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This is for continuing conversation after the meetings.

2D and 3D Digital Technologies Tools in Archaeology

posted 26 Nov 2015, 09:46 by Christina Kamposiori

Guest Author and DDHL Participant, Dr Alicia JM Colson, reflects on the discussion held as part of the meeting which took place in April 2015:

The participants had a discussion which drew on ideas considered an article by Bernard Frischer which is the introduction to a collection of articles on 3D modelling.

Frischer, Bernard

2008

From Digital Illustration to Digital Heuristics. In Beyond Illustration: 2D and 3D Digital Technologies as Tools for Discovery in Archaeology. Bernard Frischer and Anastasia Dakouri-Hild, eds. Pp. v–xxiv. BAR International Series. Oxford.

Before we even consider what might be built with 3D modelling, it is important to remember that no two people view the world in precisely the same way. It is seriously challenging to build and present what might be the 'common' view of a place or a building. As human beings, we do not hold common views of what we perceive and see. This problem is magnified when 3D tools are utilized to render the varied and perhaps conflicting details of a building. The situation is exacerbated when the architecture and the building itself have been altered over any length of time. The challenge is to record the thinking which takes place in our heads as we view something. Much also depends on the discipline which informs our view: for disciplines are frequently silos. An art historian might refer to the same thing in one way, a historian in another and the archaeologist in a third.  

It should be remembered that the accounts of different observers of the same building might well describe it in quite different ways. Again, these differences will reflect their own preconceptions. This creates considerable difficulty for those who are attempting to record their observations of the building in code. Unless the coding structures reflect the distance between their observations and the data provided by recording the physical object (the building in question), 3-D modelling will simply reflect the viewpoint of the coder.  

Ostensibly, cameras appear to be the solution to the challenge of depicting physical areas, but cameras are not remotely as sophisticated as the records created by the interaction of the human minds, brains and eyes. For the images we 'capture' in our ‘minds-eye’ bear only a tangential relationship to the same images captured by a camera. When building a 3D model we must be careful that our modelling reflects what is recorded in any documentation of the construction by the builders as well as the architects. 

Let’s argue that written documentation exists for a specific castle, dating from the Late Medieval period (1450-1600). The evidence indicates the castle is quite unusual and does not ‘fit’ what might be deemed an idealised castle dating as generally understood for this period. So should the 3D version reflect what’s commonly agreed to be a medieval castle or should the version be built using the written descriptions of that specific castle. But this 3D version does not ‘fit’ the notion of an archetypal castle. Ideally each 3D model should be bespoke. To achieve this agent technologies might be invoked. These would allow us to layer in the interpretative layers which overlay the evidence from the original construction.

The point is that a 3D version of a specific castle must take into account all of the information with regard to the building extant when that 3D version was compiled. A building is an accumulation of the activities which took place within it throughout its existence. The person building the model cannot pick and choose facts just because they fit a particular interpretation.  It does not matter that the interpretation was held by the organization or person commissioning the 3D compilation, whether it is the ‘received view’, of the general public, much less the latest ‘scholarly fashion’. The 3D compilation taken from a historical or archaeological period must be a bespoke version of that building, not one that is either generic or idealised. It is vital to complement the written record with the photographic one, with paintings, with sculpture, with representations which have accumulated over time. It is only in this way the changes in the building which have taken place over its life cycle are faithfully recorded and integrated into compilation. A generic version of that ‘mediaeval castle’ will be  far less valuable than the bespoke one for it indicates that information accumulated over the life of the building has little explanatory value.

So, what’s happening here?  Firstly, is the idea of simulacra valid? All researchers should question the extent to which they are simply repeating received wisdom. Secondly, should 3D models be bespoke or ‘community’ models? Thirdly, that people are visual beings and generally prefer visual media. They will naturally default to visual communication because they are richer. Reading takes longer. At the same time we, as researchers, usually want to rapidly and clearly convey a large amount of information to a group of people. However, in seeking clarity we risk ignoring the complexity of a place as so often described in the written documentation. Complexity is important because it reflects the fact that we are human and our lives and our perceptions are not simple. In ignoring generations of primary and secondary sources we risk losing that wealth of insight. So, bespoke 3D models reflect what it is to be human, in all the difference and complexity that this implies. Other models may have a different value, heuristic and valuable but – as mimics.

"Program or be programmed"...

posted 20 Jul 2015, 06:54 by Christina Kamposiori

The first of our spring meet-ups focused on the role of programming in the Digital Humanities. More specifically, the paper we used as our starting point for discussion was Ramsay’s (2012)​ ‘Programming with Humanists: Reflections on Raising an Army of Hacker-Scholars in the Digital Humanities’. Actually, our goal was to continue the discussion that had started during our previous meet up and explore further the use of digital methods, like programming, in research and teaching in the field.

The following are the main areas we covered:

·         Continuing from the last session, the larger part of the conversation was evolved around the use of digital methods in the Arts & Humanities. Ramsay’s phrase ‘…programming is most of all like writing’, in particular, constituted a central point in our discussion. In more detail, the issues raised were not only related to the advancement of research which, often, can be the result of the employment of such practices, but also to the hesitation of many scholars in the field to employ  them for research and teaching. Thus, we thought that comparing programming to writing, a fundamental aspect of Arts & Humanities scholarship, is a great way to convey the core meaning of the article: learning to programme can equip scholars with essential skills and enable them to be at the forefront of progress in the field.   

·         The second part of the conversation was concerned with the principal topic of the article which is digital pedagogy in the Arts & Humanities. Yet, we found that this part of the discussion, as developed during the meeting, was very much related to the first matter explored. Therefore, apart from the various challenges in incorporating relevant modules in the Arts & Humanities curriculum, we all agreed that getting students acquainted with programming and other technologies, ideally from an early stage (e.g. as part of an undergraduate course), is considered essential; as programming increasingly becomes the new ‘writing’, knowing to code will be the skill the professionals and scholars in the field will need to have in the nearest future.   

All in all, this meet-up offered the space to discuss one of the most current issues concerning the (Digital) Arts & Humanities, which is the adoption of digital methods for research and teaching. However, since the dialogue in relation to this subject is still going on and continually shapes the development of the field, we look forward to examining more aspects of this topic in our forthcoming meetings.    

Beyond Gutenberg: the document vs the database paradigm

posted 16 Mar 2015, 16:01 by KALLIOPI KONTIZA   [ updated 16 Mar 2015, 16:03 ]

    The DDHL meeting for the month of February expanded our views through exploring issues that concern many Digital Humanists in terms of the software tools available for their research. The drawback that many Cultural Heritage Institutions are faced up with is working with off-the-self software, which limits the freedom one has to modify it according to his / her needs. Digital Humanists are not constrained by software solutions as they nowadays either collaborate with programmers or have developed programming skills themselves to design software for computer-aided research in the Humanities. D. and S. Schloen, claim they may have other constrains to worry about…

    The article titled “Beyond Gutenberg: Transcending the Document Paradigm in Digital Humanities” discusses the limitations of the document paradigm as the main source for designing computer software for research purposes in the field of Digital Humanities, contrasting it with the database paradigm. In terms of representing text, the conceptual work that has been done from the researcher, the different “readings” and annotations of the text, is a task that could be greatly facilitated by the appropriate digital tools. The software tools that have been developed so far for humanities purposes are mostly focused on digital documents.

    The document paradigm is founded on position-dependent data structures such as strings and tables that fail to meet scholars’ needs to present their observations and interpretations in a digital format that allows automated comparison and analysis. The authors propose the shift to the alternative option, the database paradigm that transcends the position-dependent data structures. Database paradigm can be the foundation for developing software that accommodates scholars’ readings and interpretations “in a manner that allows them to be shared more widely, analysed more effectively and preserved indefinitely”(Schloen, D. & Schloen, S. , 2014).

  • The authors arguments are built upon problematic areas that database paradigm based software can offer solutions such as the representation of multiple readings of the same text also known as “overlapping textual hierarchies”.  
  • They discuss in length the possibilities offered by the design of a database system that allows flexibility and can be semantically extended. The article presents an example of using the best features of older relational database systems (XML, SQL) in combination with an item- based ontology implementation in a database system.
  • Finally one of the articles strongest points is related to the interdisciplinary nature of Digital Humanities as a field: the aim to develop software tools to accommodate the needs not only of textual studies but other cultural and social disciplines.

    Overall the article provided room for discussion and ideas related to the practices in the field of Digital Humanities. It also highlighted some interesting issues that we further investigated in our following session which was more focused on Digital Humanities and its relationship with Programming.

Academic Careers in the (Digital) Humanities

posted 4 Feb 2015, 03:45 by Christina Kamposiori

Our second meeting for this academic year had as its main focus the subject of academic careers in the Humanities in the digital age. The readings for that month (see archive), despite raising questions that with first sight seemed to concern only Classists, provided us with many ideas for exploring issues that interest many Humanities scholars nowadays. 

Two of the main discussion points are:

·         Career prospects in Academia: Having many PhD students amongst the attendants of the meeting, this constituted one of the prevalent themes. What does a Digital Humanities degree has to offer, in terms of career prospects in Academia, compared to a degree from one of the more traditional disciplines, like Classics or History? Actually, a question that is difficult to answer in a short meeting. Being in an era that almost demands from Humanities scholars to have technical skills, to be collaborative rather than follow the ‘lone scholar’ model and explore topics from highly interdisciplinary points of view, a Digital Humanities degree offers good training towards this direction. Yet, how easy is it for a student of a more traditional Humanities discipline to get acquainted with what Digital Humanities has to offer? We thought that this last question is very much related to next point we discussed.

·         Disciplinary identity: To what extent does Digital Humanities as a field convey successfully to other disciplines its values and practices? And, basically, how ‘accessible’ to the more traditional Humanities scholars is it? At that point, inevitably, the discussion was led to issues regarding the definition of Digital Humanities as well as matters connected to disciplinary identity. For example, one of the interesting questions posed regarded the extent to which is possible for scholars to alter particular habits and practices developed as part of a particular disciplinary identity. One suggestion could be to embody Digital Humanities practices into the curriculum of the core humanities disciplines; yet, this possibility raised another important issue. If digital practices constitute the norm in Humanities education of the future, will we be still talking about Digital Humanities or just Humanities?  

All in all, during this gathering we had the chance to think about various aspects that relate to Digital Humanities as a discipline, but also to consider how they affect the career choices and future of its scholars. However, as was after all expected, our meeting yielded more questions than answers which we hope to explore further in future events. 

Reading in the Digital Age

posted 4 Feb 2015, 03:15 by KALLIOPI KONTIZA   [ updated 16 Mar 2015, 16:02 ]

At our first Decoding Digital Humanities meeting for this academic year back in November 2014, we discussed the role of the digital environment and how it supported the deep reading “renaissance” despite the “shallow threats” it may brought along.The paper we read and reflected on was “Escaping the Shallows: Deep Reading’s Revival in the Digital Age” (Dowling, D.2014)(Available at: http://digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/8/2/000180/000180.html).

To begin with, one of the main issues discussed was the characteristics of the digital culture that transformed the already vibrant online communities into massive collaborative “reading communities on an unprecedented scale” (Dowling, D 2014). As a result the diverse online ecosystem provided us with another example from which we can explore the immersive practices and how they have shaped the narrative within the deep reading revival.

Some of the interesting points raised during our engaging discussion were:

·      the observation made in regards to the misconception of the superficial online reading resulting from the distracting hyperlinked digital texts.

·      the discussion developed around user’s perception and memory as the mechanisms they use to process information in various digital environments and more specifically their interaction with online reading practices.

·      the consideration of the social aspects of the online reading communities in terms of fostering a participatory, non- institutionalised culture.

·      and finally, how this digital culture affects the development of the narrative within the deep reading context.

DH & Video Games

posted 15 Oct 2014, 18:14 by Christina Kamposiori

Video Games and the Digital Humanities was the topic of our last meet up of the previous academic season. The readings for that month gave us an insight into some the discussions around video games and virtual worlds. We had, therefore, the chance to discuss different possibilities for using video game technology; from using it for educational purposes, as in the case of Australia’s Higher Education (Gregory, S. et al., 2013), to its use in Humanities research and Cultural Heritage (e.g. as in Anderson, 2007).

Below are more details regarding the themes explored during our meeting:

·         Video games in education: The first part of our meeting developed around the benefits and drawbacks of using video game technology in pedagogy and, in particular, DH pedagogy. Thus, some of the positive aspects mentioned were the exciting and engaging learning experience video games can offer to students; the development of new skills that can be achieved when video game technology is employed in student projects; the opportunities the use of such a technology provides for new collaborations (especially interdisciplinary ones) which makes it particularly attractive to a field like Digital Humanities. An example, provided at that point, of such a successful collaboration was the student competition organised by the British Library last year (more info here). Yet, we could not overlook the challenges any institution might face when choosing to employ video games as a teaching tool; acquiring or creating appropriate infrastructure as well as staff training can be some of them.     

·         Virtual worlds in the Humanities & Cultural Heritage: Video game technology can constitute a very interesting research method by opening new opportunities, but its use can raise many questions as well. How we could use this technology for exploring various theories and hypotheses in Humanities research?  What would be the benefits and the challenges in doing that? These were only some of the questions asked in relation to the use of this type of technology in Humanities research during the second part of our conversation. Regarding, in particular, Cultural Heritage, video game technology provides great opportunities not only for the purposes of research; when used by cultural institutions, for example in museum exhibitions, video games/virtual worlds can constitute an informative as well as entertaining way to engage the audience. There can be several concerns in both of the above cases, though, and these can range from issues relating to the research and design behind virtual worlds/video games to the constant technological development and digital preservation.

However, as the use of new technologies and digital methods is constantly increasing, we believe that there are still more to expect in regards to the application and use of video game technology in the Arts & Humanities and Cultural Heritage. However, we agreed that in order to maximise the benefits and minimise the challenges, collaboration between experts across various disciplines and, even, different institutions may be the best solution.   

Digital Scholarly Publishing in the Arts & Humanities

posted 9 Jun 2014, 12:59 by Christina Kamposiori   [ updated 9 Jan 2015, 10:39 ]

Our March meet up focused on scholarly publishing in the Arts & Humanities and, more specifically, digital publishing; actually, a particularly interesting topic as it involves various stakeholders who can often have different views or goals. The authors of the paper we read (see archive section) and which kick-started our conversation made several suggestions regarding issues such as peer review and collaboration that could be of interest to small academic presses.

Since our group was mostly consisted of Digital Humanities academics and PhD students, we took the chance to discuss the paper results, principally, from the scholar’s perspective. Below are the main points that summarize our conversation.

  • Types and formats of publication: This particular part of the discussion evolved around the current academic publishing environment in the Arts & Humanities. We generally agreed that print formats prevail with many scholars preferring them over the digital versions. However, this preference towards more traditional formats of publications is not unjustified; printed publications, especially monographs, are still considered of great importance when it comes to career development. Also, as mentioned in the paper as well, some disciplines in the Arts & Humanities work better with print at the moment, e.g. art history, and that is something that should be taken into account.
  • Peer-review: Our conversation at this point was based mostly on the aspects presented in the paper. Peer review is a highly valuable tool in scholarly publishing, either digital or traditional, and it needs to continue constituting a part of the process, especially if scholars are to embrace digital publishing. It is also very important for scholars to be informed about the processes involved in digital publishing, such as peer-review; in that case, collaboration between the different parties is important.
  • Open access: Open access has large potential in enabling scholars to find more easily the resources they need for their research and in terms of making Arts & Humanities research more ‘visible’.  Yet, scholars are many times not familiar with the various open access licences or the procedures involved in open access publishing which can lead to hesitation towards choosing it as a method for communicating their research output.

In conclusion, we believe that scholarly publishing in the Arts & Humanities is still being shaped by the advancement of new technologies. Communication and collaboration between the different stakeholders as well as informing researchers over the potential of digital publishing are crucial if it is for scholars to choose it as a principal method of scholarly communication. In fact, digital publishing in combination with open access can have an important role in the creation of a more public image for the Arts & Humanities disciplines in the digital age. 

Digital Humanities in the Museum

posted 7 May 2014, 14:50 by Christina Kamposiori

In our first meeting for 2014 we had the chance to discuss a quite popular topic nowadays, the relationship between Digital Humanities and museums. Having an abundance of material on museums and new technologies to choose from, we decided to look at shorter pieces available online, for example in the form of blog posts, which discussed the employment of digital humanities practices in museums. In fact, these pieces reflecting in a more informal tone the opinions of the authors gave us the chance to look at different aspects of the topic and, thus, enrich the conversation.

As a result, our discussion was a lively one consisting mainly of three parts: 

  • The use of technology in museums: it is well known that using digital technology in museums opens up new possibilities not only for audience engagement, but for digital humanities research as well. Actually, it is an area of research in which the digital humanities community has shown great interest in recent years and, as we discussed, we believe that we can expect much more in the near future, for instance through the further development of areas like data visualization and 3D modelling.
  • Big data: this is another area that could have an impact on museum practices as well as on digital humanities research projects, since it can generate new questions for (re-)exploring museum objects and collections. 
  • Digital humanities scholars and their role in the museum: an interesting question arose during this part of the discussion related to whether museums should employ digital humanists to collaborate with their existing employees or provide digital humanities training to their employees. Actually, we thought that a combination of these two practices would be the best strategy, as digital humanists can collaborate with museum professionals both in organising relevant training for the employees but also, being experts in their area, can provide useful insights for further developing existing museum practices using digital humanities approaches.  

In short, our discussion ended with all agreeing that the employment of digital humanities approaches in the museum can prove a fruitful strategy for both the museum sector, through the enhancement of museum practices and the increase of audience engagement, as well for the digital humanities community and research.

Tool Development and the Digital Humanities

posted 10 Mar 2014, 11:48 by Christina Kamposiori

In our last meeting for 2013, we gathered to discuss the topic of tool development in Digital Humanities but from the point of view of developers. As a starting point for our conversation we used Schreibman & Hanlon’s 2010 report based on a survey of tool developers and on two blog posts discussing the building and use of digital tools in the Arts & Humanities (they can be found at the Archive section). We were lucky enough to have amongst our participants that day several tool developers working in DH projects who very kindly shared their views on the subject.

Below there are the two main points around of which our conversation evolved:

  • Tool development as a scholarly activity: we all agreed that it is an issue neither regularly mentioned nor adequately studied. After discussing, though, along with the other DDHL participants the various and diverse experiences they had regarding tool development, inevitably our conversation led us back to the fundamental question of what is and what isn’t Digital Humanities. Thus, many interesting suggestions were made; yet, all the participants agreed that digital tools, including their building, constitute a very important aspect of the Digital Humanities field which should be studied further. 
  • Career development for tool developers in DH: this was a matter of interest for all participants involved in tool development. However, the prevailing argument was that it is not often easy to gain recognition or be awarded for building a tool, especially in cases where you only participate at a specific stage of a tool development project or when the tool is not made public.      

As a result, we concluded that more attention and study is needed in regards to the activity of tool development in the Digital Humanities. In addition, new ways and criteria for acknowledging the results of this type of work should be introduced to meet the requirements of scholarship conducted in the digital age. However, most of us agreed that these are some of the issues that will eventually concern the Digital Humanities scholars more in the next few years to come as the field still continues to develop and define its values and qualities.

Interface Design and Digital Humanities

posted 17 Nov 2013, 10:51 by Christina Kamposiori

In our first meeting for this term we discussed the topic of interface design in Digital Humanities while the reading we used as an inspiration was Johanna Drucker’s (2013) ‘Performative Materiality and Theoretical Approaches to Interface’. Some interesting points raised during our discussion can be found below:

  • An interesting observation was made in regards to the misconception of the immateriality of digital media in the early days of digital media studies; this was related to the sometimes existing confusion of immateriality being synonymous to ‘free’, meaning that many times digital media were considered to be freely accessible. Of course, this does not reflect how things are in reality.
  • Discussion was also developed around the fact that the author draws on the long-established theoretical tradition about materiality vs. immateriality in the humanities as well as in other disciplines while combining it with a new approach suited to the Digital Humanities field and its scholars’ concerns and needs. Actually, we thought that by combining traditional research with innovative approaches in interface design it might be a good strategy for better understanding the core values of Arts & Humanities scholarship while also highlighting the different needs scholars have in the digital age.  
  •  Thus, we considered user studies as an important factor for understanding DH scholarly practices when designing interfaces to meet disciplinary needs.
  •   Finally, we thought that collaboration between Digital Humanists can be a crucial component when it comes to designing interfaces, for example, through sharing thoughts and reflecting on the scholarly practices of the discipline.

Overall, this paper offered to our conversation an interesting theoretical framework for thinking critically about the nature of Digital Humanities scholarship and, especially, how the practices and needs of researchers in the field are related to interface design. 

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