Digital Humanities Oxford Summer School – days 3, 4 and 5

Posted on July 28, 2015 | in Research & Learning Services | by

Apologies for the delay! Here are  my highlights from the final three days of this year’s Digital Humanities Oxford Summer School:

– On Wednesday we learned all about the Text Encoding Iniative (TEI), a standard and guidelines created for the accurate representation of texts in digital form. The session included an excellent and detailed overview, a hands-on practical session, and a study of how the Bodleian converted its western medieval manuscripts collection from EAD to TEI and the issues they had to overcome.

– There was an interesting discussion on transcription as a curatorial process in its own right: the transcriber does not simply copy text word for word but engages in a selective and interpretive intellectual activity which, in turn, informs how the text is encoded. How would you transcribe the word ‘agreable’ in the image below?


Transcription is subjective

– Further to this, there was also an intriguing debate about how to define the term ‘manuscript’. Is it simply any piece of text written by hand and, if so, can the definition be extended to manual process such as early forms of printing or even to a hand-painted shop sign, such as in the example below?


Is this a manuscript?

– Thursday dealt primarily with the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF), a new initiative established to improve the sharing and interoperability of heritage image databases.

– Its intention is to overcome the problems associated with image databases to improve access, use and delivery of digital images to users.


Just a few problems with image delivery…

– As well as a technical and practical overview of the framework, we were introduced to the Bodleian’s new IIIF-powered Digital Bodleian site and given an overview of the Digital Manuscripts Toolkit (DMT), a new initiative designed for medieval scholars to work with IIIF images. We also heard from four groups of PhD students and scholars who have been working with the Bodleian using the DMT.

– The great thing about IIIF is that it enables the user to source images from any IIIF-compliant institution and compare them in the same viewer (we used the Mirador viewer). It is a fantastic tool for bringing together disparate collections online and allows for the sharing, comparing and reuse of diverse image collections.

– On Thursday I also attended an excellent presentation from Victoria Van Hyning on the crowdsourcing platform Zooniverse, which now has an incredible 1.34 million volunteers engaged in 44 projects.

– The recently-launched Panoptes project is an excellent tool which allows people to set up their own crowdsourcing projects with minimal technical expertise – well worth exploring!

– As far as our own crowdsourcing initiatives at the University of Edinburgh are concerned, the key point I took from the presentation was that users’ intrinsic motivation and altruism is not enough on its own to keep people engaged. To retain interest and build a community it is crucial to provide participants with small, manageable task but make it clear that their work isn’t happening in isolation: the aggregation of multiple users’ work is driving research in many fields. As well as this, providing learning opportunities, access to experts and regular feedback all contribute to the sense of community within a crowdsourcing project.

– Another interesting point was that crowdsourcing initiatives should be targeted at non-specialists; evidence has shown that experts will not engage in this sort of activity in their area of expertise!

– Transcription is a major area that Zooniverse is not focusing on and they hope to make it a part of the Panoptes platform in the future.


Slide from a new Zooniverse transcription project

On Thursday evening I also attended the DHOxSS dinner at the Hogwarts-esque Exeter College, which was very enjoyable.


Evening meal at Exeter College

– The final day focussed on ‘social machines’ and social media, culminating in a hands-on ‘hackfest’ using data from the Early English Books Online database.

– Before that, James Loxley from the University of Edinburgh provided the closing keynote entitled ‘Uneasy Dreams: the Becoming of Digital Scholarship’. He published his slides on Buzzfeed before the talk, meaning the audience could interact with them as he was speaking

These are just a few highlights from my time at the Digital Humanities Summer School and I would strongly recommend anyone with an interest in digital scholarship to attend next year’s event!

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