CRM, by me and John Bradley ( abstract ): this is the paper I presented (shameless self plug, I know). It’s about the evolution of structured prosopography (= the ‘study of people’ in history) from a mostly single-application and database-oriented scenario towards a more interoperable and linked-data one. In particular, I talked about the recent efforts for representing the notion of ‘factoids’ (a conceptual model normally used in our prosopographies) using the ontological language provided by CIDOC-CRM (a computational ontology commonly used in the museum community).

    That’s all! Many thanks to Arienne Dwyer and Brian Rosenblum for organizing the event!


    A copy of this article has been posted here too.