Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections

14 October 2016

Digital Conversations @BL: Multimedia PhD Research and Non-text Theses

This is a guest post by Coral Manton, PhD research Student with i-DAT at the University of Plymouth funded through the 3D3 Centre for Doctoral Training

I am coming to the end of my research project with EThOS exploring multimedia and non-text research outputs and methods for accessibility by future researchers. I decided early on in this project that the best approach was to meet the researchers currently developing multimedia content and initiate conversation between them and the British Library. So last week I held a successful workshop assembling academics and PhD candidates representing a cross-section of universities and disciplines to discuss current issues around producing and archiving multimedia research, exploring possibilities for future multimodal theses accessible to a broader research community.

The same evening I chaired a Digital Scholarship Digital Conversation event, in which I invited three current PhD students, who I had interviewed for the project, and whose work I felt was not only interesting and innovative, but which expressed pressing questions and pushed the boundaries of what a thesis could be. The speakers were Tara Copplestone, Craig Hamilton and Imogen Lesser.

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The panellists: Coral Manton, Tara Copplestone, CrImogen Lesser and Craig Hamilton. Photo copyright Sarah Cole

The three speakers presented their work followed by a thought-provoking panel discussion on the future of the thesis. The event was live streamed in two parts by Time/Image and is now available on YouTube.

Part one presentations:

Part two discussion: 

Imogen Lesser’s struggle to include her architectural drawings in her thesis came down to one simple problem – her library currently accepts a maximum thesis file size of 64mb. This issue is dependent on individual institution guidelines and Professor Johnny Golding, of CFAR, informed us that her institution accepts practice based PhD theses of much larger file sizes - as representing practice took priority over issues of storage. Perhaps best practice guidelines for university libraries are necessary and practice based research could lead the way on multimedia theses in arts and humanities. Mark Hahnel’s pioneering online repository for scientific data Figshare responded to a need to push scientific progress by sharing data efficiently. We were pleased he was able to come and share his story with us at the workshop.

Now I am finishing the project and returning to my own PhD research I want to reflect on what I will take back and how I will use all I have learned to move forward in designing my own thesis.  For my PhD I am working with a section of the Birmingham Museums Trust’s collection, digitising objects and using data to make a virtual collection database for enhanced curator and visitor understanding of the collection in storage.

My research is cross-disciplinary and therefore uses two sets of language - a technical language including virtual reality, game design and coding and a museological language. Without being able to access the virtual collection database application I develop, it will be difficult to describe textually to coders, game designers, technical architects and museum curators. Therefore, ideally, I would like to produce a multimodal thesis embedding within the text; video, images, 3D scans and links to a webpage holding the virtual collection database. It is important for me to show the process of development. Inspired by the field of archaeology, and the work of Cornelius Holtorf and Tara Copplestone, I would like to explore a multilinear narrative; allowing process of production in my PhD to be understood from the point of view of a designer, curator or visitor.

Open access research is important to me and I am aware that I am bridging two worlds - academic research and online code sharing. Inspired by Craig Hamilton and his approach to the Harkive Project I want to find ways to share my PhD research with the online software development community – with whom  I am educating myself in game design, coding and data visualisation - as well as the museum and academic community.

Through my professional background in museums and my research I am heavily invested in the idea of collection and I'm excited by the thought that one day my thesis will join the collection of original contributions to knowledge already found on EThOS. I feel we should continue to strive to communicate our research in the best format possible, pushing innovation in the thesis by exploring methods of multimodality and multilinearity. We must recognise that the relationship between medium and message is important to sharing our work efficiently with the wider world.

For further information on my research project take a look at the collection of case studies on the British Library website. I hope through them we have captured some of what we, as researchers, are going through and this can inform future thesis models and best practice guidance for both researchers and libraries. However the conversation must not end there, future researchers will continue to build on our lessons and experiences; developing new models that work for them – so let’s keep the conversation going!

For updates on multimedia theses research follow @EThOSBL